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    Posted: 05 Apr 2016 at 12:43pm
Introduction

This latest blog entry is about the reviewing game. I'm not talking about the casual reviewing that many of us partake in of releases we like (or not as the case may be), but the act of receiving promotional materials from record labels, promotion companies and even the artists themselves (herein known as senders). This is something I've been doing for several years now and I think that there are quite a lot of misconceptions about it on both sides of the field; the reviewers and the senders. I've decided to dedicate my latest blog post to clearing up some of these things, as well as explaining why I got burned out on reviewing promos for well over a year there and am really only just starting to get back into the game. I'm hoping that this entry proves insightful for both the reviewers (especially ones who may be interested in taking their craft up to the level of getting promos) and for those sending out the material.

Getting Promos and Reviewing Them

It may be an easy misconception to make that you won't get on anyone's promo mail list if you're an individual, A.K.A. not someone employed by a print magazine or a well known zine or have a radio show. Someone who gets paid to write the reviews, in other words. This simply is not true. It's actually the case that most senders will accept you on their promo mail list. I'm not saying that everyone I applied for in the past ever got back to me, but most did and were very happy to have me receive their stuff.

Now as a bit of advice if this is route you're thinking of taking at any point, it's a good idea to have some examples of your best work to send whoever you're contacting. It shows them that you know what you are doing and take reviewing seriously.

Some senders may require some sort of additional reference for you, usually from the owner or manager of the site you are going to be reviewing for. As an MMA admin I will be available to vouch for anyone in the future who needs it, though of course my word will carry more weight with contacts I also have. I can be PM'ed for suggestions on who to speak to if you're serious about promo reviewing. And as a side note, it would be good to see more reviewers handling promos for upcoming releases. They are a good gateway for newcomers to visit the site and also provide a good source for new bands to add to our database. My recent additions were all from my current promo pool.

You need to remember though that getting promos is not a way to receive free stuff. You are expected to actually write reviews. This is where your relationship with the senders begins. There are issues on both sides of this relationship though, which I will now explain, all from personal experience.

Sender Mistakes

Solo reviewers tend to get the promos build up very quickly and it then becomes impossible to review or even listen to them all. This is the point where a reviewer starts getting picky about what they actually write about. The common problem that has often emerged for me in this situation is that every sender expects their releases reviewed. More to the point, they often expect them by a certain point. This becomes humanly impossible for the reviewer, especially if the they are trying to give every release they do review a fair go, which may require several listens, often more.

Therefore promo senders should not be translating an album download as a promise to review it. If I downloaded a promo it's because it looked interesting to me. If I didn't provide feedback it either means it ended up not making any impression on me at all or more likely I simply haven't managed to get around to it because of other promos. We are not reviewing from just one source. We have many and while I consider it good form to try to be balanced and fair when dealing with multiple sources, sometimes the promos themselves aren't accommodating for that. It's all very well saying you expect a review by a certain date, but we are trying to be a neutral source here. We do not play favourites and we do not drop everything to prioritise a single sender.

Hassling us for a review is probably the worst thing a sender can do at this point, because it makes us rush which may mean that we do not end up giving your release as fair a go as we may otherwise have done. It's also extremely antagonising, especially if there is a veiled threat of being cut off from your releases. And yes, that has happened to me in the past, though I will not be naming any names in this blog.

It's a misconception as well that the reviewer is getting paid to write your reviews. That may be the case for larger companies like print magazines, but not for most of us who do this for the simple reason that we enjoy it. It is not our day job. It is something we balance around our everyday lives. If we aren't turning out reviews all the time this is the reason: we are simply too busy. We are sorry about that, but the chances are is that there's nothing we can do about it.

One thing that often irks me when I receive a promo is this: the sender did not bother to properly tag the mp3's. mp3's that aren't tagged properly may not show up where I expect them to in my media player, which can lead to me genuinely forgetting about your release. It's also incredibly lazy to send out mp3's without correct tagging and it annoys me to have to fix them before I can even get on with listening to it. If I'm in the mood that says I can't be bothered I'll end up moving onto a different promo. It's not a big task, but it is one that the sender should be doing, not the reviewers.

