Ravencult – Morbid Blood

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Around a decade ago, the funderground types (NWN/FMP) started a campaign to include Venom as the “first wave of black metal,” even though before that time nearly all sources agreed that Venom were NWOBHM and probably less influential on black metal than Motorhead. But suddenly this huge push existed to bring Venom into black metal; why? Listening to Ravencult, it is clear: so that they could make mediocre heavy metal, speed it up like a punk band and add rasping vocals and call it black metal. This created an instant doubling of product to capture that boom in clued-out kids trying to buy into the black metal hype.

Ravencult drops firmly within this camp. They keep the constant forward rhythm of a war metal band and underneath it re-visit riffs from the 80s and 90s which, despite their chromatic nature, often have a basis in the rhythms and tonal changes of hard rock. The result is something that you want to like but it is too simple-minded and repetitive ultimately to provide anything but a sting of nostalgia and then lots of comforting background noise. It will never motivate anyone to any particular greatness like the old bands used to do. As they say in the funderground, at least it is true… or is that so? It might be better to sever from the past, and create something new instead. Or at least something with the same intensity of death/black metal, instead of trying to make lower intensity versions of the classics so that people can enjoy them like easy listening music or lite jazz, sitting on their comfortable sofas sipping Chivas and “appreciating” black metal.

and of course the unholy genesis of underground metal — Hellhammer, Bathory, Sodom and Slayer —

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“Heavy Metal Church” combines two things and destroys both

In the process of turning everything into a product, Ohio’s Heavy Metal Church combines Christian worship with heavy metal, and in the process reduces both to caricatures of themselves.

To put it in a nutshell, we are a non-denomination, Bible-based Church in a comfortable atmosphere with great music! Our congregation consists of people from all walks of life and age groups. We don’t care what you wear because we just want you there! Our Church has no racial, ethnic or gender barriers and we could care less about your past or present life. We only care about your FUTURE life in Christ! Most people want God in their lives, but think they must clean up first before coming to Christ… You don’t clean up before you jump in the shower, do you? God wants you EXACTLY the way you are at this very moment. As long as you actively seek God, He will actively seek you, and the Holy Spirit will gently clean you up along the way.

This shows a shift from traditional church logic, which is that religion represents a spiritual force (“God”) which is unchanging and immutable, and that humanity has never changed since its inception, so there is a stability in the constancy of belief and its conventions. Back then, the goal was to get the individual to move closer to God. Now, as if selling cheeseburgers, the goal is to sell the church to the individual by making the church more like the everyday life of that individual.

Hence… Heavy Metal Church.

Christian purists and heavy metal purists alike will feel repelled by this abomination that combines a music dedicated to being separate from social conventions and a religion that at its heart feels it should not bend to social conventions. On one, the social convention imposed is a genre of mostly-entertainment, and on the other, the social convention imposed is church and being nice to people even if they’re idiots.

As Vice magazine reports, the heavy metal church is not that far removed from other “contemporary” worship services which feature rock music and the word of Jeeezus all in the same handy product package:

“We’re going to have healing, redemption, salvation, and deliverance take place here today,” says assistant Pastor Ron, from the front of the auditorium. Pastor Ron is a bearded guy who, if he were in a motorcycle movie, would probably be nicknamed “Tiny.”

“Woo!” goes the crowd.

Then the music starts. It’s a head-thrashing, blood-pumping tune, with decidedly Jesusy lyrics: “I believe / How about you / I believe / It’s true / I believe in him!” We bang our heads.

“Get your hands clapping! Come on!” says the guitarist wearing black who plays Judas Priest–style guitar with his combo.

“Woo!” goes the crowd, throwing their hands up.

This is excruciating. I am embarrassed for them.

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Riot V – Unleash The Fire

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Riot founder and guitarist Mark Reale died in 2012 after releasing the consistently engaging Immortal Soul. Under-appreciated for their entire careers, Riot never quite managed to do as well as they should have in the underground credibility sweepstakes. Manilla Road and Virgin Steele have both acquired formidable reputations with the passing of time, and deservedly so too, but Riot has been relegated to a footnote in metal history for the most part.

