SpeedontheBeat.com Music Roundtable: Volume One, Part One

In late 2014, I came to the realization that, while helpful, my “Dear Rap [People]” posts were limiting (mainly because it was only my thoughts/opinions/truths). So, I reached out to cook up something awesome. I hope to have/”host” more roundtables to help educate people on how to approach writers, music, A&R’s and so on. Also, I want to showcase that these people aren’t scary entities who sit in ivory chairs throwing potshots at up-and-comers. Volume One of the SpeedontheBeat.com Roundtable features:

Rizzo, AnarchyEST1978.com 

Nikki Siixx, NikkiSiixx.com
Al Shipley, Freelance Writer (Baltimore City Paper, Complex, and more)
Quinelle Holder, Hip-Hop Curator and Head of Marketing at IMG/Warner Music Group

Part one will focus on the panelists themselves along with hints about what not to do when submitting. Part two (Monday, March 2nd) will deal with thoughts on paid posts, more hints to future “media hubbers” (see, Rizzo. It’s catching on) and artists, and biggest accomplishments. I’m not doing this just to give out contact info, though. So, if that’s what you’re here for, stay for parts one and two. You might learn something more useful than an email address.

Speed on the Beat: What prompted you to get out and start speaking about hip-hop and music in general?

Rizzo: Just the overall coverage of hip hop and current events in general prompted me to do it. I got tired of complaining about media outlets and the disconnect between them and actual everyday people so I figured “fuck it.” I’ll create my own corner of the internet and go from there. 

Nikki: When I first started my blog NikkiSiixx.com back in 2008, I decided to voice out my favorite things such as movies, music, and video games. Then my best friend Kassandra from Womazing.com took me to my first underground hip-hop event. I witnessed my first rap battle, live performances from local artists, and met a bunch of dope people within the scene. I was intrigued by the culture and I truly embraced it. I started to post more underground music from locals from Miami and then it spread to all over the country, and even to the UK. 

Al: I toyed with music writing throughout college, first reviewing albums for Pitchfork and then starting a rap blog, Government Names, in 2004. My coverage of Baltimore hip-hop on there led to working with the Baltimore City Paper and kind of leading the charge with a lot of their local rap coverage, and that was my stepping stone to a lot of other publications. I consider myself a fan of music in general who’s fluent in most styles of rock, rap, pop, and R&B (and at least conversant in country and jazz and dance music). But music criticism is still kind of dominated by people who privilege indie over everything else and rally around one rap album a year (this time it was Run The Jewels, 13 years ago it was Cannibal Ox, so things haven’t even changed that much in the time I’ve been in the business). So being able to write about rap is a semi-specialized skill that keeps me busy doing mostly that. And I enjoy it, but I didn’t necessarily set out as a writer to be a self-proclaimed authority on rap music. I just listened to a lot of it and ended up having some things to say.

Quinelle: Hip-Hop is my life. So I’m always talking about it because it’s a part of my DNA (laughs).

SOTB: How many emails do you tend to receive on a daily basis?

Rizzo: My site has only been active for a few months, so not that many, submissions-wise. But, I do correspond with artists and other writers/curators daily

Nikki: I receive about 50-100 emails daily, ranging from submission to site inquiries. I’m the only one who reviews the submission and then later down pass it to the other writers on my site. But lately the writers have been M.I.A so I have been dealing with the overall submission process. 

Al: Not counting social media notifications, I get anywhere from 5 to 30 e-mails a day. Usually there’s only a couple that a living breathing person addressed to me, a lot of it’s just lists and mass e-mails and stuff. Out of those emails, how many would you say stand out to you? Anyone who’s “pitching” me about new music, as wonderful as it is that people just want to send me music, are ultimately just asking me to turn this stuff into something I would work on, when I’m just trying to finish the work I’ve already agreed to do and have no desire to sign up for more.

Quinelle: On average, a little over seventy-five a day.

SOTB: Out of those emails, how many would you say stand out to you–and why?

Rizzo: Most don’t stand out at all but I try to check every one of them. [For me], the only thing that stands out to me is the product. If the content is good, I recognize it immediately.

Nikki: 3-4. Say I received 50 emails. About 25 get X’ed out ,because they either sent it BCC or its only a link in the email. About 15 emails truly stand out because they have great music, clean image, proper presentation, and providing all the information needed to post about them. Especially including all your social media links. This usually makes the cut. 

