Top 7 reasons the media did not cover your last album

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angry musician no media coverageMusic PR mistakes you can avoid next time you approach the media

[This article was written by guest contributor Dmitri Vietze, CEO/founder of StoryAmp.com, and publicist of 16 years.]

You spent a big investment of dollars and time, took all of your learnings from rehearsals and performing on stage, absorbed everything you could from your mentors and inspirations and produced the best recording of your career. Maybe you even borrowed money from friends and friends, or maxed out your credit card to master and manufacture albums. All of your hopes and dreams were wrapped up in your last record. But for the life of you — you couldn’t get it reviewed by the press or blogs, couldn’t get it on the radio.

What happened?

As more and more artists take their careers into their own hands—skipping the old method of getting a record label deal to launch their careers—the scenario above is becoming more and more common. You’ve heard that you can now D.I.Y. your way through your career, from recording to production to release…  but in reality there are certain pieces (like publicity and touring and marketing) that require more than just yourself, if you want to be successful. You have to rely on other decision-makers, and it’s tough to know how to influence them to take action on your behalf.

Here are the top 7 reasons why the media may have not covered your release.

1. You did not have enough of a runway. 

This is by far the biggest reason why musicians do not get press coverage for an album release. Most independent musicians produce a record or put it up in iTunes through a service like CD Baby and call that the release date. “I got my CDs from Discmakers on Monday, so Monday is my release date,” they think to themselves. “Now I have to market it!” or “I gotta turn on this money source and make back my debt or investment.”

They email their fan list (if they have one), they post it on their Facebook and Tumblr band page, on their website blog, and maybe their personal Facebook page as well, and they tweet about it: “Today is our release date! Please download or buy it now!” they tweet or post. Only after that they think, “OK, how do I get more fans, more people to buy? I know: the media!”

So another few days or weeks go by and they come up with a plan to get their album out to some media or blogs. They might enlist a PR person or do some research on local newspaper contacts or blogs with generic email addresses to send a pitch letter to.  But they are doomed before they even start. Why?

Media outlets generally want to cover an album release very close to the release date. Not days or weeks or months after it has come out. There is a reason the word “news” contains the word “new” in it. They do not want to be thought of as “The Olds.”

Pilots have a saying, “The runway behind you cannot help you.” When you are flying a plane, it is not a good idea to start your acceleration at the middle of the runway before take off. If you use the full length of the runway, you have more options if you have to make a last minute pivot. Give yourself enough runway. Maybe the first batch of media targets are not responding or not interested. You could use some extra time to research and target some other media outlets.

Generally speaking, it is best to start pitching (convincing) the media more than six weeks before the official release date. That means you need to plan when the music will be fully recorded, mastered, sent to manufacturing, and scheduled for release through your distributor. The best way to handle scheduling a release date and publicity campaign start date is to have finished manufactured CDs in hand before you set the release date and to ensure that you have at least six or more weeks before that release date for PR and marketing. But if you have more confidence and control in your production process, you can schedule these dates in advance. Make sure to leave two weeks for writing up your “pitch,” the convincing story you will use to try to engage the interest of journalists, editors, and producers. (You can download StoryAmp’s free 60-page e-book on how to write a good pitch here.)

If you have a six-month-old release right now and were thinking of starting a PR campaign… don’t. You missed your chance. Spend that energy booking a tour. You might be able to score some album reviews in conjunction with some live performances in a city you’ve never performed in. If the record was recorded six months ago, but does not have a release date on iTunes or Amazon, you can still treat it as a new release, so give yourself and eight-week runway and go for it.

2. Your music doesn’t speak to your press targets.

This is a very touchy one. Most bands do not get coverage because few journalists like their music. While the barriers to entry in making a record have been removed almost completely, musicians now must nakedly face that they may make music with no validation from the outside at all. In the old model, if a record label executive believed in you, you could point to many reasons other than your music why you might not have built the fan following you had hoped for. Because at least some record label believed in you. They validated the music you made. Even worse than the fact that journalists do not like your record is that music fans do not like your music. Even if you hire the best, most experienced, hottest, most expensive publicist on the planet, you might not get any media coverage.

But even if your music is not going to be the pop hit of the year, or even come close, you might get more media coverage if you target outlets suitable for your musical genre, cultural style, or market saturation. If you work in an eclectic genre, you might be a good candidate for National Public Radio or the New York Times, but probably not for USA Today. If you are a classical artist, do not expect to be the very rare classical artist reviewed in Rolling Stone. If you appear to “crossover” within your genre of jazz or country or Latin, try to put yourself into the shoes of a total pop fan before pitching a total pop outlet. You probably are not crossover from their perspective. There is one sure way to tell: read the media’s coverage. And keep in mind that more adventurous niche outlets are generally more likely to cover adventurous niche recordings.

