I would start this off article off with a little note of “Warning, this is an opinion piece”, but everything on PopLurker is an opinion until facts prove it otherwise, so try not to take Internet Ramblings so seriously unless you’re just trying to amuse the author even more.
Garbage People are People, too.
So, let me preface the motivation of this article a little bit, because its subject matter might be (seemingly) coming out of left field. You see, after my friends Lauren Lusardi of Plasmic and Stephanie Yanez (one half of Cali Crisis with Plasmic) approached me to review their musical efforts, I was more than happy to oblige. These two women are very talented musicians, are very present in the LA music/anime/nerd event scene, and at the end of the day, I consider them friends. Of course, it was more than my pleasure to try to get them some extra eyes, listen to their music (which I sincerely enjoyed) and I honestly hope my efforts gave their work some attention. I can’t say whether or not it helped.
But what I didn’t know/had not expected is that once you publish a music review on your website/blog/whatever you identify it as, is that your website is then collected by Public Relations managers/companies that try to get you to listen to their clients new songs and review them. Constantly. All the time. Like, without end.
Now, don’t get me wrong– of course, music review blogs and websites exist. And naturally, some of those songs for review and press releases will end up on those websites. But in my opinion, if you had a music review website, wouldn’t you want to pepper it with song/album reviews from well-established musical acts? Because from my experience, every single song that comes through my inbox is by a young hopeful who is…well…to put it bluntly if not harshly…nobody.
It makes me think of the music industry model of yesteryear, at least the one that is prominently portrayed in pop culture. Young hopeful singing act/band records a shitty demo in someone’s homebrew studio. Hell, in desperate times, you can nix the word “studio” and replace it with “recorded it onto a cassette tape using a Tiger fucking Talkboy. It doesn’t matter, you get what I’m saying.
Then, said hopeful or their boyfriend/girlfriend they punked into being their PR Manager sends copies of the cassette tape into radio stations or record companies, praying that their demo will land on the desk of someone that matters. From there, a prospective record deal happens, wordwide tours, and all of the magic and delusion that comes with the idea of becoming a mega successful singing act. I’m sure some of what I’ve described here is just the plot of Wayne’s World, but since it’s a trope that’s constantly repeated in shows and movies, there are bound to be underlying inklings of the truth in there.
Back on January 2nd 2018 when I converted my Loryn Stone WordPress blog into the branded PopLurker, I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do with it short of having a place to store my brain ramblings. So, once I did those music reviews for Plasmic and Cali Crisis and the request to review other new artists’ songs/publish their press releases started snowballing in, I decided to give it a try– I didn’t want to miss out on a potential opportunity because I was smug enough to decide that a new thing without a solid identity already had a solid identity.
Today, I can groan and say “never again” with complete confidence. I didn’t know the floodgate I was opening. I was sent a single called “Run, Baby, Run” by an artist named MASUMI, and upon giving that review a fresh read, I find my own enthusiasm fucking embarrassing. What’s even funnier is that once you actually bother to listen to a song, review it, and do a write up about it because you thought it was all right, the PR company behind said artist start sending you their B through Q lists of acts, trying to get the same sort of…god, it sounds so pretentious to say ‘endorsement’, but press.
But the rest of their catalog just sucks. They really start harassing you to get the same sort of repeat press from you. And to be very direct, reviewing music, music videos, and songs (from the very few I did for PopLurker) result in the absolute lowest traffic. Here’s part of the reason why:
- Artist records a song or music video. Upon completion, the PR Agency (or Fanager, whomever they have behind them) sends the iCloud link and a press release to as many bloggers/site owners as possible, asking them to review the new single or video.
- A certain number of writers take the bait, hoping that if they write something up and give press to said artist, that the artist will do them a solid and share the write up (which may or may not include an interview) with their social media platform to provide fresh eyes to said blogger/site owner’s website. Unfortunately, because the PR Company is sending the exact same information to so many websites at the exact same time, there’s often nothing unique to say about the song or singer.
- Reviews of any fashion, in my opinion, are supposed to be an ecosystem of mutual back scratching. Meaning, if I used up my bandwidth and time to write something up about you, then you do me a solid and share it with your “platform”, “fans”, or whoever the fuck you’re paying to give a shit about you. So many artists/singers either don’t realize this, think I’m supposed to be grateful that their press release graced my inbox. Perhaps they haven’t been properly coached by their managers on how Social Media Solids/Favors work, but for real– the “opportunity” to listen to another suburban white girl with a “soulful voice” wailing about red wine and Snap Chat boys isn’t payment for the time it takes to suffer through the song and write a review on it. My ears are bleeding at this point and even copying and pasting the press release isn’t worth the effort.
