Because I review CDs each week here and contribute to the Wall Street Journal, I'm often bombarded by publicists trying to pitch me their clients' CDs. Truth be told, 50% of these e-releases are sent to the trash unread based on their subject lines. Another 20% are trashed within seconds after opening. And another 20% are trashed because they don't inform fast enough. Which leaves 10% that I actually read.
This post is addressed to musicians who scratch their heads and wonder why they don't get coverage by the print or electronic media. But I warn you, what follows is tough love about the music-promotion business and the media. My hope is that publicists will pick up some pointers and be better at what they do. And that musicians will come to realize that getting the word out requires more than postage stamps and bubble envelopes.
Here's what publicists and the media won't tell you about people like me who review music:
1. I don't care about your album. Many musicians and publicists seem to believe that offering me free music is some sort of eagerly awaited prize, like sardines to seals. The truth is I have all the new music I will ever want or need. Good publicists know that reviewers have to be seduced with a great sales pitch.
2. Don't make me work. Asking me to download music is the kiss of death. Downloads are a pain because I have to break away from writing to download, import into iTunes, and then extract from iTunes if I don't like what I hear. Way too much time and work. It's much easier to trash.
3. I know you don't read. Informed musicians and publicists make time to read the newspapers, keep up with the music trades and read the leading blogs. Reading helps them develop a feel for who likes what, and then they pitch accordingly and wisely. The bad ones treat the media like the wall and your music like spaghetti. They throw it out there and hope someone will bite. Most also fail to read the very media they're pitching, which also leads to the trash.
4. You talk too much. Most of the e-releases I receive from musicians and publicists run way too long. In the digital age, no one in this business wants to read a ton of tiny type to figure out what you're selling. Get to the point and tell me why I should care.
5. You're not making sense. In many cases, writers of releases try to wax poetic about the album in question. Which is admirable but misses the point. Essays are for liner notes, not effective promotion. And it's sort of important that what is being written is clear and well-organized.
6. Sell the music, not you. I live and breathe music every waking minute of my day. I love it. How an artist looks or what that artist thinks means nothing to me—at first. The music is what wins me over. Then, if I care, I'm curious about the person and artist. At which point I fall in love and champion the music. What does that tell you? Sell me on the album's story.
7. Don't you own a calendar? Too often I receive releases supporting albums that are due to drop in days or a week. Which works against you. When I question publicists about this, they tell me that they only just received the product from the artist or record company. Guess what? You're selling expired milk. Reviewers need time to pitch the albums they like to editors so reviews are timed to appear just before they hit the street. Reviewers can't do that if you haven't given them enough time to listen to your effort and sell it. Good publicists get me recordings at least six weeks before the release date.
8. You're just part of the crowd. Your album is important. But know that you're releasing your music just as dozens of other artists are as well. Which means the competition is stiff and the clutter is dense. So be sure you stand out. Your goal is to get me to make a decision as quickly as possible on your music, not bury me with words.
9. Know what I care about. Simple sells, so urge your publicist to list the basic information in releases up top. This means the drop date should be up there in bold and large type. Why? That's the first thing I want to know. Then a few lines on what makes you and your album special. Then I want the track listings, the personnel, the producer, arranger and when and where the album was recorded. I need to know why the album is significant—fast. This helps me craft my pitch. Save the rest for a holiday card.
10. So where's the music? Your goal is to get me to make a decision on your music, right? So why do so many e-releases fail to include a link to music samples—up top? Failure to provide a link to a sample up top ensures the release will be in my trash. A YouTube of a track is better. And a YouTube bio of the band or artist or album is better still.
Oh, one more thing: Reach the right people. This means you and your publicist should make use of the newswires that the jazz media tracks. There are many, but one of the best is Jazz Promo Services, which has global reach and blasts releases to thousands of writers, editors and decision-makers in radio, the press, TV, print media, online media as well as jazz fans who like to buy albums and tickets to live shows.
Again, apologies if I've insulted anyone. My goal here wasn't to poke fun or hurt feelings. I want to listen to every album that's being released. I love music that much. But I can't. Which is why I need you and your publicist to be smarter and make my life easier. Key info on top—and feature a link to samples.
Phil Silvers redux. In the wake of my post last week on Phil Silvers and Swinging Brass (1957)—a little-known album composed and likely arranged by Nelson Riddle and played by a crack studio band—I received a swell note from the late arranger's daughter, Rosemary Acera:
"Such a wonderful piece on Swinging Brass. So well done! I love all your detail—your passion for this is so evident. Dad would be honored to read this blog although I cannot even imagine him using a computer. I believe once he understood the power of its ability to keep people informed and connected that he would be on board."
