To attach or not to attach: a primer for submitting your music to radio, music blogs, press and labels

The most frequent question I get from
artists is “how do I contact the music services listed in your directory?” The
answer is always the same. Whether you’re contacting a magazine, music blog,
radio show, record label, music distributor or promotional service – you have to
check THEIR SPECIFIC submission guidelines before getting in touch. Ninety
percent of music services have their submission guidelines clearly posted
online.

Why do artists ignore submission
guidelines?

My guess is, as is the case with most
people, musicians and artists are in a gigantic hurry and are always on the
lookout for any available shortcut. It’s a habit that lies deep within our
psyche and is hard to break. Shortcuts are great when you end up where you’re
trying to get to. If you don’t end up at your destination, then by definition, it’s
not really a shortcut.

In the music business, because there are so
many thousands of people submitting their music daily, if you don’t follow the submission
guidelines, you may as well open your window and throw your CD onto the street.
That way, it has a miniscule chance of someone listening to it.

A bit of background on submissions

It used to be when you were looking for
places to review or play your music, the options were very limited. You would
make a demo in a studio or create a home recording, and would then mail physical
copies to the various record labels. There were some college stations around
that would play your song, and a cluster of homemade zines, but that was it as
far as any exposure opportunities went. Remember, there was no internet back
then.

However, that was many years ago. With the
explosion of the internet, it is no longer possible to even keep track of all
the places that could help you to gain more exposure for your music. While they
all have their own special way that they like to be reached, a lot of artists still
tend toward a one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to making initial
contact. However, to make any serious inroads, you need to put aside the time
required for the “personal” touch.

How to submit your music 

The rest of this article lists all the possible
ways (that I know of) to submit your music to the various music services (or in
some cases, reasons why a music service doesn’t want your submission).

I have created this list to show you that
there are MANY ways that you may be asked to submit your music. I hope to get
the point across that sending your music without checking the submission
guidelines is a waste of your time and money. And frankly, it just irritates
people.

Methods that guarantee failure

The generic e-mail blast. We all know this
one: it’s called spam. The logic behind it all comes down to basic math. “If I
send out X number of e-mails and only .01% of the people respond … that’s still
a lot of responses!” I can guarantee you that no music submission guidelines in
the history of the world have ever stated that their preferred way of being contacted
is by an e-mail blast!

The generic e-mail blast with fries. To get
an e-blast from an artist that has cc’d you and several hundred other people is
the lowest possible form of communication in the music business, especially if
there are MP3s attached. It frustrates everyone involved. If you’re going to
send out a blast, at least have the decency to use the blind carbon copy (bcc:)
so that no one sees anyone else’s e-mail address.

No contact name. When sending an initial
e-mail to a music service, I highly recommend that you take the time to find
out the name of the appropriate contact. This will show them that you have sacrificed
a few seconds of your time to at least find out who to contact.

There are cases where no contact name is
available. A lot of bloggers like to keep things mysterious. In these cases you
have no choice but to start your correspondence with a generic salutation.

However, in most cases, the name of the appropriate
contact is posted, usually in the “About Us” or “Contact” section.

Does NOT accept unsolicited material. This
is the first thing to check for. Does this music service even accept
submissions? One of the most frustrating things for independent artists to deal
with is the large number of labels and music services that do not accept
unsolicited material.

There are two mains reasons for this
vigorous screening. The first is for legal protection. In the past, there have
been many artists that have filed suit against labels, claiming that the label
ripped off their song. They claim that they sent XYZ Records a demo, and a year
later a XYZ Artist released a song that sounded similar to their demo. It gave
record companies no choice but to protect themselves by having lawyers or
management firms ask for permission to send in a demo on behalf of their
clients.

The second reason is that it helps to make
sure the music is targeted. It enables labels to avoid the deluge of
inappropriate material that they would receive if they welcomed ALL material.
At some point a human being has to go through all the submissions. If the label
welcomed unsolicited material, they would be fortunate if 10% of the music sent
to them actually fit the style that they were looking for.

“Submissions are closed”. Many services,
especially small labels, review websites and blogs, reach a point where they’re
maxed out. They have a small staff, a backlog of submissions and cannot
possibly get to any new submissions, at least for the next while. Once they get
caught up, submissions are opened up again. 

Not using the correct e-mail address. Most
music services have several contact e-mails, especially the larger ones. Make
sure that you use the appropriate e-mail address.  If a music reviewer’s personal address is
listed, and they ask that you send all submissions to the music@ address – do
NOT send your music to their personal address, even if that’s the person that
you would like to send your music to.