Like W.A.S.P. and early Manilla Road, Riot spent the early years as a fun-loving hard rock band teetering on the edges of heavy metal, without compromising their knack for tasteful songwriting or acute, insightful storytelling. Greater musical awareness dawned with the classic Thundersteel, no doubt influenced by the heavier, more intense developments in the contemporary metal of the time. Their run since then till the present day contains many undiscovered gems sure to appeal to all lovers of classic heavy metal.

How does one judge an album like Unleash The Fire? Created by those that have survived Reale’s death, and containing no original members, it is a tribute to a fallen comrade whose essence yet permeates all that is contained within it. As opposed to the more extreme strains of metal, everything in this music is geared towards a culmination in the big vocal chorus, new singer Todd Michael Hall recalling the late Guy Speranza’s clean, distilled tones. Riot’s talent, however, has always been to imbue this deterministic course of things with intensely melodic — but never melodramatic — embellishments and minute detours, thus greatly enhancing the overall fabric of songs. A wealth of detail lies hidden within the simplest of chord progressions, allowing the listener to enjoy the moment regardless of general predictability. Picking technique relies on tighter, speed metal chugging for creating and maintaining tension, and conventional, open power chords to convey a sense of epic release. Neoclassical virtuosity finds comfortable home amidst an undeniable individuality that is touched with the harmonic sensitivity of old practitioners like Blue Oyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, and Iron Maiden.

Albums like this are the reason why it is possible to be optimistic for the future health of metal despite much evidence suggesting that the rot has already set from within. There is a naive, guileless innocence to be found here, refreshingly free of the cynicism that reduces the best among us to surly curmudgeons at times. Unleash The Fire is a well spring of inspiration for all real strains of metal, as disparate as they may feel on the surface, if not always through its cosmetics then most definitely in what it aims to represent.

In its spirit, the way forward for metal can be seen much more clearly, by opening the eye at the back of the head, and keeping steady sight of what has gone before. What may appear as anachronistic or overly sentimental are actually the eternal universals; honour, beauty, pride, a respect for the past and, above all else, the debt to oneself to live up to these notions in the best way possible. These ideas may seem to be out of vogue in a transitory world but that doesn’t make them singular; it only means that they lie buried under the detritus of sensory overload and cultural conditioning, most people being unable to detect them or give them sufficient credence, and, if they do, unwilling to act on them due to conflicting interests. Their embers, however, occupy a perpetually smoldering space in all human consciousness, waiting to be stoked into the fullest of fires. As long as this stays true, heavy metal will endure.

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#metalgate goes mainstream as Machine Head flails on

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The SJWs keep up a simple strategy for dealing with #metalgate: pretend it never happened and, if it did happen, it died an early death.

Instead, #metalgate is ramping up as the collision between Political Correctness and heavy metal intensifies. Recently metalcore band All That Remains’ vocalist Phil Labonte made some comments that riled a few basement neckbeards:

In 2005, on the ‘Sounds Of The Underground’ DVD I said, ‘PC is for f–gots.’ That was the first time people went, ‘Whoa, what did he say?’ I have nothing against gay people. It’s just a word. Honestly, I think the only people that have a legit grievance when it comes to any racial slurs is the black community. I know the homosexual community has problems with it and I understand their hurt feelings.

But homosexuals were never property. They’ve had a rough time and I’m not trying to minimize that, but I think the black community has a whole lot more room to be upset about a word than the LGBT community.

Apparently this outraged and upset Rob Flynn of alternative-metal band Machine Head, who seems to spend a lot of time on Facebook. He carefully assembles a series of clichés and strung them together into a post which raged against Labonte:

Where are the god damn protest songs? Where are the “War, What Is It Good For’s”? Where are the “Fight The Power’s”? Where are the white metal bands protesting about Ferguson and Staten Island? Why don’t metal bands stand for anything anymore? When did we reach this point in society where it’s unpatriotic to question our military or our police? Why are so goddamned proud to just fall in line?

Here we see the underlying issue that propelled #metalgate rising to the top: the PC people recognize only certain issues, but metal is in fact fighting back against the actual problem, which is a religious approach to reality denial through secular (but unrealistic) politics. In the PC view, if we just change our thinking, we have changed reality. This is why for SJWs it is essential that everyone think the same way, speak the same way and act the same way regarding political issues. We will be in lock-step like good Nazis/Communists/Christians and since we will all be uniform, no deviation can occur. Problem solved! …right?