And now for what I consider the absolute deal breaker which will automatically prevent me from reviewing your promo: watermarking the music. I'm not talking about hidden trackers that are there to protect your assets against those who leak albums, those are fair game, I'm talking about harming the listening experience by sticking a voice over in the songs (which often repeats several times in a single song) saying what you are listening to and reminding us that piracy is a crime. I will not under any circumstances review a promo that has something like this. I expect to be trusted with the full release as you intend to sell it. No unfinished production jobs, and definitely no watermarks. It really does hurt the experience of the music. It's also insulting to the reviewer. Fortunately most senders I deal with don't do this but I have encountered such promos before and they are not fun.

Finally, there is the complete failure to ackowledge that you did get the review you asked for. Sure, in the event that we felt that a negative write-up was in order we don't expect you to want to share the review around, but there is no excuse for not sharing the review when it is positive. Sharing the review you got puts the reviewer and the site they are writing for out there. People hear of the site that way. People visit the site that way. It is a fair trade off for the review (which you want people to read anyway don't you?). Without this support websites can fold. It isn't all about what we can do for you.

Reviewer Mistakes

Yes, mistakes do swing both ways. There is of course the big one, which should be obvious: breaking your senders trust. That promo you received is for your ears only. Not your mates, real or online. There is no point in hiding the fact that yes, albums are leaked early all the time, but seriously, don't be that person. Digital promos are watermarked in any case, so you will be tracked if you do decide you're going to upload that awesome new album for everyone to hear. Just...don't. Please. It's not worth it and you're risking ruin to the whole reviewing game for the rest of us legitimate reviewers. We are at a point where as I stated that senders are prepared to trust even casuals who are not being paid for their work with their promos. That's a situation that could easily end if the sender gets burned too often. I suspect this is why some senders put the dreaded voice overs in the music in the first place.

The next biggest mistake is plagiarism. It's another area that you shouldn't even go to. Reviewers belong the person who wrote them. They aren't there for you to cross-post to other sites without permission or otherwise rip-off. Getting caught at this will effectively end your reviewing career, as site owners will not touch your work. Remember that if you steal and get caught you are not owning harming your own reputation, but also that of the site(s) you posted to. I have been the victim of plagiarism a couple of times, twice for having my writing copied and once on my old site Heavy Metal Haven when someone starting posting ripped off reviews as their own. It's not a fun thing to have to deal with in either situation, so if you can't write for yourself, don't write at all. 

A lesser mistake is to expect a physical promo. They do still exist but are so rare that they may as well be a thing of the past. Sorry reviewers, promos are nearly always digital. I guess print magazine may be lucky enough to get a physical but solo's like us? Forget it.

About My Burn Out

Yes, it happened. I reached a point where I was so literally burned out on reviewing, especially promos, that for some of 2014 and all of 2015 I actually ended up ignoring most of them, just posting the odd review here and there. This is the risk that you will run if you want to get into the reviewing game – it will become a chore and cease to be fun. That isn't good for you or those sending you promos. I feel that it is important for a reviewer to find the right sort of pace for themselves, regardless of whether they are receiving promotional material or not. I've found it isn't easy to get back into doing promo reviews in earnest until very recently, but I do feel that I am in the right frame of mind to absorb new releases once again. That could of course change again, but it helps of course that 2016 seems to be shaping up to be an excellent year: I already have two 5 star albums reviewed in the first three months of the year compared to two for the entirety of 2015, with a third very likely.

My advice regarding burn outs? If you feel like reviewing is turning into work, stop. Take a break. Don't push yourself on to satisfy your senders. They either will or will not understand your situation. Even after over a year of being rather slack most of my senders are still sending me stuff. There's a couple that may have struck me off, but that's fine. I understand their situation and honestly it's a little bit of pressure off if they have. There will always be a label out there who has a release you really want to hear and review, but you really cannot be on everyone's list as a solo reviewer. So think hard before you contact too many people for potential promos.

Conclusion

Well, I have that this has been helpful in some way. Please feel free to comment and share your own feelings on reviewing. 



Edited by adg211288 - 14 Apr 2016 at 1:15am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote UMUR Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Apr 2016 at 2:44pm
Nice points Adam. Both from the reviewer´s and the sender´s point of view. Doing promo reviews can indeed be stressful and feel like a chore, but on the other hand you can also get your hands on yet unreleased material way before others, and if that´s important to you, then this is a good legal way to get it.
 
