MARISSA MOSS is a professional music journalist and blogger at Lockeland Springsteen, a quippy, passionate curation of Nashville’s music scene that is, obviously, the boss. She wrote about Dawes for this month’s cover story in American Songwriter and has had her work featured in Filter, Nylon, Spin, Rolling Stone. All DIY artists know the importance of good press; the manager-less artist sends email after email to a large black hole. But Marissa actively looks for new bands to feature. Here are the five things that she always looks for…
EVERYTHING ARTISTS WANT TO KNOW from MARISSA MOSS, music journalist
As a music journalist, bands and artists are often asking what gets me to read a pitch email or pay attention to a new act. Of course, having a great publicist always helps, but it’s not always necessary (and it’s very expensive to do it right). There are many things you can do on your own to be your own best advocate as far as the media is concerned.
1. Build a user-friendly web site. Not a cool one, not a fancy one, but a user-friendly one. I like to be able to easily do a few things on a band or artist’s site: find their bio with little effort, listen to their music easily and grab photos. I don’t care if it has fancy graphics. I hate it if at least song isn’t available for streaming, and I really get frustrated when things are convoluted or difficult to find. Make things as easy as possible. I love when bands are on Bandcamp and Spotify; I don’t love Soundcloud. And please invest in a bio – have someone write it for you if you can. And “someone” means not your drummer.
2. Get to know writers. Read music magazines and blogs like crazy, and get in touch with the ones whose tastes mirror your sound. Other writers might disagree, but I like when bands and artists contact me directly. I don’t need the filter of a publicist, and am perfectly fine with a band emailing me directly. But the biggest mistake is not reading my work. You’re much better off to taking the time to read up on and pick five freelancers/bloggers/editors that you want to contact thoughtfully, rather than blasting out an all-purpose email. Don’t throw spaghetti at the wall. Nothing gets my attention more than “hey, I saw the article you wrote on so and so, and really liked how you said XYZ. Because of that, I think you’ll like my record.” It’s not the flattery (though that ain’t bad), but it helps me know that maybe this music really does fit in with my beat and taste. Equally when a band sends me a specific idea for a specific section of my blog.
3. Don’t be an asshole. Being decent to the press gets you everywhere. You don’t have to be fake (please don’t be, actually), but don’t be an asshole, unless you are Bob Dylan. I interviewed Graham Nash a few months ago. I said to him, “gosh, all these interviews, for all these years, must be totally unbearable.” And he looked me straight in the eye and said, “I do everything as well as I can. I make records as best I as can, I sing as best as I can and I do interviews as best as I can. I always want everything I do as an artist to be the best it can be.” And that’s why Graham Nash is still selling out the Ryman after so many years, and the indie singer that was a total dick to me three years ago is back to working in retail. This is your art. Represent it well. Being a dick may have worked before the internet, but it won’t work now.
4. Tour. This might seem obvious. But I cannot tell you how many times I hear this: “I’m not going to tour. All I need is someone to find my music and blog about it, and I’ll get a record deal.” This, my friends, is bullshit. If this is what you want, tour until the wheels of your van fall off and you see more hotel rooms per year than your own bed. I don’t care how prevalent the internet is, or your argument that The Strokes only had to play a few shows in New York before getting signed. You need to tour. Remember how I brought up Bob Dylan a minute ago? He’s still on tour.
5. If you do hire a publicist, do your research carefully. It is so important to pick the right publicist. Don’t just look at their roster – talk to writers that have worked with them. There are some PR firms that I despise working with, despite the fact that they represent amazing bands, and knowing that dealing with them will be a nightmare always makes me hesitant to move forward on a story. But there are others who are fantastic to work with. Big Hassle, a firm based in New York, gave me the time of day when I was starting out years ago, often for tiny, super low profile assignments. They were decent to me long before I was writing cover stories, even when other PR firms wouldn’t answer my emails. I will always read an email from anyone at that company, always. They earned that from me. Talking to press who have worked with these PR firms is the single most important thing you can do.
Marissa, you are a gem! I think getting good press is an elusive pursuit, but Marissa brought me back down to earth – you have to work for it, as a writer, networker, self-manager, etc. Her advice really hit home for me (ahem … no. 4). What did you take away?
I shared the five things I miss about Nashville on Lockeland Springsteen a few months back.