How Music Journalists Deal With All Those Albums – One Writer’s Process
Sending music has now become so easy that music writers are constantly inundated with a constant deluge of new albums to listen to. Here we go behind the scenes to look at one writers process for dealing with so much material.
Back in the days of physical album mailings, opening your mailbox to see ten CDs meant you had a lot on your plate. Today, writers can easily receive ten links to albums in an hour.
It doesn’t take a math major to figure out that it’s impossible to listen to every album when they’re coming in that quickly.
The other night I was having a conversation with a publicist friend when I noted to her I had somewhere around 100 albums to go through the following day. She asked what my process was like for such an undertaking.
It was a great question, and I proceeded to talk her ear off (sorry, Kelli), letting her know I …
1. Have an inbox folder specifically for album links
I’m really big on having a clean, organized inbox, so I have specific folders for every type of column I write.
With so many albums coming in at such a rapid rate, I also have a folder just for links to albums. I attempt to get to it at least once a month, but some months are more involved than others. For example, I recently wrote a book, and on my book writing days, I was focused solely on the completion of the chapters I was working on.
2. Skim the press releases
Knowing the full story behind an album, and a band, is great, but in this stage in the process I’m really only interested in three things – genre, RIYL, and where the band is from (the latter is because one of my columns is city-specific).
If I end up listening to the album, and liking it, THEN I’ll read the full backstory.
3. Eliminate what I know I won’t be writing about
If I’m not writing about EPs, I skip the EPs unless it’s by an artist I know and love. Same goes for genres I’m not writing about, or simply have no interest in.
4. Give VIP treatment to established connections
Established working relationships/friendships matter, which is why publicists I work with regularly, and artists/bands I know personally, get VIP treatment.
When I see their names, or their work, in my inbox they hold a little more weight, so I’m more likely to give them more of my time.
5. Click play on one track from each of the remaining albums
Honestly, it doesn’t take long to know if you’re going like an album.
If I like the first song I hear – FYI, I don’t just click play on track 1. I’ll choose from the middle of an album – I’ll listen to a second song. If that one’s also good, I may have a winner on my hands.
Something that really helps with this part of the process is that I start my annual Top 10 list in January of each year, so by the time the Spring rolls around I have a solid list of albums I’ve already established as great. If what I hear after I click play on a new album isn’t as good as what’s already on my list, I keep it moving.
6. Download the albums that pass that test
If I like two songs I’ll download the album, or save the streaming link.
In the end, I usually end up whittling down 100+ albums to somewhere around 8 to 10, which I listen to over the course of a few days.
Do I occasionally sometimes miss out on something great? I’m sure I do.
Do I occasionally listen to something I downloaded and wonder, “What was I thinking?” Yup.
It isn’t a perfect process, but it works for me the vast majority of the time.
Adam Bernard is a music industry veteran who has been working in media since 2000. If you live in the NYC area, you've probably seen him at a show. He prefers his venues intimate, his whiskey on the rocks, and his baseball played without the DH. You can follow him on Twitter at @adamsworldblog.