Al: Usually it’s someone I already know of who I’m really checking for their new music. Very occasionally an e-mail actually describes someone and their music in a way that makes me actually want to hear it, but that’s extremely rare. Most artists are terrible at writing promotional copy for themselves, and professional publicists are often even worse.

Quinelle: Normally, no more than six because I know those individuals who are sending [the emails].

SOTB: What’s the worst email you’ve gotten from an artist or rep? By the way, I have my fingers crossed that it wasn’t one of mine.

Rizzo: So far, all emails I received have been professional…but I’m sure its only a matter of time before I have an answer for this.

Nikki: I would say the worst kind of email submissions are the ones that are half-assed. Meaning you’re just sending me a link and stating “Check it out ma!” and that’s it. I feel you need to try harder than that. Oh! There’s one other thing that kinda grinds my gears when the submission states “Thank you for the previous feature, here’s a look into my new music.” First off, I searched on my site from this particular artist and it comes up there’s no such feature. I always write back when this happens, why? Because you’re lying about previous support/feature(s). You need to remain honest and build a relationship with the site/writer.

Al: “If you could combine versitility , raw emotion , ingenuity , creativity & originality together. Stir the blend into a mixing pot with, off the wall punchlines and a flow only matched by a methodone clinic You will have the unique formula embodied by”…whatever the guy’s name was. It went on like that for two very long paragraphs.

Quinelle: Probably those individuals who send me e-mails every other day, [even when] I never respond or acknowledge.

SOTB: Nope, none of those stories are mine, thank God. What are the three “no-nos” when approaching you or any other blogger/journalist/writer in the field? 

Rizzo: I’ve got one in particular: Spamming me via social media. It’s like you are trying to force feed me your music. I hate that shit. Put your product out and promote, no doubt. But, people want to DISCOVER music, not be FORCE FED. 

Nikki: The three No-No’s when approaching a blogger/journalist would have to be: 

  1. Don’t harass the blogger if they haven’t featured you on the site yet. Or a constant status update regarding a submission. 
  2. Don’t make it public, whatever business you’re trying to handle with them. Each site has ways for you to inquire about submissions, promo packages, and any business inquiries. 
  3. For my specific field, I am a female event coordinator/promoter as well. I even created a list of my own Do’s and Don’ts on How To Approach A Female Promoter Here’s the link to get the scoop: http://nikkisiixx.com/2012/10/13/nikkisiixx-dos-donts-how-to-approach-a-female-promoter/ 
Al: First, don’t take it personally if you don’t get a response or don’t get what you want. Everybody has their own stuff going on. Sometimes their needs intersect with yours and sometimes they don’t.

Second, don’t act presumptuous and get ahead of yourself. I’ve had so many people hit me up trying to schedule an appointment for me to interview them. Like, I don’t know them, I haven’t expressed any interest in their music yet, I haven’t had time to pitch anything to editors and figure out where I’d publish an interview, they’ve just decided it’s time for me to interview them. It’s very off-putting.

Lastly, don’t be too pushy about any one thing. Persistence is good, but being a dick is not. These days, careers are built on putting out a lot of music and having it covered in a lot of different places, so you can’t freak out about how this one site absolutely needs to post this song and if they don’t you need to quit music or trash them on Twitter. Keep it moving.

Quinelle: First, don’t assume. Second, don’t be annoying. And third, don’t take anything personal.

SOTB: Should an artist try to speak to you on a personal level first and then shove the music in your face…or do you understand the “LISTEN TO ME NOW” approach?

Rizzo: I don’t think that matters. Because, even if I like you personally, if the music doesn’t resonate with me, I won’t post it. I concentrate on if I like what’s being presented before anything.

Nikki: It’s always great to acknowledge the site/writer prior to submission. This kinda gives them a heads up music is coming their way. Say you have a few brief talks, show appreciation to what they do, support them, RT/SHARE/POST, and in this way you can help them out with promoting their posts. Then you should mention to them you’re sending them music via submission. 

Al: I personally like when artists behave like people and are capable of talking about things besides their music. But I see nothing wrong with getting to the point.

Quinelle: I feel it’s always in your favor to build a relationship with someone before trying to ask them for something.