The metal point of view takes an entirely different approach. In the metal view, problems do not go away until you find the root and fix it. People do not “just get along.” In fact, the more you push people to publicly affirm an idea, the more they resist it in private. In the metal view, there are no magic bullets like laws, rules, and speech codes that fix problems that have persisted since the dawn of humankind. In the metal view, it seems reckless to — knowing that these problems exist — bring them into our communities by demanding that we “tolerate” the endless clashes that result.

Flynn’s rant is stupid because he refuses to acknowledge that metal has for years endorsed sensible responses, but they are not ones that are politically correct because they do not affirm the public paradigms that everyone else is affirming. Every major corporation, police department, court, Congressperson, media outlet, and metal magazine agrees with Rob Flynn and will enthusiastically say so. They do this because people act as a herd, and while the herd is always wrong, the herd rewards its own. His opinion is not radical, it’s the norm. Metal has resisted the norm and this is why it upsets him. He even admonishes us to be more like Bob Dylan and John Lennon, two hypocrtical Baby Boomer communists who quietly enriched themselves while talking up the working classes.

Let’s face it: in the highly politicized decade in which we live, songs about social justice are the equivalent of love songs in the 1950s. They offend no one. They shock no social norms. They give people something to bond over, which is how terrible gays, lesbians, women, minorities and other groups who should be pitied are treated by the bad white people. Because, see, SJWs are the good white people — and the vast majority of SJWs are college-educated whites who didn’t quite hit the jackpot, the same audience that creates all the hipsters. Being into social justice is their way of showing you that they are “good” (and thus concealing all that is bad about them behind that symbol of goodness) like politicians kissing babies or celebrities giving money to the homeless. SJW metal is like Justin Bieber except instead of using candy pop to sell records, it uses candy opinions and recycled hippie cons to make you think the people behind it are “good” even though you know only one thing they think or do and the rest is concealed.

Metal says that society is illegitimate because it denies reality. Whether that is through its approach to religion, politics or social activity, it is all lies: it would not be popular if it were not a lie. That is not the same as saying “because it is popular, it must be a lie,” because some things are popular for simply being catchy and vapid, and sometimes society is even correct. But it says that only lies or other things which do not threaten the human pretense at the root of our rotting society become popular. Thus, if you see that all the dunces are in confederacy in favor of something, be suspicious.

SJWs have a simple plan. They will censor through guilt. This allows them to avoid using Nazi-style government tactics to enforce speech codes when they can simply make Soviet-style speech codes mandatory by attacking anyone who does not agree. Rob Flynn is the witch-hunter here, the same sort of person who 200 years ago would have burned witches when the crops went bad, hung black people without a trial when a rape happened, or even a generation ago would have banned kids from school for wearing all black. He is the totalitarian. He and the SJWs are using “social justice” as a means to seize power and subjugate the rest of you. Metal — nearly alone, but with a few brave others in #gamergate — is resisting this authoritarian takeover.

The same thing gets tried every generation. Charlie Hebdo was attacked so that all cartoonists and writers would think twice about criticizing Islam. Despite all the protests by people who were at absolutely zero risk, and all the warm fuzzies from media about how free speech will save us, the result of the attacks is more crackdown on people who criticize Islam, both from governments and their insurance companies who do not want to pay out for preventable deaths. The PMRC’s campaign to have record warning labels made law failed, but the legal campaign won because it intimidated record labels into putting the warnings on those records or they could not get them into stores. SJWs will do the same thing by labeling some metal as “verboten” because it did not join their politically correct view of the world, and then it will be unable to be sold openly. That is their goal: censorship. Their method is a 2.0 to book burnings, public executions and other censorship 1.0 techniques, but it aims at the same thing and is more effective.

You can see how Bieber-like it is when you look at this comment on Mr. Flynn’s comments:

You just GAINED one more fan. I don’t even know what you sound like yet.

The SJW outlook is not new. It is not revolutionary. It is what governments of the USA and EU endorse. It is in fact conformity. They however want to convince you that their ideas are “revolutionary” so they sound unique, different and exciting. They want to look like brave outsiders denying the will of shadowy oppressive forces and liberating us all. In fact, they are attempting to enslave us all — wonder who our Al Sharpton will be — and they are every bit as mainstream, ordinary and socially accepted as Justin Bieber. They appeal to the herd by telling it what it already accepts, just like Bieber offers music with absolutely no surprises that resembles every big pop act that went before it. But if you listen to them, they are heroic Christ-like bearers of enlightenment and the rest of us are just idiots in comparison and should be silenced as a result.

