10 things to consider when you’re submitting an album for review

As the editor-in-chief of I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, I have been receiving a growing number of submissions for reviews. As much as this is very exciting both for the magazine and for the new music scene at large—keep creating music!—I often witness the same mistakes that reduce one’s chances to be considered for review, and not only in our magazine and blog. So here are 10 things to consider when you’re submitting an album for review:

1. Do your research

Make sure that the outlet you’re pitching your album to is interested in your kind of music in the first place. Spend a few minutes browsing the website and check the content they publish. If it’s all world music, they might not be into your latest musique concrète recording.

On a side note, I feel that it is OK to ask around for contact infos, editors’ emails, etc. Don’t be afraid to briefly introduce yourself, though, and give the connection (My name is Phil. Bob from The Spectralites gave me your contact info and I hope it’s OK to contact you directly).

A bunch CDs - Photo Flickr/William Hook, CC BY-SA 2.0

A bunch CDs – Photo Flickr/William Hook, CC BY-SA 2.0

2. Don’t ask if people would like to listen to it

Are you contacting an outlet that publishes album reviews? Good. Are they reviewing the kind of music you’re creating? Excellent. Now, chances are that they are already interested in your music, or at least a priori curious about it. They probably also don’t have time to answer every email. So? Don’t ask them if they want to listen to it: introduce it briefly and point to a place where it is available for them to listen to. Bonus points for not making them write an email back.

3. Offer a streaming link

Last week, after writing back to a musician saying that I was interested (see #2), I received an answer that went like this:

“I cannot get you a streaming link but I’d be happy to mail you a hard copy.”

Why? Why spend the money on a bubble envelope and shipping fees if you can just send a streaming link? At this point, it is a first listen, an assessment. The album might not be picked and you might waste a copy that could be used towards another form of promotion (see #8).

How long would it take to upload the album in a private Soundcloud set and share a secret link? If you don’t know how to do this, this article will be helpful.

4. Offer a streaming link

No, really. Bandcamp, chartburst.com, mixcloud.com, and many more.


5. If you really have to offer a download link, make it light and convenient

If you can’t figure out how Soundcloud works, or if you are some sort of streaming vegan, then offer a public download link—not an invitation to the umpteenth cloud service: No registration should be necessary to access your music.

Make sure to offer a good file format too: no .WAV or .OGG, that are too large, or .WTF that requires three new codecs to listen to. Tracks should be clearly labeled (001.wav, 002.wav, 003.wav? Click; trash) and tagged appropriately (a favorite: http://www.mp3tag.de/en).

6. Build a landing page for your album

Build a page on your website specifically to promote your album (call it an EPK if you’d like). Do not use an entry somewhere on your blog. Do not bury the album at the bottom of your discography. This page should have one single purpose: Listening to your music and learning more about it.

Shorten the URL and give it a catchy name like bit.ly/RadTrioCD, it will be easier to share on Twitter, Facebook, by email, on print media, etc. Pro tip: add a plus sign (bit.ly/RadTrioCD+) after a bit.ly or a goo.gl link and visit the new URL to quickly check the stats…

Your landing page should/could include:

  • a short intro paragraph,
  • a video about your album,
  • a link to the full press release (as a second page or a PDF),
  • an audio player (and if it is above the fold it’s even better),
  • links to your social media accounts (as in “see how many people will read the review when I share it“)
  • your contact info (or a contact form)
  • bonus: hi-res photos + cover art (include the name of the artist and the photo credit in the filename: Super-Duper-Quartet-Credit-John-Doe.jpg). Ideally, offer both orientations (landscape and portrait).

Spend some time reading about Landing Page Optimization; it is time well spent.

If you’re nervous about your content leaking, give it a cryptic URL, and block it on robots.txt.

Oh, and make it responsive if you can: people might be reading this on a mobile device. See: 125+ Free Responsive HTML5 CSS3 Website Templates

7. Trust the soup

Don’t ask people to keep this link to themselves: Yes, there are dishonest people everywhere and we all know this. Just don’t assume that the person that will put in the hours to help promote your release is one of them. That’s not the best vibe to give off.

Besides, depending on the size of the outlet, the link might end up being shared with writers or other editors. This is a risk you must take.

8. Offer copies for giveaways, and offer to send them yourself

If you make it easy for the editors, I’m pretty sure they’ll be glad to organize a giveaway (Facebook lifted Timeline Promotions restrictions) and to help share your music with their readership. And you know what? If you send the CDs yourself, you are in control of the way you connect with a potential fan and you can enclose:

  • a personalized thank you letter. Who doesn’t like to get one?
  • an invitation to join your newsletter via a shortened URL or a QR code (one of the only good uses of QR codes),
  • a coupon for a second copy at a discounted price. Try it: Someone who digs your music will most likely give the coupon to a friend.

9. Don’t send mass emails

Just don’t. It feels more efficient but it is totally counterproductive—especially if you are contacting people for the first time. If you have fifteen hours to devote to connecting with potential reviewers, target well (see #1) and write personalized emails. 10 quality, targeted emails are better than 150 anonymous blasts.

Do you like to receive mass emails? Well, nobody does. Click; trash.


10. Following up or not following up?

I’d say yes if you add value to your follow up message. How? First, don’t try to make the reader feel guilty about not having answered or posted anything yet (It’s been three weeks and I still haven’t heard from you guys). Bad idea. Instead, connect using the publication itself. A review they posted a couple of days ago was about a Stockhausen piece? Explain how Stockhausen was an influence for your album because X/Y/Z. Offer something that might help writing the review, whether it’s an interesting angle (the only album in recent history featuring a microtonal ukulele and timpani piece) or maybe an insight into your creative process (interview with one of the performers that you posted on your personal blog). Keep it short, keep it friendly! And don’t follow up more than twice.

Man, that feels like a lot of work!

Yes, because it is a lot of work and you cannot ask people whose job it is to review CDs to do it for you. The less people have to do to access your music, and the more they will be open to listening to it. Reduce the friction to a minimum.

And in the end…

If your album gets picked, share the review with your followers on as many networks as possible. Add a quote from the review to your press section on your website—or your email signature—and link back to the original review (sending traffic their way is a thoughtful way to thank a publication; they will know it’s coming from you).

If it doesn’t get picked, well, there can be a variety of reasons why, and very few are really about your music: you targeted the wrong site, the timing didn’t work out, or maybe you made a couple of mistakes that made it too hard to get to your music?

What is your experience? Anything I should add? Comments are open, or tweet at us at @icareifulisten.