I’m writing this solely for Music Think Tank in regards to something I’ve observed in the music industry over the past while, and you may agree or disagree. None of the points are etched in stone, but rather applicable on an intuitive, case by case basis (meaning sometimes you need to follow the rules, sometimes not). I hope it’s a conversation starter. Before I go into this, I’d like to state that it is both respectful and necessary to follow submission guidelines and show a great respect for the publications who support independent music and art. However, doing only that may not be good enough.
When did independent musicians settle for waiting in line and following the rules? While it’s important for both organization’s sake and quality’s sake for publications, festivals, radio shows, blogs, record labels, etc to have submission policies, do’s and don’ts, I see a trend of conditioned illusion happening that I’d liken to a set of walls being placed around otherwise expansive and creative musical minds. This is the artist’s fault mainly, as it’s their own perception that has been downgraded.
Every institution has a lengthy set of rules. CMJ has theirs. Pitchfork has theirs. Coachella and Bonaroo have theirs. The quality mid-level publications and companies have their own unique set. When you visit your favourite music blog, chances are you’ll see a submissions email for their “review queue” where you can send your music to sit amongst a list of thousands of others. Sonicbids is one of the most well known music opportunities websites where some secure opportunities and many others wait in line until their efforts seemingly disappear into the ether.
Many of these rules are necessary and in some cases, you should abide by them. But I can’t help but thinking that the years of being told what to do by everyone from the smallest blogs to the largest indie institutions, the local club to the endless industry gurus and specialists with their endless titles (social media coaches, etc) has created a culture of young artists who are now programmed, conditioned to ask what to do. To ask for help. To try to be the next Arcade Fire or Nine Inch Nails, when those moments have already come and gone. To try to achieve “the CMJ sound”, whether that be hipster pop or electro folk this week, instead of speaking from their hearts and having something genuinely original to say. To wait in line in review queues and say “I hope it turns out.”
Has the spirit of true drive been lost? I feel the main reason for the continuation of this programming is the wide-spread illusion of a fair playing field. Most artists feel that when they send their music in for an opportunity, there is some sort of panel waiting to give a fair listen to their work. The fact is, right or wrong, fair or unfair, there is no such level playing field, and many of your detailed, personalized, effort-filled submissions are going nowhere, because in most cases there is no motivation or reason to write about your band. That’s a fact.
I typically use this example, but the Doors used to call in and request “Break on Through” on Los Angeles radio to get their foot in the door. That’s technically against the rules, and the indie institutions would definitely frown on that type of activity today, but I would say that if you do your diligence by letting your art come through you, not from you, and creating something great, you should then do anything within your power to make it happen.
Use Sonicbids. Send your music to CMJ. Send your music to the top 500 music blogs. Do all these things and 1,000 more. But if you only do those things, you could end right where you begin. Talk to people. Get on the phone. Be tenacious if you believe in your art. Do what other bands are not doing. Be provocative and think like an entrepreneur. Outsource your coverage and make it happen for yourself. Get a street team together. Get a freelance writing team together.
I doubt Pussy Riot settled for review queues, and I think the serious bands out there would benefit from thinking more creatively in this regard.
Author bio: James Moore is the author of the “Your Band Is A Virus” book series (http://www.amazon.com/Your-Band-Is-Virus-ebook/dp/B00ADPGIXK/) and founded of Independent Music Promotions (www.independentmusicpromotions.com), a DIY music promotion company working exclusive with “artists with depth”.