I also received the following from Ted Hodgetts of JazzFirst Books:
"I was going through a group of jazz recording contracts this week, purchased awhile ago, and found a contract on Columbia letterhead, signed by Nelson Riddle confirming that he had indeed 'originally conceived the…idea …for a Phil Silvers album…embodying certain copyrighted bugle call arrangements.' Columbia is agreeing to give Riddle his propers on the album cover."
Here's that contract...
"In 1956 or 1957, I was part of a superb big band playing the great Nelson Riddle arrangements based on Army bugle calls. Riddle had been a Sergeant during World War II and was familiar with many of the calls. The album was designed to cash in on the popularity of Sgt. Bilko as played by Phil Silvers on TV.
"The Columbia LP was entitled Phil Silvers and His Swinging Brass, but because Nelson Riddle was under contract to Capitol Records, his credit line on the album is small and reads 'Compositions Conceived by Nelson Riddle.' Note that 'conceived,' as if Riddle only chose the bugle calls, sketched out a few ideas, and didn't make the arrangements.
"Indeed, in the liner notes two other arrangers—Warren Barker and Frank Comstock—are credited for arranging the music. I'm certain Riddle did most of the writing.
"There's an interesting story regarding the band we had on this date. Irving Townsend, the album's producer, mentioned to me that Nelson had told him that the album would have to be recorded in California because he couldn't get a band good enough in New York! Townsend was astounded with such a thought and told Riddle, "Whaddya mean we can't get enough musicians in New York?" [Photo above: Irving Townsend and John Hammond]
"In any event, Townsend informed Riddle that they would do the album in New York with New York musicians—period. And Townsend certainly did come up with a remarkable band as Riddle soon discovered when he arrived in New York for the date.
"Riddle was obviously delighted with the work of the musicians, as anybody would be, and when the album came out I noted that the liner notes (written by Townsend) made sure that everyone would know these were New York musicians, stating: 'This is a great band and was carefully chosen in New York.'
Jason Crane, road warrior. JazzWax readers, meet Jason Crane [pictured], host of the Jazz Session. Jason's groovy blog features his audio podcast interviews with dozens of jazz legends. Now he's hitting road this summer—conducting jazz interviews all the way from New York to New Orleans. He's also threatening to expand his history-gathering odyssey worldwide. For more information, go here.
Two-piano jazz radio. Jazz musician and writer Bill Kirchner will host WBGO's Jazz From the Archives show on Sunday night. This week, he looks at the virtuoso stride pianos of Dick Hyman and the late Dick Wellstood. Bill also will feature recent post-modern explorations by Brad Mehldau and Kevin Hays, and Andy Milne and Benoit Delbecq. The show starts at 11 p.m. (EDT) and can be accessed on your computer from anywhere in the world by going here.
CD discoveries of the week. For years, The Quintet: Jazz at Massey Hall has been a muddled mess—both the single-mike recording and the version on which Charles Mingus overdubbed his bass parts. The Toronto concert held in May 1953 featured bebop all-stars Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Mingus and Max Roach, and the performance was recorded by Mingus and Roach for their newly formed Debut Records. But the result was thin, a victim of the day's limited technology. Now Concord has remastered the performance, and the new CD is finally warm and vivid. Though the tracks are all-too-familiar, this is yet another document of Parker's improvisational fluidity and Gillespie's trumpet somersaults.
By 1972, when guitarist Albert King's I'll Play the Blues for You was released on Stax, the blues was undergoing a renaissance. English rock bands weaned on American blues records were schooling white teen audiences in the art form, and B.B. King was playing rock venues as an authentic exponent of Memphis' electric blues. Now Concord has re-issued the original album, with Albert backed by the reconstructed Bar-Kays following the death of most members in the Otis Redding air crash of 1967. This is a slow-groover, with meaty blues licks by King.
Hailing from Bayonne, N.J., the Ad Libs had only one top pop chart hit: The Boy From New York City, a doo-wopian snapper released at the end of 1964. But the group also recorded a handful of other less successful sides that didn't produce much record-store heat. As a result, the group's contract for Blue Cat Records wasn't renewed. Now Real Gone Music has issued The Ad Libs: The Complete Blue Cat Recordings, and the result is rather surprising. Clearly, the group's failure to shift gears had much to do with its gospel vocal style, which by 1965—in the age of Motown and Stax—was quickly becoming outdated. Nevertheless, the what-if tunes are plenty playful. The 23-track album features 14 unreleased demos and alternate takes.
Oddball album cover of the week. Dave McKenna recorded solo piano on Both Sides of Dave McKenna in November 1972 for the Honey Dew label. The Wilbur Little Quartet was added to the flip side. After they finished and left, the vegan art department lit up a bong and designed the cover.