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MEDIA REVIEWS: POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE IT’S ONLY AN OPINION

PUBLICITY AND ADVERTISING – DO YOU KNOW THE DIFFERENCE?

After the releases of BALLBUSTER issues #2 and #3, we were inundated with letters from bands and artists who were angry, hurt or disappointed because their CDs and demos received negative reviews. They really took these reviews personally! Notice that I said that the work received a negative review; this is never a personal judgement upon the person(s) who generated the work. One thing that bands and artists need to understand and keep in mind is the fact that a review is simply one person’s opinion. Other writers and fans may disagree with that writer’s review. I can’t speak for others, but this magazine does nothing whatsoever to sway the opinions of the writers handling these reviews. One important point to keep in mind is the fact that each and every person on this planet has his/her own likes and dislikes. One person may hear a song, an album or a certain genre of music and can’t get enough of it, while another person may hear the same song, album or genre and be completely turned off by it. If you’re like most people, you don’t like every single thing you hear. For example, maybe you can’t get enough of Marilyn Manson, but you absolutely cannot tolerate listening to Motley Crue. Your best friend, perhaps one of your own bandmatesãmay disagree with you. Perhaps he/she is a dyed-in-the-wool Crue fan who can’t understand what you see and hear in Manson. Each of these bands has their own fair share of fans and their own fair share of critics, as does any rrock act. This is how it is universally in the music biz. No matter who you are or what you do, not everybody is always going to agree with you, like what you like or like what you’re doingãno matter how great it is technically or whatever. Think back on most of the mail-sections you’re read in mags and ‘zines like Metal Edge, Hit Parader and Livewire. Fans of metal write in and say that “alternative sucks.” Alternative fans write in and say that “metal sucks.” Neither of these opinions is right or wrong; they’re just differences of opinion and each person is entitled to his or her own. The sooner upcoming rock artists get used to that idea, the easier it’s going to be for them to survive the music business. You really need to develop a thick skin; go into a hard music career knowing right off the bat that not everybody is going to be jazzed by your creations. Especially today, with all the different styles of rock music available to the listener. There is something for everybody. You need to learn to use negative as well as positive reviews to your advantage. Rock and roll, hard music was designed to express a viewpoint, be rebellious, to get a rise out of people. This is not to say that you should deliberately make people angry, offend or insult them or anything of the sort. You don’t want to turn people off to the point that they won’t buy your records or come to your shows. It means just what it saysãuse reviews to your advantage, positive or negative. Marilyn Manson is a good example. They have been slammed left and right by the media and the general ppublic, called everything from weirdoes to antichrist devil-worshippers. What did they do with it? They used it to their advantage and as result, they’re now laughing all the way to the bank. This is not to infer that you should become Manson clones because that would be redundantãthe world already has a Marilyn Manson; it doesn’t need another. The idea here is to come up with your own syle, your own music, your own image, your own angle and see how it develops. It’s true that this is a pretty jaded world now and that everything has pretty much been seen, heard and done already, so you need to put your own spin on it. If you demo or CD gets a negative review, the first thing to do is to consider exactly what is being criticized. This is hard because it requires being completely honest with yourself. Is the criticism picking at insignificant things like looks and image or is it truly constructive musical criticism? Is it merely a case of the reviewer not being a fan of your particular genre? If I’m reviewing a band whose musical style I don’t care for, I will indicate that it’s not my cup of teaãbut I will give credit where it is due. If the vocals and music are of excellent quality, I make sure I include the fact because I know that someone out there who is a fan of that style will like it. On the other hand, regardless of whether I like a band’s genre or not, if I hear something that (in my opinion) needs improvement, I will indicate that, too. Sometimes you can learn something and actually improve your sound by making suggested adjustments, especially if you keep hearing the same criticisms from different sources. Get many opinions, don’t rely upon or fret over one single opinion. When you complete an albumãdemo or signed, give it a good listen while it’s still in the recording studio. Really listen to it thoroughly. Was it done in such a way as to capture your very best sound? I’ve run across bands who say that they know deep down when something isn’t quite up to parãyet they’ve submitted it for review anyway. If it doesn’t live up to your own standards, why release it? Don’t spend valuable time and hard-earned money on something you’re not completely satisfied with. Go back to the drawing-board if you have to. Let some trustworthy people hear it and ask their honest opinions. If you’re gigging the material live, pay close attention to audience reaction. If you send your work to many music publications and all the reviews indicate the same criticismsãthe vocals need work, the guitarist needs to sharpen his skills, the songs are all about the same subject matter, the band is stuck in a time-warp or whatever, those things might be worth improving upon or changing. If you keep getting the same responses from ‘zines, peers, fans and club/venue owners, it’s a good bet that you’re going to hear the same things from producers, managers, music attorneys, publicity people and record-label execs, too. In order to have a successful music career, you must make yourself as marketable as possible. Once again, keep in mind that no matter who you are or what you’re doing, you are not going to please all of the people all of the time. Okay, now that we have that understood, how does an act go about getting publicity, especially on a tight budget? Until you can afford the services of a management and publicity firm, adopt the D.I.Y. ethic. It will require a bit of an investment, some legwork and a “never give up” attitude on your part.

