This post was revised November 2016.
Music blogs and record labels have specific guidelines on how to submit – and how NOT to submit – your music
As the publisher of the Indie Bible and the Indie Venue Bible, the most frequent question I get from artists is, “How do I contact the music services listed in your directory?” The answer is always the same: Whether you’re contacting magazines, music blogs, radio shows, record labels, music distributors, or promotional services, you have to check THEIR SPECIFIC submission guidelines before getting in touch.
This is the most fundamental rule of promotion. It is the rule now, and it will be the rule 2,000 years from now when humans have giant heads and tiny bodies.
There’s really no excuse not to check. Ninety percent of music services have their submission guidelines clearly posted online.
Why do artists ignore submission guidelines?
My guess is, as is the case with most people, musicians and artists are in a gigantic hurry and are always on the lookout for any available shortcut. It’s a habit that lies deep within our psyche and is hard to break.
Shortcuts are great when you end up where you’re trying to get to. If you don’t end up at your destination, then by definition, it’s not really a shortcut.
In the music business, because there are so many thousands of people submitting their music daily, if you don’t follow the submission guidelines, you may as well open your window and throw your CD onto the street. That way, it has a miniscule chance of someone listening to it.
It used to be when you were looking for places to review or play your music, the options were very limited. You would make a demo in a studio or create a home recording, and would then mail physical copies to the various record labels. There were some college stations around that would play your song, and a cluster of homemade zines, but that was it as far as any exposure opportunities went. Remember, there was no Internet back then.
However, that was many years ago.
With the introduction of the Internet and all of its components – including audio and video websites, music blogs, review websites, Internet radio, podcasts, and social networking systems – it is no longer possible to even keep track of all the places that could help you to gain exposure for your music. And they all have their own special way that they like to be reached.
Yet, whether they have been around long enough to witness this change or have grown up with the Internet as a fixture, a lot of artists still tend toward a one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to making initial contact. They believe that it’s more practical than taking the time to research each music service individually.
But if it doesn’t get you anywhere, how practical is it?
How to submit your music
The remainder of this article explores all the possible ways (that I know of) to submit your music to the various music services (or in some cases, reasons why a music service doesn’t want your submission).
I have created this list to show you that there are MANY ways that you may be asked to submit your music. I hope to get the point across that sending your music without checking the submission guidelines is a waste of your time and money. And frankly, it just irritates people.
How to guarantee failure
The generic email blast. We all know this one. We’re all subjected to it daily. It’s called SPAM. The logic behind it all comes down to basic math. “If I send out X number of emails, and only .01% of the people respond, that’s still a lot of responses!”
I can guarantee you that no music submission guidelines in the history of the world have ever stated that their preferred way of being contacted is by an email blast!
The generic email blast with fries. To get an e-blast from an artist that has cc’d you and several hundred other people is the lowest possible form of communication in the music business, especially if there are MP3s attached. It frustrates everyone involved. If you’re going to send out a blast, at least have the decency to use the blind carbon copy (bcc:) so that no one sees anyone else’s email address.
No contact name. When sending an initial email to a music service, I highly recommend that you take the time to find out the name of the appropriate contact. This will show them that you have sacrificed a few seconds of your time to at least find out who to contact.
These are human beings you’re contacting, and it frustrates them to continually receive requests from people that call them “Hey” or “Dear Music Reviewer.”
There are cases where no contact name is available. A lot of bloggers like to keep things mysterious. In these cases you have no choice but to start your correspondence with a generic salutation. However, in most cases, the name of the appropriate contact is posted, usually in the “About Us” or “Contact” section.
Sending unsolicited material. One of the most frustrating things for independent artists to deal with is the large number of labels and music services that do not accept unsolicited material. It creates a kind of an outside-looking-in feeling. How do you become one of the “solicited” and why are these people being so mean?
There are two mains reasons for this vigorous screening. The first is for legal protection. In the past, there have been many artists who have filed suit against labels, claiming that the label ripped off their song. They claim that they sent XYZ Records a demo, and a year later a XYZ Artist released a song that sounded similar to their demo. It gave record companies no choice but to protect themselves by having lawyers or management firms ask for permission to send in a demo on behalf of their clients.
The second reason is that it helps to make sure the music is targeted. It enables labels to avoid the deluge of inappropriate material that they would receive if they welcomed ALL material. At some point a human being has to go through all the submissions. If the label welcomed unsolicited material, they would be fortunate if 10% of the music sent to them actually fit the style that they were looking for.
Submitting when the label has announced “submissions are closed.” Many services, especially small labels, review websites, and blogs, reach a point where they’re maxed out. They have a small staff and have a backload of submissions and cannot possibly get to any new submissions, at least for the next while. In their submission guidelines there will be a notice that submissions are closed until further notice. Once they get caught up, submissions are opened up again.
Using an incorrect email address. Most music services have several contact emails, especially the larger ones. The email to use depends on your reason for getting in touch. There may be an email address specifically for submissions, reviews, press releases, demos, general questions, and advertising. Make sure you use the appropriate email address.