Poor spelling, grammar and text speak. Either
run your spell checker or get a friend to look over your copy before you send
it to anyone. The same thing goes for grammar. That age-old rule about the
importance of first impressions still applies.

Asking a question that is answered in the
FAQ.
Most music services have some sort of FAQ on their website. The usual
policy is, if the FAQ doesn’t answer your question, then by all means get in
touch. However, if you send them a question that is answered in the FAQ, you’re
only going to tick them off. It’s doubtful that they’ll get back to you.

General rules

What style(s) of music does this music
service welcome?
Nothing slow burns a radio host, music editor, label owner or
blogger like getting bombarded with music that is totally unrelated to the
style that they promote. It displays a total disrespect. It’s like sitting down
and ordering pizza in a Chinese restaurant. It shows them right away that you
haven’t taken a moment to even look around to find out about what it is they
do. Your songs, of course, are trashed immediately. 

Contact before sending your music. Several music
services ask that you contact them before sending in your music to make sure
your music is a good fit. It’s for this reason that many services do not post
their physical address online. You must contact them first in order to get the mailing
address. It’s their way of pre-screening submissions.

Do not contact before sending your music. Some
services do not want to be bothered with an initial contact. Contacting them
only irritates them.

Facebook, Twitter. An increasing number of
music services prefer to be contacted through their Facebook page or Twitter
account. Often you will not find any other contact information on their website
other than a link to their Facebook and Twitter pages. Sometimes you will find
a contact e-mail within the About section of their Facebook account.

Comments. Many bloggers don’t post any
contact information at all. In order to get in touch you have to post a comment
on their blog.

What formats do they accept? Music services
usually post their format of preference. Often it’s a combination of several
formats. For instance, they may accept digital and physical submissions.  There is an increase in the number of music
services that accept vinyl only – they are usually record labels in the punk, electronic
and hip hop genres.

EPs and demos. Many reviewers will accept
demos and EPs to review, but it’s important to check before sending out your EP
or demo.

Time sensitive material. There are a number
of music blogs, radio shows, promoters and review sites that will only deal
with music that has been released recently. The cutoff date varies, but the
allowable time of release is usually 6 months or less. If your music was
released prior to their “cut off” date, it will be ignored.

Local music only. What is meant by “local”
depends on the specific resource – for some it may a particular city and its surrounding
suburbs; for another it may be an entire state or province. A common exception
is if your band is on tour and is playing in the community.

Which reviewer accepts my style of music? There
are a large number of music blog and review websites that have a stable of
reviewers. Each reviewer accepts one or more particular styles of music. So,
even though the overall website may welcome many styles, the onus is on you to
find out which of the reviews/bloggers deals with your particular style of
music. Once you determine which reviewer covers your style of music you can contact
them according to their specific submission guidelines.

Permission forms. Many music services will not
play your music or video unless you fill out their online permission form. In
some cases you are asked to print out the form, fill it in, and mail it to
them. If you send them your music without the form, it will not be played.

Is this a free or a paid service? Most
bloggers, magazines and radio shows will promote your music as a free service.
However, more and more services are charging a minimal fee. It’s usually
between $10 and $50, depending on the services they offer and the number of
songs involved. There are also music services that offer both a “free” and
“paid” option. The main advantage of the “paid” option is that it gets you to
the front of the line. 

Third party submission services. Often a
music service will only accept music through a third party submission service.
MusicSubmit www.musicsubmit.com, Sonicbids www.sonicbids.com, Musicxray www.musicxray.com and ReviewShine www.reviewshine.com are the most popular. Instead
of being bombarded by thousands of submissions, many bloggers, reviewers, radio
shows etc. hire a submission service to handle all the incoming submissions.
The submission service makes their money by charging the artist a small fee for
the submission.

Sending a press kit. Another important consideration
when sending your music is the accompanying bio information about you or your
band. Submission guidelines are usually specific about what sort of information
they would like to have included. They could either ask for a full blown press
kit, a one-sheet, an electronic press kit (EPK) or just a few lines only. They
may also want a photo of you, a scan of the album cover, press clippings and so
on. Your best chance to succeed is by sending exactly what it is they want. If
they ask for a one-sheet and you send them a novel, you’re only going to frustrate
them.

College radio. Some college radio stations
allow you to send your music directly to a show’s host, but many insist that
all music must be sent to the Music Director. The Music Director then passes on
the music to the various shows, according to the genre. Make sure you’re clear
on whom to address your music to.

