If the goal is to win fans, book more gigs and sell more music, actually making a brilliant album is only half the story: you need to get it out there so people can discover it!
Of course, a great way to do this is by getting reviews from trusted journalists published by trusted sources.
Whilst the concept is clear, every journalist has his or her own style and preferences.
To help dive into this a little deeper, we welcomed Dutch jazz critic Mathijs van den Berg to take part in the Jazzfuel interviews series.
He writes regularly for two well-known jazz outlets: Jazzism & Jazzenzo and shares some valuable insight into how he chooses what to review and how you, as an independent musician, might reach writers like him more effectively.
You’ll find the full interview below, but first a couple of takeaways from our side:
- “A good quote or original angle of approach catches the eye of the reviewer”
Of course, the music is what journalists care about, but great stories give them something to catch onto when trying to understand your musical world, and also help them grab the attention of their readers better.
- “It would be nice if jazz publicists would take more into account the kind of music I write about”
Jazz journalists receive a lot of pitches every week, and the relevance to them can vary wildly. Doing your homework and narrowing your target list to those writers that really cover your style will not only save them time, but also get you better results.
What proportion of albums pitched are you to review and how do you select these?
I don’t know exactly, but I have to be very critical, there’s so much.
An album has to appeal to my musical taste and I must have the feeling that it’s a special release.
I write about instrumental cross-over jazz. I especially like European jazz with influences from classical and folk music, but also from modern styles like ambient, minimal, or electronic music.
I like modern grooves as well as the more aesthetic forms of jazz.
Has the pandemic of 2020/21 affected the amount of pitches you receive?
Perhaps a little more, because bands and artists have more time to record.
Artists finally had the opportunity to do their solo album.
Every cloud has a silver lining!
As a writer, do you have any advice on the importance (and improvement) of the words an artist uses to describe their music?
The artist’s description is very useful in understanding his or her intention with the music.
A good quote or original angle of approach catches the eye of the reviewer. You often read the same lines.
For example: “The music is a combination of structure and improvisation.”
But that’s the same for all modern jazz, so what’s the difference? I like to read what distinguishes the music from the rest.
It’s a pity that liner notes become more and more rare (perhaps because music becomes more digital). There’s beautiful artwork, but little information.
What should a good review pitch/press release from an unknown artist include and how should they approach you?
It should include the artist’s intention and musical orientation, a description of the music and a brief overview of his or her musical background.
I am less interested in prizes or long lists of collaborations.
They can approach me through publicists, but also on social media.
The latter is more personal, although I can’t promise anything.
If you were helping an artist plan the release of a new album, what would be 3 key things to prioritise?
Difficult to answer. My experience is that young artists are often too eager to show off their skills. I think they should take their time before releasing an album and be very sure about what they want to express with the music.
They should ask themselves: what makes my music special?
And of course jazz is about interplay, so practice a lot first.
What is your favourite source for discovering new music?
- I read a lot of foreign jazz magazines.
- Interviews give a good impression of the ideas behind the music.
- I check interesting new names on YouTube.
- Newsletters and mailings of record companies, distributors and jazz promoters with listening links are good sources.
How does the review process work (you choose or they commission you?) at the publications you write for?
Only then you can raise a spark with the reader.
What’s the average demographic of the Jazzenzo and Jazzism readers? Is there a significant difference between their readers/subscribers?
Both magazines are for young and older, higher educated readers, with no professional musical background.
There are some differences.
Jazzenzo is an online magazine to which you don’t have to subscribe. It is purely focused on jazz (in the broadest sense of the word), with emphasis on Dutch and Belgium jazz.
Jazzism also writes about blues, funk, soul and world and therefore attracts a wider audience.
The Dutch jazz scene has built a strong reputation in recent years both for local talent and for presenting rising international stars early in their careers. To what do you attribute this?
We have a lot of very good conservatories with great teachers, that attract many foreign students.
As a small country we are internationally orientated.
The latter is also reflected in the concert programming and record distribution.
You worked many years as a teacher. Do you have any advice for how professional musicians can manage to increase their ‘music business’ knowledge whilst still devoting enough time to actually making music?
I don’t know. My teaching was a completely different matter, I taught Dutch language and literature in a secondary school.
My advice would be: let the music always come first, you are an artist, not a business(wo)man.
But do invest in a good network.
Can you identify anything specific that separates the way publicists work compared to DIY musicians who reach out direct for press coverage?
DIY musicians operate more personally. They are often aware of my musical preferences.
When the description of their music is interesting, I tend to review their albums earlier.
It would be nice if jazz publicists would take more into account the kind of music I write about, although I can understand it’s difficult with so many jazz critics around.
Big thanks to jazz critic Mathijs van den Berg for taking the time to answer these questions!
Aside from writing for these magazines, he is also doing freelance work around writing reviews, press releases and interviews, which you can learn more about on his website.