First, know the difference between advertising and publicity. Advertising space is bought and paid-for, either on the pages of newspapers, magazines or airtime on TV or the radio. The reader/audience knows that you paid for it; it’s the equivalent of a TV-commercial and not an endorsement of your work. However, publicity in the form of a review, an interview or a story article are implied endorsements of the publication/radio station/TV show and are much more effective. A writer, a DJ or host found you interesting and talented enough to grant you time and space in their respective formats. (Even negative publicity is getting attention). First thing you need is a press-kit. Time and time again I run across bands and artists who don’t have a clue that they even need a press-kit, don’t know what goes into press-kits and they are of the utmost importance. Even if you’re a beginner, you need to look professional at all times. A lot of musicians/singers resist this idea, but the music industry is a business and that’s how you must treat your career. Otherwise you will find yourself continually being dismissed and ignored as an amateur by important people in the business. Remember that first impressions count. You need to have a couple of good band photos complete with your band’s nname, the members’ names and a means of contact on the prints. Have a good supply printed up; asking to have photos returned to you looks cheap and makes no sense. Media people and whoever else you’re working with will need them to keep on file. You will need a bio that’s no longer than one page in length that contains pertinent information about your band/act. You don’t need to write your entire life story, just interesting stuff pertaining to your act. Names, instruments played, the kind of music you play, band history, musical training you’ve had. Include things that will grab attention. Charity work is a biggie. If you’ve participated in any benefits to raise money for worthy causes, make absolutely sure you include that info. The human interest angle always goes over big. Have you held any interesting day-jobs as a struggling musician? For instance, a Boston band several years ago had a member whose job was cleaning a zoo’s snake cages. Have you overcome obstacles to get where you are? There’s a German band that has a one-handed bassist who didn’t let that stop himãthis band has a great sound. Grab people’s attention at the beginning of the bioãfind some kind of great hook and use it. Zero in on just a couple of things at this pointãdon’t go off on too many different tangents. Make sure you put the most important and interesting facts at the beginning of the bio, the less interesting things later on. The idea is to give the press something to work with. Make people want to hear your music, make them want to feature you, make them want to come to your shows. Use clear, concise English, make sure your grammar and spelling are up to parãyou do want people to take you seriously. Be sure you include an address and a phone-number where you can be contacted. Whatever you do, don’t embellish or lie about yourselfãsuch untruths have a way of catching up with you later on. Got any press-clippings? Use ’em. Arrange ’em to fit on sheets of plain white paper and get ’em photocopied. Make sure that the name of the publication and the date of the feature are included. Inserting the aforementioned items into a folder along with your demo creates a nice, neat tidy package that can be easily mailed or hand-delivered. Make sure your band’s name is on the cover. Once you have a bunch of press-kits assembled, you can start with the media in your hometown. The feature editor or music writer of your hometown newspaper is a good place to start. College radio stations. Fanzines, especially local ones. make sure you let these people know when your band is playing important gigs at least two weeks in advance and make follow-up calls without being a nuisance. Once you’re known locally, expand to national and international music magazines, etc. Even once you get signed to a record-label, you can continue to promote yourself in this manner. Don’t rely completely on the label’s PR department. The label will only be fronting you so much money (which is a loan to be paid back or an advance against future royalties), and you’d be well-advised to invest it into the promotion of your career. In this business, you only get one good shot at the big-timeãhit ’em with your best shot, fire away!