The Localist: The Difference Between Good and Bad Press
I’ve been hearing complaints from bands over the last year that the quality of press coverage has been just plain awful. Not that blogs are giving harsher or more negative reviews of their music – but that the coverage is oftentimes riddled with spelling errors, or simply repeats information contained in the artist’s press materials. The thing is, as the number of musicians on the market increases, and the demand for write-ups increases, the average quality of writer who is able to adequately cover the music is necessarily going to fall. So there are basic economic and social reasons for a decline.
In fact, low-standards press has always existed, and it will continue to exist, as long as there are people who are prone to fall for it, whether because of narcissism or desperation. A number of years ago, an acquaintance of mine was paying money to a “manager” who tricked her into thinking she was famous just by purchasing millions of YouTube hits for her videos. Some management companies have invented entire websites with fake write-ups, placing musicians in the company of Billboard Top 100 artists.
Part of what is driving a boom in low-standards press is, I think, an adjustment in supply and demand. Given that social media is monetizing word of mouth, outlets are reluctant to write about anything that doesn’t have a guaranteed readership, which in turn tends to result in writing about musicians who pay for word of mouth. So, outlets are relying more on musicians to help drive engagement with their websites instead of vice versa. This in turn means that outlets are willing to write about anything and everything, regardless of whether they like it or not. The original rationale for a write up – that the writer is genuinely excited about the music – is eviscerated.
The thing is that low-standards press will never help you in terms of substantively advancing your career. The reason is because people who *can* advance your career will see it and never be convinced by it. In fact, even just regular people can see it and not be convinced by it. It smells like cheap press. This can all be problematic, because you don’t want the press you secure to have the opposite effect of making you look cheap.
That said, how does one tell the difference between good press and low-standards press? In general, good press is press from an authoritative source that gives honest praise that will convince readers to hear your music. You want the words to be written because they listened to the music, honestly liked it a lot, and have true things to say about why the music deserves attention over and above the hundreds of other things that they’ve heard. It sounds a little ridiculous that this concept has to even be repeated, but it is not the modus operandi for much music writing these days. A few guidelines:
- Stick to reputable outlets: Especially if you are paying a publicist to secure press, you are paying them to help you get press quotes and write-ups that you can use in the long term. Write-ups in reputable outlets are useful in that regard because other writers and editors will recognize those outlets and take note. For a good list of outlets that the industry finds reputable, go to the list of music outlets recognized by Metacritic and AlbumOfTheYear (AOTY lists the publications they use for their ratings on the lower-right corner of the page).
- Submit to passionate independent writers: There are many independent writers who run their own blogs who regularly write passionate and thoughtful write ups about the musicians that they cover. These writers will not always have a strong following. However, they will give the music an honest listen, and will give an honest review. And that honesty really shows. And because they are passionate writers, some of them end up writing for a larger outlet in the future.
- Connect with writers who are passionate about your music: If you know a music writer who loves your music, hold on for dear life to that writer and never let go. They are a valuable asset.
- Typographical errors: Typos are the surest sign that the writer just does not care about your music, and is doing the write-up for other reasons (likely to try and boost website numbers).
- Over-enthusiastic praise: If the writer is comparing you and every other musician to Bob Dylan or David Bowie, or is otherwise handing out over-the-top praise to you and every other musician on the website, beware. Don’t quote the write-up in any press materials. People who see these quotes in press materials will immediately see the write-up for what it is, cheap press. The writer doesn’t mean what they’re saying and people can smell it.
- Rehashing EPK materials: If a write-up just rehashes material from your press kit, this is a sure sign that the writer just does not care about your music.
- Purely descriptive writing: If the write-ups of an outlet merely describe the music without providing any kind of quotable language, then chances are the writers just do not care about most of what they write about. These write-ups can be pretty useless because you effectively cannot put these write-ups into your press materials, because there is nothing to quote.
It goes without saying, that you should not release music for coverage and review unless you feel it is really your best work, or otherwise something that a writer could honestly be excited about. After all, you are asking writers to give an honest review of your work, and you shouldn’t be asking for honest public review of work that, by your own measure, is not your best effort.
The Localist is a column focusing on issues relating to aspiring local musicians in New York City. In his free time, the author performs as St. Lenox. St. Lenox’s most recent record, “Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love” was placed on Best Albums lists at Pop Matters and AllMusic. AllMusic credits St. Lenox with “some of the most unique and unconventionally thrilling pop music in the late 2010s.”