I spend a lot of time on my laptop checking out jazz and, when it comes to reviews, the name Bruce Lindsay is one that comes up a lot!
Based in Norwich, UK, Bruce wrote his first album review in 1974 and has gone on to write HUNDREDS more in the years since, for publications including All About Jazz & Jazz Journal.
When it comes to getting gigs, of course the music is key. But a great quote or insightful paragraph by a trusted source can make a massive difference to how seriously promoters even check out the content. As such, I thought it would be interesting get a jazz journalist’s perspective on the subject.
Before we jump into the full interview, here are a few key takeaways from Bruce’s answers that I think are worth flagging up…
- A good publicist might seem pricey, but they could help to shape the way the industry sees you for a long time.
- If a journalist doesn’t get back to you or write about your album, don’t be upset: keep in touch. Sometimes it takes 2, 3 or more approaches before you get a review (or a gig, for that matter)
- “I do read every email I’m sent – at least the first paragraph” – promoters, journalists, agents are receiving a LOT of mails. Take care of the way you are writing to them to make sure they even get to the bit that says ‘watch/listen here’!
Approximately how many pitching emails do you get per day/week?
Hard to say, but probably four or five a day, plus a few hard copy CDs in the post each week (or, if I’m very lucky, vinyl).
I know that’s relatively few compared to many music journalists. However, it does mean that given my current work rate I only review about 1 in 10 of the albums I am notified about in this way – but a pitch might lead to an interview, or a live review, down the line.
How long before an album release should a musician start contacting press?
It depends. If you’re crowdfunding then I’m happy to hear about the project while you’re still seeking the cash, but usually I’d expect to hear when a release date has been fixed.
If you’re looking for a review, give plenty of notice. From receiving an album to submitting a review of it can take me anything from 1 week to a couple of months.
Best album you’ve reviewed this year so far?
Are there sub-genres within the jazz field that you tend to stay away from or focus on?
One lunchtime I was in a bar that advertised “Jazz today.” A very bored man wearing a stripy waistcoat and a tie with a piano motif was playing a few tunes on a cheap electric keyboard, some of which seemed to be standards.
I tend to stay away from that sub-genre if I can.
But if people are playing with genuine love and energy and trying to entertain, then I’ll listen. Sometimes I’ll listen even if they don’t seem like they’re trying to entertain.
I read an interesting interview where you said “sometimes I wonder what jazz would sound like today if no-one had ever written about it” – can you expand on that?
It’s not just jazz, but any art form.
I’m not attempting to be too profound, just interested in the impact critics/writers/reviewers might have on the way an art form progresses and develops.
The critic Hugues Panassié wrote in the ‘50s “there is no question about it, jazz and bop are two different musics…” How true those words are even today. I’ve checked out that interview you mention: it’s four years old but still mostly holds true.
Ivor Cutler is an absolute joy, Lal Waterson is one of the finest songwriters ever, the Bonzos still make me laugh after 50 years. Monk and Parker are holding up pretty well too. I think that all of those artists ploughed their own furrows and took little note of what music journalists said about them – thank goodness.
If you really believe in what you are doing, then please ignore the journalists.
When you receive a pitch from an artist you don’t know, how much of the material would you check out? Should they be sending one (strongest) track or a whole album?
I prefer to have a choice, so four or five tracks is good, the whole album if possible.
The problem with one track is that it might not be the one that will really grab my attention: an artist’s opinion about which track is best may not be shared by me or other writers.
I’ll dip in and out and if something grabs me I’ll listen to the whole thing.
You also take music photographs. What 3 things should a band consider when planning a photo session for a new album?
I take very few photos now, and never really got into photoshoots rather than live performance photography – I never mastered the art of telling people where to stand and what to look at.
- Find a good photographer who knows how to shoot pictures properly and offer them a decent fee.
- Avoid cliché: no more ‘moody saxophonist stands in a puddle at end of a late-night jam’ please. ‘Cheery saxophonist sits in a puddle of jam first thing in the morning’ would be more original.
- Use the best quality photos/illustrations you can. There are some truly awful cover shots out there [one or two fairly big record labels are as guilty as independent releases].
- [I know you only wanted three, but…] Please make sure that any text on the album cover is readable. Yellow 8pt text on an orange background doesn’t work. Neither does the use of an ‘edgy’ font on a psychedelic background. Jazz writers are quite old these days – we’ve all got bad eyesight. Be kind.
How much impact can a publicist have on a new artist’s career and exposure?
A good publicist might seem pricey, but they could help to make a new artist. A poor publicist might be cheap, but they can finish your career before it starts. A poor but pricey publicist will ruin you artistically and financially.
Can a musician do anything specific in their initial email contact to you to make it more likely their music gets listened to?
Make it brief, clear and friendly. Try to get all the vital info on screen at once. Don’t make unsubstantiated claims [Are you really ‘redefining what it is to create jazz’?] What are you contacting me about [album, tour, new band…]? Tell me a little bit more about it, but not too much. Give me contact details, links to videos, streams, etc. If you are available for an interview then let me know that as well.
Make it personal if you possibly can. Which doesn’t just mean adding my name in a mail merge programme to make it look like you’ve chosen me specifically [“Dear BRUCE” is not a good start]. Why are you contacting me? Have I reviewed an album you played on, is your best friend my brother-in-law’s postman, or am I just near the top of the All About Jazz list of reviewers [the last one is true and I’m sure gets me a lot of my contacts]? Be honest, I’m always intrigued.
I have one particular pet peeve, which can actually make me a bit grumpy – musicians whose bio’s tell me that they have ‘attended’ workshops by a host of great players. I’ve attended workshops by Kenny Barron, Spike Wilner, Chucho Valdes and Ramon Valle and I still can’t play ‘Chopsticks’ on any keyboard instrument. If Spike regularly books you into Smalls, or Chucho asked you to join Irakere, then tell me about that. I’ll be impressed.
If I don’t respond to your email/review your album/interview you/wax lyrical about how you’re redefining what it is to create jazz, please don’t be upset. It’s nothing personal. I have limited time. Maybe next album/tour I’ll write something – keep in touch. Please remember that many jazz writers, especially outside the major magazines and newspapers, are doing it for love, not money. We’re on your side, but we do need to buy food and shoes for the children, so the writing can’t always take priority.
Do you rely on personal recommendations for checking out new albums and, if so, what field do these people tend to work in?
I get information about music from a wide range of sources. Some record labels are so consistently interesting that I’ll check out everything they release if I have the time. Some publicists/agents seem to represent styles of music that I enjoy so I’ll pay attention to musicians they’re acting for. I hear things on the radio [mostly BBC stations] and very occasionally I’ll see someone on TV. I do read every email I’m sent – at least the first paragraph [see above].
Are there specific gigs/festivals/showcases you go to in order to discover new artists?
No. These days I live in the sticks, like riding my bikes, hate crowds and don’t enjoy being out late. I do go to gigs occasionally but I’m not an habitué of the cellar club, or any other form of night life. I’m probably not a typical jazz writer.
Big thanks to Bruce for taking the time to answer these questions!
More About Bruce Lindsay
As a freelance writer, Bruce is reviewing in excess of 50 albums and gigs a year! That’s way too many artists for me to pick out individuals here, but let’s just say that it covers some of the best music – both international and UK-based – of the last couple of decades. You only need Google his name to find many of these great reviews.
Alongside this work, he’s also currently in the early stages of writing a book about the social history of the gramophone, which (in his own words) is ‘funnier and sexier than it sounds’ – publishers and literary agents of the world please take note!