In this edition, our focus is on requesting reviews.
There are a number of ways of marketing a release, but I’d argue that one of the most effective ways to do so is to have an objective third party extol your work for you. One of the most straight forward conventions for doing so is to approach an established critic for a review.
When you think about soliciting reviews, your first step should be to consider why you’re seeking that review—what sort of audience you want for the review to reach, and whether you want a review from an expert in technical music, someone who specializes in a cappella, a more general critic without much background in the form, or from some other source. Different review outlets reach different readerships and have different effects—for example, if you request a review from your school or local newspaper, that may be an ideal way to engage your immediate local audience, but is not necessarily an effective way at staging a national marketing campaign. In addition, these are the sorts of critics who might be wowed by competent a cappella—or who might just not get why this music group isn’t using instruments. The A Cappella Blog (ACB) reaches a more national audience, but not necessarily from the most technical or academic perspective. The Recorded A Cappella Review Board (RARB) does take the most formal approach in major a cappella media outlets, by which they typically have three reviewers with well-defined credentials appraise each recording. The latter two outlets may not create a buzz at your school or in your town, but do each have broader audiences that are interested in a cappella.
In addition to considering your audience and the credentials of your reviewer, you may also find it worthwhile to consider the aesthetic of a given critic or organization. This is the point at which it makes sense to read other reviews before you submit to get a sense of what the reviewers like or don’t like, and perhaps even what kind of impact their reviews have historically had.
Once you’ve identified whom you would like to review your work, the next step is to inquire about the process. Some critics and organizations have well-defined processes published for the world to see; others are less up front or more changeable about their practices. In either case, it’s worth querying the parties you’re interested in to see how they do business. When you query, you’ll want to be direct—don’t just tell them that you have a new album and hope they’ll connect the dots that you would like the review—volunteer a complimentary review copy, explain the different ways in which you can deliver the album to them (free download code, email files, mail a physical CD) and ask for their preference, and ask if they’re interested in pursuing it. Keep in mind that when you write a critic, you are representing your group, and should aim to be professional about it—after all, this might be the first impression you are making on someone who will review your work. Along those lines, unless you’re certain that a given media outlet prefers, email is generally the most effective way to communicate everything you need to, rather than Facebook, Twitter, or other modes of social networking.
While I’ve focused on the benefits of getting your work reviewed so you can market it, another benefit is the more intrinsic reward of having someone listen carefully to your work and given informed feedback. Regardless of album sales or how you do in awards season, a great review is a nice way of celebrating your group’s recording accomplishments. And if the review isn’t great, then honest feedback from a third party is a great place to start when you’re thinking about how to make your group even better moving forward.