If you target outlets that cover music in your genre, your popularity ranking, etc., you increase your chances of getting covered. Yes, shoot for the stars. But shoot for the stars in the same galaxy as you. And have a back up plan for getting realistic media coverage for your music.

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3. Your album cover was ugly.

This one is very simple: If your album cover is ugly or does not fit the style that a press outlet covers, you probably never made it into the journalists’ ears. If you are the type of person who grabs the closest pair of jeans (or Dockers) for that matter every morning for your wardrobe, you probably shouldn’t be your album cover designer. Either hire a professional who knows your genre or think about who is the coolest looking person you know and have them do it. DO not underestimate the power of your visual brand in getting attention. It is the first thing an album reviewer will see.

4. Your story is non-existent or full of clichés and hyperbole.

Journalists are storytellers. If there is no good story to tell, it’s that much harder to write about your music. A story bound to increase your readership: “Here’s another band you’ve never heard of with music that is filled with tired lyrics and stale guitar riffs. Their life as a suburban child was so rough because their parents just didn’t understand them.” Not really. If you can articulate what is compelling about you or your music, it increases your chances of coverage. Music is one of the most crowded marketplaces. You have to stand out from the crowd: musically, visually, and anecdotally.

There are many techniques you can use to get to your story: musical inspirations, lyrical origins, technical innovations, personal revelations, war stories from touring, fan interactions, and more. Read about them in detail in StoryAmp’s free e-book here.

5. You do not play live.

It may seem counterintuitive that in order to get album reviews, you need to perform on stage. However, live performance can double your chances of press coverage. In traditional press, there are more column inches dedicated to live music than to record reviews. Any concert coverage will likely mention a new album if not go into further detail. Sometimes concert coverage is paired with an album review. Or the coverage is the album review with a spotlight on the concert details. Local media outlets are more likely to cover you at all if you are playing in their town.

Furthermore, one of the biggest reasons media outlets cover an artist is because of buzz building around them. One of the biggest builders of buzz is when someone sees you play live. Touring other cities helps you build that buzz as well as gives you a reason to target many more media outlets in each concert city. You might not have gotten covered in the past because you didn’t tour.

6. You sound just like someone else; someone bigger.

Nobody likes a copy cat. If you have become super frustrated that an artist that sounds just like you always gets media coverage and you never do, you need to realize they now “own” that sound. You have to do something that makes you different; not complain about how you are the same.

There is a balance within each musical genre to demonstrate that you are a part of the genre, but that you have an individual voice within that genre. When you hear people say “I hate country music” or “I hate rap music,” generally those people do not understand which characteristics define the genre and which characteristics define the individual. You must be a master at this with your genres of choice. You must be the best at defining the genre and connecting with the tribe of people who like that sound and you must be even better at crystallizing and expressing your individual musical contribution to that scene.

Characteristics that may define your genres or individual voice include lyrics, melodies, harmonies, rhythms, timbres, instrumentation, embellishments, technical mastery, or fashion. Tweak the right variables to express your individuality within your scene. In other words, press coverage only comes after musical mastery within your scene or the larger society.

7. You didn’t follow up.

Sending your music by mail or email with no follow up is unlikely to get you coverage. There is so much “white noise” and members of the press have a narrow bottleneck of time with lots of music getting shoved through it every single day. Many journalists get hundreds of submissions per week. They cannot possibly review it all, and certainly cannot listen to it all. Which ones shall they listen to: The ones with a warm body following up, or the ones haphazardly slapped into an envelope with no return address? The ones with the shy or rude or entitled voice on the other end of the line, or the persistent, creative, clever, diplomatic one?

 ——-

There are many other reasons your last album might not have received press coverage, but that covers seven of the most common reasons. You can find ten ways to increase your chances of press coverage in the free e-book “10 Publicity Hacks You Can Use Right Now.”

You might also consider using StoryAmp.com to help you develop a press-savvy press kit and have your recordings and concerts automatically sent to the email inboxes of relevant journalists.

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  • bydavidrosen

    i always felt #5 is my biggest problem. i used to have a comedy group that yea, was niche, but still i felt not playing live enough was the biggest problem in getting us press. then i produced a rapper and was only able to get a handfull of reviews for him and i always felt it was because he didn’t play live shows. and now that i’m composing instrumental music that i really can’t play live, it’s again hard to get press. people want to see you out there doing stuff. so i’m making videos and getting them screened at film festivals, which will be my version of “playing live” so hopefully that will help.

