Published Sep 01, 2004Rubert Bottenberg has been the Music Editor at the weekly Montreal Mirror for six years; without journalism school, his training has largely been on the job. He shares his perspective on how musicians can better play the press game. Editor's note: the prickly attitude is not a requirement for the job, but it's not uncommon.
How much music coverage does the Mirror do?
It fluctuates, depending on time of year, which correlates precisely with how many ads we're selling and thus how much space the editorial department has to work with. February is dead, while July festival season is extra big. On average we have up to two pages of music articles, plus a full page with 13 or 14 full-length CD reviews (about 100 words each) and 6 to 9 "one-liners."
What are the key elements to getting coverage in the Mirror?
Gig in town. No show, no ink.
What's the best way to contact you?
An email or fax, followed by a phone call. Just don't start the call with, "Did you get my email from three weeks ago?" Refresh my memory, tell me precisely when you sent the email, I'll dig it up and we can quickly discuss. A call or email that inquires whether the music editor is the right person to contact about a music story is stupid. I'd just as soon not deal with stupid people. If you're wondering, check the masthead. If you can't do that, get mommy to handle your PR, okay?
How long does it take for you to respond?
If it sounds like a cool story, I'll get back to you pronto. If it doesn't, I'm under no obligation to ever answer. Ever. I don't solicit these inquiries, so I don't owe anyone a response.
How much lead time do you need?
Three weeks to a month is ideal. Two weeks to ten days is okay. Less than a week before the intended issue? You're an idiot.
What are the most blatant mistakes that most bands make in their approach?
One: assuming that the release of your crappy indie CD is genuinely newsworthy to anyone but your family and friends. Don't cop the attitude that you deserve coverage. That is for the paper and the paper alone to decide. Two: endless phone calls on an almost daily basis. This is not "plugging away at it," this is not being thorough, this is harassment. Wasting my time does not increase your chances of coverage, it lessens them. Three: being unprepared. What do you mean, you don't have photos? No, we will not pay a photographer to do what you should have damn well done before you ever called me. Four: don't try to pull some guilt-trip routine about how your show will flop without media coverage. If you fear that, you've booked too large a room. A good show will do just fine without any ink we're just a bonus. If you really need ink in the paper, buy a damn ad.
In terms of having your shit together, what would you recommend?
Before you dial my number or email me, have the following in place: multiple quality photos, meaning posed promo shots that look good and are hi-res. (That's right, you've already scanned them at 300 dpi and maybe even put them on your web site's "press" section. You do have a web site, don't you?) A usable bio, meaning pertinent info (who are you, where are you from, what do you do and why do you do it). What I don't need is a glowing, narcissistic self-evaluation. We'll decide if your music is "powerful, original, exciting" and so on. That's why we're music critics.
An article means an interview. An interview means you have to be articulate and either funny or thought-provoking (preferably both). Spare me and thus the readers a parade of idiot musician cliches like "It's all about the music, man," or "We give our energy to the audience and feed off the energy they give back." If you really don't have much to say, don't do interviews.
What about a big story or cover?
Many factors are involved: relevance of story, lack of other worthy material, show's connected to a festival, story too damn good to pass up. Also, good photos to work with (we'll kill a good cover for lack of usable images). Furthermore, a potential cover has to make it through the staff meeting. A paper's a democracy, the buck doesn't stop with me.