This is the moment you’ve been dreading for the past six months. Somewhat counter intuitively, it also coincides with the moment you’ve been eagerly anticipating for far longer.
You are about to release your new single. This means sending it out to music blogs, radio presenters and playlists, with the hope of securing some potentially game-changing exposure.
Emailing music bloggers, playlists and festivals.
To someone passionate about writing and recording music, the more ‘business-y’ stuff that comes afterwards will probably feel less glamorous. There are a lot of fun and creative aspects to music promotion – writing a story and a press release to bring the song and its inspiration to life; collaborating with energetic and talented filmmakers to make a music video for it; designing artwork and showing it to different friends for their opinions (more on getting good feedback here)… these are all the fun aspects of music promotion.
But the process of sending out your beloved song, and all the cool visual and narrative elements around it, to the ‘tastemakers’ of the music industry is not typically ‘fun’.
It can be pretty daunting, especially if (a) you’re a battle-scarred veteran with several similar release campaigns behind you, or (b) you’re starting out a new project from scratch with ZERO listeners to date. Or even both as I found myself when I started out as a solo artist earlier in 2020.
Whether you treat it as a numbers game (send out as many emails as you can and hope something sticks) or, as I prefer, focus your energies on trying to create more personal, meaningful tastemakers – they’re music lovers and (crucially) human beings after all! – the truth is that a lot of these people receive far more unsolicited pitches than they can handle, and they’re always more likely to listen to the recommendations of trusted industry professionals than spend their time on a wannabe-music superstar sharing a link to their debut single and some joke about learning Russian.
Of course, there are specialist music PR agencies that can help. I’ve tried this a couple of times before, but there are several reasons why I’ve chosen not to go down this route this time:
1) They are often quite expensive, without any guarantee of results
2) Even if you pay well, you can’t guarantee they will treat your release with the same care you will (even down to sending out a press release without typos or factual mistakes)
3) You miss the opportunity to build your own relationships with tastemakers
To be honest, the best exposure I got with August and After (including half a dozen official Spotify playlistings) came about through our own networking and self-managed PR releases.
So here you are. About to send out your precious song.
The number of rejection emails (or, more likely, no-replies) will vastly outweigh the number of enthusiastic ‘ah yes this is great, we’ll share this up tomorrow!’ emails.
So, this raises a good question related to emotional wellbeing – how emotionally can you best deal with this soul-destroying process? How should you approach these more routine, tedious and thankless tasks?
Step 1 - Break your task up into smaller chunks
Let’s say that, at the start, the task looks like this:
Search through similar musicians’ past press coverage and identify fifty different blogs and playlists that might like my music too – send an email to each one, trying to establish some kind of personal connection that will make them want to listen to your music and then, at an appropriate point in the conversation (assuming they even reply), ask if they wouldn’t mind giving your music a quick listen.
This is already a pretty overwhelming challenge – and still only one small part of all your work as an indie musician.
So you need to break it down into more granular steps – something like this:
Step 1 – Identify five emerging artists with a similar-ish musical style to yours, but with more success/fans
Step 2 – Search through their Social Media feeds and write down (in a simple spreadsheet/list (more on that below)) the names of any blogs/playlists that have featured them
Step 3 – Once you have a list of these, pick 6 of the people on the list and write a personal email to each one from the perspective of someone who is a FAN (i.e. not another musician pitching their music), complimenting them on their style of writing, music taste, etc – spend no more than ten minutes on each blogger/playlister
Step 4 – Note each email in your list/spreadsheet
Already this will make your task far less overwhelming and help you start it out.
Step 2 - Visualise your task
I am a massive lover of spreadsheets. There, I said it – I am a massive nerd.
I have turned everything in my life, from my daily Routine to my first 1,000 words of Russian Vocab into a spreadsheet.
So for these emails, I make something simple showing: the list of press targets; 5 columns to check off 5 chase emails per target before I give up messaging them; a ‘notes’ column showing any key details to remember; and a little counter to show how many I still have to contact etc. See this example (I’ve left it blank to protect people’s data):
Not only does this help me easily keep track of what I’ve done already, but it helps me to find the task less overwhelming if it’s visualised in some way.
But you might like to use a big whiteboard and coloured pens, or some other form of laying out the task.
[Note – we can start sharing some spreadsheet examples/templates if that would be useful – let us know in the comments!]
Step 3 - Give yourself break points
Do not set out with the aim of sending out fifty of these emails in one go – give yourself a specified break period to do something fun/relaxing.
Make the time period specific – e.g. a fifteen-minute break after two hours of research and emailing. If you need longer breaks or shorter work periods, that’s also fine – if you’re working hard/productively in those periods it doesn’t really matter how long they are – you’ll tick off lots of the work in no time!
Also be specific about how you’re going to enjoy your break. E.g. I like to make tea and read a couple of articles about cricket. (That’s not a joke – despite people often saying I look a bit Spanish I am, in fact, an Englishman through and through.)
I wrote a more detailed piece on the practice of compartmentalisation – in short it’s really important to specify when you’re going to allow yourself a guilt-free break from this tedious work.
Step 4 - Find your way of fighting procrastination
This is also a whole separate piece in itself, but I want to draw out a few points here insofar as they relate to these more menial tasks:
Firstly; remind yourself constantly to sit up in your chair whilst working. Better still use a standing desk. This will help you feel more alert and stop you sinking into the state of lethargy so often paired with these thankless tasks.
Secondly; identify your pressure points.
For example, I have trained myself to hit Cmd+W (great MAC shortcut) whenever I notice myself opening up Facebook or BBC News / BBC Sport. It’s like a sort of electro-shock therapy without anyone getting hurt (except the BBC Website’s traffic numbers).
Thirdly; think ahead to how much better you’ll feel during your designated break, when you get to relax and look back on the work achieved already. Future Ned will be grateful to Present Ned’s efforts in staving off the lure of distractions. This technique turns out to be more motivating than you might have thought.
5 - Take a more philosophical approach
One of the reasons these tasks are so thankless is that there’s no guarantee of success.
This is one of the biggest potential emotional barriers to doing anything. Taking success as something more than simply financial reward, there are few things in life that come with a 100% guarantee of success.
The emotional barrier works like this: you start wondering how you’re going to feel if you don’t get any replies at all to any of your emails. You would then, presumably, look back from that future point and feel as if you wasted all of that time.
However, I like to approach this the other way – how would you feel if you didn’t even try?
In truth, the overwhelming majority of work across most disciplines comes without guarantee of success. Developing a new product that is never launched; repeating numerous times the same scientific experiment with no correlation at the end; writing hours of unreleased music, revising topics that never come up in an exam… all of these could be deemed totally pointless by this very narrow logic.
However, we are a product of our work and experiences, regardless of results. Building up your process and your resistance to these thankless tasks will make you stronger for the future. You should see the idea of ‘results’ as far broader, to include your personal development. At its most fundamental level, you are fulfilling your need for exploration, i.e. the need to try things out.
What else would I have done with that time? How might I feel if even ONE of these emails resulted in a feature somewhere cool, which could springboard my music to a wider audience, transforming my career overnight.
This is how I motivate myself to focus for that designated work time and even try to enjoy it. And when you frame it like that, no task can ever truly be thankless.
Thanks for reading and please leave a comment below if you found this useful or have any opinions about this (including your own ways to deal with these tasks!)