SOTB: When an artist or artist rep sends a track, does it pay to be overly detailed or short and sweet?

Rizzo: I like it short and sweet. Send video, link to the MP3, pics and a BRIEF bio. Again, the content counts more to me than anything. If the product isn’t to my liking, I could give a fuck about your life story or essay you send to my inbox.

Nikki: When emailing a track submission, you should have a brief bio with specifics. Description of the track itself, lyrics, all social media links, cover art, photo of yourself from a professional photo shoot, and anything else the site specifically states they want included in the submission. 

Al: Promotional copy is overrated, especially when it’s being sent to a writer. It can make us less excited to write about something if we’re already being presented with a novel about it, whether it’s great or terrible.

Quinelle: Short and sweet.

SOTB: When deciding what to post, what “type” of hip-hop do you gravitate towards? Radio-friendly, abstract, indie, or, you know, just good music?

Rizzo: If I like it, I post it. Period. Don’t care where it comes from. 

Nikki: Usually the indie style of hip-hop gets frequently post because I feel indie is the definition of an independent artist. It most definitely falls under good music as well. 

Al: I like some kinds of music more than others. But covering independent artists and a local scene has really broadened my horizons. Because in a city like Baltimore, you’ve got people doing almost every kind of hip-hop there is, and often doing it well. So often that becomes noteworthy and compelling to me even if the style of music they’re doing isn’t what I usually gravitate towards.

Quinelle: I like anything, as long as it’s presented correctly and authentically.

SOTB: Does it pay off to have a “familiar” sound? In other words, if I came to you sounding like Drake meets J. Dilla, would that increase my chances to get a post…or nah?

Rizzo: Nah.

Nikki: I wouldn’t say it will pay off but it wouldn’t guarantee a blog post if you sound familiar as to your example “Drake Meets Dilla.” It’s always good to have you’re own sound and lane. Last thing you want to be called a wannabe Drake. Or a person stealing Drake’s sound. As long as you have great music, this is what will help guarantee features. 

Al: The independent rap world is rife with unimaginative copycats, and the idea that we’ll like somebody just as much as we like the guy whose sound they ripped off is extremely wrongheaded. I’m a Meek Mill fan, that doesn’t mean I wanna hear every Meek wannabe in Baltimore (and there are many). It’s OK to be influenced by music, but I think what the average music critic is looking for in a new artist is some individuality and originality, something to actually get excited about. But obviously it can help to a point to be in a certain mold, to put forward an idea of who the artist’s audience would be, what their career path would look like.

Quinelle: Honestly, just sounding as much like yourself is the best. If, by chance, you end up sounding like Drake (laughs) that’s cool, too.

SOTB: Alright, last question for today. What would you say to an artist who doesn’t get a post on your site(s)? Should they go back to the drawing board or pack it in and move on?
Rizzo: I’m not the only game in town. Just because I don’t think it’s for my audience doesn’t mean it isn’t for someone else’s. We forget there’s enough real estate online for everyone to find their niche. Keep grinding. You never know who will dig your stuff.

Nikki: When someone doesn’t get featured, we usually don’t write back with a response. If we did, we would let them know why we felt the material didn’t get approved. I would recommend to keep trying to get features but if they say hey stop sending me your rap music to my R&B site, then this is when you should stop.

Al: There are people who sent me stuff and exchanged e-mails with me for months, sometimes years, before things lined up with the right music at the right time and I became their most vocal champion. I would probably never tell anyone, “Don’t send me any of your music in the future,” or give them the impression that’s what I want. One of my favorite things has been seeing people develop their music and their vision dramatically from the first time I heard their stuff.
QuinelleFirst and foremost if you’re following the guidelines, building a relationship with the writers, have a quality product and be patient, you more than likely will get posted. If you don’t keep in mind the volume of emails we get a day and really evaluate if your content even meshes will with the sites overall theme, you won’t. 

SOTB: I’d like to thank Rizzo, Nikki, Al and Quinelle for their time and answers. Come back to SpeedontheBeat.com Monday for their thoughts on paid posts, tips for those who want to get into music/writing, and more.
Speed on the Beat

Whatever you need to know about me, you can find out on speedonthebeat.com

One thought on “SpeedontheBeat.com Music Roundtable: Volume One, Part One

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s