General advice on submitting CDs to magazines for review
Someone suggested that I might provide some advice on how to increase the chances of getting your new CD reviewed by a magazine, so here goes.
1. Picking your target
There is absolutely no point in sending a speed garage CD to a magazine specializing in Balkan folk music (though this does not stop some labels bombarding magazines with all manner of irrelevant material).
Most magazines receive far more CDs than they could ever possibly review, so it’s essential to choose the right target from the outset. Groundwork is essential – visit your newsagent and check websites – but here’s a rough guide to some of the UK and Irish specialist publications.
FRoots publishes ten issues annually (including double issues for August/September and January/February each with cover-mounted CDs). It seeks to cover as broad a range of roots and traditional music as possible and has extensive pages of reviews, including the And the Rest! section which provides brief, often highly humorous or derogatory reviews. Reading the latter is vital, if you want to understand why some CDs are reviewed at length and others not.
The magazine’s review policy can be summarised as follows:
CDs for full review
1) a new record by a fRoots-reading household name artist;
2) a great record by an unknown artist;
3) a compilation of new, specially recorded material;
4) a compilation of hard to find material in an interesting genre;
5) a substandard album by a famous artist falling below their expected high standards.
CDs for the And the Rest! section
1) an OK/average record by a not particularly well-known artist;
2) a straight reissue;
3) a compilation of tracks from generally available sources;
4) musically on the fringes of the magazine’s coverage;
5) rubbish (except if the artist is famous and usually good).
In other words, the chances of an unknown musician or band getting into the full review section are slim unless the reviewer spots something exceptional in their music. However, getting your first album into the And the Rest! section and receiving a favourable comment can be useful. The band Téada, for instance, has used such a comment in its press publicity and advertisements.
Songlines is a bi-monthly publication and has a specific world music focus. Because it tries to cover as much as possible, geographically and musically, there are few opportunities for new musicians to break into its reviews section. For instance, as the magazine’s Irish music reviewer, during the last twelve months I have been asked to review albums by Altan, The Dubliners, Sinéad O’Connor, Niamh Parsons, Cran and Flook while a colleague reviewed the latest Chieftains release. The only exceptions to this tendency to cover the high ground have been Kevin Krell’s Wooden Flute Obsession compilation (too important to miss), the Johnny Doran and Tommy Kearney uilleann piping albums (again too vital to ignore) and Oisín Mac Diarmada’s solo debut. Only the last named falls outside the categories of the tried and the trusted and the reason for its inclusion was simple – it’s just excellent.
So, to be frank, Songlines offers few opportunities for reviews of albums by unknown singers or bands. However, the grain of hope lies in the editor’s willingness to listen to anything that arrives at the publication’s office and to discuss possibilities with his reviewers.
c) Musical Traditions
The editor of the web-based Musical Traditions magazine recently complained to me about the piles of inappropriate releases he receives each week. Too many of those submitting albums for review ignore the ‘Tradition’ element in the magazine’s title and, if you’re uncertain what that means, have a look at the CDs which MT actually releases itself. The focus is firmly placed upon traditional song and music. So, if you’ve released an album of self-composed ditties, look elsewhere rather than wasting your postage money on a package sent to MT.
However, if your album does fall into the right categories, you do stand a chance. The editor mails out CDs to appropriately knowledgable reviewers and then it’s just a case of waiting for your review to appear. Be warned, though, that the magazine’s policy is to be as truthful as possible in its reviews. In particular, this means that a poorly written liner or inadequately researched notes will be highlighted, so make sure that yours are literate and void of spelling and factual errors. On the positive side, good music will always be recognized and recommended to readers.
d) Irish Music
Irish Music magazine is published eleven times annually and usually has between four and six pages devoted to reviews. As its title clearly indicates, the magazine’s focus is Irish music, but its reviews section often covers releases from other related genres (particularly Scottish traditional music). Negatively critical reviews rarely appear in the magazine because its overall policy seems to be not to deter potential advertisers. Indeed, should a review of your album appear, you may find yourself being contacted regarding the placing of an advert and, if you’re lucky, perhaps even with a view to your being the subject of a feature article.
e) The Irish Music Review
The editor of this web-based site devoted to reviews of Irish music will foolishly accept anything relevant for review.
Other magazines to consider include Traditional Music Maker (which, to be honest, I’ve never seen on sale apart from in specialist book and music shops) and The Living Tradition (the Scotland based traditional music specialist which does publish some reviews of Irish music). The Journal of Music in Ireland also publishes a small number of reviews Also, don’t forget that tiny section of the UK press devoted to the Irish in Britain – both the Irish World and the Irish Post publish occasional reviews.
As far as the national press in both the UK and Ireland is concerned, forget it. If Altan cannot get a review in The Guardian, then there’s no hope at all for The Kinnegad Slashers. The same applies to the variety of rock magazines available, although Mojo might be a possibility, if your album is good enough, as the magazine has recently increased the number of its pages devoted to reviews, and its main reviewer of Irish material, Colin Irwin, has a very good ear for important new releases. Some local papers in Ireland carry reviews, but, of course, have a preference for local bands and musicians, but that shouldn’t stop you giving Folksy Gerry of The Donegal Democrat a try! (And, yes, he does exist.)
2. Increasing your chances of being reviewed
Once you’ve undertaken the groundwork and chosen your target publications, it’s time to take the next step.
The package you send should consist of three elements: a letter to the appropriate editor or reviews editor; some publicity material; and, of course the CD. Let’s take the last-named first.