No shrink wrap or glitter. When sending a
CD make sure to remove the shrink wrap first. It’s highly irritating for
someone receiving hundreds of CDs a week to continually have to waste valuable
time removing annoying shrink wrap. And please don’t fill your envelope with
glitter to try and be unique and get their attention. It’s universally hated by
everyone in the music business.

Digital submissions

Attachments. Nothing fires up the rage-O-meter
like receiving an e-mail with an mp3 attached, when your  submission guidelines clearly state “Please do
not attach mp3s!”

Sending MP3s. If a music service does
welcome attachments, make sure that you follow their particular specs (if they
have them listed). There are a variety of ways to format/compress a MP3. For
starters, you always want to make sure that it’s tagged/labeled right. The formatting
details vary according to the individual music service – eg ‘mp3 file encoded
at 64-512kbps or VBR with 44.1 kHz sampling rate and less than 30mb’.

Links to your music. Services that accept
digital submissions, but don’t want attachments, will often ask that you send a
link to your music. MySpace is pretty much history so they prefer that you send
a link to your main website, Facebook page, Bandcamp page etc. Having a link
allows the end user to take their time because there are no storage issues. If
they like your music, they may then ask you to mail in your CD or send them a
digital file.

Streaming. For some music services the preferred
delivery is via streaming. Streaming is content sent in compressed form over
the internet and displayed by the viewer in real time. In other words, they
click on a link and the music or video starts to play right away. The end user
doesn’t have to wait for the entire file to be transmitted. Streams can be from
a YouTube page, Bandcamp page etc. 

Online forms. A lot of music services have
set up an online submission form. It allows you to fill out some information
about yourself and your band and upload one or more of your songs to their
server.

Soundcloud Dropbox. Soundcloud enables businesses
and individuals to accept large numbers of digital files effortlessly. A
Soundcloud Dropbox is the file exchange area (you’ll see a Dropbox icon on the
web page of many music services) where artists can submit their music. It’s
kind of like a mailbox for digital files. Once submitted, the file is parked on
the music service’s cloud server where it can be listened to or viewed at their
leisure.

File sharing services. Many music services,
especially reviewers and bloggers, ask that you send your digital files to them
via a file sharing service, which is a company that transfers huge files on
behalf of their clients, such as www.yousendit.com.
This allows a music service to download submissions without storage problems.

Digital music aggregators. In order to get
your music posted on many of the larger digital music websites such as iTunes
and Spotify, you must have your music submitted through a Digital Music
Aggregator. Aggregators are music services that distribute audio files in bulk
to these massive digital websites. The aggregator eliminates the need for the
technical support that would be required if artists uploaded their files
individually. Popular aggregators include CD Baby, IODA, The Orchard, IRIS,
Redeye USA, ORDIS and INgrooves.

The follow-up

Submission guidelines not only tell you how
to make first contact, but more often than not, they also tell you how to follow-up
(or not follow-up). The follow-up can often be as important as the first
contact.

The most common rule is that if they like
your music, they will get in touch. In other words, “Don’t call us – we’ll call
you.” It’s nothing personal, they just don’t have the time to respond to all of
the submissions they get. Others may welcome a gentle reminder. Radio show
hosts often ask that you follow their playlist to see if your music has been
played instead of contacting them and asking.

A lot of places emphasize no phone calls! A
sure-fire way to irritate someone is by following up in a way that they
specifically asked you not to in their submission guidelines.

In closing

Music people are very busy. They are absolutely
bombarded with music on a daily basis, but they are willing to deal with the
deluge because of this incredible passion they have for music. All they ask in
return is for you to follow a few simple rules that will make the handling of
this incoming flow of music a bit easier.

The best way to have your submission stand out,
is by making it personal and by following their submission guidelines to the
letter. By doing so, you become part of the minority, and are more likely to be
remembered.

If you don’t follow the specific submission
guidelines, your music will be trashed.

David Wimble is a songwriter, recording
artist (with his band Big Meteor) and is the publisher of the Indie Bible 
www.indiebible.com, The Indie Venue Bible www.indievenuebible.com and the Indie
Bible ONLINE 
indiebible.lwcr.com. His
company has combined all of their directories into a single bundle in order to
create an affordable resource for artists that are struggling during the
current financial downturn 
www.indiebible.com/bundle .
He can be reached at 
david@indiebible.com.

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Permission.