If a music reviewer’s personal address is listed, and they ask that you send all submissions to the music@ address, do NOT send your music to their personal address, even if that’s the person that you would like to send your music to.
It’s likely that the music@ / demos@ / reviews@ messages go to a different account that can handle large files and a lot of incoming emails.
Poor spelling, grammar, and text speak. If you’re a rotten speller, just admit it. Run a spell check or get a friend to look over your copy before you send it to anyone. The same thing goes for grammar. The last thing that a blogger or music reviewer wants to do is to try and plod through a mess of misspelled words and grammatical oddities.
The same thing goes for text speak. You’re not texting someone, you’re writing a letter of introduction. That age-old rule about the importance of first impressions still applies.
Asking a question that is answered in the FAQ. Most music services have some sort of FAQ on their website – a page that features answers to the most frequently asked questions. They’ll ask in their submission guidelines that you take a moment to read the FAQ before contacting them. The usual policy is, if the FAQ doesn’t answer your question, then by all means get in touch. However, if you send them a question that is answered in the FAQ, you’re only going to tick them off. It’s doubtful that they’ll get back to you.
Not using a required permission forms. Many music services, usually Internet radio shows and video broadcasting websites, will not play your music or video unless you fill out their online permission form. In some cases you are asked to print out the form, fill it in, and mail it to them. If you send them your music without the form, it will not be played.
Know what style(s) of music the service welcomes. Nothing slow burns a radio host, music editor, label owner, or blogger like getting bombarded with music that is totally unrelated to the style they promote. It displays a total disrespect. It’s like sitting down and ordering pizza in a Chinese restaurant. It shows them right away that you haven’t taken a moment to even look around to find out about what it is they do. Your songs, of course, are trashed immediately.
Contact before sending your music. Several music services are more than happy to accept your music. All they ask is that you contact them before sending in your music, just to make sure your music is a good fit. It’s for this reason that many services do not post their physical address online. You must contact them first in order to get the mailing address. It’s their way of pre-screening submissions.
Do not contact before sending your music. Some services do not want to be bothered with an initial contact. It’s a waste of their time. They insist that you go ahead and send your music in without any preliminary introduction. Contacting them only irritates them.
Facebook, Twitter. An increasing number of music services prefer to be contacted through their Facebook page or Twitter account. Often you will not find any other contact information on their website other than a link to their Facebook and Twitter pages. Sometimes you will find a contact email within the About section of their Facebook account.
Comments. Many bloggers don’t post any contact information at all. In order to get in touch you have to post a comment on their blog.
Know what formats they accept. This is another key element that is often overlooked. Music services usually post their format of preference. Often it’s a combination of several formats. For instance they may accept digital and physical submissions. Or, they may accept digital submissions only. They may also welcome videos. Or they may be old school and will ask for physical submissions only.
Vinyl only. There is an increase in the number of music services that accept vinyl only. They are usually record labels in the Punk, Electronic, and Hip Hop genres.
EPs and demos. Many reviewers will accept demos and EPs to review, but MANY DON’T. Again, it’s important to check before sending out your EP or demo.
Time sensitive material. There are a number of music blogs, radio shows, promoters and review sites that will only deal with music that has been released recently. The cutoff date varies, but the allowable time of release is usually six months or less. If your music was released prior to their “cut off” date, it will be ignored.
Local music only. There are a lot of local music resources. Local radio shows, publications, blogs, labels, and more. What is meant by “local” depends on the specific resource. For some it may a particular city and its surrounding suburbs. For another it may be an entire state or province. Local could also include several states, or even a specific section of a state (i.e.: Southern California or Central Ohio). While for others, local can be a whole country.
A common exception is if your band is on tour and is playing in the community. Often, that qualifies you as “local” even though you’re not from the area.
Which reviewer accepts my style of music? There are a large number of music blog and review websites that have a stable of reviewers. Each reviewer accepts one or more particular styles of music. So, even though the overall website may welcome many styles, the onus is on you to find out which of the reviews/bloggers deals with your particular style of music. Once you determine which reviewer covers your style of music you can contact them according to their specific submission guidelines.
Is this a free or a paid service? Most bloggers, magazines and radio shows will promote your music as a free service. It’s what they love to do. However, more and more services are charging a minimal fee. It’s usually between $10 and $50 depending on the services they offer and the number of songs involved. There are also music services that offer both a “free” and “paid” option. The main advantage of the “paid option” is that it gets you to the front of the line.
Third party submission services. Often a music service will only accept music through a third party submission service. MusicSubmit, Sonicbids, and Musicxray are three to check out. These submission services act as a protective buffer. Instead of being bombarded by thousands of submissions, many bloggers, reviewers, radio shows, etc. hire a submission service to handle ALL of the incoming submissions. The submission service makes their money by charging the artist a fee for the submission – which should be indicated along with the listing.
Sending a press kit. Another important consideration when sending your music is the accompanying bio information about you or your band. Submission guidelines are usually specific about what sort of information they would like to have included. They could either ask for a full blown press kit, a one-sheet, an electronic press kit (EPK), or just a few lines about you. They may also want a photo, a scan of the album cover, press clippings, and so on. Your best chance to succeed is by sending exactly what it is they want. If they ask for a one-sheet and you send them a novel, you’re only going to frustrate them.
