I am sure the word ‘gatekeeping’ doesn’t sound unfamiliar to you, and if you’re reading this article you’re probably looking for a solution to your problem. I wish there was a way to make it nicer than it is, but the truth is and will always be brutal. It is extremely hard - almost impossible - to skip through the music industry gates and make it on your own. Let’s see what these gates are protecting.
After you have composed the music, written the lyrics, recorded the songs, it’s time to put out music. And when you do, you encounter the first gate: promotion. If you are signed to a label (our second gatekeeper) they are going to do the hard job for you: send your music to radios, writers, and editors, pitch your songs for synchronisation, get you on playlists, distribute your records and finally book your shows. All the things I just mentioned are the rest of the gates that, if you are not signed, you will have to open.
Let’s be honest: gatekeepers will not consider your music most of the time. You have to build yourself a reputation, grow your community, play as many shows as possible (at the time this article is being written, this one will make you laugh). And everyone will tell you that it’s at shows that you can actually have a chance with these people. You will find them at the bar, and you will have to look cool enough to sound smart enough to grab their attention.
Right now, what could help you is interaction and reputation. You want to create connections that last, and have a meaning. You want to shape your brand with activism and inclusivity. Nobody likes a piece of shit. Even more now, nobody will be interested in you unless you have something to offer to them. If you’re just starting out, a killer single isn’t enough to get you on BBC. And surely won’t help you to look more appealing to the press. Curate everything about your brand, from the music to the aesthetic, and try to do a good thing for once by getting out of your comfort zone and find a reason behind your music.
Obviously, if you manage to get a deal you have already done half of the job, and my only suggestion is that you read that contract before signing it.
Tips: learn what gatekeepers like most and send personalised messages. Do not bombard them with emails or direct messages. Don’t trust websites that promise to get you on playlists or radio, do not give them your money.
The silver lining is that you can try to do all the job by yourself if you follow a rigid schedule. It’s impossible to get rid of gatekeepers, but you should aim to open those gates.
Take your time. Have the song ready at least 3 months before the release, don’t rush it.
Keep track of your rights.
Prepare an EPK. Write down your influences, what inspired you to record the song/EP/album, take some professional photos and put everything in a PDF document (aim to write less than 500 words). If you received positive reviews, include them.
Do your research. Write all the names, emails, blogs, magazines, and so on in an Excel file that you will keep updated.
You should start contacting people at least three months before the release. If they don’t reply, follow up. Write down who answers and who doesn’t. Send personalised emails with the EPK in the body and external links to a Drive folder with the pictures and a private SoundCloud with the song. Be more consistent in the weeks preceding the release.
Pitch the song to Spotify playlists before the release. You can do it on Spotify for Artists.
Do your research and try to find out the emails/social media of playlists curators. Pitch them your song.
Have people add your song to their playlists if you want to have more chances to be featured in an editorial playlist.
Prepare a schedule for all your social media. Have your posts ready, hashtags and pictures, and stick to it. Try to post when people are more active, look at your insights.
Keep track of your finances. If you can afford ads, keep them monitored. Don’t pay to be featured on playlists, don’t pay for fake followers, don’t pay anyone who promises you too much for the price.
Keep sending emails on the day of the release and after. Collaborate with as many people as possible. Repost everyone on your social media. Collaboration is key if you want to survive.
Obviously these rules don’t apply to all genres and all situations, but will get you more chances of making it.