Despite one magazine in particular’s insistence, there is absolutely no need to send more than one copy of your album to a publication. Many secondhand record shops rely on reviewers’ cast-offs to keep their stock up-to-date, so sending more than one copy of your CD will almost certainly result in the excess rapidly appearing in the racks of such stores. As a result, you’ve wasted CDs which you might have sold at gigs and spent too much on postage and packaging. Moreover, some magazine editors regard a package of duplicate CDs as either a) overkill or b) the reckless folly of someone who might be game for their advertising department. It’s important too to remember that most magazines are only interested in the finished product, so don’t send them advance tapes or pre-production CDs.
Irish Music magazine, by the way, is the one which asks for three copies of your CD: apparently, one for the editor, one for the reviewer and one for the designer (although why the last-named needs his or her own copy is completely beyond understanding since it’s hardly likely to be needed once the liner has been scanned).
However, I digress. Returning to your package, it is essential to send a personalised letter to the editor (or reviews editor) requesting that your album be considered for review. Each magazine will list the names of the appropriate person or, if in doubt, you can always telephone or email the publication directly. By ‘personalised’ above, I mean that you have addressed your letter to ‘Dear Mr. So-and-So’ or ‘Dear Siobhán’ (if you already know the person you’ve contacting). It takes little time to type or write such a letter and a smattering of politeness never hurts.
Your publicity material requires more extended consideration. Do not, under any circumstances, send a small mountain of printed material (or, similarly, an email replete with a multitude of attachments) as, firstly, it increases your postage costs and, secondly, it just will not be read. On the other hand, a printed sheet stating only that “Rathbeg Records is pleased to announce the release of the debut album by The Kinnegad Slashers” is worse than useless, yet that’s exactly what some individuals and even record companies provide.
At the most, your publicity handout should take up two sides of A4 paper. Its contents should be straightforward and:
Bear in mind that your aim is to provide the reviewer with sufficient detail to support his/her writing, not to bombard them with information. Also consider that providing insufficient information can also leave a reviewer guessing and possibly reaching erroneous conclusions about your music. It is a fine balance, but one that is not impossible to judge.
Professionally taken publicity photographs can be costly and I’ve never personally been too convinced of their utility, especially since the liner notes of a CD usually include at least one photograph of the musician or band. But, if you want to press ahead, bear in mind that the majority of magazines prefer high quality and sharp black & white prints from 7” to 5” up to a maximum size of A4 and the emphasis should be upon good contrast and shadow detail. Alternatively, if you want to go for colour, most publications require at least a minimum 300 ppi TIFF or very high quality JPEG files. The advantage of the latter is that you avoid having to pay for costly reproduction.
Finally, do not send a pre-release copy of your CD (i.e. with absent or unfinished artwork or on a CD-R or CD-RW) unless this has already been agreed with your target publication’s editor, reviews editor or reviewer.
3. What next?
Sit back and wait. The editorial process can take some time, so bear in mind that once your album has been accepted for review it has to be sent to the reviewer who then has to organise space in their work schedule to listen to your work and write their review. It is unusual for reviews to be rejected (unless they are illiterate or libellous), but all submitted material is subject to the magazine’s publication schedule. Two to three months is the period you might have to wait before discovering whether your album has actually been reviewed in a commercial magazine, usually just one month or so as far as non-profit-making publications are concerned. Also bear in mind that some commercial magazines do not actually pay their reviewers a fee, so this can also add to the delay.
If nothing happens, take it on the chin! There is absolutely no point in badgering editors and journalists, if your CD is already in the racks of Honest Nobby’s Secondhand Record Emporium. Furthermore, haranguing someone over the telephone or by email is unlikely to be forgotten should you decide to produce a follow-up album. Remember too that though you may have sweated blood to record your CD and exhausted your life savings so have many others and, to a great extent with unknown artists, it’s the luck of the draw. If you’re good enough, you’ll get there eventually.
4. Bugbears and general advice
Finally, and in no particular order, here are some of this particular reviewer’s bugbears (some of which might be considered when actually planning and recording your CD) and a few tips.
Hidden tracks were fun at first, but now can be little more than an irritation. Don’t expect a reviewer to wait fifteen
minutes to hear a dog barking in the street or someone sitting on a banjo.
Illegible liner notes are just pointless. Take some time to consider fonts, colours and background and make sure that they match and can be read by someone with less than 20x20 vision or non-users of LSD.
Giving track times is useful to radio DJs (for obvious reasons) and reviewers (most of whom do actually like to know the length of a particular song or piece of music). Also state the overall duration of your album.
Don’t forget to include contact details in your CD’s liner notes. Sometimes a quick call or email message to the musician can help a reviewer glean extra information about an album.
Make sure your liner notes are literate and check the spelling of titles and names. Regular howlers which appear include ‘John Docherty’, ‘Ewan McColl’, ‘Paddy Tunny’, ‘Jimmy McCarthy’, ‘Karen Casey’, etc.
Many reviewers (and lots of potential purchasers) also like to have detailed information about the tunes or songs on a CD. Obviously, this can be difficult, if you’re on a tight budget, but well worth considering, though it will require time spent on research.
Don’t sing songs in Irish if you don’t speak the language!
Don’t claim that you learnt a tune from someone who’s been dead for many years unless you really did!
Avoid photographs of yourself/selves in bucolic settings.
Give very serious consideration to the title of your CD. A cracking title will often stand out in print in comparison to “Traditional Irish Music from Killybegs”, no matter how accurate the latter may be.
Think very seriously about your choice of tunes. Some, such as The Bucks of Oranmore, have been recorded to death. If you live in Ireland, it’s well worth visiting ITMA and searching its computer database to check how often a tune has been recorded.
Don’t waste space in your liner notes acknowledging a huge list of people. Instead use it to write a little bit more about your music.
Invent your own record company and include a catalogue number. ‘Nya CD 001’ looks far better in reviews than ‘Own label, no number’ and suggests that you mean business and might be intending to release album number 002.
June, 2003 (with later additions)