Long before I started photographing musicians, I was a radio DJ and music magazine writer. Regularly receiving CDs and emails from ambitious, unsigned artists, here are the Top 3 reasons some were more successful than others in getting a reply when approaching radio and magazines.
On a quiet week, the pile of CDs I received was knee-high, usually, however, the weekly mailbag was nearer waist height. The time I had to listen to all this music was minimal, so often, my only filtering system was scouring through the CDs – dismissing the sloppily presented ones, looking instead for the most eye-catching artwork, photography or packaging. This wasn’t an ideal system, because ultimately, a flashy photo is no guarantee of world-beating lyrics, songwriting prowess or musical proficiency, but what other system did I have? None. Presented with a pile of music from artists I’d never heard, I could rely only on my eyes for guidance. Emails were no different. When I received a link to Soundcloud, Bandcamp or whatever music sharing resource that artist employed, upon clicking the link, the first thing I’d often see was the artist thumbnail – and sometimes, my willingness to press ‘PLAY’ was nil, given the unappetising visual I was faced with.
Conclusion: Your music might be brilliant, and I hope it is, but please make me want to press ‘PLAY’ by dressing it up in beautiful clothes – either via quality photos, crisp artwork or slick design. Your packaging is your shop window – and no one wants to dine in a pizza restaurant when there’s cold, lumpy gravy smeared on the windows. The good news is you needn’t spend a fortune on your branding, simply scout your local area using social media or personal recommendations – I guarantee there’ll be keen young designers and photographers eager to build their portfolio in exchange for a free gig ticket!
Your chances of getting replies from industry folk dramatically increase if you’re specific. Here are two different email openings – which do you think would most likely get a reply?
“Hey, I’m Jay, and I’m in a band called Mr Jay…”
“Hey, I loved the feature you published last Thursday called ‘Local Rock Bands That Rock…’
I’m sure Jay is a beautiful man perfectly capable of blowing my socks off with infectious riffs and original wordplay, but so far, he’s just a bloke called Jay. In contrast, the musician in the second email immediately appealed to something everyone has – an ego. All humans want to be necessary, so give the recipient of your email cause to feel relevant. By doing your research and being specific in your email, you’re better able to get the attention, and in some cases, a reply, from industry folk.
Conclusion: I’ve never once met an emerging band or artist that doesn’t feel they have something new and unique to offer, in fact, in most cases, they profess their individuality and resent being seen as part of the overcrowded herd. I promise you, industry folk are exactly the same – approach and treat each one like an individual.
The list of reasons a media platform might not reply to your email is far longer than I have time to address here, but among these reasons are ‘forgetfulness’, ‘busyness’, ‘tiredness’, ‘laziness’, ‘illness’, ‘hunger’ and ‘spam folder’. Truth is, you’ll never know why you haven’t received a reply, but it’s the ‘not knowing’ that often eats away at an artist’s soul. You have absolutely nothing to lose from politely following-up on an email you sent, say, one week ago – asking if they’ve had an opportunity to read your message. In fact, a follow-up is incredibly powerful, because it demonstrates your commitment, tenacity, confidence, and frankly, nudges what might just be a forgetful magazine writer/DJ into replying. Worst-case scenario, you receive a ‘no thanks’ email, but this enables you to draw a line under that possibility and focus your efforts elsewhere. Best case scenario, the writer/DJ realises you’re not going to go away, hunts-out your previous email, has a listen, loves your music, and emails you back to chat.
Conclusion: Always follow-up – it speaks volumes about your self-belief and resilience. It also gives forgetful people a poke in the ribs.