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Topic - Adam's Blog #3: On Reviewing
Posted: 05 Apr 2016 at 12:43pm By adg211288

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.


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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