Something we’ve seen from our own press outreach campaigns is that, aside from connecting an artist with more fans, a couple of key press quotes from a great album review can be a big help when reaching out to festivals, clubs and other people within the music industry.
As with many aspects of the jazz musician’s career, though, this press outreach is something that often falls into the ‘Do-It-Yourself‘ camp and, as such, can get forgotten or not taken care of to its full potential.
If you’ve ever released new music, or will be in the near future, you might have unanswered questions on this topic.
- How long in advance should I pitch for a review?
- How can I write an effective press release?
- Will jazz journalists even consider working with an artist directly, or do they prefer to talk to a publicist?
Well, to get some answers to these questions – and more – I put together a survey for jazz journalists around the world to take part in. More than 80 of them did (thanks all!) and the results are here for you to check out, along with some key takeaways from each.
You’re going to learn things such as:
- How far in advance these writers need to be receiving your music?
- Which format they prefer to listen to?
- How many articles they’re publishing per month?
- How many great albums they have to turn down due to lack of time?
- What makes it more likely they’ll listen to your album?
Of course, there are many more than 80 music reviewers in the world, and the respondents to this particular survey are heavily skewed towards the English-speaking countries, but I hope that the takeaways from this will give you some useful ideas and confidence with your next release.
[If you’re a jazz journalist reading this and you’d like to share some additional insight, feel free to use the open comments box at the bottom of this article]
Where are these music writers based?
To get an understanding of the journalists taking part in this survey, I asked them which territory they were based in. With the rise of online magazines and blogs, jazz journalism has become less location-specific, but it’s still a useful piece of information to have.
As you can see, a big portion of the participants are based in English-speaking territories, led by the US (43%) and the UK (28%).
That’s not to say that the majority of the best writers are operating there; we’ve seen first hand the number of quality jazz blogs & publications in pretty much every country in the world!
What type of music publication are these jazz journalists writing for?
When you’re thinking about getting press coverage for your next album, there are various different types of places you can pitch for. We asked the journalists in this survey to specify which sort of press outlet(s) they were writing for.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, online magazines came out top, with 61% of participants selecting that. However, it’s also interesting to note that many of the journalists write more than one type of publication.
So, for example, they are actively reviewing for their own, personal, jazz blog, whilst also being commissioned to review for a print magazine.
The jazz publication takeaway
When pitching for an album review, be aware of where the writer is being published and, if multiple, tailor your pitch to the specific magazine of blog you think is most relevant for them.
Also be aware that online, digital coverage tends to have shorter lead time than physical magazines, where the deadlines are more rigid.
On average, how many reviews or articles are you publishing per month?
Whilst there’s no specific data on this from the survey, I know first-hand how many brilliant music writers cover jazz in their ‘spare’ (!) time as a passion project.
So an interesting thing to know when preparing to pitch for press coverage is how many articles – on average – they are working on per month.
As you can see from the chart below, the biggest chunk of writers said they published between 2 and 5 articles per month.
These answers ranged all the way from zero (ie, they review every good album they receive) through to 40 (they can only review 1 in every 40 good albums they are sent) but the average of all responses was 4-5.
The review-publishing takeaway
For me, the key takeaway is this: you have to make great music and you must present it in a stylish way, reaching out directly to the right journalists. But, even with all that, you still need a bit of luck – or at least persistence – to get a review.
So treat this as a % game, and make sure you’re reaching out to enough relevant reviewers, at the right times, to make sure that a few of them are able to come through for you!
How are your album reviews chosen?
With different types of publications come different processes for how reviews are chosen.
Of course, if you’re pitching for coverage on a personal jazz blog, you only need to convince the host.
But what about a jazz magazine or multi-writer blogs? Is the editor making the decisions and passing them onto the writers, or are the journalists operating under their own influences?
As you can see from the results below, the majority of participants in this survey – 59% – are completely autonomous when deciding what to review.
This makes a strong case for being very specific with how you approach each pitching email.
Aiming for a review in a big national jazz magazine? Don’t simply fire off a press release to the editor, but also look at which specific writer covers the most similar music to yours…
How do you discover new music and album releases in 2020?
