When was the last time you read a show preview or album review of a band that discussed the actual music: the song structure, guitar tones, harmonic and melodic choices, drum tones, the pocket, innovative syncopation, varied time signatures, sonic flourishes, unusual studio techniques that they HEARD in the recording and not told by the press release?
Music reviewers know their audience. The average reader doesn't care how you achieved that guitar tone on the bridge of track 3. But if your lead singer went on a spiritual quest for 9 months in the Amazon and came back with 12 songs written on an invented instrument he made out of found objects in the rainforest, now THAT'S a story!
When you write your press release or pitch an article highlight the most interesting aspects of what makes you stand out.
The mental effort it takes to battle with a shrink wrapped CD far outweighs the actual time and effort it will take to actually unwrap it. In your mind you have thought this out: "It's more professional if I give them my CD shrink wrapped. It looks like I'm a legitimate artist. They'll enjoy unwrapping it - like a present!" This is wrong on all accounts.
Always unwrap your CD when giving it to someone important, especially when mailing it to a music reviewer. Many times when you first pitch the article via email they'll be happy to listen to your album on BandCamp, SoundCloud or Spotify, but sometimes, especially the older journalists, will request a CD.
If a reviewer sees 5 discs on her desk, 4 are shrink wrapped and 1 is not, which do you think she's going to start with?
Music reviewers will go through all of your material when reviewing your band. They'll visit your website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and many times Spotify and iTunes to see the action there. If your website and Facebook lack professional promo photos it's going to be much harder to get a reviewer to decide to move forward with your review.
Every featured band review is accompanied with a photo. It diminishes the publication if they print (or post) a pixilated band photo that looks like it was shot by the drummer's girlfriend on her iPhone.
Hire a professional to do a photo shoot for every major, press-worthy event.
4) You Aren't Pitching An Event
If you're trying to get a reviewer to write a show preview for a local show then you have to make it an event. I once organized a show in Minneapolis called The Unknown Order featuring 4 buzzing bands. No band had sold out the 800 cap Varsity Theater on its own prior to this show. The concept of the show was that the order of bands wouldn't be announced and 10 minutes before each set the emcee would pick the name out of a hat. I wanted to move away from the concept of headliners and openers.
The show was so buzzed about that it sold out 10 minutes after doors opened and 200 people got turned away.
We garnered major press for it and every band's visibility amongst the local media community was heightened.
Make sure every event you pitch a reviewer is newsworthy and not just a local 4-band bill on a Wednesday night. Why does your story merit bumping every other music story off the cover? What makes your event unique?
It doesn't need to be a music video. It doesn't need to be a live video. But whatever video you're featuring needs to be great. It is no longer acceptable to feature shaky, fan shot iPhone videos from the 6th row. Or singing in front of your MacBook camera. Final Cut is (relatively) cheap and easy to use. iMovie comes pre-installed on MacBooks. Studio quality mics are inexpensive as are audio interfaces and recording programs like Logic, Pro Tools and even Garageband (which comes pre-installed on MacBooks as well). High quality SLR cameras can be found in every artist circle around the world. It's not tough to put together a high quality video.
If you don't have the resources to create the music video you're envisioning, then setup some lights in a warehouse, or take it outside and use the daylight, and put together a live performance video.
People will watch videos before they will listen to music. Reviewers are no different. They will visit your YouTube page (and you should include a link to your best YouTube video in the initial email pitch). Many times the publication will embed this video in the article.
Before your next newsworthy event make sure you have an impressive video to accompany your pitch.
6) You Don't Have Any Shows Booked
Having shows booked validates you on many levels. It shows that you're a band on the move. On the rise. Reviewers are much more willing to review touring bands - especially if you're contacting out of town press when you're passing through their city.
7) You Attached The Press Release (Or Mp3) To The Email
Never attach anything to an email in your initial pitch. Many reviewers have filters setup to send these emails directly to trash. Don't clutter their inbox up with your attachments. Copy and paste the press release into the body of your email BELOW your personalized pitch. Traditionally, in the age of snail mail and printed paper (remember that?), you'd send out a cover letter, the press release, a printed promo photo and CD. Now if you do that you look out of touch. The first contact is ALWAYS made via email. Include 1-2 links to your best songs on SoundCloud, 1-2 links to your best videos on YouTube and if it's an album review a link to the BandCamp, SoundCloud, Spotify, or if it's unreleased, a Box.com link to download it.
Occasionally reviewers will ask you to put a CD in the mail. But that's rare. And no one needs printed promo photos anymore. They'll just request a high quality jpg. Once they request this, THEN, and only then, can you attach it. Better yet, send a link to Box.com where they can download it.
8) Your Press Release Is Too Long
Press releases are one page long. No exceptions. The initial pitch email can contain a personal intro, 'cover letter' paragraph or two, but the press release is one page. Press releases contain the vital points of information:
1st paragraph: Who, what, where, why, when, how much
2nd paragraph: Background on your band (interesting story/accolades)
3rd paragraph: Information about the event
4th paragraph: Other interesting information
These are loose paragraph guidelines, but this is the order. Sometimes your background will be 3 paragraphs and info about the event will be 2, but all of this will be under one page. No exceptions.
It seems like quite the Catch 22 that no reviewer will want to review you until you're buzzing, but you can't start buzzing without press. Well you can buzz without press. I consistently sold out venues with grass roots promotion and zero press for years until the press warmed up. You have to get people talking about you. You need name recognition.
Music reviewers are people. These people go to shows, coffee shops, record stores, waste time on Facebook, flirt on Twitter. Make sure you're making waves where these reviewers are. Get your posters up around town. Target Facebook ads to reach them. Follow them on Twitter. Interact with their crowd on twitter and get retweeted by friends they respect. Show up at other bands' shows (where they'll be at). Read their reviews. Comment (occasionally) on their articles and then get a mutual friend to introduce you at a concert.
Once they get to know your name they'll be much more willing to review you when they receive your press release in their inbox.
For national press/media, you need YouTube plays, local press, Twitter buzz (not just numbers - everyone knows those can be bought), Spotify plays, blog buzz. Start local and grow from there. Or start on YouTube. But start somewhere and kill it.