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Importance of the Media

15ImportanceofMedia_2It's no grand secret that musicians have a fairly contentious -- if mutually tolerable -- relationship with the media, specifically music critics. Bands tend to feel that music writers are snotty, subjective know-it-alls, while music writers are famous for complaining that bands are arrogant, demanding and impossible to work with. Yet somewhere beneath all that Sturm und Drang is a delicate understanding; music writers would be nothing if it weren't for musicians. And musicians would be nothing if it weren't for music writers.

Love 'em or hate 'em, the mainstream music media is a crucial component in your band's rise to the top. And even if you've chosen to stay mostly removed from the process by hiring a publicist to do your music media bidding, it's still vital for you to understand the inner workings of the music media and how heavily they will factor into your career.

What They Do

The music media is in place to publicize bands and musicians they find newsworthy. It's a type of publicity that can't really be bought, however, as music writers have their own craft at stake; music writing is an art in itself. It's incredibly difficult to hone the descriptive skills necessary to accurately describe a piece of music, and it's just as difficult to acquire the aural skills to pick out the most important elements of a song.

Music writers are tastemakers. These are people paid to give you their opinion, and though it may not be technically more valid than anyone else's, a music critic automatically holds more weight due to the platform afforded them by a widely read publication.

But the music media isn't nearly as pure as it used to be. More and more frequently, writers, editors and publishers find themselves beholden to publicists and advertisers for reasons that are as varied as the bands they choose to cover. Sometimes it's not in the best interest of a publication to like something (the controversy may give them weight with advertisers), so they very purposefully don't. And sometimes they seek out music writers with a bias toward something, or assign a piece that requires very little criticism even though it's masked as a review. It's difficult to know which publications are beholden to which, if any, outside elements.

Of course, this is why it's important that you have a good publicist. Though publicists can't necessarily change the minds of music critics, they can definitely put the most important musicians in front of them, swaying them to give certain things a chance. It's rare for a music writer to have their opinions changed, but those who walk the line can often be pushed over the edge by a good publicist.

How They Do It

A music publication functions pretty much like any newspaper or magazine, except instead of culling information from police reports or AP wires, they receive news via publicists (or writers who pitch a story). Music publications plan their issues based on their demographic, the newsworthiness of events, the accomplishments of the bands in question, and sometimes the sheer strength of a publicist's pitch.

The ways in which music publications can give your work some lip service is extremely varied, though the following formats tend to be the most typical:

Interview/Profile - This is the most difficult sort of coverage to obtain, but also the most desirable; it's very rare that an interview/profile will be negative.

Show Preview - Like an interview/profile, show previews are more often descriptive than critical, giving you a much better chance of being shown in a good light. And, of course, these pieces carry the added bonus of getting people to your show.

Record Review - Another difficult sort of coverage, but extraordinarily influential. If a prominent music critic loves your record, your sales will probably skyrocket. Similarly, if a prominent music writer hates it, you might have some trouble. Record reviews tend to be scary, scary things for musicians.

Show Review - Like a record review, show reviews are risky in terms of your being spun positively. Who knows -- you could play the one bad show you've ever played on the one night a music writer comes out to see you. When deciding whether to ask your publicist to pitch a show review, think about your strengths; if your live shows have a tendency to fall a bit flatter than your records, maybe steer clear of this sort of coverage until you've beefed up your performance.

Why You Care

The story goes like this: a promising artist recently received a terrible review by a music writer on quite possibly the most influential music website. This artist was not new to the industry; he'd been a member of an incredibly well liked band from the late 90s on and had garnered a lot of interest in his solo project. But because this one music critic decided to pan the record, he suddenly found himself in a strange position: his records stopped selling. Even the staunchest fans of his previous project were skeptical, simply because they’d heard the record was bad and didn't want to risk the money.

That story, right there, is why you should care about the music media.

Say what you want about music writers, but these are very tough, very influential people. They take a lot of flak from music fans who think they can do their job, from publicists who don't appreciate their candor, from their very own editors putting on the heat for a certain story. Most of them are acerbic and austere, jaded by years of hearing the same thing. Most of them have a razor sharp intelligence and wit. And most of them, deep down below the sometimes bitterness, truly love and respect music. Rub them the wrong way (either personally or musically), and you could have a huge catastrophe on your hands. But give them something to really write about, and they will -- usually with as much passion, fire and honesty as they've got in them.

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