June 1, 2015 | by Bryne Yancey

Being in a DIY band and controlling every aspect of its operation can simultaneously be a very freeing and very daunting thing. 

On one hand, there are no labels or managers to answer to, no percentages of your small income to pay to them; on the other, you have to do all that shit yourself, all the trawling through contacts and writing press releases and sending emails and managing social media that more established bands often pay other people to worry about so they can focus on creating music. It can certainly be debilitating; after all, you presumably started a band so you wouldn’t have to do glorified office work between practices or shows. But just knowing how to approach certain aspects of it can help you waste less time on it and spend more time writing riffs.

Every writer is different, and I don’t know, maybe some writers don’t mind being sent 11 vague Facebook messages in a row about a band’s music video that isn’t finished yet. (If there are, I haven’t met them.) So here’s a quick primer for DIY bands on how to best approach a writer you don’t know personally.

As a “punk” “journalist,” I get a lot of emails and messages from people in bands wanting coverage. A lot of them are great—if I get an email such as this fake one below, I know the person writing it has their shit together:

“Hey Bryne,

Hope you’re well. My band Ghost Vomit is self-releasing a new album on July 24. We’re a DIY band that sort of has a punk/garage/whatever sound that I think you’d dig based on some of the stuff you’ve covered in the past. Would love to have you possibly review the album or interview us. Here’s a bandcamp link to our old stuff and a stream/download of our new album. If you need anything else, just let me know. Thanks!”

What stands out about this message I just fabricated out of thin air? A couple things:

It’s short.

Though writers like me are in no way, shape or form important, we tend to get a lot of email every day, even on weekends. Many of my peers get such a high volume of email that they just cannot read it all, let alone answer it. But one of the few organizational things about which I’m a stickler is email—I make sure to at least read every email I receive. Short emails, especially in the introductory phase, are perfect; if a writer doesn’t know who your band is and you’re barraging them with a huge EPK that has a 3,000 word bio, four or five band photos so hi-res that every piece of your drummer’s stubble is countable, and a collection of unzipped, unsequenced .wav files, for example (this has happened to me—a lot), chances are the writer will be too daunted to digest it right then and there, if at all. We’re busy, presumably you’re busy as well. Keep it brief at first.

Even though it’s short, all the important things are touched upon.

In this very fake email, there’s a band name, a release date, a link to the music, and even an intimation that the band is familiar with the writer (writers like that, it makes us feel special, but more importantly it implies that the band is pitching the writer because they think it’d be a good fit for their band. This is SO CRUCIAL—don’t just throw everything at a wall and hope something sticks. Single out writers and publications that would be strong fits for your band based on your aesthetic and theirs). There’s a clear objective. It’s literally all you need to do to get the conversation going. If I only received emails like these, I’d answer every one of them (eventually).

So those are the dos—what about the don’ts? Here are a few.

Don’t hassle the writer on social media.

Thinking about sending that writer a friend request just to invite them to like your band’s page and drop a trash pile of vague messages in their Facebook inbox? No. Don’t do that. Stop it. What about twitter—considering replying to an unrelated tweet with a link to your band’s ReverbNation (or whatever) account? No. Stop that! Just because these writers are “public figures” (you know, like celebrities and stuff) doesn’t entitle you to invade their personal space. If you’re going to message a writer on social media, it should only be to ask for more direct contact information—a band dude messaging me on Facebook with “Hey Bryne, what’s your email address? Had a question for you.” is totally within bounds. A band dude messaging me on Facebook with “Hey Bryne, my band is debuting a music video within the month, would you consider covering it” is out of bounds and also doesn’t tell me shit about your band.

If you’ve ever had an office job and your boss was the type to call you immediately after they sent an email asking “Hey, did you get that email?,” well, this is sort of like that. Don’t be that boss.

Don’t send repeated emails. Be patient.

If it’s been a few days and you haven’t heard anything back from the writer, feel free to send a follow-up email. While we usually don’t reply because we aren’t interested, sometimes we are interested, we get busy and stuff falls through the cracks. If a writer doesn’t reply to your follow-up email, they’re the asshole, not you.

If you sent an email at 7 p.m. and haven’t heard back by noon the next day, don’t send a follow-up. Wait. Send emails to other writers. Work on songs, or other aspects of your band. Go outside and look at a bird or something. Do literally anything else. What you might consider aggressive or persistent, a writer might consider pushy.

Don’t piecemeal information.

You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) how unnecessarily vague these emails can often be. Sometimes, there’s no question asked, no links, even no band name. I’m not kidding. Other times, the band dude (it’s always a dude, sorry dudes) seems to be withholding information for…I’m not sure why, really. No one knows who your band is—the air of mystery is already built in, there. If I reply with a question like “When is the album coming out?” and you send back “I cannot reveal that just yet—an announcement is coming” or “It’s under wraps, I’m not allowed to tell anyone,” well, why aren’t you allowed? No one knows who your band is. Trying to manufacture “buzz” like this never works. Don’t do it. If you know the answer, but it can’t yet be revealed publicly for some reason, no matter how stupid, tell the writer. I guarantee we’ve heard it before, and we pinky promise we won’t leak it.

I’m sure other writers have specific pet peeves, but these are the big ones to avoid as a DIY musician. Now! Go forth and pitch your music to writers as professionally as possible. Hell, pitch me!