With so much music out there, and so many ways to getting it to the relevant people, it’s really valuable to know how the jazz press are actually discovering music these days.
For this question, I asked the jazz journalists to mark all of the ways they’re discovering new music.
As you can see, most are listening directly to CDs & downloads that they’re being sent, with the majority also checking out press releases too.
It’s interesting to note, though, how many of them are also coming across music more passively online, via other websites & blogs, social media and on Spotify.
That’s not to say the more traditional methods are gone though. A significant chunk are still visiting record stores, going to live gigs and listening carefully to personal recommendations.
The jazz journalists ‘discovery’ takeaway
Of course, direct outreach to music journalists where you send music and information on your music is key. But there are some other very important, secondary methods you should keep in mind when planning how to get more exposure for your next release:
– Are you sharing your best content and creating awareness around your project on social media? It’s harder to quantify the results than direct outreach, but the survey suggest that it can reinforce the message within the jazz industry.
– Do you know someone who knows someone? Everyone has a personal network. An ongoing goal – regardless of whether or not you’re releasing music – should be to keep growing that. At times when you really have big news to shout about, see if anyone you’re connected with could help with a timely introduction or nudge with a press contact.
– Get your name about online. Maybe you can’t get a clean-sweep of album reviews straight away, but how else can you get into the magazines and websites that press contacts are checking out? Can you curate a playlist for one of them? Interview a well-known musician? Write a guest article and offer that for publication?
Thinking outside-the-box a little can turn up some really nice results…
How many of your reviews were pitched directly by the artist?
Whether we’re talking about pitching for gigs or trying to get press quotes, there’s often an underlying feeling by musicians that they won’t be taken as seriously as ‘the professionals’ – agents, managers & publicists.
We already challenged this theory in the jazz promoters survey, where club & festival organisers said that, on average, they booked 57% of artists directly, with no booking agent involved.
Now’s the time to see how that translates into the artist-journalist relationship…
As you can see via the chart below, only 1 in 10 participants said they only worked with publicists. That means almost 90% of album pitches you send will be to people who are open to hearing directly from the you.
In fact, I’ve seen plenty of cases where music critics would prefer to be in direct contact with the artist themselves…
That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get a publicist.
And you definitely don’t need to create a fake name and email address to do your pitching from!
But you do need to educate yourself on things like how to write great pitching emails, how long in advance to pitch to a jazz magazine and what to put in a press release, so you can act like a publicist yourself.
What’s the average time between receiving music and publishing a review?
A common question musicians have regarding press outreach is “how far in advance should I send my music to a magazine?”
As with pitching for clubs and festivals, there’s not one simple answer to this. Especially when you consider the differences in terms of production between a physical magazine and a jazz blog.
But, as always, getting the opinion of a bunch of experts helps!
You might be surprised (or relieved) to see that 77% of the respondents said that the time between receiving music and publishing a review was as little as 1-4 weeks.
The lead time takeaway
Ideally you should start preparing your new music for press coverage plenty in advance of the release date.
But hopefully this result shows that, whilst you shouldn’t leave your press outreach late, a lot can be achieved in a relatively short space of time building up to the release.
What factors grab a journalists’ attention with a new release?
More often than not, it’s the words you use in a pitching email or press release which decides how excited the writer is to even listen to the music.
So thinking about how you can stand out to music writers is important.
For this question, the journalists could select as many choices as they wanted, to help paint a picture of the various strategies you could have in mind when preparing to get press coverage.
Of course, if you’re about to release a new album and do some DIY PR now, it’s kinda late to be getting to know every writer personally.
But, if that’s case, you can still take the time to research each writer and make it clear that you know what they do and why you think they, specifically, might like your music.
Sure, this might take a lot longer than copy/pasting press emails, but it’s going to improve your chances of the recipient actually listening to the music.
If, on the other hand, you’re not just about to release new music, then you have time to try to get to know more writers.
As a start, see which ones are out there reviewing your sort of music.
Follow them on social media, share their best work and consider even reaching out to them with smaller, relevant news, so they are aware of your name before you come to The Big Ask of ‘would you like to listen to my new album?’