  • Kyle

    Some great points here. I will definitely be working on my story. I think that’s the point a lot of bands could work on. I’ll be reading that ebook now. Cheers, Kyle

  • Really great post! I recently wrote a blog post about how the DIY model is not sustainable for musicians, and you highlighted the fact that PR/Marketing is something that (normally) can't be done successfully alone. You need a team, you need people with contacts and expertise in that area in order to maximise your reach and potential. Great article!

  • Excellent blog post once again 🙂

  • goneswimming

    all makes sense apart from no.7 – so many articles about sending your music to be reviewed says emphatically never to send follow up emails as they have loads to get through and you’ll only piss them off.

    plenty of other stuff to follow up on in this article but that point confused me a little.

    • Ryan Dawes

      If you mail a cd and send one email, likely nothing will happen. They expect follow-up. As a publicist, I am often THANKED for following-up. They know I know how busy they are and how many emails they receive. And if you piss them off, they probably weren’t going to cover you anyway. Also: the follow-up email should be personal, not an eblast.

  • In my experience, and from working with a publicist on my music, follow-up was key — so I don't know. I'd say go ahead and risk pissing them off.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Velvet Moon

    This story is so true! We’ve paid reviewers commercially to review our music, and they don’t even call us back. Ultimately it boils down to careerism. If you work another job and let go of your dream daily, then that’s probably hurting you most. When you’re fully involved and working in music, the universe returns that energy immediately. You get in return what you put out. That’s why Mick Jagger is still doing promo voiceovers. And, as Mick said once, “you have to keep giving yourself away, nobody is going to give anything back to you.”

  • Fiona Siobhan Powell

    As someone who works for a radio station and who frequently programmes albums; I’d like to add some things. This list was good. Mostly. Here are other considerations.

    I often HAVE to reject albums where the tracks are poorly listed, illegible, very difficult to read and don’t bother to number tracks or give me times. Simple is better. If I am grabbing a CD in a hurry, because I happen to have a small bit of spare time, I’m going to play the album that lists the tracks clearly, and where the tracks have times. There is nothing worse than not being able to read the track listings, or quickly programming a track you hope is 5 minutes, and discovering that it’s 12!
    I like easy to read liner notes as well…ones that credit the artists.
    I often get albums from a group, listen , like it…but I have no reason (I have an Arts show) to play the music. I keep the album. If the artist sends a press release even 2 or 3 years later to tell me that they are playing in the area, I’ll go find the album and programme it. If I don’t know that you are playing locally, I can’t do that.
    Don’t rely on the venue/publicists…SEND those press releases. I may “seem” to ignore them. I don’t, they go on my calender. If I like your work, I’m looking for the opportunity to highlight it.

    I know of two local musicians, one gets a lot of attention, the other doesn’t. Both as good as each other. The difference? The successful one listens to the station, and finds “hooks” for his music (a song of his relates to a local event, he emailed me to remind me that). ; he sends me copies of his albums with a cheerful reminder. The other behaves “snubbed” …he wasn’t! He just doesn’t realise that I am sometimes swamped with pressers. Make yourself aware …choose a couple of local journalists /on air people and keep them informed. Don’t get snippy if they don’t pick up on every single presser.

    Do you invite local press to your event? Don’t assume that we automatically get invited; or that we don’t want to go!
    Make your press releases simple. Easy to read. Easy to add to calendars.

    NAME OF ARTIST
    DATE OF EVENT/TIME / EVENT NAME

    VENUE INFO
    CONTACT DETAILS

    INTERVIEW INFO
    NEW ALBUM NAME /NAMES OF OTHER ARTISTS INVOLVED

    Underneath that all those wonderful sentences with flowery phrases like fantastic Album and the bio details. Don’t be tempted to hide the important information in the gobbledgook here. This goobledegook is important, however if I am on a time crunch I cannot afford the time to wade through all the “I am wonderful” stuff to get who what when where why …..Later, I will, when I prepping an interview, I will…right now, I can’t! I might be on air with a scant 3 minutes to pull up a presser
    And PLEASE do this in black and white without fancy furbeloes….I can’t waste printer ink on your decision to write “I love the Blues” in a gorgeous purple font! .

    Yes, yes, yes keep bothering us! Make it polite, send a copy of your latest album; send press releases, and don’t give up. I may be just waiting to find the appropriate moment, or a gap in my scheduling. Don’t get snippy. Don’t disappear!

    Hope this helps someone!

  • Xan Angelfvkk

    Not really relevant to underground metal.

  • The biggest reason – you’re not signed by a record company and they don’t take DIY bands seriously. I have never seen a post on Blabbermouth (the most popular hard rock / metal news site) about a new album that wasn’t tied to some record company. One exception – posts about musicians who were in some known (signed) bands in the past. Those guys can release something independent and it will still get posted. So… maybe it’s time to create a record company, even if it’s nothing more than a mock up? Either that or get some has been in a band.