I´ve found that I personally don´t have any issues waiting until an album is officially released, and to me the negatives unfortunately far outweighs the positives. Too many generic releases, and my own expectations not to disappoint the senders made it both an often unappealing experience and a stressful one. Therefore I now only review exactly what I feel like, when I feel like doing it. Some of the "new year" releases I write about are free Bandcamp downloads, so I still feel like I contribute with info on new releases, even though I seldom accept regular promos anymore.


Edited by UMUR - 05 Apr 2016 at 2:45pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vim Fuego Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Apr 2016 at 12:46am
I used to get promos when I worked for the paper and for a now defunct website. I got a few goodies, but I generally found it was hardly worth the effort. Yes, I reviewed everything, but a lot of it wasn't worth keeping. And I always felt bad about writing a really scathing review of something if I had been given a promo, especially one a band had sent me directly, and not via a label.

I suppose I got the tail end of the physical releases. Most came in cardboard slipcases, or had the full artwork, often with the barcode punched, and no case at all. As a result, I have hundreds of slipcases, both cardboard and plastic, full of all sorts of random music! CD-rs were a godsend for bands too, because they were cheap and easy to produce and post. The only time I came across something like watermarking was with Earache Records. They needn't have bothered- it was an Adema album... Each song was cut into about 10 files. It basically wrecked what wasn't much of a listening experience in the first place, because some CD players (mine!) have a minute pause before each track, which chopped the songs to bits. It made for a weird random play experience too...

I love reviewing music, as long as it's not wretched pop music, but had a long time offline where it was a bit pointless. That's why I love this site. I know my reviews are going to be read by at least a few other people who are knowledgeable about metal, and isn't going to get lost in an avalanche of ignorance (as used to happen on Metal Archives), or get completely ignored because no one looks at them (as on Amazon.com). I suppose it's a bit vain, and a bit of an ego booster, but it's my own vanity, and as one of the paper's sub-editors used to say to me when I submitted reviews of stuff like Deicide and Nile, "If you listen to it, there's bound to be other people who do too, and will want to read about it".
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote adg211288 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Apr 2016 at 1:21am
Originally posted by UMUR UMUR wrote:

Nice points Adam. Both from the reviewer´s and the sender´s point of view. Doing promo reviews can indeed be stressful and feel like a chore, but on the other hand you can also get your hands on yet unreleased material way before others, and if that´s important to you, then this is a good legal way to get it.
 
I´ve found that I personally don´t have any issues waiting until an album is officially released, and to me the negatives unfortunately far outweighs the positives. Too many generic releases, and my own expectations not to disappoint the senders made it both an often unappealing experience and a stressful one. Therefore I now only review exactly what I feel like, when I feel like doing it. Some of the "new year" releases I write about are free Bandcamp downloads, so I still feel like I contribute with info on new releases, even though I seldom accept regular promos anymore.

Thanks Jonas. 

I'm finding that its getting more common with some labels to not get a promo until about a week before the actual release, so it's often not a long wait. I do have a few right now in rotation that are still a way off being released officially though. The Enthean album I recently reviewed is not out until May 20th for example. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Unitron Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Apr 2016 at 1:29am
Very interesting read, I've never gotten promos, and I'm not sure if I would want to. A reason why I love this site is due to how casual it is. I can review what I feel like and whenever I feel like it, and I would probably get overwhelmed if I got a lot of promo copies. Also, sometimes there's albums that I really don't have a whole lot to say about, even some that I really enjoy.

I would also probably feel bad if I didn't like a promo that I received and wrote a negative review, because while negative reviews are good for constructive criticism, I know I'd probably feel down if I got a negative review for something I worked hard on. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote adg211288 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Apr 2016 at 1:39am
Originally posted by Vim Fuego Vim Fuego wrote:

I used to get promos when I worked for the paper and for a now defunct website. I got a few goodies, but I generally found it was hardly worth the effort. Yes, I reviewed everything, but a lot of it wasn't worth keeping. And I always felt bad about writing a really scathing review of something if I had been given a promo, especially one a band had sent me directly, and not via a label.

