How to Write a Query Letter for Your Band
I’ve been meaning to write this helpful piece for a long time. I don’t know why I kept putting it off. In any case, I’m finally at my wit’s end with regards to horrible query letters from both unsigned/unknown bands and teensy-tiny indie labels. So I guess this article is for my own benefit as much as yours. I hope this helps your music find its way to the right ears. I also hope it helps cut back on the number of really, really dumb e-mails I get from people who clearly have no idea what they’re doing.
Keep It Short
MetalSucks will receive approximately 2,856,937 query e-mails in the time it takes me to type this sentence. I’m sure it’s the same for every major metal media outlet and every metal record label with whom you’re actually familiar. Honestly, if I open an e-mail about a band I’ve never heard of and I have to do any scrolling to read the entire thing, I will probably end up never reading it at all. I’m not trying to be a dick. I’m trying to listen to as many bands as possible, and I only have so many hours in the week I can devote to this stuff.
People don’t have time to read your life’s story. We’re sure the music is very personal to you and there’s a big story behind it and it’s wholly original and defies easy categorization and really needs seven paragraphs to do it justice, but we don’t have time for that shit. And although we understand the instinct to include a ton of flattery (“I love MetalSucks, especially the…”), it’s not necessary (if anything, a simple “Love the site” will suffice). Really, this is all your letter needs to say:
Big fan. My band, Pagan Sex Machine, has just released our first demo, and we’d be flattered if you’d check it out. We play pornogrind in the vein of XXX Maniak and Gutfuck. You can find a stream the demo at this <a>link</a>. Many thanks in advance for taking the time to listen.
Pagan Sex Machine
Which brings us to…
Ease off the Attachments
Few things grind my gears like seeing a huge attachment from someone I do not know in my inbox. MAYBE include a REASONABLY-SIZED band photo or album art. Seriously consider attaching nothing. Insider tip: bands that took a lot of time to figure out what they should wear and how they should pose for their promo pic are usually terrible. Paradoxically, the umpteenth generic band photo of normal looking metal dudes just standing around is not going to entice anyone. In other words: you don’t really need to include a promo photo at this juncture. You should probably have one ready in the event a media outlet wants to cover you or whatever. But you don’t need to include it up front.
If you attach a full mp3 or .zip file with your unsolicited e-mail, know it’s getting deleted immediately. It’s 2018. You should know not to be sending off big file attachments to strangers.
Speaking of which…
Streaming with an Option to Download
People have limited hard drive space. So, yes, if they like your stuff, maybe they’ll want to download it so they can have it forever and ever. But assume they won’t take the time to ever download your song or album if that’s the only way they can listen to it. Send a link to a Bandcamp page or a Soundcloud file or a YouTube video or whatever. Don’t send a link to someplace with no streaming option.
Which reminds me, although this seems obvious…
Include a Link to Some Music
Not kidding: people have sent us links to social media pages with no music on them. People have also sent us e-mails that say something like “Hey, we’re Satan’s Fuck Squad, and our new EP will be done next month, will you listen to it once it’s complete?” Yeah, sure, lemme mark it on my calendar right next to the release of the new Judas Priest album. For fuck’s sake.
Put Your Best (and Most ADD-Friendly) Foot Forward
Who doesn’t love a good, slow, intro, right? People who have to listen to 6,000 unsolicited bands a day just to try and keep up. You’re really best off making sure your music link takes the listener right to a song you think represents your strongest work, and yeah, sorry, but it’s probably better if that song doesn’t have two minutes of white noise before the guitars and drums come in. We know it’s hard to kill your babies, but think “radio edit.”
I know, I know: I’m one to talk. Trust me: do what I say, not what I do. If you send an e-mail to Metal Blade that begins “Dear Metel Blade” or “Dear Meta Blade,” I’m guessing whatever intern opens it is going to laugh for a minute and then hit ‘delete.’ If you’re like me and your brain does this weird thing where it somehow doesn’t really see its own typos because it knows what it meant to say, have a friend proofread it.
Or don’t. That intern could probably use a good laugh today.
English, Motherfucker! Do You Speak It?
This section should really just be called “Make sure your letter is in the native language of the people you’re sending it to.” Again, seems obvious, but we can get a lot of e-mails in foreign languages. It’s okay if English isn’t your first language. We will not penalize you for this. We’d rather read broken English than not read a language we can’t read. Similarly, we’re sure that somewhere in Japan there’s a metal blog getting e-mails in English and the people who run that blog are like “What the fuck?” So, again: Make sure your letter is in the native language of the people you’re sending it to.
I think one reason we get so many e-mails in foreign languages is because people make this mistake:
Don’t Mass E-Mail Your Unsolicited Query
Anthrax can send out a press release to tons of people at one time because they’re Anthrax and anything they do is automatically potentially newsworthy. Local Band #472C does not have the same luxury. We know it takes extra time to send out ten e-mails instead of one, but tough noogies. If we’re blind copied or, even worse, one of like 83 media outlets included on an e-mail, we’re a lot less likely to check it out. If it makes you feel better, per my instructions about keeping it short, once you’ve written your letter, you probably won’t have to do much re-writing beyond the name of the person/outlet you’re addressing. It’s a cut and paste job all the way. Just remember to change that name.
Limit Your Follow-Ups
One e-mail that says “Hey, we know you’re busy but we’re just wondering if you’ve had a chance to check this out” is appropriate. If you still don’t get a response, take the hint. Above all else, DO NOT BE A PUNISHER. Once upon a time, there was a band that sent us like four e-mails a day (not exaggerating). We later found out they were doing the same thing to other media outlets, and to publicists, and to labels. And that band went on to be Periphery.
I’M KIDDING! That band was definitely not Periphery. I don’t remember what they were called. The only thing I remember is that they burned all their bridges before those bridges were even built. Know the difference between “persistent” and “annoying.”
Okay, I think that about covers it. You’re free to talk about how cruel this post is in the comments section, but it’s not gonna change the fact that if you follow these suggestions, you’re 100% more likely to actually get someone to listen to your music. Life’s not fair. Sorry bud.