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Terror Empire – The Empire Strikes Black

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Through the years of scanning endless lists of metal albums one gradually develops an intuition that links band name, album name and artwork to the general nature of what will be heard. Seldom does a tongue-in-cheek name correlate with quality music, since the band designed itself as a stunt. While some serious-sounding names result in pretentious self-important music, most bands with confidence in their ability to produce valuable music choose a straightforward self presentation.

The following question measures heavy metal: what is quality, and how is it measured, including what standard we use? Our answer begins with the often-used but seldom explained (and hence little understood) terms superficial and transcendent as opposite poles in a spectrum. Through the ages philosophers, theorists and artists themselves have made used these terms and in only a handful of instances have they tried to explain them in any way beyong what is deemed self-evident. The young Nietzsche provides us with a useful term and its explanation which can be used to separate the concepts in a way that if not empirical enough at least can be understood as a general concept. The Dionysian, it is said, allows for a connection for the unchanging, eternal oneness. This can mean many things, but guiding ourselves by Nietzsche’s explanation in the context of Greek tragedy and the nature and significance its chorus, we can see that the Dionysian is a subjective measurement requiring the person in question to look beyond the cycles of history and recurring social trends that are a result of the human race constantly altering its surface appearance but not actually “growing” in the sense of improving. Once in touch with this, the artist can represent the essence of things as they always are, not as they appear at this moment in time. On the other hand, being trapped in the temporal interpretation of how something is at this moment, or how it appears to be in its current incarnation is the hallmark of the superficial.

For us to make the distinction between transcendent and superficial in a work of art, we must isolate any insight of human nature that the work expresses. Because all of reality is the same cause, all paths if followed with vigorous examination lead to the same truth. Acquiring the insight that the transcendent artist possess does not mean we ourselves need to have his artistic talents as well. These are abilities of a separate kind altogether. As Nietzsche tells us in the same writing, while the rest of us must use abstractions and complex explanations to arrive at an objective picture of the work of art, in his subjective vision, the artist contemplates the images of his expression clearly and in unexplainable simplicity independently of its degree of superficiality. We can analyze that vision according to what it communicates and whether that address the transcendent, the superficial or the “fake out” of superficial transcendence.

With all this in mind, a first glance at Terror Empire’s album cover and album name is enough to raise some red flags. The cover artwork does not relate to the title. The title further shows a tendency toward cliché and a “cute” manipulation of it. This lack of originality is then reflected in the music itself. The album shows an diversity of approaches ranging from early songs which incorporate related but meaningless constructions with abundant technical acrobatics to late songs which are basically “thrashy” chug-based generic speed metal songs. The former are meaningless in the context that the writers themselves put them in. They make structural premises, but then do not follow them or conclude them structurally. As in many mediocre examples of music, songs end suddenly without being taken to any sort of climax, deviation to a clear point and return. The latter part of the album fails by being an imitation of speed metal (aka “thrash metal”) tropes seen through the modern lenses of retro-thrash.

This book can be judged by its cover, which the band apparently views as attractive to the type of person who will not realize how completely pointless The Empire Strikes Black is as a metal listening experience. Those who seek novelty tend to find it. In the spirit of the master, Bitterman: Vapid. Avoid.

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Rachel Barton Pine on the metal-classical connection

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Rachel Barton Pine, whose metal project Rachel Barton Stringendo has long been in the archives and who also performs with doom metal band Earthen Grave, gave an interview to The Daily Beast in which she described the similarities between metal and classical music:

To the untrained ear, classical music and heavy metal couldn’t be more incongruous, but Pine recognized similarities. In her 20s, she regularly played her own virtuosic interpretation of Led Zeppelin on the radio, hoping to lure metal’s head-banging fans to the symphony.

“In practicing and preparing those songs, I discovered that a lot of the heavy metal I’d been listening to was some of the most sophisticated compositionally of all rock music, and very inspired by classical music,” Pine says. “Then all these people in ripped jeans started coming to my concerts.”

While Pine’s tastes run more to the hard rock side of metal, with Led Zeppelin and Pantera being favorites, she clearly knows her way around the intricacies of a doom metal song with violin accompaniment as well as the classics of the early years of metal. For years, she has pointed out how the thematic complexity of metal shows a kinship to classical music, even if on the surface the two genres appear radically different.

