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What to Pitch for a Review

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief / @i_ADH

I've spent quite a bit of time mulling over whether or not to write this post. In the years in which I've edited Nextbop, I've learned how to present the work of talented musicians to the public around the world and have had to contend with those who have not necessarily learned the skills necessary of dealing with the press, establishing a good web presence, and most importantly the fundamental notion of presenting one's work to another human being in a way that is appealing. I recognize that this is all part of the job-- I'm an editor, self-made at that, of a website that deals with artistic types with various skillsets, artists young and old of different experiences and different perspectives. Not everyone is going to know everything. Making music is a different skill set than promoting music, than writing about music for journalists to write about it, than writing about music for fans to get intrigued, than discussing it in an entertaining fashion over the air. Working as an editor continually gives me insight into the ever-spreading and ever-morphing tendrils of the music industry; it's also driven me slowly insane explaining to the yet-initiated how best to send music. I considered writing a column like this to be too inside baseball-- a general readership may not find this particular subject helpful. It may have been too negative-- the Nextbop mission of positivity runs directly against the idea of writing a rant about the appropriate way to send information while I'm boiling over inside and not revealing every invective I'm spewing at my computer's & smartphone's screens. However, with every spammy tweet and every two lined, info-less email I receive, the more I realize for my own peace of mind, I had to spread the word. Musicians, journalists, and random fan alike, these suggestions for submitting work may not be universal, they may not always work, they may not always even work for submitting to Nextbop, but they'll certainly give whoever you're sending things to a hell of a lot fewer headaches.

To begin with, first know that I can really only speak for myself. There are others in music journalism who may work along the same lines and may even find the means I suggest for submissions to be sent to be helpful, but this is by no means a unilateral approach one should make in journalism. It may however be helpful to keep the basic idea in mind in this and in any endeavor-- you're presenting a work to another human being, make sure it's as complete and appealing as it can be. In order to do this, some degree of distance is necessary. If you weren't the person creating the work, if you were receiving it -- the music as delivered through an email/tweet/Facebook message/etc -- would you be interested in listening to it or reading through the email? When sending the work to a journalist, is your message crafted well enough to rise above the fray of the countless messages each journalist is receiving from people just like you? When sharing music with potential fans, would a listener be intrigued by what s/he hears? Is the music accessible for the public to hear, is there a track or two one could listen to as a sample ensnaring enough for a listener to purchase the entire album? As a producer of content, it's necessary to think about how a work would be consumed. This is the root idea when sending a work to others and should be the guiding principle. This is not necessarily the case when producing work. Music should be pure and expressive. It is still art and while commerce is not irrelevant, it also isn't paramount. However, the act of creation and the act of dissemination are interrelated and neglecting this connection is ultimately detrimental.

Thus, let's get one thing out of the way-- press coverage is arbitrary and subjective. My reporting on an album, video, song, concert, or anything is first dependant on my receiving word of it. This may mean I'm more amenable to judging work if I'm in a good mood, if I'm in the mood for a particular kind of music, if I'm pleased about the means in which music has been sent, if the work comes from someone I know, if the work comes from someone I don't know but has been vouched for, if the work comes from someone I don't know but a side player is someone I do, if the album art is enticing enough, if I'm in a bind and decide to pore over past emails and stopping on the ones that seemed the most sincere. In the extremely subjective realm of writing about an extremely subjective kind of music, the arbitrariness in which the music is received cannot be denied. Sometimes I'll get an email and peruse it quickly on my phone will in the midst of a bus commute on a hot South Texas day (of which there are many). Sometimes I'll be in a good mood, sometimes I won't. Sometimes I'll answer the first email an artist sends, sometimes the second1. The quality of work is a part of it but never underestimate the power of luck and timing in the arts.

Once the entire arbitrariness of submission is established, the means of how to do so becomes more clear. Submitting music to a journalist is like applying for a job wherein the journalist is a constantly busy human resources manager. Each email, an application packet; each album, a resume. And like an HR manager, journalists must pore over a tonnage of music constantly and, therefore, quickly. It's said a resume is typically read in about 30 seconds. They accentuate career highlights, eye for design and taste, and grasp of language. The process of sending and receiving resumes is designed just as much to call attention to talent as much as it is to weed out the inadequate. In that regard, with resumes, one must take great pains to be descriptive but concise, orderly and accurate, eye-catching but not ostentatious.

