Making music is about expressing yourself. It’s art. You want to tell your story in the most sonically interesting way possible. And unfortunately, many great artists struggle with how to great press and they all-too-often overlook smaller music blogs. In my case, I didn’t even know where to start. The majority of us immediately think of sites like Pitchfork or Rolling Stone or Billboard when it’s time to promote our music, and so oftentimes that’s the list we start from.
However, that’s a strategy that most likely will not work. Unless you have the money to pay for a professional publicist—which ain’t always cheap—you’re going to be sending off those press emails yourself. So, here’s why it’s important that you not only shoot for the stars, but that you have a solid strategy to land on the moon.
At this point you may be thinking, “What difference is it going to make if my music is featured on a music blog that has less followers than my band?” Well, think of the music press the same way you think of gig venues. Sure, it would be incredible if your first show was a sold-out performance at Madison Square Garden, but that’s not very realistic, now is it? You have to start at the local pub and the open mic, then work your way up to the clubs and theaters, and so forth. The same goes with blogs and the music media at large.
Before we go into the five reasons small music blogs can make your career big, it’s important to say that we do believe you should try to get featured by big sites. But don’t depend on it, and definitely do not ignore the importance of small press. Small victories are still victories, and they can take you a long way. Here’s why:
Smaller music blogs are more willing to cover aspiring artists.
Small blogs are just like you—trying to grow their following by creating awesome content. Most working musicians don’t have thousands of dollars lying around to hire a publicist that will get them in the ears of Pitchfork’s editor. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t thousands of folks out there running smaller music blogs that would be thrilled to have a budding artist message them. Pitchfork’s editor has millions of musicians asking to be heard and featured. A small blogger usually has a fraction of that. You’re more likely to get their attention and to be met with an open mind. Take the time to research blogs that cover your style of music, and regardless of the size of their following, give them a chance. They’ll often return the favor.
It’s easier to build personal relationships with writers from smaller sites.
Editors and writers of smaller sites don’t have the same pressure or level of commitment as those of the giant media publications. You might get through to NYLON, but the writer who posts about you probably has a ton of other artists—many of whom are celebrities—to also work with. If a smaller blog features you, chances are they have a bit more time to keep the conversation going. That’s not to say writers from NYLON don’t build relationships with smaller artists, but it’s less likely they will have the time to keep emailing back and forth with you because their inbox is flooded with work pertaining to celebrity-size artists.
Here’s a personal example: one of my singles was featured on a small Canadian blog, and I went on to be friends with the writer on Facebook. We talked about music, life, and much more. A few months later, I planned a trip with a friend to Canada, and when we passed through this writer’s city, we all met up and had tacos. Hell, we even went to a Drake-themed hotel party and got drunk together. The writer went from being a music contact to a real friend, and our professional relationship is much stronger because of it. Also, personally speaking, I feel like there’s less pressure when talking to a writer from a smaller site because the element of “celebrity” is removed, and I can be myself without worrying about making an immaculate first impression. I feel more comfortable sending them a friend request—simple as that.
It looks good for your brand.
If you get a feature from Vice, that will be a huge career booster and should serve as a valuable press quote. But if that’s all you got, you can only post about it so many times. In addition to that Vice post, having a continuous stream of good press—even from smaller music blogs—makes your feed look better. It looks good to A&R folks who search for upcoming talent; it looks good to bookers who are gauging your online presence; it looks good to fans that want to see you succeed. For example, if you release a single, there’s really only so long you can promote it. New music has a shelf life, especially in the 21st century. I think we all have that one friend that posts their song link a million times too many. But if you’re sharing new, fresh content about that single, it is really meaningful and looks good in your feed. Even if the press is from small blogs, it gives the aesthetic that you’re going viral, because, hey, you kind of are!
Here’s another example: if you sell out a 100-capacity venue, that would look a hell of a lot better than if you brought 100 people to a 1,000-capacity venue. Seeing “Sold Out” on the marquee and having a line out the door creates the image that you’re something to reckon with, something big. If you play a big venue and the room basically looks empty, that does not look good at all—plain and simple. Sometimes, it’s more important to play to your strengths, even if they’re modest, than to try to be something bigger than you actually are. Until you are selling out the 1,000-capacity venue, don’t undervalue the smaller shows that are jam packed with engaged fans.
It gives you a chance to have in depth features and interviews.
Iconic sites like Billboard give their features to artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper–rightfully so–but not often to the smaller guys. If a music blog has a modest following, they might not have the contacts to feature those big celebrities, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to write features or do interviews. For example, I had a song premiered by The FADER. The post was pretty short and didn’t go in depth about the music. That’s fine; I was immensely grateful to be on the site. It’s a powerful press quote and resume booster. However, a smaller blog based in my city wrote up the same song and featured me in a stunning in-depth interview. When I posted it on social media, I got a ton of comments from fans and friends who really enjoyed reading about the song. Big sites really don’t have the time to write a feature piece on a small artist; they’re already working with celebrities on those pieces. But smaller blogs will give you that big interview and thoughtful feature. In a way, it helps them grow, too. If they apply to write for one of the big blogs, they can use your feature in their portfolio as an example of how well they can craft a story. An in-depth article or interview goes along way in telling your tale to fans. If you can’t get one from Rolling Stone, that doesn’t mean you can’t get one somewhere else.
It opens you up to new audiences.
Maybe you think emailing that Icelandic blog with 200 followers isn’t going to make a difference, but to those readers, it very well could. Don’t ever think that you can’t find a fan somewhere. Sure, you should be smart about your targeting—don’t send a pop song to a metal blog. But if you think someone at the site or in their viewership will like your song, go for it. Smaller sites often have very diehard readers—they love the publication even if it isn’t “big” yet. Their readers will appreciate the content and take your music seriously.
Remember, your fans are less concerned about how many followers a music blog has that features your story. They’re just excited to hear from you and see that your music is resonating. I’ve gotten unbelievable write-ups from small blogs that I was thrilled to share because of how complimentary and genuine the writer was towards my music. Would I have rather that piece be featured on the front page of NPR Music? You bet. But that doesn’t detract from the write-up I got. Always be aware of where you are in your career, and be grateful when someone wants to share your music. It could be the boost your career needs.
Sam Friedman is an electronic producer and singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn, creating music as Nerve Leak. Praised by major publications such as The FADER, his unique blend of experimental and pop music has earned him hundreds of thousands of streams across the web.