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Infernal Manes – Infernal Manes

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Some things don’t age well, like mayflies or disco. Certain voices in the mainstream rock media have applied the same criticism to traditional heavy metal, claiming that its days have come and gone. Fortunately, they are incorrect as is evident by bands like Infernal Manes who continue to stoke that old flame without being solely a repetition of the older days in celebration of glories departed. But this band has its own very modern take on the ancient art of heavy metal.

Infernal Manes comes to us from the cold coasts of Norway with their self-titled debut LP. These traditional Norsemen have composed an energetic album of melodic heavy metal that tips its hat to Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate. Songs follow the standard verse-chorus format, but this imaginative album delivers not only heavy metal ancestral nostalgia but highly effective songwriting that knits together compelling riffs into an effective, cohesive format that provides the listeners with a spirited voyage into the days of yore. This band would stand on its own in any age but as we live in the present, it chooses to comment on the long and interesting history of heavy metal.

The only downside to this album is that it occasionally suffers from “Crazy Train Syndrome” — named for an Ozzy Osbourne composition in which an enigmatic chorus riff was paired with a joyous, almost witless bouncy hard rock riff in the verses — in which a few randomly emotionally jarring riffs disrupt the otherwise concise flow of the songs. For the most part however songs fit together well like the fine craftsmanship of a traditional artisan. Infernal Manes deliver exactly what you would expect from an old school heavy metal band, but with a bit more precision and efficiency. Complete with heroic and anthemic passion, Infernal Manes ensures that the old flame remains lit.

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Amebix – Redux

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“You know kid, uhh, usually when someone pulls shit like that my first reaction is I want to punch his fucking lights out. But you know something? You’re all right!” Most re-visions of older works by popular musicians end in tears and terror. This one re-creates three classic Amebix tracks in a form the band suggested was always intended but was not possible owing to the primitive production and living conditions of the day, and Amebix surely knew that their fanbase — who grew up on the versions as they were — would approach this with trepidation and skepticism. But there is no easy review for this disk.

Redux does not fall into the usual trap of making a glamorized and overly-slick version of the past. Instead, Amebix restyle their foundational songs more as if Metallica and Prong had collaborated to emit a dystopian metal album. Double-picked muted downstrumming and faster tremolo strumming all make an appearance, along with approximately half the vocals which are a hybrid of the Amebix style of Motorhead-influenced distorted vocals and the bassier, gnarlier death metal vocals to follow. But what is really surprising here is how these songs work very well given the high intensity treatment, which transitions them from a kind of contemplative and mournful look at our world to a savage Nietzschean attack of those who want to hoist the black flag and slit some throats. There are times when, much as happened on the first Burzum LP, these vocals are simultaneously so vulnerable and savage that they convey a sense of total commitment to desperate acts.

In addition, the more rigid playing of these riffs and uptempo approach gives the entire EP a malevolent vibe. These songs were great in the past, and they would be known as great here as well had this been the past. That being said, it will offend many punk purists and metal purists alike, despite having faithfully upheld the spirit of both genres. Not only that, but the haunting and unsettling sense of peering under the skin of our society and seeing underneath the makeup and credentials a swarming mass of crawling horror remains and may be intensified by this more assertive re-creation. While I liked the album that followed, I would gladly sign up for a full album of Amebix songs in this style as well.

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How to make a digital promo kit (DPK) or electronic promo kit (EPK)

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If you want to promote your band or label, you are going to send out your promo among a stream of others as an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) or Digital Promotions Kit (DPK) which mean roughly the same thing. Here is how to do it well.

Your kit should contain:

  1. Name and description:

    We are skimming quickly through a thousand emails on the receiving end of your press kit. Please give us a clear band name, album name, and factual description that tells us what it sounds like and what it does well. Spare the word salad of mystical adjectives and promises, since every press release has those now.

    Band Name - Album Name
    Country, Label, length (year)

    Exploring the New Wave of Traditional Death Metal, Band Name writes hard-hitting riffs and assembles them into songs where each riff relates to the theme of the song and the other riffs. Exploring this ancient genre, Band Name finds new riff-forms and song topics, expanding the genre for an enjoyable but vicious listening experience.

