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


Bands: if you want to get signed, you will need to send promos. First you will send them to labels, which will sign you eventually. Then you will send them to media, including record reviewers. Labels: you will do the same. Promoters: ditto. So how do you send a promo in this day and age?

The current standard, which thankfully does away with piles of physical promos, is to send an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) or Digital Promotions Kit (DPK) which mean roughly the same thing. 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 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%

Press releases should fit standard format, which is an entirely different article, and include full contact information for the label and promotions agency. If you include band contact information, people will contact the band; if the band does not reply, do not include this information and have them contact the band through the promotions agency. 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 (800px+) and in a format such as JPG or ideally PNG, which is not lossy like JPG.

Once you do all of the above, put the files into a zip archive and make it available to reviewers. Many use services like Haulix to make it easy to limit downloads to specific reviewers, and to embed codes in the work which identify who each package went to in case it gets leaked. In my view, labels should worry less about piracy from this angle because the release will inevitably be pirated and your only real recourse is to DMCA search engines to keep it out of the listings so that people are encouraged to buy it or stream it through a licensed streaming service like Spotify, Pandora or For this reason, lately more labels have simply been linking to their DropBox folders in acknowledgement of the impossibility of stopping all leaks, and it takes just one to spread it everywhere — or someone at a record store who drops the album into a computer for ten minutes to rip and upload it, as seems to happen in Russia and Latin America much to the delight of downloaders worldwide.

The above is written in the hopes of receiving fewer incomplete or botched promo packages. As stated elsewhere, most labels spend little time on getting these right 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. But for a starting band or label this advice may be helpful.

How music reviews are made


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.

Downside of MP3s: no enjoyment of whole album


Who am I to criticize wide and frequent use of technology? It has brought great benefits and much landfill, as well as seeming to fill our time with activities that are both “work” and “fun” at the same moment. It has made life easier, and made the list of stuff to do longer. I suppose it is a mixed bag.

In general, I am fond of MP3s. “Try before buy” provides a great principle for buying music that in theory would lead to the rejection of the usual stuff and embrace of the distinctive and elevated. This would (again, in theory) give consumers better music and give small bands a chance against big industry bands.

In practice, people simply become overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff, which spams their brains, and thus they download a ton and a half of metal and listen to all of it once, which leads to the conclusion that it is all about the same in value. In turn, that causes them to stop worrying about quality and to download anything above “barely acceptable” and put it on their playlist. This favors the big industry, which can use its advertising power to overwhelm those spammed brains and so people go back to the 1980s condition of buying whatever is advertised and ex post facto finding a way to like it.

So, maybe MP3s are not the savior of the music industry. And a relatively recent Abigor interview raises another point: MP3s ruin our appreciation of the album as a whole as if it were a communication from a band to its audience. Instead, we are awash in easily queued and listened music, which by reducing our effort in hearing it reduces our ability to perceive it.

[E]verything should be viewed as one piece of art, not just the sound that’s coming out of a studio in whatsoever form, be it vinyl, CD, a file (originating “from the connection in the wallā€, that’s the horizon teenagers have these days.

They don’t care and they’re not as informed as we were ā€“ when we liked certain albums back then we knew the lyrics, could draw the logo and knew every dot on the cover or who was in the thanx list. Today it’s about a track in the MP3 playlist only, albums matter less and less). An MP3 player can’t capture, it simply isn’t, such a piece of art. People tear individual tracks out of the album context to an MP3 playlist and the music looses it’s meaning and also it’s value.

How much is such an MP3 worth? Nothing. And therefore people lose respect of the artist’s work as well. They forget that this soundfile actually has a history full of sweat and blood, and quiet some people put in a lot of money before the first cent comes back from sales, all this seems like a long lost echo when I hear people talk about their MP3s. People that talk about their record collection have a different access.

All of this reminds me of the “bad old days” before the internet and underground alike when people heard new stuff on the radio and listened to that without even thinking there might be an option. The same four companies owned every radio station in the major cities, and the same six labels owned everything played by those radio stations. Not much has changed, except that what is driving people to that same old stuff is the vast amount of musical spam coming out in MP3 format designed for people who cannot tell the difference between plausible and mediocre music.

Heavy metal as an industry


Anyone who lived as a metal fan in the 1970s and 1980s remembers The Line: some bands were rock enough to make it into the newspaper, others were “too metal.” Major newspapers never covered Slayer, rarely covered Metallica, and generally drew The Line at anything heavier than Guns ‘n Roses. Thus even major bands like AC/DC got cut out of the mix.

