How can I get my music reviewed and possibly on a label?
January 12, 2019 12:52 PM   Subscribe

I would like to get my music distributed more widely, reviewed, and possibly on a label. Or on vinyl? How feasible is that in 2019? What channels should I explore?

I'm aware of the many things that might preclude this from ever happening. But I'm still open to the possibilities!

Briefly: I'm in my mid-40s, Boston-based, and have played music since I was 12, including bands throughout high school, college, and into my mid-30s, most of which got a positive reception in underground venues. Then I took a long break for career reasons.

Call it a mid-life crisis, but when I think about my workaday job, I also know that it's not why I'm on this earth. Music has been the primary driver for happiness my entire life, and in the last 2 years, I've had more ideas than in the 30 years prior. I feel like striking while the iron is hot.

So... I have a home studio and have been composing 2 albums worth, with another couple albums on the way, all currently in Spotify and Bandcamp. Hard to summarize but it's a mix of composed minimalist stuff like Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Brian Eno, John Cale, etc, a mix of classical influences and more abrasive sounds. I'm feeling proud of it. I've never really felt like this about my own music. I realize these genres exist in a very small, somewhat pretentious world. But I haven't been able to focus on my career for the last 2 years—all I've wanted was to write and distribute my music. I have savings, no kids, potentially could take 6 months off and just do music. I remind myself a lot of my favorite artists and writers really got their "start" into their 40s.

So there's part of me that would love the validation of online reviews and possibly a label. The sad part is that in all these years, I never made a lot of professional contacts that could help with this. I would be going in cold, writing to magazines and labels who've never heard of me.

I would love to skip over feedback like "just self-publish on Bandcamp and enjoy the experience" because that's what I've already been doing. I would love to have a sliver of optimism and at least be thinking "here are 5-10 online magazines or labels who might be receptive to this."

Is emailing a label out of the blue with a Spotify link even a thing? Or emailing online magazines? I don't intend to play live, necessarily, and they've never heard of me, so are there better ways to pursue more publicity?

Thanks for any advice you have!
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in the same boat as you: same age range, been making music for decades, etc. etc. I wish I knew the secret!

I put out a jazz record last year and sent physical copies to to several jazz magazines and didn't get any reviews. I had a half page write-up about me in the Sunday edition of the local paper (circulation 200,000) and didn't sell any CDs or downloads because of it (and only got like four people to come to my website). I think it's a chicken/egg thing. Magazines don't want to review stuff that's not on a label and labels don't want to release stuff by artists they've never heard of. And I really don't know how labels who are releasing more esoteric music are making any money to begin with, so it seems even less likely that they'll roll the dice on someone unknown (especially when they need to spend at least a few thousand dollars just for a small number of ads).

But, I encourage "cold calling". I'm HORRIBLE at self-promotion, but it's the one thing that has been SLIGHTLY successful for me (it enabled me to do original music for an Indie film that won a bunch of big awards and got some electronic music of mine reviewed in some magazines and put on some compilations).

Based on your description of your music, getting a copy of the English magazine The Wire would be a good place to start to look for labels (as well as contacting them about reviews).
posted by jonathanhughes at 1:41 PM on January 12

Not strictly answering your question, but it sounds like your music might fit in with what Rod Richardson plays on Radio Nothing on WPKN. Maybe check out some of his older sets and if you agree, shoot him a message on email/twitter and point him towards your stuff.
posted by reptile at 3:32 PM on January 12

Try here.
posted by nirblegee at 1:27 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

I think you need to network or hire someone to do that for you. Probably contact a radio plugger too. Do you think you could build an audience without a label? That would increase your chances as it's a business after all. SoundCloud, YouTube... YT takes a while to build a fanbase. The musicians I know who have done this have YT channels offering content about either related or unrelated things. They use their music as opening and closing idents for their videos. You could start a channel on "how to make an album" or "How to build a home studio".

Research the labels that release the music you like and contact them. Ask them what the best way to do this is.

If you are happy for your music to be used commercially or in idents or on TV and broadcast material then I would also contact publishers who look after ASCAP writers. It's a way in.

