Expert Music Career Advice For DIY Musicians

Ask A Music Journalist: A Look at the Industry From Behind the Laptop

Ask_A_Music_Writer

So you’re in a band, and you want people to know about it. Maybe you’ve got a release you want to promote, or you want to get the word out about your tour, or you simply want to build up your online presence. The next step in garnering attention and new listeners can be kind of a mystery. How do you get press outlets to take notice and, more importantly, to write about you and share your music? What have you've most wanted to know about what it is we music journalists actually do?

I worked in the office of a major national music publication before branching out as a freelancer, and I’ve seen the wide array of tactics that bands use to try to catch writers’ and editors’ eyes. Being great at making music has nothing to do with being great at communicating about your music. I’ve witnessed loads of talented, well meaning people with something to offer undermine their own success with gimmicks, lack of organization, entitled attitudes, and a surplus of ambition.

And I can understand why they do it. Truly great creative works, and even middling or poor creative works, are made by trying to think outside the box. The life of an artist is supposed to be one of rule breaking, bold originality, that romanticized rock star stuff. But the business of music publicity doesn’t reflect the shenanigans happening onstage and offstage, no matter what Almost Famous led you to believe. That’s especially true since the business has become increasingly more digital and spread out.

For example, the women who edit and assign my stories for this very blog are based in New York and Boston, while I’m writing this from my kitchen table in Athens, Ga. Deadlines and other things that harsh your creative mellow have always been a reality of the music journalism business. The decentralized work environment that tastemakers now enjoy leaves us with ever less flexibility as we scramble to manage communications with, say, press reps we’ve never even heard the voice of because we communicate exclusively by email, or a handful of people all trying to join a conference call from different time zones. Long story short—most of us have become a lot more like The Man than we ever dreamed we would.

The good news is, your band is what we’re in it for. Most of us make pretty lousy money in an industry that requires way more of us than the typical 9-to-5, because we hunger for new music to love and the opportunity to talk to and help out the people who make it. Artists with real momentum and some money behind them can pay a PR professional to handle all the tedious details of the business side of their careers for them. That’s not who this column is for. This column is for those who are making art they're proud of, art they feel ready to share with a bigger audience, who need help navigating the part of this industry that happens in offices rather than bars and venues.

If your music is good, then we really, really want to help you. What’s good for the goose, in this industry, is good for the gander. If your album is gonna melt people’s faces off, it’s in the interest of writers and editors to help you succeed, to get your name out there. But you’ve got to meet us halfway. You’ve got to give us the tools we need to help you. I’m here to answer some questions about how you can do exactly that. So please, send me your questions.

I have plenty of topics I could hold forth on, but I’d rather hear from you—what do you need to know? What have you always wanted to ask a music journalist? Let us know via Facebook or tweet us @Sonicbids.

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