Getting Reviews

Sooner or later every band or musical artist will need independent reviews of their music.  Positive reviews can help any act to get better gigs, sell more CDs, and start or add to the act’s buzz. The down-side can be painful and difficult to handle, but even a bad review can be used to a band’s advantage.

So where and how do you get reviews?  There are two basic kinds of reviews: the live performance review and the recorded music review, commonly, a CD or album review.

martin mull quote

Live Show Reviews

A live performance review can be anything as easy having people tweet or post positive comments to facebook, or as difficult as getting a professional music reviewer to come to your show and write a review that will be published in a big national glossy magazine.  In between, you have people who review shows for newspapers, weeklies, websites, blogs, and anything else where people can post an opinion.

Anyone can get their friends, relatives, or significant others to post to social media.  And when you are starting out, you should!  Ask your fans repeatedly to post their opinions online or wherever they can.  This will, at the very least, encourage their friends/followers to come to a show, and if they love what they see and hear, you could start a virtual landslide of praise that will lead to all sorts of success.  This is grassroots fan building at it’s best. If it fizzles out after a few shows, that may indicate that you need to improve your performance in some way.

Getting the objective third party reviews or even tweets from the big-shots/tastemakers in your region could have far greater impact.  To get them to come to your show is a little more complicated.  If these people write for a newspaper, magazine, or blog, invite them to a show.  You can do this with a press release or with a simple email.  But, for these people you need something more than “We sound great!” (and please God, never use the word “Premiere” when describing yourself or your band to these people.  It’s code for we aren’t good enough to get any meaningful praise and we’re too lazy come up with a better phrase.  These people are approached by bands every day who claim to be “… the premiere _fill in the blank_ band in the region”.  Most of those bands suck.)  You need to give them a compelling or newsworthy reason to see your band.  Maybe it’s a benefit, maybe your act will perform a stunt of some sort, maybe you’ve hit on some really groundbreaking new kind of music that nobody has ever heard before.  Maybe one of your bandmates has a unique gift or overcame a terrible obstacle.  Maybe they will come if you offer to buy them drinks and/or dinner.  Certainly, you will want to put them on the guest list.  (They will expect that, most of the time.)

Another approach is to get an opening slot for a touring national act and put the reviewer on the guest list so they can come for the bigger act and hopefully write a line or two about your act as well.  These people do this because they love the music, but even they would usually rather see a well known national act than a local act they’ve never heard of before.

You may want to try to glad-hand your way into their circle of friends.  Just don’t be too obvious about it or it may backfire on you.  And for heaven’s sake don’t piss them off or yell at them if they don’t come to your show.

Getting CD or Album Reviews

Getting your album reviewed is usually a little easier, though, possibly more expensive.  If your album is available on CD (or some other physical format) you simply send the reviewers a copy and then beg for them to write a review, hoping it will be a positive one.  If after one or two follow up attempts they don’t respond.  You should stop, or you risk pissing off the reviewer who may then write a scathing review to get back at you for being a pest.

So where do you send it?  Send it to places that have published reviews of albums similar to yours.  Don’t bother with Rolling Stone until until you are signed, or unless you have a personal relationship with the reviewer.  Send it in the most conventional format available right now.  CDs are fine as this is written, flash drives may be acceptable, depending on the reviewer and his/her willingness to accept them.  MP3 files played on well known streaming sites such as Reverbnation, Soundcloud, or Garageband are acceptable, but bear in mind that this doesn’t offer the same opportunity to make an impressive presentation that a physical album provides.  If emailing MP3 files are your preference, check to make sure the reviewer will accept them beforehand. Do NOT send MP3s, or any other format of music, without asking first, you risk clogging up the reviewer’s email inbox and pissing them off.

In addition to newspapers, weeklies, and magazines, there are websites out there that will review albums.  Simply search for a current list of them.  Then, search for regional music sites in your area.  Then, search for genre specific sites that might review your work.

Here are a few I found with a quick search:

When going after the regional and/or genre-specific sites, please pay attention to their focus.  For example: only reviews music from bands that are based in Colorado. Sending them a CD to review of a band from California, is probably a waste of time and postage. reviews females artists, so don’t send them your boy band album.

At this point I would like to point out that getting reviews is also the job of a publicist.  If you hire one, you can expect them to already have lists of places that will write reviews and, hopefully, they will also have relationships with the most influential reviewers.

What to do about Negative Reviews

If you are unfortunate enough to get a really bad review the most important thing to remember is not to take it too personally.  Probably, the reviewer has never met you, has no idea what you are like or how much of your heart and soul went into that album, and doesn’t really care.  Remember the old saying: Opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one.  Do NOT enter into a flame war on facebook with the reviewer.  Remember, these people write for a living and are usually pretty good at it.  Furthermore, calling them names only makes you look bad.  The best response is to thank the reviewer for listening to the album and telling them that you hope your future endeavors will be more to their liking.  Then quietly add them to the list of people who you will never put on the guest list when you become a big hit.  In the entertainment business you’re nobody until somebody hates you.

If you have a large and/or vocal following online, you might post a few short snippets of the offending review and ask your fans if they agree or not.  Chances are, they will overwhelming flood you with praise to counter the bad review (and maybe drown the reviewer in hate mail).  The key here is that there will be a lot of people talking about you.  Good or bad, when this happens, other people will want to listen for themselves.  The only bad publicity is no publicity.  The worst thing a reviewer can do to you is never review your work.

Now, the hard part of the bad review or a mixed review is if it’s offered as constructive criticism.  You may not agree with their opinions, but it might be worth considering them, if they are presented as a way to improve your act.  Any act can be improved.  Any song can be recorded better (or at least differently). If you aren’t getting any reviews and people aren’t coming to your shows, you should seriously consider doing anything you can do to improve.