You could also contact dubbing companies to get your music played in public arenas. It's an income and it's contacts.

You could also find digital artists who could use your music in their work or make some collaborative pieces for YouTube. Collaboration seems to be very important for music artists right now in order to widen their fanbase and make those sales.

Lastly perform live. This is the best way to build a fanbase. Regular venue. Which venues do you think would respond to your music?
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 4:50 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]

1) Get yourself a copy of This Business of Music. Regardless of your plans or hopes for any kind of music career, it'll provide you with a lot of basic information on legal and contractual things that you're likely to encounter.

2) Seconding nirblegee's suggestion of joining Taxi. I have a friend/current bandmate who has made a bunch of useful connections there.

3) Seconding johnathanhughes' suggestion of The Wire - they definitely cover a wide variety of music.

4) Cellist Zoë Keating (previously, previously) has written extensively on her blog about her income streams and concerns and considerations about creating a music career as a musician that doesn't comfortably fit into classical, rock, pop, or jazz genres.

5) So there's part of me that would love the validation of online reviews [. . .] Or emailing online magazines?

This is all understandable and totally fine - but it is simultaneously both a sort of numbers game and a matter of focus. IME, reviewers do tend to be at least a little more interested if you have some kind of physical product (vinyl, CD, cassette), but sending them Bandcamp/SoundCloud works too. The numbers game catch is that reviewers get sent a lot of stuff - and a ton of it is "out of the blue", so no problem there - and they have limited time and attention to listen to stuff and write about it. So the more music bloggers/reviewers you contact, the more likely it is that someone will like your stuff enough to review it. OTOH, the "focus" catch is that magazines/websites often have certain genres or styles they focus on, and sending them something outside those genres can be a waste of time and energy.

So your first step is to do the research and find the online magazines & etc. that review stuff that's at least somewhat similar to your work. Then send all of them your material for review.

6) possibly on a label

The first thing you gotta ask yourself here is "what do I expect a label to do for me?" Because labels are a sort of combination of investor & business partner - they cover some of the costs of creating a release (costs can include recording, manufacturing, distributing & promotion) in exchange for a share in the proceeds. There are almost infinite variations on exactly how this works in practice, which is a reason you should get your hands on the book in point one. They can be of some value in having contacts and a reputation that will be more likely to get reviews, they can cover some of the boring details of arranging for creating a physical product and shipping it out to various stores and media outlets, they can have people dedicated to promoting your releases.

It's also certainly possible that while they can do all these things and more . . . they don't, or aren't actually good at it. And there are of course tons of stories out there of labels signing acts to contracts that leave the artist with little or no money (or even owing the label) when all is said and done.

OTOH, in this day and age, it's possible for an artist to do all that themselves; vinyl & CD pressing plants will take anyone's business as long as the money's there, most offer a pretty wide variety of options and prices. CDBaby can work as a one-stop digital and physical distribution center. So you can do this without "being on a label" - or you could create your own label just to distribute your own work, which is very common.

So it's very much worth considering how much of the business of music you're willing and able to handle, while understanding that the more a label does, the bigger the slice of the pie they get. If being on a label is a thing you're still interested in after consideration, then there's nothing wrong with approaching it the same way you would find reviewers - focus on figuring out which labels would actually maybe be interested in releasing your stuff, then cold-email all of them. If you get an offer, have an entertainment lawyer weigh in on it.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:39 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]

Granted this was about 18 years ago, so your mileage may vary, but I had some good success in meeting my goal of "getting someone to release my music on vinyl" by simply mailing a CDR to something like 40 different small/medium size labels who put out music that I liked or that I thought was similar to the music I made.

This mostly resulted in a modest handful of email replies but ultimately landed me with a couple of small vinyl runs at a little indie label. It was a great experience.

Throughout the process I tried to keep in mind how I would like to be approached if I was on the other end. This led me to making a short (20 minute) demo that looked nice with simple graphics/design, with a very brief, personalized letter.

Also, sending my music to strangers turned out to be a good way to meet people and make friends in the community.
posted by soplerfo at 10:54 AM on January 14

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