Social media is both a blessing and a curse. This shouldn’t be news. These days, it’s easier than ever to connect with friends, fans, and total strangers. For musicians, it opens new portals to press opportunities and even lucrative contracts, but as with everything, there’s a certain level of finesse for each and every action.
Unfortunately, as anyone who’s ever tried online dating will tell you, a certain level of decorum disappears when people are protected by the internet’s veil of anonymity. That’s why it’s more important than ever to retain dignity and treat others, particularly music industry professionals you’d like to work with in some capacity, with the same respect you’d show total strangers in real life
As a music journalist in the digital age, my inbox is literally bombarded with cold calls and requests for coverage from artists and publicists alike. That’s to be expected and while it’s somewhat annoying when the requests obviously aren’t genuine or were mass sent, the real frustration comes when my social channels are bogged down with insistent, even aggressive, messages. And, like online dating, there’s barely a, “Hi! How are you?” before the sender explains what he or she wants in explicit detail.
This isn’t to say that you should never try to connect via social media. On the contrary, if done properly, it’s a great entre onto a writer’s radar. Here are a few tips to contact music journalists on social media.
Do: Follow your favorite music writers on social media
Don’t: Request a follow-back immediately
Would you follow a random stranger on Twitter or Instagram and then immediately contact them for a follow back? Unless that person specifically said, “Follow me, then tweet to request a follow back,” don’t do it. The same goes for music journalists. Yes, our job is to source great artists and write about them, and yes, we may even be interested in your music, but asking for a follow back immediately, even in the sweetest way, guarantees we’ll ignore you.
Why? Consider the alternative. Whenever I get a new Twitter follower, I’ll always look at his or her profile, just to see who they are, what they do, and what we have in common. If that follower is an artist, I may listen to one or two tracks organically to get a sense of his or her sound. That won’t always lead to an article, but there’s that possibility. And yes, it may warrant a follow back.
Alternatively, by the time I check my phone and see that I’ve got a new Twitter follower and a tweet from said follower asking me to reciprocate, I’ve got a bad taste in my mouth. If this person is tweeting at one music journalist in this fashion, it’s a safe bet he or she is reaching out to a whole bunch more the same way. There’s zero chance I’m going to follow him or her back or even take that quick moment to listen to his or her music.
Do: Respond to their tweets in a genuine way
Don’t: Reply to tweets with non-relevant links to your music
Twitter was made for discussions, and the cool thing is that anyone can participate and get involved. But when those discussions are interrupted by self-promotion or off-topic garbage, it can kill not only the chat but also any relationships that were blossoming between Twitter pals.
Keep in mind that music journalists are fully formed people, too. We have good days and bad days; we have 140-character random thoughts that we tweet out without really thinking about them. If your favorite writer tweets, “Can’t wait to hit Disneyland with my BFF this weekend! Don’t you guys love Dole Whip?” don’t reply with, “Listen to my new single, ‘Best Song Ever!’ When can you review it? Let’s do an interview!” Again, like so much of this, it’s obvious. But it happens all. The. Time.
An appropriate tweet, on the other hand, might be, “Dole Whip is the only reason I go to Disneyland!” And, since your aim is probably to engage this writer in some way, add a relevant question (emphasis on relevant), like, “What’s your favorite ride? Mine’s the one with the shortest line!” Interactions like this are genuine and human, which is all we’re really asking for here.
Do: “Like” their photos on Instagram
Don’t: “Like” all of their photos on Instagram in an effort to get noticed
Everyone’s had this happen at one time or another: You open Instagram, see that you have an obscene amount of new likes, and realize you have no idea who said liker is. Usually, it’s:
- a creepy creepo creep
- a random company trying to get your attention (and dollars)
- a bot
- your mom’s friend who just joined Instagram, followed you, and is liking all of your pics
- a drunk ex from college
If you’re a music journalist, however, there’s one more option:
an artist who saw your name on a blog/figures you covered his or her friend so, naturally, you’re eager to cover him or her/randomly found you
Look, we appreciate followers just like everyone else. But, to re-emphasize the first two points, don’t act like a freak trying to get attention by flooding our Instagram “like” feeds with a barrage of hearts. Yes, it’s weird that some dude I don’t know is liking photos of my friend’s one-year-old baby, my cat, and the pretty personal photo I posted on Christmas 2014.
