All About Blogs

I'm Stefan Shepherd and for the past 6 3/4 years (or more, by the time you read this), I've written the kids and family music website Zooglobble. On the site, I write reviews about kids music albums (and occasionally DVDs), as well as post about videos, concerts, news, mp3s, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

I thought some words about my review process might be helpful to artists thinking about how to get their music reviewed and covered on music-related websites. I certainly can't speak for the other folks who cover kids music at their own sites (hi, Jeff! Hi, Jeff!), but I think you'll see that as a theme running through this own discussion.

Reviews Specifically
1. The first and most important piece of advice I can give to any artist (or PR person working on behalf of an artist) is to understand the site you're sending your music to. Spend five minutes looking at:
a) who do they cover?
b) how much is music part of their coverage?
c) how often do they cover music?
d) what is the writer's interest? tone of voice?

It never ceases to amaze me how many e-mails I get addressed to "Zooglobble" or "mommy blogger." And while that's not fatal to me considering, or even liking, your music, it doesn't help.

But beyond that, do they cover KidzBop? The Deedle Deedle Dees? Rhythm Child? The Boogers? All of the above?

2. Which reminds me, figure out who those folks are. Not necessarily those artists in particular, but figure out which artists are in the same specific orbit as you. It will make figuring out who to target easier. ("Hey, I really like Rhythm Child and I think I sound a bit like them. Perhaps these 3 sites who absolutely loved their last disk might be worth sending my disk to before I hit these other sites.")

3. E-mail them, say you'd like to send them a copy of your latest album for possible review, and ask how they'd like to be able to listen to the music. You have three basic choices:
1) physical copies: This is what I prefer, dinosaur that I am. I find that I am more likely to listen to something sooner if I have a physical object in front of me. But other people may hate the space the disk takes up.
2) mp3s: But always ask before you send more than one mp3 as a whole album really clogs up the e-mail inbox. Sites like Yousendit are a good way to transmit mp3s electronically without clogging up an e-mail inbox.
3) streaming pages: I find this to be the most inconvenient method for the reviewer as it forces the reviewer to be connected to the internet — you as the artist are asking the reviewer to do the work. At best I find it an intermediate step while you may still be duplicating physical copies.

4. Wait. Seriously. Sometimes reviewers get to music right away, sometimes it takes a long time.

5. Don't stalk. One follow-up e-mail asking if the writer has received the CD is usually sufficient. Beyond that, some people (me, anyway) just tune out when we get the fourth or fifth e-mail asking if we're going to review their album.

6. It's not you, it's me. I get probably 300 albums per year, and listen to (or in the case of DVDs, watch) them all. I review 50-75 disks/DVDs on my site per year, more than just about anybody. And if you do the math, that's still just 15-25% of the albums I get. So you could have a pretty good album that never gets reviewed on the site. Why doesn't it get reviewed? Well, perhaps I was too busy to write a review. Perhaps I couldn't figure out anything else to say other than "this is pretty good" (which would make for boring reading and writing). Perhaps I thought your album stunk. But that's OK — it's all me. I've been pretty clear that my site reflects my tastes and I firmly believe that the value of my site rests in the specific editorial voice I've created (which reflects my own, actual voice). Again — it's up to you as the musician/PR person to figure out whether your music fits within a site's editorial voice.

The beauty of the internet is that there are lots of people with lots of opinions and your album may find a "home" elsewhere.

7. Paying for reviews. I don't really get the point as I don't think people read sites that have a specific pay-for-review policy and I don't think "pull quotes" from a review from such a site will really attract additional attention or interest. Just my personal view.

8. Release dates. The concept of "release dates" has somewhat faded in the era of the Internet and while they're still important for the few print media outlets who still cover kids music, a website such as mine isn't bound by those same constrictions. I've probably reviewed albums within 36 hours (and several plays) of receiving an album.

Having said that, having an actual release date at a specific point in the future is a useful thing to have because you can generate some excitement and writers can plan their schedule. ("Oh, [X]'s new album is coming out four weeks from now. I've got three weeks to listen then start crafting a review if I want to review it.") Don't feel obligated to do the release date, but there is some small value in at least having a release date that isn't "the day I got the CDs from DiscMakers."

9. Older albums. Unless you're trying to clear out room in your closet or basement, there's not much need to send older disks as they almost certainly won't get reviewed.

This post says much the same things as have been said above, but might be worth a review.

Everything Else

8. The important thing to remember about music sites, or websites in general, is that content is king. Note that at 50-75 disks/DVDs per year, I'm only writing reviews of one or two albums per week. But I'm writing maybe 10-11 posts per week. Which means a lot of blank web-pagery without other content. So if you've got a new video, let the writer know. If you're giving away an mp3, let the writer know. If you're starting work on a new album, let the writer know. Again, sending something once every week is just too much, but once every month or two? Sure.

9. Newsletters. A quick way to shortcut the e-mails and the appearance of stalking is just by adding the writer to your e-mail list. Make sure you ask the writer first.

10. Having said all that, not all content is useful. Think of it from the reader's perspective — you'd be much more interested in seeing a new video or hearing/downloading the latest single from your favorite artist than you would be in finding out that they're playing a random show at a venue 2,000 miles from where you live.

11. The value of a publicist. There are many things a publicist provides you, as an artist, and, having never been a publicist, I can't tell you what they all are. I can tell you that I absolutely do not care whether an artist has a publicist, and I absolutely do not give coverage to an artist because they have a publicist. (And the publicists I work with most would never think to ask for coverage for that reason.) Publicists are just good at doing the things outlined above. You may be good at them as well, but then you need to decide whether the time you spend doing PR work would be better spent doing something else. And only you can answer that question.

So, those are some initial thoughts. If other bloggers/writers want to offer their own thoughts, they should feel free to do so, but I would recommend figuring out some way to distinguish their words from mine.

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