  • Cheryl Wilson

    I guess I need the team part? Are you accepting new clients?

  • baconbaconbaconbaconbaconbacon

    my latest album didn’t get press because I couldn’t give a fuck about the music business.
    We made a limited edition release & sold it out in good time with virtually no promotion whatsoever.
    I refuse to spend a ton of money or expend any extra energy other than what it takes to make
    some good music for some folks who appreciate it.

  • Deborah Wedekind

    Mistakes made! Yes! But hanging in there and learning for the next release is crucial. Especially finding good PR people! Tough! http://www.DeDe-Music.com

  • Ian

    Or maybe its just that there are too many self appointed singer-songwriters and bands out there vying for press coverage. I have to say I think there are good points here, and the truth always hurts, but given that this site makes money from encouraging people to release their own music, maybe this one should come as a warning checklist prior to self release.

  • Or you can be like Lady Gaga and spend 25Million $$ to buy “news” and “promotions” and “billboard” fake report. The whole music business is bogus and it’s going to fall apart, mostly the mainstream. They are selling shit, and people are tired of it.

    You really want to make it these days, it’s time to put on the hats of Bob Marley, Tupac, John Lennon and promote peace, liberty, justice, and human freedom. That’s what people are dying to hear, not shit like Jizzey, Lil Weiner, Chief Douche, etc….

    • DA

      Well,smart people are wanting to hear the good stuff. There are tons of how do I say “not so smart” people out there with poor taste. If we all knew the avenue to take to get our stuff heard by people that we know would like it everything would be easy. Its like we have to get it heard by 100 people who don’t like it to get that one that does. Especially if an artist doesn’t have that “popular” in sound.

      It seems for the most part a true artist is not celebrated. A true artist is someone that creates something from scratch by letting whatever it is come out naturally. Not someone who trys to sound like the “it” or “in” thing or someone who listens to their favorite music to get “ideas”. You always hear everyone say “stand out and don’t sound like everyone else” but why do these big name acts pretty much all sound like someone else? Its almost like people accept little subtle changes like a rapper who has a slightly different rhythm to his voice rather then someone who cannot be compared to someone else.

    • DA

      Well,smart people are wanting to hear the good stuff. There are tons of how do I say “not so smart” people out there with poor taste. If we all knew the avenue to take to get our stuff heard by people that we know would like it everything would be easy. Its like we have to get it heard by 100 people who don’t like it to get that one that does. Especially if an artist doesn’t have that “popular” in sound.

      It seems for the most part a true artist is not celebrated. A true artist is someone that creates something from scratch by letting whatever it is come out naturally. Not someone who trys to sound like the “it” or “in” thing or someone who listens to their favorite music to get “ideas”. You always hear everyone say “stand out and don’t sound like everyone else” but why do these big name acts pretty much all sound like someone else? Its almost like people accept little subtle changes like a rapper who has a slightly different rhythm to his voice rather then someone who cannot be compared to someone else.

  • Robbie Alan

    What counts is the music! Who cares if someone was
    the nephew of Frank Sinatra.I don’t buy the hype,
    I buy the music that moves me:the only way to find out
    about an artist is to listen to what they create. The story
    behind the artist comes after.
    It’s the medias responsibility to tell the world about
    exciting new discoveries,no matter when they’re discovered.
    The fact they never been heard of makes it news.
    What should be celebrated are great performers,that
    stand out,not the pop divas,and generic fluff that’s
    happens to be the flavor of the moment.

    • DA

      Exactly. Nice post.

  • awesome! So there may be hope for us afterall! Maybe, hopefully, surely 😀 https://soundcloud.com/vogeljoy/peace-in-me

    • Great, I’ll share it! That’s how we will gain the mainstream music

  • Rhett May

    Good to meet you and thanks a great topic….

    Thought I’d share some good news !!

    My second single ‘Insatiable’ was released last week….
    It was immediately picked up by BBC Radio Network !!

    Here’s the link to my iTunes store:
    http://tiny.cc/5hii6w

    Also if interested…kindly take a moment or two to look at and listen to:
    http://youtu.be/5R5Dz2IcBZg
    http://tiny.cc/6o4f0w
    http://tiny.cc/8bon0w

    The video for my first single ‘Cocktails and Cannabis is almost at 920,000 plays on youtube…it’s SIZZLING HOT…and still climbing !!

    It’s simply about persistence and belief…and having a tune/song that people believe in.
    Be positive and keep on keeping on….don’t listen to all the negativity that is around.
    Believe in yourself….everything you do is unique in it’s own special way…and someone out there shares your belief !!

    Rhett

  • Hi Fiona,

    Thanks. These are great additions. And a good tip about track times.

    @ChrisRobley