    In my professional view, more words means more lies. Spit out the skinny in a paragraph. We do not need to hear how the band formed in a public toilet outside a bail bondsman in Cleveland during a thunderstorm, or the past releases from the band. We will read your links.

  2. One-click sample track:

    Place a link to the BandCamp, Rumble, SoundCloud, Odysee, BitChute, Vimeo, or YouTube video here. One track off the album will do great. Those receiving your mail are going to do a thirty-second sniff test to see if your material fits our audience. If that passes, we will then move on to listening to the rest.

  3. Streaming album:

    If you do not want to use one of the watermarking services (Haulix, PromoJukebox) use an unlisted directory on your Google Drive, DropBox, or SoundCloud. This should not require us to do anything but hit the link and start listening. Logins and downloads are at the next part of this press kit.

  4. Album download:

    If a reviewer really likes an album, on a personal or professional level, this person may grant you access to the holy grail: adding it to their own playlist, whether streaming (Spotify) or downloading files to play on their personal MP3 player. This means the name will be kept current in their minds, and they will mention it to others; word-of-mouth references within those active in the community have more weight than any other promotional activity.

    Some suggestions for MP3 archives follow, not so much to be anal and controlling but because most people do them wrong. I have a playlist full of MP3s labeled "File 7" and "Track 9". IDv3 tags make a big difference, as does having a folder that a reviewer can drag and drop from an archive to a stash and from there to the playlist.

  5. Links:

    The above should take up relatively little space. Now you can link to thinks instead of taking more more space. I would suggest:

    • Band website.
    • Bandcamp or other streaming and merch site.
    • Band biography (even if on band website).
    • Media area with big-ass pictures for reviewers to download and use in reviews, sans watermarks.
    • Label website.
    • Any related projects that band members are involved in, even if it is just a charity for lost echidnas who need scale oil in the Ontaria, CA area.

    As always, fewer words is better. "Band Name Biography" is a better link than "The Fascinating Story of How We Met, Forged Metal, and Crossed Spears." I already know the label name, so "Metal Label" is a better link than "The Occult Conjurations and Industrial Sounds of Metal Label." Similarly, "Band Name Bandcamp" makes more sense than "Stream our precious brilliance at Bandcamp."

I know: the above is really mean and reductionist, basically pure nihilism. With reviewers, you have to keep in mind that someone is sitting at a desk, with limited time and phones going off and idiots coming in to say the copier is out of toner, and looking at a stack of ten thousand emails.

I would not bother sending along every news item that comes across your desk. Announce your album with a promo; when you are available for interviews, send out an email with a title like "Band Name Available for Interviews 10/31 - 11/13 via phone, Skype, Zoom, or smoke signal." Anything else, save it up for a once-yearly band update where you can tell us who has left, who has joined, what label you have signed, and so on. I would send this with a single or interview: title it "Band Name Release New Song 'Pure Brilliance'" and then stack your news, links to reviews and interviews, lengthy personal statements, rehab announcements, and so on in that email.

Now consider the downloadable EPK/DPK:

Your EPK will be a zip archive containing your release in MP3, photos and a press release/biography. Each of these parts offers its own challenge.

  • MP3s:

    MP3s should be of a decent bitrate, usually 256k or Variable Bit Rate (VBS) equivalent, and should be tagged appropriately with band name, album name and track name correct and consistent. The MP3s themselves should be in a folder within the archive named Band Name - Album Name. This enables writers to extract it completely and view the files as they write. If you are using Exact Audio Copy or a similar program, settings allow you to specific correct tagging by default. I also recommend installing Windows Media Player 11 and using the Fraunhofer MP3 codec which is superior to the LaME codec which tends to make heavily distorted music sound plastic. I use the following naming scheme in EAC:

    Individual artist:

    %artist%\%artist% - %albumtitle%\%artist% - %tracknr2% - %title%

    Various artists:

    various\%albumtitle%\%albumtitle% - %tracknr2% - %artist% - %title%

    Drop that folder into a zip archive (PK is the industry standard, like Microsoft Word and MP3). This way, the reviewer can drag it out of the archive and have a Band Name - Album Name folder with all of the MP3s inside correctly named and tagged. This helps them find you again, which is what you want. Make this as brainless as smoking a cigarette and you will get more mentions, not fewer.

