How to throw a successful listening party

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How to throw a listening party: lessons from Mass LoveThere are a multitude of ways to get a blogger to notice your music. One is through writing a really well-crafted outreach email that gives the writer all the information they need to quickly determine who you are and what you sound like. But in today’s vast world of digital distribution, sometimes releasing a great body of work isn’t even enough to stand out amongst all the noise.

That may sound harsh at first, but lots of people release new music every day, so the debut of an album is hardly news in the blogosphere. One common way to elevate the importance of a new album is to turn it into an event. Release parties are customary, but often lack intimacy and focus (and usually cost money to book a venue). A much better alternative is to host a listening party in your own home studio.

I recently attended one such event for a studio vocalist named Sciren. Inspired by the success of her listening party, the following is some practical advice to make your own personal affair a similar victory.

Target wisely

Before you even reach out, do the research to really understand what type of music makes a particular writer most excited. Ask someone you respect (who will give you an honest, unbiased opinion) if they think your music aligns with the blogger’s taste. Then, and only then, reach out and personally invite them to your event.

If they reply, share a private link to the music you will be debuting. By giving them special access to unreleased material, you show your respect for their opinion. If they like what they hear in advance of the event, it strengthens their commitment to attending.

All of this pre-event activity is crucial because, why would you want someone at your listening party if you don’t truly think they will like what you have to offer? If there was one recurring theme from my article on getting a blogger to notice your music, it was not to waste peoples’ time- neither yours nor theirs.

Be hospitable

Once you have successfully drawn the blogger to your event, make your best effort to ensure everyone’s comfort. Have ample seating on hand, offer refreshments (everyone loves free beer and/or pizza), and have some mood lighting to ease the tension. In addition to bloggers, reporters and other musicians in the local scene who you admire, make sure your real life friends are there, too. Ask them to come early so that you already have a small crowd assembled when the pseudo-strangers you’ve invited start to show up.

Attendees of a listening party are often present for different reasons and have varied experiences with the artist they came to support. As the host, it is your role to do whatever you feel necessary to keep things from getting too awkward among the room full of semi-strangers.

To lessen the chance of uncomfortable silences, extend the invitation and encourage the guests you have invited to bring along one of their own friends. This increases the chances of everyone knowing at least one other person and keeps the chatter rolling and party vibes flowing. When new guests arrive, introduce them to the existing attendees and mention any relevant qualifications or job titles. As the host, it is your role to facilitate conversation and networking.

Don’t force it

Once you have taken care to do your research and create an inviting atmosphere, it’s time for the magic to happen. If you followed my steps for getting a blogger to notice your music, you’ve told them very little about your personal story, which leaves a lot of room for conversation when they’re at your listening party in person.

By inviting the blogger to a unique social event specifically designed to feature your music, you have offered them the opportunity to be the first person to actually tell a part of your story. Writers would much rather be present to observe and contribute to a collaborative musical experience, than to recycle a generic bio that’s been pushed to every blogger that will take the time to look at it (or copy and paste it).

Mass Love: how a Reddit thread morphed into a year-long labor of love

Sciren did all of these things leading up to the listening party for her recent release Prototype. With all the right people gathered in the room (and with artisan pizza and craft beer in their hands) she spent the first half hour of the evening conversing with her guests and friends, making introductions and small talk. Thirty minutes before commencing the playing of Prototype (accompanied by live commentary), she casually talked about previous work she and producer David Beukes had done together, as well as how they met.

As it turns out, their story is unique in that Beukes is located in South Africa and Sciren in Indianapolis. The science fiction-loving Redditors have never met in real life and had only worked on a few remix projects together before participating in the 2013 February Album Writing Month (FAWM) under the project name Mass Love, which yielded the framework  for what would eventually become Prototype. After a year of post-production, the pair unveiled their first full-length album on Thursday, January 30th at 9 p.m. in Indianapolis (it was 2 a.m. for Beukes, who skyped in live to participate remotely from half way across the world).

It was in that moment that Sciren — in front of a room full of fans, friends, and followers — realized that she’s been pronouncing her producer’s last name wrong for more than three years, having never verbally said their names to each other over the course of their long-distance working relationship.

From a blogger’s perspective, this is gold. Not only do I have an incredible album and a fun listening party to write about, but I also have a funny story to ice the cake with, and that will help me to create a compelling article that people want to read. By putting her music in front of me in a variety of ways and by creating a memorable experience that allowed me to observe a very candid moment in time, Sciren has literally guaranteed coverage of her new album from me.

As tempting as it is to think that your release is strictly about you and your music, you also need to position your product (album, event, etc.) in a way that makes it appealing to, and beneficial for, a writer to cover it. Mutually helpful relationships are much more likely to last and result in recurring engagements than a one-sided force-feeding ever could. If you create with quality and share innovatively, you’re certain to win the attention of the media.

Author bio: Danielle Look is the Music Editor for in Indianapolis, IN. She is also a Media Outreach Specialist at DigitalRelevance and studies marketing at The Kelley School of Business. When she’s not writing, attending concerts, doing homework, or geeking out over digital PR she’s busy being a #dogmom to her puppy Elwood. Connect with Danielle via Twitter.

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  • Now Occupy

    Indeed, fill up your studio with a bunch of strangers and let them get drunk and hang out in a closed space full of expensive (and often portable) gear. What could possibly go wrong?

    • Lauren Moore

      Listening party host here! Luckily the only gear I have is a desktop, a laptop, and a mic, all of which were used by me at the event to communicate remotely with my producer. All of the attendees were acquaintances of mine, and nobody was there to get drunk. They came to listen, ask questions and mingle. Everyone was in and out in about 3 hours and it was one of the best nights of my life. You just have to be smart about it!

  • Peter D’Amore

    Thanks for the compelling read! As a musician with a forthcoming album release, this showed me the importance of researching local blogs, and not just nationwide popular ones. What is the best way to find the best (most appropriate for the artist) local blogs? For example, if I’m from Milwaukee, WI, would I just google them and do the homework, or is there a better way to refine a (music) blog search by location?

  • Hi Peter,
    I’m actually not sure if it’s broken up by geography (I think it’s divided by genre), but the Indie Bible has a big list of blogs:

    @ Chris Robley

  • Danielle Look

    Thanks for reading & commenting, Occupy. If you’re not comfortable inviting strangers into your home studio, you could always look for an alternative, intimate space such as someone’s garage or a small art gallery. Best of luck!

  • Max Vasquez

    a coffee house or someplace intimate that can handle small events works often for me. if they have a stage we alternate between live and recorded album to keep things lively, and it raises respect levels if you can perform as well as you record

    • That’s a good idea. Match or best the recording. Of course then you might be in one of those “they sound better live” scenarios.

      @ Chris Robley

      • Max Vasquez

        that was also said of The Grateful Dead and people still bought their studio albums nevertheless

      • Max Vasquez

        if you know what you’re doing you should be able to have both be a thrill to your audiences… hopefully without Autotune? lol 😉

  • Max Vasquez

    Having your listening premiere at a participating coffee house or bar with a good sound system and stage works often for me, and I alternate between live and album. Keeps things lively and raises respect levels by performing live as well or better than what’s on the recordings.

  • Max Vasquez

    The Indie Bible offers hundreds and hundreds of blogs all over the world… also try my colleague’s