Gatekeepers – they’re the ones who decide whether or not your music is worthy enough to earn massive exposure. They’re the bloggers, the radio DJs, the music supervisors. The ones who decide which artists get their songs heard. And they’re the people that most musicians can’t seem to figure out.
Once you start to learn about people in positions of power, you begin to see that they’re not nearly as hard to decipher as you might have thought. Figuring them out doesn’t mean, however, that getting them to listen to your music will be easy, but it does mean that you’ll have a better chance of getting through to them. So to help you break down the walls, here are a few things to keep in mind about these so-called music industry “gatekeepers.”
They’re Just Like Us
Those in the industry who have the ability to break new artists might have important jobs or large audiences, but for the most part, they’re pretty normal people. What makes them special is not that they’re different from us, but that they’re just like us. As a musician, you probably have a certain way of doing things that might not make sense to other people. Some guitar players prefer Gibsons (are they crazy?) while others prefer Fenders (because, duh). Some people like digital recording gear while others prefer analog. Some people like death metal while others prefer classical piano music. Even though we all enjoy playing and listening to music, we each have our own individual tastes and preferences that inform how we act as musicians and music lovers.
The same applies to music industry gatekeepers, and not just in the sense of what style of music they like. Some people like to stream tracks while others prefer digital downloads. Some like to communicate on social media while others prefer email. Some will read your press releases while others will throw them straight in the trash. On top of that, these preferences are often exclusive. If there’s a music supervisor who only likes to stream songs and you send them a download link, there’s a pretty good chance that they’ll never listen to your song – not because they have anything against you, but simply because they don’t like downloading music. So if you want to get in touch with someone in the music industry, learn how they like to be contacted, learn how they like to listen to music, and learn what sort of music they’re interested in. This will give you a much better chance of not only getting on their radar, but making a strong first impression as well.
They’re (Extremely) Busy People
While gatekeepers may be just like us in the sense of having preferences, they’re also a lot busier than we can really imagine, as just about everyone in the world seems to want to get their attention. NPR host Bob Boilen, for example, estimates that he is sent five to seven new albums every hour from musicians trying to get their songs heard. That’s around 144 albums for every 24-hour day, or over 1,000 albums a week! You can imagine how these requests would pile up.
If you take the busy-ness factor into consideration, learning the preferences of the person you’re trying to contact becomes all the more important. Boilen never reads press releases, so sending him one would be a waste of not only his time but your time as well. And instead of reading press releases, Boilen decides which albums to listen to based on their cover art. So if you want your track to be played on All Songs Considered, investing in good cover art design would make a lot more sense than hiring a publicist.
They’re Not All That Mysterious
It can be tempting to think of gatekeepers as mysterious people who sit in huge corner offices in impenetrable fortress-like buildings, but most of the time, they’re really not all that mysterious. If you want to know how someone likes to be pitched, there’s a fairly good chance you can find that information on the internet. And if you can’t find out online, you may be able to ask someone who knows them, or even put a call into their office for more information. Rather than being put off by your snooping, most people will appreciate the fact that you made an effort to learn more about them before getting in touch.
Approaching new people can be scary, especially when we see those people as holding some sort of key to our success. Fortunately, the best tool for conquering the fear of the unknown is information. The more you know about the people who stand between you and success, the more confidence you’ll have in approaching them, and the more likely you’ll be to be heard by them.
Casey van Wensem is a freelance composer, musician, and writer living in Kelowna, B.C., Canada. You can hear his musical work at birdscompanionmusic.com and read his written work at caseyvanwensemwriting.com.