The same principle applies to submitting music. Your submission should include all the information one should need to ensnare the audience into checking out the work. For that, we return to the English classes of elementary school(or Linda Ellerbee on Nick News is really where this first got stuck in my mind, admittedly)-- tell your audience the who, what, where, when, and why2.

Who are you?-- What do you play? Did you go to music school and if so, where? Just some general biographical information.
What are you promoting?-- Is there an album, song, video, etc. you'd want a journalist to check out? Include a stream and/or download link. You want immediacy in this matter so include it right off the bat. Asking if I'm interesting in obtaining the work without hearing a single note adds additional steps to the process. There's more lag, both in time spent and in my waning interest in saying anything about you. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Why complicate things by adding steps. If I need a physical copy of the album3, I'll ask you for one. If you're contacting me about now, you probably want me to hear it now, not a week and a half from now after it gets to my physical mailbox which I only access once a week and then go through a convoluted process to rip the music digitally anyway. Get rid of the middle man and include your music digitally. Besides, why would I answer no without hearing anything anyway?
Where?-- Where can a listener buy your music? Include links. It's kinda the point of this endeavor, isn't it? Even better, where can they hear it? That's even more of the point.
When?-- When does your album release? When is your show (that considering the management of Nextbop is currently in South Texas4, decreases chance of coverage in this regard significantly)?
Why?-- This is the hefty one, the one that isn't just in the act of sending correspondence, or promoting work, it's about making a mark on the world... Why should I care? In a sea of emails glanced at haphazardly5, yes, your music should speak for itself, but what gets me to the music? Why make that extra click? Why turn off what I'm playing already? Attention is a gift, be worthy of it. Not solely for me, but for the listener everywhere.

After that, I'm essentially copying much of what Dave Sumner has said before me, particularly in regard to the importance of SoundCloud and Bandcamp. Nextbop's style is to whenever possible embed a link to music within a post. We act as presenters of the music to the public and are able to do so because we work through the medium of the internet. Not including the music itself being reported on in some form is a waste of the medium and antithetical to why the music was sent to it in the first place. A magazine has its form and purpose, the radio has its form and purpose, and a blog has its form and purpose. The easiest way to embed music with a post is through SoundCloud and BandCamp (and if you're just starting out, Bandcamp is most likely the best avenue through which to release, present, and sell work in the format I'm discussing anyway). Even moreso, of course if your work is great, I should hear it, but shouldn't others hear at least a song or two as well as the post surrounding it heaps praise upon it? Shouldn't people have the appropriate context?

Maybe I shouldn't have said these things. Maybe I should have held my tongue and chalked this up to being part of the job. Maybe I'm not giving people enough credit. I certainly have a long way to go on issues6. I don't want to come off as some unprofessional malcontent (though those who follow me on Twitter may get that impression from time to time). This is still a labor of love for me and I want jazz to prosper in all its permutations. Thus, I consider myself a storyteller and an educator, among other things. I try to make plain and entertaining the everyday, so if this is part of the job, perhaps I had to succumb to doing so just this once, and maybe, just maybe, I'd get a little less curmudgeonly with my email.

1. However, more often than not, if you haven't received a reply to a third email, you're more than likely being ignored. Maybe your album isn't good and I just didn't have the heart to tell you I hate it (not parsing words, there's stuff I get that I outright hate). Maybe your email looked so shoddy it just wasn't worth replying. Nevertheless, if you need to ask someone a third time if they got a message, you may just need to pick up a hint.
2. Clearly, a. tweet will not serve this purpose. Twitter is good for taking part in a community. It's an ongoing flow of conversation. It's certainly a self-promotional tool. However, it's an inefficient means of introducing an audience to a work. Twitter preaches to the choir, it doesn't initially fill the stands.
3. SPOILER ALERT: I don't. I'm a blog. You could still send your physical albums to me down the line so my home radio station, KRTU San Antonio, can have a copy on file, but for the purposes of Nextbop, it's entirely unnecessary.
4. ...and the mothership, Art of Cool, at the North Carolina research triangle, however with staff writers in Durham, Chicago, and Atlanta...
5. Oh, and I do maintain inbox zero... ladies.
6. I'm certain there are many of you who read that footnote earlier and are saying to yourselves, "If he keeps inbox zero, how many emails of mine has he actually read, and why has he still not replied? I know, I know, I'm trying to get better at this. It helps to have a mothership now to handle some of these things much better than I.

Nextbop @ Art of Cool editor Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current. You should follow him on Twitter.