Monday, April 9, 2018

Inside One Bloggers Head. Submissions - What do I Look For and Why Do I Reject Songs


















Over the last two months American Pancake has published posts about 225 individual songs by 223 individual artists or bands. During this same time 509 songs were rejected. Any time a song is formally rejected a reason is stated and it is always done in a way to try to impart some kind of constructive criticism. It probably goes without saying that a fair amount of the material that was rejected may find a home on another blog although I would like to think that AP probably has a lower rejection rate than most not because we are less opinionated than other blogs but because I truly believe that many other blogs filter through songs and bands and reject them for other reasons than what their material sounds like. I don't know this to be true but I get the sense that certain blogs also filter out artists or bands who may not perform live or who may not have over 50 likes on their Facebook page. If this is the case they, of course, have the right to do so. I, in fact, prefer artists who perform live but don't hold it against them if they do not. Understand that if a blog's sole purpose is to increase ad revenue then it doesn't increase their chances to do so by covering little known artists who don't but those figurative butts in their seats.

As someone who reviews music on an almost daily basis I thought it might be interesting or helpful to give my general reasons why I write about a song or band and why I may reject them. Also, do blogs (in the end) make a difference?

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

I don't think there has ever been a time in history when more people are marketing themselves as musicians, singers and songwriters as well as writers who write about them. There is certainly no definable line in the sand really, no certification. It is the day of be who you want to be and label yourself as such. Because of this ability to self publish there is an inordinate amount of content. There are no gatekeepers when it comes to recorded music / materials. Even a small blog like American Pancake receives a tangible amount of submissions and not only from artists who no one has heard of but from artists on labels and on the rise. Sometimes it feels like lesser known bands are literally begging to be heard.

In my humble opinion blogs of all sizes do serve a purpose. Now, I always argue that blogs are also basically unnecessary too.  I mean in previous decades when the Rolling Stone Magazines of the world ruled the day there was a true need for music writers to educate us about bands on the rise and more importantly to use their words to describe them and their music. Nowadays, anyone can hear any artist they want and make up their own mind as to what they like and who they want to support. I also feel that bands don't need blog support as much as they think they do. I like to tell artists that they need to focus more on their craft and playing live as much as possible so they can build that following. Once they do that, blogs and people of all sorts will find them. I also talk to bands that spend more time courting blogs than labels. That is fine if you do not want to be part of a label but if you do then go directly to the source. A label may care if you have a following but they will likely not care so much if this or that blog gave your album a positive review unless it is a major blog like the Pitchforks of the world. They will care less if American Pancake loves that album.

One thing about blogs, smaller blogs like American Pancake. I believe that AP does disseminate good information on the songs we cover and that a whole lot of people find out about new and exciting and really talented artists via our coverage. I am proud of that fact but I think the more important function AP and blogs our size serve is to support art and artists period. I feel that the articles we publish do more to prop up the artist than anything else and I think that is wildly important. A band that shall remain nameless wrote me and told me point blank that if it weren't for our positive review they would of thrown in the towel. If all we do is to pat an artist on their back and encourage them that what they do means something then that in and of itself is so important.

WHY DOES A BLOG'S "Bent" MATTER?

Oftentimes as I am rejecting a song for review or publication and feeling really shitty about it I remember why it is so important that I stick to my artistic guns. As a curator of music it is important to me for the music I pick to overall have a certain aesthetic. My taste is all I have as an editor and in the event that I become involved with advising shows or festivals or national outlets on artists I want my bent to be a known commodity that people and other business interests can count on.

The Element Of Surprise or What Makes For a Great Submission.

The subheading gives it away. When it comes to submissions the most important single element is to surprise me. Having a unique song or sound seems obvious but you wouldn't believe how many songs and artists sound the same and how many productions sound the same. You must understand that the deck is stacked against you. Instead of your average guy on the street judging your songs you as artists are sending your songs to bloggers who listen to a crazy amount of music and as such are hearing hundreds of songs weekly with similar progressions, the same breaks, sometimes the same rhymes and similar themes. In this sea of sameness all bloggers are really looking for is something different, for some surprising turn or twist or original lyrical take. Another element that makes all the difference in the world is a lead singer with an expressive style, one who feels the emotional tone of the song and conveys it. And first and foremost I will always gravitate towards a singer with character over vocal chops. 

The Biggest Reason I Reject a Submission. 

As already stated I (and I assume all bloggers) look for truly original material, that goes without saying but what really draws a quick swift rejection are bands that sound so very close to well established artists. Below is a list of the most copied bands that I encounter.

1. Arctic Monkey's

2. Of Monsters and Men (I don't want to hear people exuberantly yell "Hey" anymore please)

3. Young the Giant

4. Panic At The Disco

5. Bon Iver

6. Fall Out Boy (and Blink 182)

7. Queens Of The Stone Age

8. The Black Keys / Jack White / Hanni El Khatib

Now, don't get me wrong. Every artist will sometimes wear their inspirations on their sleeve and you can certainly feel the ghosts of Sonic Youth and David Bowie and Talking Heads and Radiohead and The Pixies and such or more contemporary nods to Lorde or Lana Del Rey or Ty Segall or whomever but when you inadvertently take the same progressions or melodies or god forbid poach singing styles then that has to be respectfully called out. Within a lack of originality comes other indicators like lyrics so typical that you can finish every other line having never heard the song. Sterile singing is another problem for me. That kind of singing that is spot on key but lacks little or no emotional grit or tug. That kind of singing that sounds like mediocre Broadway. A bad drummer is another indicator. When a drummer is hitting sticks together and not holding any groove it can literally kill a song.

I hope this look into what makes me smile or frown when I listen to submissions has been semi interesting and/ or amusing or even helpful. In the end, remember that a rejection from a blog is not that important. It is more important to cultivate your fan base and your creative vision than care about what a blog thinks. Keep expressing yourself and following your dreams.
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Robb Donker