It’s interesting to note, from these responses, the various things that you can work on in that ‘twilight zone‘ between walking out of the recording studio for the final time and actually seeing your music available to buy.
Great artwork, engaging videos, an interesting story: these things might feel secondary to the music, but they play an important role in getting people into the project in the first place.
You’ll also notice that there are some factors which would need to be planned even earlier.
A special guest or a special theme for the album, for example, do grab attention. That’s not to say you should immediately plan something like this – the music still has to come first – but if you find yourself in that situation, make sure you highlight it well to the press contacts you’re reaching out to.
The attention-grabbing takeaway
Of course: make the music you want to make – and make sure it’s as brilliant as possible.
But don’t shy away from using other factors to grab attention.
Great music deserves great coverage and putting some serious time and effort into the presentation of that can pay off.
And, above all else: remember there’s a real person at the end of each email you send and always be thinking about how you can grow and nurture your personal network.
What format do the jazz press prefer to receive music in?
When we started running press outreach campaigns back in 2018, I fully expected that journalists would want digital/streaming links for everything.
As I quickly discovered, many prefer (or even insist on) being able to see a physical product and take the time to listen to it on their own, high quality, audio equipment.
It says a lot about how seriously they take their role in this.
So for this question, I just wanted to get a sense of how jazz journalists were split on this topic. As you can see, more than half still prefer physical copies.
The music listening takeaway
Firstly, if you’re doing a digital-only release, make sure you still print a limited number of CDs or else you will miss out on at least a small section of possible reviews.
After that, make sure you give journalists the option of how they want to receive the music and keep track of this for future reference.
You can (and should) allow music reviewers to stream and download your album easily from the very first contact, but also make it clear that you’re happy to send physical if they like.
If you’re doing a vinyl release, it can be really beneficial to suss out those audiophiles who love this format and would like a copy.
Sure, it’s not cheap to manufacture and ship a free vinyl, but if it makes the difference between an effective press quote or no review, I know what I’d do…
How much more likely are journalists to respond to a personal, researched email?
When you’re doing any sort of mass outreach (gigs, press, labels…) there are two main ways it can be done:
- Mass mailout style: you create a piece of text which explains exactly what you want to convey and then you hit ‘send all‘
- Personalised style: you still create the foundation of the message you want to convey, but you then edit it per person so it’s more relevant, researched & personal
Of course, it would be great if gig booking and press outreach could be done at scale, at the click of a button.
But, in our experience, treating each contact as the real human they are, gets better long term results and gives you that important advantage over all the other great music you’re up against.
I wanted to test whether that belief stood up on the other side of the fence, so I asked the journalists for their opinion…
The pitching email takeaway
As I think you’ll agree, enough of them felt it was suitably important that you should rethink any mass mailout / newsletters you’re subscribing them to!
In fact, 56% of respondents said it was extremely likely that they’d respond better to a personal email than a mass mailout. On the other hand, only 8% of them said it didn’t really make a difference.
Unless you want to miss the target with 92% of your press pitches, make sure you’re doing your homework about each writer in advance and approaching them appropriately!
Sure, it takes much longer, but some things – like good press coverage – deserve the extra effort.
What advice would you give a musician in terms of getting press coverage?
As I think this survey shows, whilst there are best practices and standard strategies you can employ for press outreach, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.
So, to counter that, I wanted to give each jazz journalist who took the survey the chance to share their advice with you. Below, you’ll find a bunch of useful tips with the name of the journalist (and publication) where it was provided.
Big thanks to all the jazz journalists who took part in this and to those organisations (Jazz Journalists Association & All About Jazz, plus possibly others I don’t know about!) who shared it around with their writers. We appreciate all of your work in bringing this great music to the public’s attention!
“Research the writer first!” ECM Reviews
“Make it easy and quick for people to sample the music. Words only go so far. Link to a stream or to a video early up in your email. And don’t be afraid to follow up with the journalist a couple times after you send your first email. We get a lot of messages. It helps you stand out” – Sebastien Helary @ Nextbop
“Reach out and directly engage. The music should always speak for itself, but there is something to be said for hearing an artist’s actual words about any given project. I get excited when I hear people discuss their work with passion. It’s contagious in a sense. I would definitely suggest scheduling phone calls with reviewers if and when it is possible” – Mackenzie Horne
“Send more than one email… but not every day. Nudges are necessary, but sometimes people just say no or don’t have time, or it’s not their thing… don’t get discouraged by that.”
