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The Importance of Professionalism (part 1)
By Michael Allison - 11/15/2001 - 01:20 PM EST

Copyright 2001 The Global Muse

If there is one thing I have found that is lacking with most of the artists that I review, itís professionalism. From presentation to attitude, there is always something that every artist can do to boost his or her professionalism. Why is this so important you ask? Itís simple. Music is a business. If youíre working towards a career in music, you must present yourself in a professional manner. In this two part article, we will discuss the problem areas and how to remedy them.

Professionalism is important in many different areas of music. Weíll focus on the areas that I feel need the most work. Often times, these areas are overlooked by musicians. Even publicists, managers, and media professionals get lazy from time to time. The truth is there is no excuse for any of this, and there are many times that the lack of professionalism will hurt you more than you might think.

Most of my contact with musicians and artists comes through music reviews. I receive more reviews than I care to count each month. This is where the presentation comes into play. Because of my overwhelming amount of review submissions, I have to be selective with what I review and what I do not. Although I receive a great amount of submissions each month, I get nowhere near the amount as some. Therefore, the more popular the publication, the more selective they have to be.

Letís get started with the presentation aspect. No, this has nothing to do with what kind of clothes you are wearing. It doesnít matter how you look or how you wear your hair. Presentation starts with your press kits and the way that you present yourself through your materials. Whether it be for solicitations, a contest entry, or review submissions, you should never slack off on the professional aspects. The idea with a professional presentation is to get the first impression levels to start high. First impressions are the difference between getting a second look, and getting thrown in the trash. So what are the important areas of a professional presentation you ask? Iíve made it easy by listing them and explaining each area.

1. Read Submission Guidelines:
Almost everyone who you will be sending your music to will have some sort of guidelines that you must follow. These guidelines are there for a reason. Do not skip over this very important step. Those who do not follow instructions have absolutely no right to bitch and moan when nothing happens.

Problem:
Most people either scan over the guidelines or skip them altogether. Then they end up sending the wrong materials and information, or submit their music to a reviewer who doesnít review their genre. The last thing you want to do is believe that all publications and reviewers are the same, and use the same submission guidelines. That is just stupid. Arrogance has no place among the elite.

Remedy:
READ!! Itís that simple. Take the time to actually read the guidelines. Then read them again. If youíre submitting for a review, take the time to read some of the other reviews that the author has written. There is always some minor preparation to do, so do it.

2. The Cover Letter:
Probably the most important part of any submission. This is where you tell the recipient what it is you ask of them, who you are, why they should care, and how they can contact you.

Problem:
The problem with most of these cover letters is that they either do not exist, or they are sloppy and incomplete.

Remedy:
Do not write these with a pen or pencil. Youíre not in 3rd grade anymore. Cover letters should be typed, personalized, in the design of a form letter, and include all of the necessary information. That includes ALL contact information. Who you are, what you want, and a little about yourself. Do not go into detail about yourself. Thatís what your bio is for. This letter should be short and to the point. Neat and tidy. Spell checked and proof read.

3. The Press Kit:
Press kits are probably the one area of the music presentation field that needs the most work. The press kit holds your presentation. The press kit is not a 40 page book. Itís not a complete listing of reviews, club dates, and endless rhetoric that has nothing to do with the business at hand. Different press kits are needed for different publications. Some people want specific items of information, while others do not. That is why number one is so important. There is also a standard version of a press kit that is more widely accepted. This press kit contains a photo, a bio, a couple reviews or review excerpts, and a list of places you frequently play or no more than five upcoming dates.

Problem:
Most press kits are slopped together, and contain more news clippings and garbage than anything informative. Needless to say, these press kits are often in the trash as soon as they are out of the envelope.

Remedy:
Take your time and build each press kit for each submission. Do not sit down and create fifty press kits at one time. Take a few bucks and invest in some folders. This is very important. Like most reviewers, I receive a lot of submissions. The difference between the ones that are looked at, and the ones that are lost in the pile is the folder. It doesnít have to be a fancy folder. Just a simple two pocket folder that keeps everything in order.

Each page should have a title. The bio page should be titled as so. The reviews page should be titled as so, and so on and so forth. Each page should have basically the same design. Create a template for all of the pages and ad the information as needed. A letter head is always a good idea, because it contains your logo/name and your contact info on every page.

Do away with the stupid newspaper clippings. God I hate these things. I do not care if you were mentioned in a two paragraph section of Rolling Stone or your local paper. These awful looking copies of newspaper clippings are most of the time unreadable and look sloppy as hell. Just use excerpts of what was said about you and include the writers name and publication. Thatís all we need.

Most important, be neat and well organized. Donít just throw these things together. If it looks like trash, it will more than likely end up there.

4. The Music:
Due to the fact that technology has made great advancements in the way artists can record and distribute their music, I have found that the lazy musician now has a means of adding themselves to the backlog piles of CDís across the world. Look, just because you have a CD burner, doesnít mean that you should be burning your own CDís and sending them to everyone. To be honest I donít care if I offend anyone here, because this has become a problem that needs a voice. I am all for CDR copies of music. I have absolutely nothing against this form of distribution. I think itís a great way for artists who are on a budget to share their music with the world. With that being said, the ability to record your music to CD does not afford you the right to slack off of presentation. That does not mean that all you need to do is hit the record button, write you name on the disc with a marker, and throw it in a jewel case to be sent off. This is the lazy musicianís approach to exposure, and it does little more than clog up the pipes for the more serious artists who have at least put a little time and effort, not to mention money, into their works. I personally take offense to anyone who tries to cut corners and holds back the truly serious in the process. Itís just that simple.

Problem:
The problem with CDRís is the fact that many do not take the time to make a professional looking copy. Writing your name on a CD with a marker, then throwing it into an empty jewel case is not only sloppy, but it shows how unprofessional you really are. Nothing says amateurs like a sloppy looking CD. If you think anyone is going to take you seriously, you're dead wrong.

Remedy:
CDRís are great if one takes the time to dress them up. Labels and jewel case inserts are an easy and inexpensive way of doing this. You do not need a degree in graphics design to make these things look nice and neat. You need to get with the program anyway, so it will not kill you to learn how to use the label design software. Trust me, itís rather simple once you get into it. Take the time to add some professionalism to your CDís with labels and jewel case inserts. Experiment and play with the software. Once you become comfortable with it, everything else will be easy. You do not have to be too extravagant. The simplest designed can still do wonders compared to what a marker can do.

Tip For Artists with Professional CDís:
One of the biggest gripes with music reviewers, A&R people, and everyone else who receives CDís on a regular basis is the cellophane wrapping. Take It Off! It is not necessary. No one wants to spend any amount of time fighting with this stuff, so do them a favor and take it off. If you have one of those bar code/album title stickers holding the jewel case closed, remove it also. I canít stand these things, because I can never get them off. I know of no one who has razor blades for fingernails, so please remove them.


That pretty much covers the biggest problem areas of the professional presentation. In the continuation of this article, I will go into the a few other aspects of professionalism. Being professional is not as difficult as it looks. All of these things can become habits if you do them enough. Believe me, youíll be happy that you did. Being professional will allow you to reap the rewards, and you will most certainly attain a higher level of success. Everything else depends on your determination and your music.


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