No more. As the image above illustrates, the front page of goody-two-shoes news network CNN shows us the latest about the AC/DC 40th Anniversary Tour. Even the biggest megaphone for mainstream news which spends most of its time nagging us about our bad habits or flashing sensationalistic messages of world decay finally acknowledges heavy metal. In the 1980s, this would have been unthinkable. And yet, now we’re here.

What’s behind metal’s legitimization? It’s not so underground anymore, being one of the bigger non-rock/pop genres. It’s also not so extreme, since rap opened up the lyrical gates to violence, lust and obscenity and nu-metal got radio accustomed to heavy crunch (and lyrics about parental neglect). But most importantly, metal is now an industry. With enough consistent fans and labels behind it, and those labels having found a way to “metalize” or “metal-flavor” just about anything (indie, rock, jazz, blues, industrial), metal now provides one of the pillars of the entertainment industry.

Even more, heavy metal is now a recognized part of our culture. Rap music represents a certain kind of rebellion or a certain kind of irony. Heavy metal raises the flag for a certain kind of rebellion that is both cluelessly adolescent and “old soul” world-weary and informed. It’s a feeling we all have, and its appeal seems to be increasing.

Profile: Jill Girardi and Dead Beat Shop (Malaysia)

dead_beat_mediaThose who have been around the death metal scene will remember the name Jill Girardi. Originally a founder of maverick label Razorback Records, she now runs Dead Beat Shop in Malaysia, where she continues to keep death metal strong. We were fortunate to get in a few words about Dead Beat Shop and Jill’s own history in music.

I understand you run your business from Penang, Malaysia. How’s the metal scene there?

Yes, that’s right. I’ve been living in Malaysia for about four and a half years now. I’m originally from New York! For such a small country, the metal scene here is very big. New bands are forming all the time. In the past, it seemed like bands took a great deal of time to release demos and albums, if at all.

But now there seems to be a new crop of bands coming up such as Humiliation, Succubus, Nonserviam and others, that have an unusual work ethic for this part of the world and work hard to get at least one release out every year, if not more. More bands are starting to take note of this and follow suit, which can only be good for the scene in the long run.

As far as shows go, the size of the crowd really depends on the band that is playing and the scene politics here are much the same as they were in the States.

Can you tell us a bit about your personal history, and how this came to be your path?

Well basically I was a lonely kid and metal was the only thing in my life that made me feel better. Most kids discovered metal because the had an older brother, relative or friend into it, but I found my way to Metal all by my lonesome nine-year-old self.

I started a zine and record label called Mortal Coil in the early 90s with Jay Lipitz from the band Insatanity. That lasted a few years with a few releases, and then folded. I then formed Razorback Records with another partner which was very successful, although I quit the label in 2009 and moved here to be with my fiance (now husband), who is Malaysian.

I was going to quit the music business, but I found there was no other work I could really do, having been doing this for most of my life. So my husband and I opened a metal shop and a new label.. to make a very long story short, Dead Beat Media! haha

What sorts of metal does Deadbeat specialize in, if any? Why do you choose this style(s) over others?

We specialize mainly in death metal as I always wanted to stay true to my “first love”, so to speak. Death Metal has been my life for so many years, I don’t think I could change it now even if I wanted to.

I’m not averse to releasing other styles of extreme music, and in fact I have. But Death Metal is the music I’ve always been passionate about ever since I discovered it. I’m sure you understand what I mean…

You’ve recently released Warmaster – The End of Humanity. What do you think are the strengths of this band?

This band has heart. They love what they do and they truly enjoy playing Death Metal. And I think that shows in the music. The obvious way to promote them is to compare them to Bolt Thrower and Benediction but there are other elements in there as well, a little bit of Cannibal Corpse and also a little bit of a punk influence.

I enjoy the mid-paced songs that will suddenly break into a crushing, catchy riff that hits you like a hammer, and the unique vocals. I’ve released probably something near 100 CDs in my time in the scene, and some of them were sheer embarrassments, haha. But this is a respectable CD I can stand behind and be proud of having released.

If someone wanted to get into old school metal today, what would be your advice to them?

Take suggestions from your friends and peers. There is a reason why the classic old bands are still talked about today. Find out who they are, buy their CDs and explore the genre.

But remember to make up your own mind.. don’t just listen to what other people say or what the critics say. Don’t be afraid to disagree with others’ opinions. Trust your own judgment, and your ability to decide for yourself if a band is good or not.

DEAD BEAT SHOP [ email ]
LOT 2B-04-05 4th Floor
Tel: +60124460316