“Come along with confidence and a good sense of humour – and of course a consistent and good and interesting product” – Jan Kobrzinowski (JAZZTHETIK Magazine)
“Use some time in advance to discover the writers work. That will probably save some time for the musician and writer” – Jazznyt
“Make a personal connection with the writer you hope to review your music, if you can. Showing an interest in our work makes it much more likely that we’ll take an interest in yours” – John Bricker / All About Jazz
“If you can’t afford a PR, take the time to get to know some of the journalists and their tastes“
“Contact journalists before sending them your music and ask to write about it if they find it interesting. It’s the best way to avoid bad press” – Babskim Uchem
“Succinct & thorough emails. Give the relevant information right up front (artist name, album name, label, release date), plus provide a link to stream, a link to immediately download, and a link (or pdf) of any relevant information like personnel, release date, videos, context/story, etc). Give everything the writer might need in that one email. Don’t ask them to request stuff, respect their time. Most writers get hundreds or emails per month and can barely keep up with the traffic. If you give them everything they need up front, they’ll like & respect that. Make your inquiry a no-hassle email” – Bird Is The Worm
“Be honest with yourself and the reviewer” – Mike Jurkovic
“Promote your new album wherever you can and share it even free”
“Patience is essential! There’s a ton of good music out there, and it’s hard for reviewers to stay on top of it all”
“If you really believe in your music, sign on with a reputable publicist or send a personal email with your story and a musical sample” – R Kamins/ Step Tempest
“Send me a personalised email. Demonstrate an awareness of the breadth on music I cover. Give some idea of when it would be most helpful to have a piece published about your music. If I can do the review (ie if I have time & believe I can honestly be positive about the music) send me a CD. Be confident (as well as polite): your work is honourable” – Scottish Jazz Space
“Prepare a press release, look for a distributor, contact the jazz press and send your CDs out to a select number of writers. Make sure you nominate a gig as the CD launch and send out some invitations.”
“Provide good clear information to explain why it is unique/new/unmissable”
“Only try and get any coverage if the music is really great”
“Play live gigs and get yourself in the jazz listings”
“Check the reviewers work and maybe say what made you think they were the right one to approach. Tell them a little bit about the music to save time if you have mistakenly sent your release to the wrong reviewer and accept they may not be able to review at the time. Most reviewers will be busy people with a real passion for music but have other responsibilities too. Keep in touch, be respectful and support their work, even if they are not reviewing you at that time. Share reviews too, that way the writer benefits as well as the artist. Overall, the key is quality, respect and clear communication. reviewing good music should be a pleasure for the reviewer as much as it is for the artist getting the review” – Sammy Stein, journalist & author
“Put all the information in the press release – who wrote what, who plays what, what the title means, where the inspiration came from” – Patrick Hadfield / On The Beat
“Say whats different about the music”
“Individually approach writers writing in the right area” – A J Dehany
“Don’t be discouraged in trying to find a sympathetic ear”
“It’s always a good idea to give a journalist the feeling that you have at least a slight idea of what they’re doing and what he/she might be interested in. Try to make clear what’s special about your music”
“Find out which of the writers might be interested“
“Use all methods available. Don’t stop at the first attempt, keep pushing and nine times out of ten you will succeed” Nick Davies / The Boogie Wonderland Show
“Make it easy for reviewer to get the music”
“Find out about the potential writer and their interests“
“Follow up, but not too much”
“Introduce yourself briefly, and say why you are contacting me specifically. Offer options for hearing the music (preferably not streaming or low-res downloads; I won’t review from streams at all)” – Mark Sullivan / All About Jazz
“Research writers who specifically cover the area you working in”
“Personal approaches work best”
‘When recording an ‘album’ use a thoughtful, integrated approach“