You know I think this may be the sort of thing as to why my review always veered towards a higher mark (I'm more critical now, though). I didn't want to upset anyone if I didn't like a release. Usually I just wouldn't review it if I didn't like it that much but sometimes I felt obligated to do some negative reviews to balance out what I was putting out. 

Originally posted by Vim Fuego Vim Fuego wrote:

I suppose I got the tail end of the physical releases. Most came in cardboard slipcases, or had the full artwork, often with the barcode punched, and no case at all. As a result, I have hundreds of slipcases, both cardboard and plastic, full of all sorts of random music! CD-rs were a godsend for bands too, because they were cheap and easy to produce and post. The only time I came across something like watermarking was with Earache Records. They needn't have bothered- it was an Adema album... Each song was cut into about 10 files. It basically wrecked what wasn't much of a listening experience in the first place, because some CD players (mine!) have a minute pause before each track, which chopped the songs to bits. It made for a weird random play experience too...

That Adema promo sounds horrible.

I've only ever received one physical promo which came direct from the artist. They were a death metal band called Unbreakable Hatred. It was just a CD-R disc but it did include the full CD inserts and a proper case. I haven't ever revisited the album since the review even though I did quite like it, but it does sit on my shelf with my main collection. 

I also got a physical from Haiduk for his first album but he actually sent me a retail CD for the review, which was a pleasant surprise. 

Originally posted by Vim Fuego Vim Fuego wrote:

I love reviewing music, as long as it's not wretched pop music, but had a long time offline where it was a bit pointless. That's why I love this site. I know my reviews are going to be read by at least a few other people who are knowledgeable about metal, and isn't going to get lost in an avalanche of ignorance (as used to happen on Metal Archives), or get completely ignored because no one looks at them (as on Amazon.com). I suppose it's a bit vain, and a bit of an ego booster, but it's my own vanity, and as one of the paper's sub-editors used to say to me when I submitted reviews of stuff like Deicide and Nile, "If you listen to it, there's bound to be other people who do too, and will want to read about it".

I got my start writing for EM. They were tough on me regarding their acceptance rules but it did help me become a better reviewer. I left them though due to disagreeing with their band acceptance rules. I started my own site Heavy Metal Haven shortly afterwards which is the point where I first realised that I could get promos if I just asked, though it was actually the keyboardist of black metal act Saille who got me on his label's promo list (my first), as he was a member of the site who came to us to promote his band. I started cross-posting to MMA eventually. When Haven got too much of a chore to manage I made the shift to MMA full-time. The system here is so much easier than trying to do everything based off a forum platform. LOL

It's always nice when you see someone acknowledge your review. Whether that is through a comment here on the site or by the artist or label sharing the link to it. I did manage to get the MMA name on someone's banner ad once:


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vim Fuego Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Apr 2016 at 11:32pm
Yes, being acknowledged is nice. For me, I liked a thank you or a mention from a band more than I liked seeing my name in print, which in itself can give you a buzz which soon wears off... 8 Foot Sativa thanked me in the liner notes for Season For Assault (and spelled my name wrong...) after a couple of reviews and an interview. Also got a mention from Ligature. Erm, and some... person... put a heap of my reviews on Pirate Bay. I don't think they are there any more, but it wasn't me!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vim Fuego Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Apr 2016 at 11:33pm
Oh yeah, and I also got accused of plagiarism for stealing a line from a Metal Hammer review, when it was the other way around!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote adg211288 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Apr 2016 at 12:50am
Originally posted by Vim Fuego Vim Fuego wrote:

Yes, being acknowledged is nice. For me, I liked a thank you or a mention from a band more than I liked seeing my name in print, which in itself can give you a buzz which soon wears off... 8 Foot Sativa thanked me in the liner notes for Season For Assault (and spelled my name wrong...) after a couple of reviews and an interview. Also got a mention from Ligature. Erm, and some... person... put a heap of my reviews on Pirate Bay. I don't think they are there any more, but it wasn't me!

I could easily add acknowledgements into sender mistakes actually, because they don't always do their research about you. I had one label that would always credit my old site under its original name instead of the name we changed it to despite multiple times telling them that we'd changed and could they please credit correctly (they wouldn't). When I had my own site as well that was my primary site (with reviews even having an exclusivity period) so as much as I wanted to support MMA too my reviews really should have been linked to Heavy Metal Haven and not MMA back then, yet senders would often credit to MMA instead even if I didn't give them the MMA link and despite the original copy being up a week in advance. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote adg211288 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Apr 2016 at 12:57am
Originally posted by Vim Fuego Vim Fuego wrote:

Oh yeah, and I also got accused of plagiarism for stealing a line from a Metal Hammer review, when it was the other way around!

