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May 11, 2010

Getting Heard by Music Blogs

by Heather Browne, Fuel/Friends Music Blog

In the last five years, the world of music blogs has launched a new digital landscape for the musician. This brigade of everyday music enthusiasts who write passionately and frequently about what they love, often embedding songs in their posts, has opened doors for hundreds of musicians who might not have been heard twenty years ago. But it's also made it harder for any one musician to rise to the top of the fickle music blog world of shiny hot new things and click-happy readers. Nonetheless, music blogs can be a powerful tool to spread the word about your music, if you know how to effectively work with them. Here are some tips that I would give to a friend looking to crack onto their favorite music blog.

Take time to familiarize yourself with a blog; don't just send out your music scattershot.

The machine gun approach might be easier, but I am much less likely to read a standardized form email than I am to read something from an artist that has clearly taken the time to read my site and see what I tend to like. You'll see better results if you put care into your outreach. I'm a girl from Colorado with somewhat awkward dance skills, who loves both gorgeous harmonies and a face-melting bass line in equal measure, and is always slayed by the harmonica. What have you got for me?

Cultivate relationships with your favorite bloggers.

Not sayin' be skeevy about it, or unethical, but often just finding a few bloggers who want to champion your music can be hugely helpful in your career. Focus on keeping them informed of newsworthy happenings if you know they like you, or musicians in your sonic realm. You don't need the whole blogosphere to love you equally, you just need a few well-placed voices to understand what you are doing and get behind you. It can be enough.

Tell a story behind your music.

In an age of digital overload, where a firehose of detached, faceless music hits me square in the jaw every time I open my laptop, I love connecting with what made you write the song in the first place. Music blogs' personal relationship with the music is what draws most of the readers to the best-loved sites. Capitalize on that. We're often not Rolling Stone, dissecting the technical nuances of a track and comparing it to other important or obscure musical moments, officially chronicling all of pop music for posterity. We have the freedom to be more confessional, more personal, and to chase what we love - it's one of the best features of music blogs. If you send me an email explaining something unique about your music, a back story or a discussion of where you want to go artistically, not only could that be fodder for an interview piece, but it helps me feel your music as I listen to it.

Most of the time, a digital submission is preferred.

Although it does feel a bit like Christmas morning every time I check my PO Box, I also feel guilty about the avalanche that I am unable to listen to. One artist sent me a giant hobo stick with a polka dotted sack tied on the end and some handwritten letter about music being a journey. A girl from California sent me a set of gorgeous hand-drawn notecards with her CD. It didn't make me any more likely to listen to their music. Keep the gifts for your friends and family; please just let us focus on the music you make. Digital is usually the way to go unless a blogger requests otherwise. Check their site, they often have stated preferences.

Pick an mp3 to give away for free.

People are greedy and they have short attention spans. Many, many musicians now select one track to give away from an upcoming album, or release a demo or even EP for their adoring fans to download onto their iPods. Since this has become commonplace, if you don't do it, either we might not write about you (I'm sorry) or the blogosphere will pillage your album and start posting up whatever they want anyway. Yikes. It is a good move to be proactive, and frankly I love it when musicians select which song they feel best represents them. It makes me happy to think of all those little songs we post up, making their way through the ether onto someone's headphones, and out into their daily grind, where listeners can actually take the time to ponder the melody on the subway, sing along on a hike, put your song onto a mix, and fall in love.

...But don't attach mp3s to the email.

Clunky mp3s can clog up our in-boxes real fast; only send them if requested. Or even better: put together a website using something like Bandcamp that allows me to easily download your music, read your bio, snag some pictures or artwork, even pore over the lyrics (I love it when musicians post lyrics; a deeper window into your brain). MySpace works for bloggers to stream your tunes, but Bandcamp lets me download them and take them with me on my walk to work. Again, that's often when I fall in love.

Be very clear in the subject line.

This sounds nit-picky, but some days if I am feeling overwhelmed in the battle of the unread emails, I will just go through and grumpily delete all the emails with SUBJECT LINES IN ALL CAPS AND !!!!!!! lots of exclamation points!!!!!! Write something clear and informative that tells me what I'll find if I open it. And don't lie - you're not the next Elliott Smith, I don't think, so avoid hyperbole in your header. You're marvelous simply on your own merits.

Always use BCC and not CC if you are sending to multiple blogs.

Bloggers haaaate having all of their information listed in the CC field. It opens us up to spammers, and just looks bad on you. I'm nice, but I've seen other bloggers reply-all with nasty words that go to everyone you're trying to court. Double check before you click "send."

Have some cool pictures of your band available.

Blogs are often total immersive experiences: readers can listen to the songs while they read about the band and the blogger's reactions to their music, and a superb picture can help (for visual people like me) accent the whole package. Close your eyes and think about how your music feels and what visually could represent that. Ask a friend with a nice camera to play around with some shots. Don't be narcissistic and post a zillion to your MySpace, but carefully selected, visually interesting, varied, clear band pics will go a long way towards helping make my life easier if I do decide to write a post about you. Think colors, interesting patterns or murals, flashlights or Christmas lights or snow or traffic or water. I always look for something that entices my reader to actually click the play button to hear your song. Shallow as it sounds, I can't do that as effectively with a blurry snapshot of your sneakers. Unless it's a song about shoes and macular degeneration.

It's not necessary to have a PR company representing you.

Music bloggers get hundreds of emails a day from publicists and promoters, but I still appreciate hearing directly from the musicians themselves. Sure, having folks toot your horn for you can be helpful, absolutely, but don't feel overwhelmed if you are representing your own work on the internet. The personal touch works to your advantage.

Invite us out to your show if you're coming through town.

Take time to figure out where your favorite bloggers live (I mean, not our actual houses, that's just creepy - although a friend of mine has had people show up on his doorstep. Highly UN-recommended). When you're heading through an area, let us know in advance. I always prefer seeing a musician perform their work in person to streaming their MySpace tunes through tinny laptop speakers.

Please, please don't take it personally if we don't respond.

Many of us work full-time jobs (or seriously should). When I started this four years ago, I did it to talk about music to my friends, and never thought we'd be here 6 million hits later. I try my hardest to keep up but, like many of us without interns or screeners, I fail. Most of us bloggers wish dearly that we could read, listen, and respond to each inquiry we get, but it's just not humanly possible. You do not need to check in four or five times to see if I have listened yet. Frankly, that can turn us off even more.

If we like you, and have written about you before, follow up! Keep us posted.

My favorite musicians who I love to write about will often send me interesting exclusives (be it a new acoustic video they shot last Tuesday on their porch, or a cover they just worked up) to keep themselves on my readers' minds. Blogs are very receptive to exclusive multimedia content. If our readers loved you the first time, hit me up again. Keep me in the loop. Know who is writing about you and court them with all the good newsworthy stuff you're doing.

Finally: keep on keepin' on.

Blogs are hard to navigate even for us somewhat-seasoned veterans. Keep reading the sites you love, keep reaching out, keep playing shows with your whole hearts, and most of all, keep writing songs that have never been written before. Blogs start up and fold every day. The musical cream keeps rising to the top.

The Fuel/Friends Music Blog has been occupying a corner of the internet since 2005, and can be read at http://www.fuelfriendsblog.com. Originally from Northern California, Heather Browne now lives and rocks in Colorado.