College radio. Some college radio stations allow you to send your music directly to a show’s host, but many insist that all music must be sent to the Music Director. The Music Director then passes on the music to the various shows, according to the genre. Make sure you’re clear on whom to address your music to.
No shrink wrap or glitter. When sending a CD, make sure to remove the shrink wrap first. It’s highly irritating for someone receiving hundreds of CDs a week to continually have to waste valuable time removing annoying shrink wrap. And don’t fill your envelope with glitter to try and be unique and get their attention. It’s universally hated by everyone in the music business.
Attachments. Nothing fires up the rage-O-meter like receiving an email with a MP3 attached, when the submission guidelines clearly state “Please DO NOT attach MP3s!” These inappropriate submissions tend to clog up servers and mess with people’s peace of mind.
Sending MP3s. If a music service does welcome attachments, make sure that you follow their particular specs (if they have them listed). There are a variety of ways to format/compress a MP3. For starters, you always want to make sure that it’s tagged/labeled right. The formatting details vary according to the individual music service.
Here are examples I’ve taken from different submission guidelines in regard to sending MP3s. If you don’t understand the jargon, a quick trip to Google will clarify everything for you.
- Please compress your MP3 file to 320 KBPS.
- MP3 file encoded at 64-512kbps or VBR with 44.1 kHz sampling rate and less than 30 MB.
- MP3 format, 256 kbit / s, 44.100 KHz
- We ask that any single MP3s be 128 kbps or better, properly tagged and preferably FCC friendly.
- Audio files (128kb minimum quality MP3s).
- Digital promos (WAV or MP3 192 kbps or better quality)
Links to your music. Services that accept digital submissions, but don’t want attachments, will often ask that you send a LINK to your music. Having a link allows the end user to take their time because there are no storage issues. They can casually visit your link whenever they have a moment. If they like your music, they may then ask you to mail in your CD or send them a digital file.
Streaming. For some music services the preferred delivery is via streaming. Streaming is content sent in compressed form over the Internet and displayed by the viewer in real time. In other words, they click on a link and the music or video starts to play right away. The end user doesn’t have to wait for the entire file to be transmitted. Streams can be from a YouTube page, Bandcamp page, etc.
Online forms. A lot of music services have set up an online submission form. It allows you to fill out some information about yourself and your band, and it also enables you to upload one or more of your songs to their server.
Soundcloud. Soundcloud is one of the single most immersive music sharing tools available, and if you know how to use it properly, it can help open up new doors for your band and your music industry career as a whole.
File sharing services. Many music services, especially reviewers and bloggers, ask that you send your digital files to them via a file sharing service. A file sharing service is a company that transfers huge files on behalf of their clients. This cloud-enabled transfer allows a music service to download submissions without having to worry about their personal server getting clogged by the endless influx of submissions. Yousendit, Sendspace, and Mediafire are some popular file sharing services.
Digital music aggregators. In order to get your music posted on many of the larger digital music websites such as iTunes and Spotify, you must have your music submitted through a digital music aggregator. Aggregators are music services that distribute audio files in bulk to these massive digital websites. Of course, CD Baby will distribute your music on Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and many more.
Submission guidelines not only tell you how to make FIRST CONTACT, but more often than not, they also tell you how to follow up (or not). The follow-up can often be as important as the first contact.
The most common rule is that if they like your music, they will get in touch. In other words, “Don’t call us – we’ll call you.” It’s nothing personal, they just don’t have the time to respond to all of the submissions they get. Others may welcome a gentle reminder. Radio show hosts often ask that you follow their playlist to see if your music has been played (instead of contacting them and asking). A lot of places emphasize NO PHONE CALLS!
A sure-fire way to irritate someone is by following up in a way that they specifically asked you not to in their submission guidelines.
Music people are very busy. They are absolutely bombarded with music on a daily basis. It’s a byproduct of doing what they love to do: listening to and discovering new music. They are willing to deal with the deluge because of this incredible passion they have for music. All they ask in return is for you to follow a few simple rules that will make the handling of this incoming flow of music a bit easier.
The best way to have your submission stand out, is by making it personal and by following their submission guidelines to the letter. By doing so, you become part of the minority, and are more likely to be remembered. If you don’t follow the specific submission guidelines, your music faces the inevitable fate of being trashed.
David Wimble is a songwriter, recording artist (with his band Big Meteor), and is the publisher of the Indie Bible, The Indie Venue Bible, and The Indie Bible ONLINE. His company has combined all of their directories into The Ultimate Indie Bundle to create an affordable resource for struggling artists. Email David at email@example.com.
How to run a successful record label (by giving away the music)
A guide to Apple Music for the independent musician
Crowdfunding for musicians: tips, tactics, and trends
Setting up a call to action on your Facebook artist page
YouTube for musicians – how to grow your YouTube channel, and other advice for your online videos