I should add plagiarism to reviewer mistakes. I've been victim of it before and I also had one of the other reviewers on Heavy Metal Haven ripping off someone else's reviews (he got banned for that). 

I have something similar to what happened to you happen way back in school though. The person sitting next to me copied my work and I got done for it because his was marked first! 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote UMUR Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Apr 2016 at 2:05am
^Plagiarism ugh Dead.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Nightfly Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Apr 2016 at 9:02am
Interesting read Adam. I tend to prefer to listen to my music on my hi-fi for reviewing purposes as for one I'm more comfortable and the sound quality is 100 times better than on my PC, therefore the music is likely to get a fairer hearing. For that reason if I don't have the CD or vinyl version I'm unlikely to review it in most cases. When I was more active on Prog Archives I did get sent a number of CD's for review and if the band took the trouble and expense of sending me it I always did a review. For the most part I have tended to decline any offers of free downloads as I don't want to listen to music this way. I appreciate that this is the way most promos are sent these days and it doesn't cost the band/label anything so they can send out a lot more but I'm unlikely to review it though I do make exceptions if i particularly like something. If that's the case though I'm probably going to buy it anyway.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote adg211288 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Apr 2016 at 9:16am
Yeah I prefer to actually play my CD's whenever possible. I only have a little radio to play them on, but it's a pretty good unit. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote adg211288 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2016 at 1:15am
Just a note that I extended the article slightly to touch on some extra points. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vic Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2016 at 8:33am
Very interesting read!

I can relate to many of those points. Including the comment about feeling bad about criticizing work that has been handed to you - and I will add ...with eagerness and high hopes by people who say publicly they are fans of your writing. That's a wonderful compliment but a real awkward situation when they hand you something that sounds completely bland and uninteresting.

I remember when I got my first physical promo, back in 1997. I don't know who remembers The Great Kat, that crazy, CRAZY woman but in 1996 she made a comeback and a year later her sister (I think) contacted me about reviewing her new EP, Guitar Goddess. I was quite flattered because I had a website with some reviews but nothing major. Although back then there weren't many sites anyway. I got the full package too, large folder with professional pictures, bios and other notes, the cd, I felt like a real pro. 

A shame it was fucking awful. I never wrote a review for it. Hahaha.

As for plagiarism, I've seen people in major outlets in Greece copying specific arguments from my reviews, sometimes even verbatim. I am not sure they even realized it. I took that as flattery and as succeeding in getting the point across. The more, the merrier!


Edited by Vic - 14 Apr 2016 at 8:33am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote UMUR Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2016 at 8:55am
He he The Great Kat...yeah that is pretty awful music LOL
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote siLLy puPPy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2016 at 9:22am
Very cool blog, Adam. It hasn't happened in the metal world so much but I have gotten quite a number of contacts on prog archives where I have written many reviews upon request. I basically demand a physical copy in exchange for a review. I'm also of the mindset that reviewing is first and foremost a hobby that I do not want to ruin by feeling obligated to channel my interests into a commercial arena. I have noticed that if I'm just not into the album at hand my review doesn't come out very good. Luckily I've been somewhat successful in weeding out albums I find interesting when a band contacts me
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote adg211288 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2016 at 9:46am
I actually find that most labels are cool if you do give their artist a negative. They're more used to them every now and then I guess. It's definitely different to have to give one directly to the artist. I only rarely hate something enough to give really lower end ratings though. Normally I just won't bother to review it in that case.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote siLLy puPPy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2016 at 11:15am
Have you ever had anyone go ape sit over a negative review?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote adg211288 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2016 at 11:44am
No. The closest I've seen was a general snide remark by I think it was Aural Music or one of their sub-labels over one of their releases that was getting a largely negative to lukewarm reception when they said something along the lines of 'ignore the reviews'. 

If someone ever did get hostile over getting a negative I would just politely apologise that they're unhappy with my verdict and then make it clear that I won't be dealing with them again. 
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