Song, by Toad

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Performer Mag So Nearly Get it Completely Right

not-my-job I don’t know anything about Performer Mag, I must confess, but they recently wrote a really good article on the basics of getting press. It’s combination of a peek behind the scenes, and some simple advice on how to approach contacting the press, and almost all of it was spot on.  So generally apart from reading it and nodding I wouldn’t be commenting on it at all, but in their penultimate bullet point they mentioned something which is a massive, massive bugbear of mine and which has been irritating the living shit out of me for years, so it’s ranting time.

The point in question was this:

30. You have no damn pitch. Please realize that “We have a new record coming out” is not a pitch. There’s no story there. You have a new record coming out? You don’t say! So do a hundred thousand other bands. Here’s the most crucial question every writer and editor asks themselves, and you need to ANSWER it when you pitch press on your band: “What’s in it for me?” Simple, huh? Can you answer it? If I get a package on my desk, that’s immediately what I’m trying to answer, even if I don’t literally speak those words aloud. “What’s in it for me?” Why should I give a shit about this band? Will my readers care? Are they offering up any story angle that’s gonna make people visit our site or pick up the mag? What’s in it for me to cover your band? Think long and hard about it. ANSWER it before the editor or writer has a chance to ask it themselves, and you’re a HUGE step ahead of most bands jostling for ink.

Now, I am a blogger not a journalist, and I know that gives me a slightly different (and entire self-imposed) mandate, but nevertheless if deep down you really think like this, I kind of despise you. You’re a music writer. You write about music, you find the fucking story. It can be anywhere, from a wider movement you think the band are part of, to the place in music history their stuff fits into, to the innovation or lack thereof of their sound, to the most basic shit like how it makes you feel.

Their argument seems based on laziness, and in my experience wearing my other hat as a PR guy for Song, by Toad Records, that is exactly what it generally is. When I send out a press release with an obvious ‘story’ in it, it makes me bash my head against the wall how often I see it just copied and pasted into whatever article ends up being published. What the fuck is the fucking writer for in this scenario – couldn’t I just send my press release straight to the fucking sub-editor myself?

Look at it from the other direction, if you want to see the latent selfishness of their point: for most bands there is no fucking story. They are just some pals who made some music. Maybe they live in Dayton, Ohio, and maybe they live in fucking Dundee, but basically they’re just a fucking band. As Scroobius Pip once pointed out, even Radiohead are just a fucking band. What they are literally saying is that a shit band with a good back story is going to get more press than a great band with a really pedestrian back story, and I kind of fucking despise you if you think that this is okay.

Do you really prefer some utterly contrived attempt to make a bunch of normal everyday people whose one special thing is actually being good at music sound like they have something else wild and interesting about them in order to merit your interest?  That sounds completely back to front to me. You’ve missed the important point already: they are fucking good at music. What you really seem to want is someone to write a fucking article for you, you lazy, unimaginative fuck.

Now, I completely understand the pressures of both time and the sheer quantity of incoming music, but if you let that overwhelm you then you cannot blame the band. It is YOUR JOB to deal with this. It’s okay to lament it, but assuming the music is appropriate for the publication in question, it is not okay to pretend that it’s the band’s fault you get sent so much music.

Equally, I know most music is more or less the same. So most reviews or articles are going to be more or less the same: ‘here is a band who are very good at music – so fucking what’? Well, as you can see from the pages of Song, by Toad, I struggle with that challenge myself. How do you write a compelling post when you’re effectively just scribbling ‘here is a band I rather like’ for the five thousandth time? I am not sure – it is difficult – but that makes the person who can do it a really good writer and the person who can’t a mediocre one. If I can’t find a way to make that five-thousand-and-first post interesting then the failing is my own and I have to accept it.

If I didn’t explore the bands who wrote me the most ludicrously crap introduction emails I would have missed out on some of the most interesting music I’ve featured on this site, and if I’d stuck to the ones who sent me the most interestingly prepared stories I’d have covered some right shit. Music writing doesn’t demand an interesting story, it demands interesting music. If a band sent you some, then they have done their part of the job. The writing part is yours, you lazy fuck.

The rest of their article was pretty much spot on though, so it’s still well worth reading. But, erm *cough* that last bit rather got on my nerves. As you can possibly tell.

7 witty ripostes to Performer Mag So Nearly Get it Completely Right

  1. avatar

    Well said. This is the mandate on Simon Cowell shows, and how they pick out the televised auditionees from the thousands who apply… OK, you can sing, but do you have an interesting job (Prison Warden), look (special needs housewife with no fashion sense), or life story (husband who taught me to sing accidentally parachuted into a helicopter’s rotor blades just hours after helping me fill in my X Factor application form).

    For real music, written about by real music lovers, it shouldn’t make a blind bit of difference.

  2. avatar

    Have you ever seen the Peter Kay Pop Factor piss take? At one point, one contestant gets voted off and then his Nan dies and they immediately get him back in and kick someone else off.

  3. avatar

    Also, whenever I’ve seen bands or publicists try and manufacture a story where there really isn’t one it’s always the most contrived pile of utter shite I’ve ever read.

    And sometimes what they think is the story doesn’t interest me at all, and their plain and unexceptional existence actually does contain a detail which I find fascinating. But again, that’s the point of being a writer, surely.

  4. avatar

    Obviously people are reading – I just received a release that concluded as follows:

    “I think this could make a great story as [artist] has lots of great stories about growing up and how that has influenced his music today.”

    I now no longer require lunch.

  5. avatar

    So much work still to do!

  6. avatar

    Thanks for taking the time to comment on the article, and since I’m the one who compiled the research and wrote it, I figured I’d throw in my two cents and clarify a few things.

    For starters, you’re 100% right, there is of course an inherent laziness in the bullet point you’re referencing, but the purpose of the article was to inform bands, without bullshitting them, why press outlets might be passing on them. We took notes from editors and journalists we respected to compile the list, and this was a note we got back several times, which is why we included it.

    And whether YOU and I agree with it or not, that bullet point is one VERY big reason press outlets might be ignoring a band. Is it right? Probably not. In fact, kinda not at all. (And for the record, Performer listens to EVERYTHING that gets sent our way, including crappy burned CD-Rs with just the band’s name written in Sharpie).

    But, is it TRUE? 100% Yes, and that’s what this article is shining a light on – TRUTH, not sugarcoated nonsense and pandering crap to make bands feel better.

  7. avatar

    Yeah, I suppose in that sense you’re absolutely right, it does indeed tend to work out that way.

    It still massively depresses me though, whether it’s trying to come up with some flimsy, contrived story for the press releases I send out for my own label, or reading horrible press releases where the PR people try and shovel me a ready-made story with little regard to whether or not the music is appropriate for my site (something I personally feel would be a far better use of their time).

    But I suppose your point is what makes me the most depressed and irritated about this topic as a whole: that it probably is true. That no matter how good a band is, without some pre-written story to send to press, their chances of coverage are substantially diminished, and that really makes me despise the whole process (probably including my own part in it).

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