In circumstances like this, I have to wonder, “What’s this person’s end game?” which is a question you, as an artist, need to be asking before every social media interaction. What do you want to achieve here? If you’re liking a bunch of Instagram photos, you’re probably trying to get noticed.
There are better ways to do that, like (see above) through genuine interactions. Pick an appropriate post, like a photo of a concert, the beach, or something that’s a little removed from that writer’s personal life, and give it a like or comment along the lines of, “Awesome shot! Zuma Beach is my favorite, too.”
Do: Request to DM them after building up a rapport
Don’t: Endlessly spam them with your music
Seriously, is there anything more invasive than a Facebook message or Twitter/Instagram DM from someone you don’t know and that person doesn’t provide a reason for contacting you? It’s one thing if it’s a completely organic, “Hey, Just wanted to say I really enjoyed your latest ReverbNation piece!” and quite another when it’s, “Review my album! Here’s a link to share with your readers, and please post it on your social media channels!”
Here’s an actual example of a cold-call Facebook message I got recently from someone I don’t know from Adam:
At first glance, it doesn’t seem so bad. This person seems to have a lot going for his or her music: 2.5 million Spotify streams ain’t bad. But it’s clear that he or she is after one thing: coverage, and there’s no subtlety, which is a turn off. (And, for the record, I had no idea who the person was that apparently referred this message-sender to me. Also a turn off.)
Think about it this way: you’re at a bar, and you spot a music writer across the room. You wouldn’t walk right up to him or her and say, “I’ve got 2.5 million Spotify streams! Cover me! Here’s my single! Listen to it!” That’s a surefire way to not get coverage. Remember, social media isn’t removed from real life; politeness will take you far.
Start your interactions in public; Twitter is ideal for this. Once you’ve developed a foundation for a professional relationship, ask if you can send the music writer a DM. He or she will probably know what’s coming, so if you get a “yes,” it’s a great sign. And it’s all because you created a basis of familiarity.
Do: Find something you both have in common
Don’t: Make it obvious you want something from them
For me, there’s nothing cooler than someone who shares my interests, whether they’re music related or not. Like most people, my social media profiles are an amalgam of what I like and what I don’t, which opens up conduits for conversations with my friends, followers, and whoever else happens by. If an artists pops in to add his or her two cents, that’s completely okay. In fact, if that person adds something particularly special to the conversation, that’s definitely going to pique my interest.
For example, one of my weird, musical quirks is a love for jug bands. So when I recently got a message request on Facebook from a guy who plays in a jug band and recognized that I was a fan, I immediately accepted. That spoke my language in a real, human way, as opposed to someone who spews a bunch of generic, copy-and-paste garbage at me (see above).
If it’s obvious that you’re half-assedly injecting yourself into the conversation and pretending to like say, a particular cuisine the writer is raving about for the sake of a little attention, wait for a better opportunity. If one doesn’t come up, this person probably isn’t the right person to be writing about your music.
Why? Because if you’re a hip-hop artist, sooner or later, the writer will tweet about something hip-hop related. If he or she doesn’t, double check that you’re familiar with his or her beat. If that writer regularly covers Latin music or smooth jazz, it’s not going to be a good fit anyway. And no, he or she won’t make an exception for you because you’ve got 2.5 million Spotify streams.
All of these tips can be boiled down into one, trendy catchphrase: Don’t be thirsty. Seriously, just like in real life, quality relationships take time to foster — even professional ones. Keep in mind that even though these words of wisdom definitely increase your chances of coverage, they don’t guarantee it. There’s a plethora of reasons why a journalist could choose to ignore you. When that happens, don’t take it personally, move on, and start the process all over again.
Allison Johnelle Boron is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Goldmine magazine, Paste, and more. She is the founder of REBEAT, a “blogazine” focused on mid-century music, culture, and lifestyle.