[Hype Hype Hooray] How to Coax a Critic

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Hype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.

One day, out of the blue, I got a Facebook friend request from somebody named Daphne Lee Martin. “God dammit,” I grumbled. “Who the hell is this?” I clicked through to Daphne’s profile, wondering why some woman in New England would friend some dude a thousand miles away. I found my answer nestled in Martin’s “About” section: “Songwriter.”

“It’s a trap!” I screamed to myself. “She doesn’t want to be my friend, she just wants publicity!” Theres a lot of shameless self-promotion I’ll put up with in this world, but dubious friend requests just don’t cut it. “Not today, sister,” I muttered, the cursor hovering over the blue “ignore” button. I wanted to click it, I really did, but something stopped me.

The girl was bold enough to friend a stranger, shouldn’t I give her a chance? What if her gesture was some olive branch between artist and critic? What kind of person would I be to reject it? Also, I mean, what if she’s really good?

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So I listened. I navigated over to the website for her band, Daphne Lee Martin & Raise the Rent. I listened to her sweet, delectable voice croon through anachronistic tunes that bridged old-fashioned and modern-day with a strange, hypnotic confidence. I listened to the songs that filled me with both tranquility and anxiety. I listened to her unique style and, needless to say, I was impressed.

But more than her music, I was impressed with Ms. Martin’s bold strategy. If she had just sent an email, like almost every musician in the world does, she would have found herself lost in the crowd, yelling and screaming through the endless number of bands, musicians, record labels and PR firms. Today’s marketing strategies leave little room to maneuver. For many, dumb luck is the best shot at success, regardless of how good or original the music may be.

But how did our Connecticut songwriter come to the novel, and risky, strategy of contacting an unknown music blogger on the most personal of social media? To find out, I accepted her friend request and got a little bold myself! So, I asked, why on earth did you think friending me was the best marketing strategy? Surely it must have been some narcissistic ploy, some hail mary pass of a musician desperate for attention! Answer for your deeds, Martin!

“I’m always looking at what people write about music,” she humbly replied. “Digging what you write and the way your personality comes out in your posts made it seem perfectly natural that we would have plenty to talk about.”

Hmmm, so you’re telling me your request for “friendship” was legitimate? You had no ulterior motives? This wasn’t a strategic maneuver for publicity?

“Of course it’s ‘strategic,’ but only in that the common interests were already there. It’s a little like dating, if you never ask anyone out for coffee, you probably won’t end up happily-ever-after.”

Aw, I’m flattered. But unlike dating, this is something of a one-way road. Daphne’s end goal was for me to give her press–in this case the coffee is just a means to ask for a favor, and in that way it’s all a little more awkward. If you want the press, you have to offer something in return, goes the conventional wisdom, preferably free access to your music. (There is nary a music writer in the world who will write up an album for which they have to shell out $10.)

Daphne, being the savvy marketer she is, sweetened the deal: She sent me a vinyl copy of her latest record. Does this woman know the way to my heart or what? Now let me clarify: I don’t give in to bribes. I don’t write up any shitty record I get in the mail–if I don’t dig it, I don’t write about it, OK?

With the advent of the internet, and the resulting indie music boom, it’s hard to get the attention from, of all people, bloggers. Most of us have day jobs, or day job searches, or simply other things to do that don’t include scouring flooded inboxes to hear every band’s latest EP. If you want our attention, you have to try a little harder than a simple “[Band Name]: [Album Name]” boilerplate email.

Daphne’s strategy, while it ran the risk of pissing me off, was a bold and clever move. Most importantly, she told me, it came with no expectation of results.

“Like dating, you can’t go into it with expectations–they ruin everything,” she wrote. “As one of my songwriting mentors says, ‘you just have to let it unfold.’”

That last part is key. Nothing makes me want to write about you less than you incessantly reminding me to write about you. Writers are notoriously unreliable. I interviewed Daphne back in October, and I’m only finally getting around to writing about it four months later. She pinged me appropriately in November, and has laid off since. Don’t nag, let the guilt build until we either give into it or cram it away into our bag of regrets.

Either way, it’s important to know that it’s all out of your hands. The best you can do is be creative and bold, and expect nothing in return. If your efforts go unnoticed, give it some time, revamp your strategies and try again. Marketing your music is a fickle game and, unfortunately, it relies on luck about as much as it does on savvy.

I asked Daphne if she had any closing advice for the struggling musicians of the world, of how they can learn to market themselves as seamlessly as her.

“Be cool,” she wrote. “Take your time and develop it naturally. Work your butt off and enjoy even the tough parts.”

And as Daphne knows all too well by now, there are more tough parts than not.

Daphne Lee Martin just released her new record, Moxie. It’s an awesome extension of the previous work I mentioned, and definitely worth a listen.