You've finished your record, designed some sweet cover art, and thanked all your friends and supporters in the liner notes. Now it's time to throw together a package with a photo and a bio and perhaps some press clips and send it off to some third-rate, penny-ante, frustrated musician with a word processor -- like me, for example. Today's seminar is designed to instruct novices in the fine art of first impressions. See, I believe that if your promo press kit is dull, pretentious, and/or poorly constructed, it's a safe bet your music is, too.
Is this fair? Why, yes! Bandwidth Labs has compiled data from our vast repository of lame CDs. We've established correlative connections between bad promotional sense and unlistenable, unimaginative music. So don't mail in accompanying literature that just has crap written all over it, because your precious piece of sweat and toil may well end up atop what Bandwidth has scornfully deemed the Shunt Stack -- where rejected promotional CDs go to die.
Want to steer clear of the Shunt Stack? Check out some of these doozies, culled from actual promo packs sent to New Times, and learn from their mistakes. The names have been changed to protect the illiterate.
Don't brag that your material is "professionally recorded on a 24-track state-of-the-art mixing board" and sports "pristine sound," because I'll probably read that as, "scrubbed clean of any trace of grit and personality whatsoever." If the quality of the recording is your music's best attribute, it's bound to proceed downhill from there. And keep in mind that all manner of diarrheic waste is professionally recorded, including Celine Dion and Britney Spears. A gutsy, honest, rough 4-track demo is far more worthy than something expensive yet artless. There's a difference between sounding good and sounding good.
Some of you musicians are so convinced of your own greatness that you don't even recognize how absurd your egotism appears in print. "Allie Beryl Kreb proves that one woman with one guitar can build a powerful piece of music, a rich work of art, and be a passionate champion of all things true and wise and real." Wow! Where do I line up to bring you burnt offerings?
While patting your own back, don't dislodge a wad of phlegm big enough to choke on: "Within the minds of each of the members of Sardonic Ego lies the talent to drive a band. But when all of these talents are put together, the result is a unique sound that drives itself like a machine toward the pinnacle of excellence."
Getting all metaphysical is another no-no: "Knowing Minivan means being instantly projected into another dimension." Hey, someone alert the Sleestak!
Avoid tedious bios on each member, 'NSync style: "Manny's bass playing is solid to the core and his background vocals are dead-on[.... He] has become quite popular with the female fans." A band bio should be catchy, irreverent, and fun -- though spare and cryptic works too. For example, instead of telling me that Joey the bass player loves skateboarding and the color green, try: "No one knows very much about Joey. We think he was raised in a cave."
And be careful with unprovable, meaningless claims. Even with all big, bold, capital letters, declaring yourself THE ESSENCE OF REGGAE MUSIC doesn't make it so. A struggling six-stringer with a handful of local blues CDs does not, as a rule, constitute "a true force in the music industry."
When you must see a quote from your own bad self in print, try to funny that shit up. Don't say, "After a show [fans] will come up and tell me that they really feel our energy," unless you want your product passed over. Try this approach: "Garden Weasel refuses to be pigeonholed. "That sounds downright uncomfortable,' says bassist Fred Rogers. "Especially for the pigeon.'"
Likewise it's a good idea to turn the sap spigot off -- or at least down to a trickle. "When someone tells me they relate to a song and it is right on with their emotions and personal experiences, I know I am reaching people with my music, and that makes it all worth while. As an artist it is very rewarding to know that my music touches the human spirit." If I want a daily affirmation, I'll tune into Sunrise Service For Shut-Ins, thank you very much.
And even if it's true, please don't tell us that you "sing with a smooth richness that lifts spirits to a realm of warmth and peace." Go ahead and give Taster's Choice a call -- they're always looking for ad copy like yours.
Instead make me interested, like these guys did: "Space Team Electra is poised to take over the world. Details are yet to be uncovered. Please stand by for further instructions... I mean information. You are feeling very sleepy... very, very, sleepy."
Every musical act would like to think it's unique, but avoid delivering that message in a clumsy way that says, "This sounds exactly like all the other shit you're subjected to." Examples: "Their style is solely their own." Uh-huh. Do they have a patent pending on that? "Such influences... [have] given Smegma a uniqueness that is all their own." As opposed to someone else's uniqueness?
Or how about: "As unique as the name implies"? Don't use this unless your band's name is something akin to the Brylcreem Donut Peterbilt Rototiller Experience.
To avoid being laughed at, don't overestimate the level of public anticipation regarding the release of your record. "Long-awaited follow-up" is acceptable in the case of Radiohead's Kid A. It likely doesn't apply to you. "Released to fanfare" may be accurate -- if your sister tooted a trumpet while you burned a few copies.
Watch those adjectives! Soulful, intoxicating, and potent are fine. Intense and dynamic are trite. If you describe your music as "assuaging," it's time we revoked your thesaurus privileges and booked you a room in the Shunt Stack Hotel.
Keep an eye on those mixed metaphors! A suggestion to "Forget your clichés at home" is likely to confuse and baffle even the most intrepid rock critic -- who will probably condemn your disc to languish in the breakdown lane of a little street I like to call Shunt Boulevard.
Sometimes a little background is helpful and relevant. Other times it's laughable. Give us some history, sure, but "My friend's mother worked in the [school cafeteria], and I asked her if I could sing for kids at lunchtime" is too much useless information. Are you sure you don't want to take us all the way back to your first rendition of "Rubber Ducky"?
Specifics count. "Five deliciously sinful and wicked tracks that pay homage to all things that eat your flesh" packs a weightier wallop than "There is not a track on this CD you would want to miss!"
In conclusion, by following these simple guidelines and exercising a bit of humor and intelligence, you can avoid the land of the circular silver castaways. Because life's too short to listen to something that claims to "represent a modern-day, cutting-edge rock sound with Thick Rhythms and Pounding Grooves... with Explosive Live Energy and Rhythms to match!"
Oh, and while you're at it, keep an eye out for Capital Letter Syndrome.
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