Some PR companies are classy as fuck, like when I was sent a press release that the Japanese pop/rock band Scandal was coming to the US. For that one, I was actually sent concert tickets to actually cover the event. And yes, I’ll acknowledge that it’s a little bit different of a situation because that’s an established (Japanese) band trying to get new people to attend a US concert (not a new artist trying to get the word out that they’re a thing and their song is here), being able to offer something as a thank you is always really nice. Swag and samples isn’t obligatory, but it’s a really nice touch when available.
This aspect of trade economy is what makes book reviewing a great industry– at the end of the day, you’re sent a sample of a book. This could be a novel, graphic novel, or comic book, all in exchange for your opinion. I would actually do far more book reviews on PopLurker, but one– I don’t have the time to invest it it. And second, that’s not what I want to bulk of PopLurker’s content to be. But every once in a while, I’m grateful for the opportunity to review a book because it’s a piece of pop culture, and hello, that’s what PopLurker is all about– discussing, breaking down, appreciating, or making fun of pop culture. But to consistently get bombarded with emails begging me to review a song by someone very few people have heard of? It’s masochistic torture.
What’s even better is that PR Agencies that flood inboxes with singles from new and hopeful artists is how offended they get when you call them out on their shit. Sure, some have an automatic unsubscribe button, but with one, I straight up had an argument with her when I told her to stop sending me shitty music. When I told the Fanager/Girlfriend PR chick (whoever the hell she was) that she wasn’t allowed to send me anymore press releases and she questioned why, I had to say “PopLurker got 10,000 hits this month and the article about your client was 12 of them”, she finally had the sense to back off a little.
When an artist doesn’t have a platform, it’s sort of an indication that they’re not so into marketing themselves, either. I gave some press to Rob Tanchum when he released his “definitely not a rap album” that was produced by Dan Harmon. Being that Dan Harmon was on top of his game with Rick and Morty and Community, I was hopeful that this write up would be mutually beneficial– new eyes on my website that might stay for the evergreen content and snarky listicles, and in return, perhaps some PopLurker readers would be curious, buy a copy of the song in iTunes, and if nothing else said singer could add my site to the collection of links that “enthusiastically covered them when that new song came out.” In the case with Rob, I didn’t just copy the press release, but I made a thoughtful effort to interview him. The piece got such minimal reads. No one cared. For fuck’s sake– I didn’t care. That should have been the number one tip off, but when you’re finding your website’s voice and seeing which article flavors stick, it’s sort of a learning curve.
There were a few cases where I’d just deleted the music reviews I wrote up just because so much totally no one gives a fuck about them. Like absolutely no one, to the point where I wonder if it just makes my website look like it’s a graveyard for shit-dick music press releases. Or, the artist had no interest in sharing them to their social once the piece was written. Artists– you need to share the shit that is written about you. Conventions, you need to share the convention reviews that were written about you. Authors and illustrators– you need to share the reviews that were written about your book/comic/etc.
But I sort of leave those failed writing relics there as a reminder of that. Between MASUMI, Rob Tanchum, Fiona Grey (who I sent a full series of interview questions to upon her people’s request and they never sent them back, thanks. Still think your dad is cute) I’m reminded “Don’t let your website become this. Don’t be a whore or think you’re obligated to provide favors to an industry that doesn’t fill your website’s niche and agenda. In short, never bend your content because you think you need content. Music doesn’t work for this site. That’s the quick and simple story.
So, just real quick, I’m going to take a spin through my PopLurker email inbox and count how many music singles I was sent over the last year. Actually, you know what, fuck counting the whole year– I received 20 in the last 5 weeks. That’s not even an exaggeration– I’ll open my box for you. Hehehehehe, gross.
I’ll wrap up this rambling tale of Music Submissions by young hopefuls with a question– does this really work? And are these people submitting their singles into the inboxes of hundreds, if not thousands, of bloggers and website owners all independent artists? Are they seeking representation? Are they hoping that by submitting endlessly to anyone that will listen to their song or provide press that they will find an agent, the same way that hopeful writers spam Literary Agents’ inboxes, hoping that their ship will crash into the right agent or cluster of readers that just ‘get it’? Are these singers looking to get booked as convention talent, be invited to play a show, asked to collaborate on a YouTube video? Or have they already met their agent and now their agent says “we produced your single, now prove you’re marketable?” Does press on music specific blogs yield better clicks, views, followers, and sales results for said artists?
I’ll probably never know for sure. But judging by the flood of submissions that I, someone who totally isn’t a music reviewer, receives, I’m willing to bet that these fresh faced artists will be clawing their way out of the ashes of a broken industry for quite a while.
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