“There are two components to this: getting the writer to actually listen to the music, and getting them to like the music enough to take time to write (often unpaid) about it. Look at the writers previous work. Do you like their style? Do you think he’s likely to enjoy your music? If you have an actual CD, or artwork, show it to them. Let it sell itself. Give them, in a single brief paragraph, a hook; a reason or story to be interested in you”
“Build relationships with writers, photographers and other people in the industry. Be prepared to invest time, money and effort to get coverage” – Charlie Anderson at Sussex Jazz Magazine
“Record on a label that associates you with a great community of artists” – Paul Rauch / Seattle Jazz Scene
“Send an email with info and the music. Follow up if I don’t answer. Sometimes it pays to bug us“
“Send it to as many places as you can. If possible check the work of the writer you’re communicating with. See if your project is the kind of thing he or she might like”
“Keep the submission simple with the key facts” – Aural Delights
“It’s wise to contact potential reviewers some time before the release date. A good head’s up, maybe a couple of months, increases the chances of a review. Contacting a writer once the CD is already out decreases the chances, in my opinion” – Ian Patterson, All About Jazz
“Focus on what makes your music different” – Arts Fuse
“Offer your work in any format, summarize & present your project compactly and aesthetically. Don’t blow your own trumpet and don’t try to review your own work”
“Facebook page, YouTube video, mailing list”
“Show respect, talent, humility, manners, smarts, humor”
“Know what styles/artists the writers like to write about or know a lot about so you contact them with something they’d be interested in”
“Send one request to each publication to avoid duplication” – Martin McFie
“Try not to do mass mailouts as they tend to go largely ignored. The personal touch works best” – Twisted Soul Music
“Research blogs, labels, promoters, radio stations/playlists as best as possible to reach as wide an audience as possible” Jazz Revelations
“Send streaming links, promos, hire a well known publicist“
“Do not hesitate to call and get a personal touch” – Philippe Schoonbrood, Jazzaround
“Try to contact the journalist personally”
“Try to get support from local news outlets and cultural institutions” Action Jazz (FR)
“Don’t be afraid to write and present your music. I will always find a time to listen to it. But first please find a little time to look at the articles I publish and see about what kind of music I usually write” – Maciej Karlowski / Jazzarium
“Send a CD to a reviewer and promote it yourself on various internet lists”
“Make good music, be generous with sending promos, focus your attention on sites that cover your style” – Avant Music News
“Make it sound interesting. Easier said than done, but the more a blurb at least conveys a good idea of how something *sounds* (tone, instrumentation, genre/s, attitude), the more it stands out to me”
“Don’t be lazy. Figure out if the person/publication you’re contacting is appropriate for the work you’re hoping to get ink for” – Christian Wissmuller, JAZZed
“Have a plot to your recording, send me your CD (I rarely even look at downloads), have decent artwork and liner notes, show enthusiasm in your music in addition to creativity, and be yourself” – Scott Yanow
“Be polite and keep it short. And don’t take it personally if I don’t review or even respond. Maybe next time…”
“Be persistent and offer a CD or vinyl. Downloads come so many that I now refuse to review downloads” Dylan C. Akalin / Jazz and Rock
“For emerging artists, it’s beneficial to have as much background as possible about the band – artist names & instruments. And also, their background / motivations / what they are trying to achieve with their music” – SV / 45RPM
“Be persistent!” Leyla Efendiyeva / JazzD magazine
“Send a CD to the journalist with a factsheet and all the informations you have” – Jazz n’ More
“Send me your CD or LP. Jan Granlie, salt-peanuts.eu, Sankt Knudsvej 50, DK-1903 Frederiksberg C” – Salt Peanuts
“Be precise” Donos Kulturalny
“Make sure you album is mixed and mastered well and well packaged – sloppiness in these areas is a turn off”
“Get in touch via mail or social media” – Tor Hammerø
“Always reach out. Let your music speak (instead of the one sheet). Less digital, please; it makes a mockery of being critical of how little you earn from Spotify and iTunes, etc” – Raul da Gama / Jazz da Gama and The WholeNote
“Put your music and artistic vision first. Be patient and be friendly”
“Put together a solid, attractive package and press release every time, and keep trying”
“Be friendly and determined when dealing with press. But don’t be aggressive”
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