  • Press Release:

    Let us be clear about the point of a press release: it is to give writers a template full of useful information that they can include in their stories and reviews. Any other purpose is suspect.

    Press releases should fit the standard format:

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

    Competition is Healthy Says Lemonade Stand Queen

    Hamilton, New Zealand - November 12, 2012 - Increased competition in the local lemonade stand market should be welcomed, according to the operator of popular lemonade stand "Shelly's Pure Lemonade".

    12-year-old Shelly Smith has been selling her home-made brand of lemonade from the footpath in front of her parents' North Street home for 18 months and has seen the highs and lows of the trade.

    "Stands come and go," says Ms Smith, "but when there are more stands around the vendors are more serious. They try harder and make a better product. That gives our customers confidence and sales go up."

    In recent months the number of lemonade stands in North Street has risen from three to five. Experts believe this trend will continue, with the possibility of two or even three new stands before the end of summer.

    Ms Smith feels that a stable supply of lemonade will also benefit the streets' economy.

    "People know that if they are thirsty, North Street is the place to come. With plenty of lemonade stands on this street it doesn't matter if some of the vendors take a day off. The customer is never disappointed so they always come back."

    Shelly Smith is a sole trader of lemonade and occasional cookies. Her stand at 223 North Street is usually open weekdays after school and weekends, except when she is playing with her friends or watching a movie.

    Contact:
    Shelly Smith
    email@example.com
    233 North Street,
    Hamilton,
    New Zealand
    Ph: +64-877-9233

    ###

    Your official band and label blurbs should follow there. A blurb is a hundred-word summary of what you do that tells your target audience what you are.

    Include full contact information for the label and promotions agency. If you include band contact information, people will contact the band, who may be busy; let your promotional people handle this. Include the biography in here, generally a paragraph or two but not more. Also useful to include are all band public sites such as Facebook where the band might post more images or information as needed.

    Images should include at least the cover art and a band photo, but many bands include logos as well for use as headers. These pictures should all be large (1200px+) and in a format such as JPG with minimal compression, since JPG is a lossy format and the more you compress, the more artifacts and blur you introduce.

Most labels spend little time on getting the EPK/DPK because they want reviewers to spend as little time on the music as possible, and because the people who write the reviews the labels will republish are those who are making a personal connection with staff at the label in hopes of future hiring or collaboration.

However, in my view, that backfires. Your cronies republish your stuff. That works great until it stops, mainly because people eventually realize that your blog is a republishing platform for industry PR and therefore worthless. For a starting band or label this advice may be helpful, since you are trying to break out of obscurity and into commonplace knowledge, and you need every little boost you can get.

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How music reviews are made

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If you must (“must”) watch television, probably the best thing on continues to be the Canadian program How It’s Made which shows the process by which everyday objects are manufactured. A similar program for the music industry might attract fewer watchers but be similarly informative.

The basics of the industry are that labels produce records, media write about those records, and artists — a pretentious term for musicians and bands — try to get chosen by either or both. Most records produce almost all of the profit they will create within a relatively short duration of their release. Labels need to constantly produce output so that they stay in the news, and media needs to constantly produce favorites (or drama) to sell news. Artists, on the other hand, are trying to create long-term audiences, but only if the artist believes they can produce quality material for a long period. Otherwise, their goal is to cash in and drop out, so they can go back to being the cool barista in a seaside town known for having put out that edgy metalcore album back in ’06.

When labels send out promotional packages, their goal is to ensure the reviewer spends as little time on the music as possible. They would prefer that the reviewer spend most of her time on the press release and biography, writing about the “unique” background to the band and how their album release is a news event, not a musical event. Ideally, the writer will focus on production and style more than substance, since new variations in production and style are easily produced while quality music is limited to a certain percentage of artists and striving for quality makes artists more valuable and labels/media less valuable.

The gig as a music reviewer is to say as little as possibly that is not blindingly obvious about the music while working in as many details as possible. The most successful reviews talk mostly about the biography, then about production, then style, and only finally in passing about the music itself. By the music itself I mean the composition, such that if you transferred it to midi or kazoo you would still recognize the song(s) but all of the production values from guitar sound through effects would be removed and you would see the composition as it is. If you have ever listened to someone playing acoustic guitar and realized the music sounds familiar, then figured out which song they are playing, you have had the experience of connecting with the music itself. The music itself however is the one part of music as a commodity that cannot be easily quantified and reproduced through systematic means (think of a recipe or instruction book). As a result, the music itself makes no one any money during the short period in which most albums generate profit.

