I really wish being a music journalist were more like Almost Famous. As you know from cramming into a tour van for days on end, the reality of life in the music industry is often a far cry from the glamor and glitz people imagine. It's true for bands, and it's true for us music writers—but one key to effectively approaching writers about your band is to understand what goes into the job.
I wasn’t around during the golden days of journalism, when publications had the money to pay people to review albums and talk to bands full-time, and the budget to pay for their writers to travel and spend time with musicians in real life. Most music journalists these days are freelancers. That means they work alone, often remotely, and they often have other jobs. (Mine is in fine dining, and doing publicity for chefs and restaurants). A lot of new music comes to us in the form of digital downloads, which we receive through press releases. We get loads of these each day, and we try our best to make time to listen to as many as we can to find the ones we want to write about. The folks who send us a follow-up email to ask what we thought of their record have a way better chance of being heard.
Our editors like it when we “pitch” our own stories, rather than waiting around to have something assigned, so one good way to get the attention of music journalists is by telling your own story to them in a compelling way. Tell your story well. The more we are able to find an angle or some news value in your story, the more likely we are to go to bat for you with an editor. Having a good bio does this very effectively. You almost certainly should not write one yourself. You should probably find a music journalist or other writer whose work you like and ask if you can pay them to write one for you. In fact, writing bios for bands is one of my favorite side gigs. (Call me!)
Inviting journalists to your shows is also a good way of garnering attention. I remember stumbling on a band called Pearl and the Beard when they shared a bill with my friends a year or two ago. I was so taken with them, I emailed my editor from my phone while at the show to pitch a story on them. If you know of a journalist who lives in a city where you’ll be playing, offer to put them on the list. Others may not admit this, but we all still love being able to say “I’m on the list” to the door guy. It’s the little things.
Once we decide we love what you do and convince an editor that you’re worth the wordcount, most of the rest of our job is in researching your background and composing interview questions—this, if done well, actually does takes some time—and setting aside an hour or so to interview you. Or, if we’re writing a review, (hopefully) listening to your record about 10 times while taking notes. Then we mostly procrastinate, stress about not writing and… finally sit down to write.
Some stuff we do NOT do:
- Let you see what we write before it’s published
- Party with the bands we write about (okay, we do that only every once in a very long while)
- Alter our opinions about your music if we like you personally
- Believe that being critical of your work is the same as “shitting on” your work—even if you get a bad review, at least the writer and editor thought it was worth the time to mention, discuss and consider
- Respond well to being flamed in comments sections or email responses to what we write—that’s a great way to get ignored in the future.