You may see familiar names when you switch between your favorite magazines and your favorite music labels and the promotion companies that service them. The goal of most music reviewers is to get promoted within the industry, either as workers at the labels or writers in the media. They do this by making personal contacts, which generally happens when they are helpful to those people and promote whatever release they are working at the time. Very few people stay in the industry for long because it rewards a certain type of highly sociable person who writes whatever is needed to promote a record. This is why when you read record reviews, they normally take on a breathless tone that borders on praise. The goal of the reviewer is as a marketer, not a writer. Their job is to make you want to buy the album, but in such a way that you think it is your own idea, and so you blame no one when two weeks later you stop listening to it.

Most people are not words-people. They operate by gut feel, which is how their brains make a synopsis of all of the impulses they have in response to something. They tend to respond enthusiastically to new things but as time goes on, they respond less to them. For this reason, very few fans are aware of bad albums versus good ones. They know only that they bought something, they were excited about it, and then… it just sort of faded out of their consciousness. It became less interesting. The methods of art and music are well-known after centuries of exploration and what makes an album stay with us is no mystery. A good album is both musically adept, even if primitive, in that it is organized and produces something pleasing and non-obvious out of what it has to work with, and evocative, or representative of some feeling in ourselves or experience we have had in the world. Very few albums do this, but lots of albums can hit us with the pure physical sensation of listening to them, like acrobatic guitars, intense production, a bizarre or fresh style or even pure sonic intensity. These fascinate for a short while and then fade from our awareness.

As a reader, you must now be thinking this article is somewhat apocalyptic. I have just told you that the music industry has interests contrary to your own; they want to pump out formulaic stuff with new style/production, and you want to listen to music that stretches your time, money and energy by rewarding your listening minutes over many years. Actually I consider myself on the side of the music industry, because without labels to concentrate money that they can invest in production and promotion, good bands would remain unheard and without the budget to bring their promising music to a point where it is both pleasant as composition and pleasant to be heard. Few would listen to Beethoven if the only albums were played on kazoos and recorded on iPhones in subway restrooms. The music industry represents its own worst enemy because whenever something new — a band, an idea, a genre — makes a fan base, industry grows in response to it and produces more stuff “like” it that does not deliver the punch of the original. They thus ride trends for profit and then self-destruct when the trend is over, excepting a few labels who rise above the rest on the basis of having more profit, thus more money to put out new releases. The industry would be healthier if it could stop riding trends and instead focus on what makes bands and labels wealthy, which is the long tail or long-term relationship with fands.

The archetypal long tail band is Metallica. When …And Justice For All broke into the top 200, it brought every previous album of the band with it. During its classic era, when Metallica put out a new album and made a new fan, that fan tended to go out and buy everything else the band did, plus tshirts and concert tickets. It is the same way with massively successful acts in every genre — they cultivate a dedicated fanbase — but metal is a standout in how clearly it is defined in this way. The labels that dominate are the ones who get behind a band that cultivates a long-term audience. However, these bands are few and far between so labels make do with what they have. Unfortunately for them, the market is contracting as online availability of music reduces the power of novelty (“newness” + unique production/style). People can simply listen to the new fascination online for two weeks and then move on without having bought it.

To counter this, I propose a new model for the music industry: licensing. Under this model, bands would retain their copyright in an album and take out a license from the label, which would have the right to retain the album as long as they kept it in print. Big labels would license this content from smaller labels, creating a pyramid where the top reflects the bands with the best long-term audience potential and the bottom reflects new entries who are trying to build that audience. This would put more of a burden on the bands, who would be essentially taking a loan from the labels to produce their albums in exchange for that extensive promotion, but would enable labels to focus on the true breadwinners with their long-tail artists. In addition, because artists would be forced to assume direction of their efforts, there would be less of the kind of childish behavior of superstars in the 1970s and 1980s that caused labels to become strict in how they control their artists. This model also fits with the de facto standard of online music sales as they will become, which is the granting of a license to “own” the music regardless of form to the consumer. When physical form is no longer as important, we switch from a “goods” model to a “services” model, and the sooner labels do this the sooner they escape the overhead of defending a past business model and can move on to the future.

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