There’s no doubt about it. The indie music blogosphere has gone through massive changes in the last few months; major publications have been going dark, music publicists are adapting their business models, music fans can stream any album they want.
In 2017, I got to interview Greg Jones, the co-founder and senior editor of the mid-to-large sized indie music blog Ear To The Ground. Two years later, a much-needed update is in order. This is what it’s like to run a respected and moderately successful indie music blog in 2019…*
How many submissions do you receive on average monthly, weekly, daily? What percentage would you say you accept?
We receive between 40-50 per day on average. Our all-time high was something like 113 submissions in one day. Our acceptance rate is 8% across the board.
How much of the song do you listen to before deciding to feature it or not?
For premium submissions, we are required to listen to at least 20 seconds on SubmitHub. Our statistical average is usually closer to 50 to 60 seconds per submission.
Ear To The Ground’s specialty is only featuring music your team has positive things to say about. Do you have specific criteria or standards?
Well there are two editors and we both like folk and indie rock. We have overlapping interests (good singer-songwriters like Noah Gundersen or Jeffrey Martin, for example). I tend to look for a good lead vocal, tight and consistent harmonies, and it has to hit us lyrically to be a good fit. If it’s a good musical song but the lyrics are demeaning or insulting, we won’t feature it. Likewise, powerful vocals buried in a poor mix will usually not get featured. There’s so much music out there, we can be picky and wait for tracks that are the whole package.
Many small-to-medium sized blogs have been shutting their doors in the last few months. Ear To The Ground is still standing strong. To what do you credit your longevity?
It’s funny that anyone would give us credit for “longevity.” The site has only been around for just over 7 years. I guess in digital media that is a long time, but for us, it’s just a day to day experience. We have a mission statement that guides us, but we don’t necessarily think about how long we have been doing this or how long we plan to do it. As long as we love music and writing, we’ll keep running the site. The music industry can do a number on a person, but as long as I keep finding quality music and inspiring musicians, I imagine the site will keep going. To more directly answer your question, though, part of what keeps us going is having SubmitHub to help manage the process. At this point, we’re so streamlined that we just sort of go to work. It’s a deep passion for us, but we’re also just very bullheaded.
In the last few years, Ear To The Ground has moved its music submission process over entirely toSubmitHub. How has that impacted the music you receive and your way of processing it?
It has made everything quite streamlined and more efficient. It used to be that email submissions would fall through the cracks or get deleted. It was kind of a mess, honestly. Now artists get a clear yes or no within a matter of HOURS and can plan on coverage or not. We obviously like that we can make some income from it, but it’s also just a wonderful little tool for managing what we do. In terms of what we cover, I would say that things are a little different now than they were in the very early days before we got on many PR lists. In the early days, I literally would just stumble around the Internet and find music I liked. Now it’s all served up to us. We rarely find music on our own anymore. The good thing is that we’re never at a loss for music to cover; the bad news is that it lacks a bit of that “discovery” element that once made blogging feel more adventurous.
One of my music industry predictions for 2019 is that the most savvy publicists are going to be evolving into marketing teams for artists, as the music media ecosystem has changed drastically in the last few years. What are your thoughts?
I think that’s a good point. PR is no longer about landing a few placements in big outlets. It’s going to be about building a strong and that is all over the place on playlists and sync deals. For artists to really make it, the music has to be good enough to cut through the noise that is out there. That largely means matching up the branding of an artist with the right kind of audience. You can’t put an intellectual singer-songwriter on a billboard in Times Square, likewise, you probably don’t want a gangsta rapper as a sponsor for a Mommy Blog podcast. These kinds of branding decisions need to be made with a strategic plan, not just an “all coverage is good coverage” mentality.
What sonic trends have you noticed lately? What sounds do you predict are going to be big in the next few years? What current fads will age badly? What will never go out of style?
Wow, this is a huge question. We’ve been hearing a lot of 80s synths for the past few years. I think those will be around for a bit. Disco beats are hitting pretty hard in the past several months. I’m talking full-on BeeGees stuff here. It’s interesting and sometimes works, but it has to be well done. I’m not personally a fan of overproduction in the electronic subgenres, but that seems to be very popular. Because we tend to feature mostly folk and singer-songwriter types, a lot of the music we cover has more of a timeless vibe to it. A good melody and meaningful lyrics never go out of style. That’s what it’s all about for us and hopefully always will be
What advice would you give emerging bands and artists to make the most of a blog placement in 2019?
My advice is to sort for your genres on SubmitHub and read several of the blogs you see there. Are they regularly updated? Do they match your branding? Do you resonate with the artists and writing style there? Once you identify a few really good blogs, send your lead single and pay attention to the feedback. If you get a placement, make sure to milk it for all it’s worth. Don’t just retweet it. Make a big deal out of it and share it with your fans. “Wow, check out this review we got in this blog!” Then two weeks out, mention it again, a month later, mention it again. Circle back around to the blog to see if they want to do more coverage on another track or maybe an interview. You don’t need to land 10 mediocre placements. Land 3 that are a really good fit and make them work. Pull quotes from what the bloggers say and use them in social media, on your website, and absolutely on your media package that you send to venues to get a gig.
What plans do you have for Ear To The Ground going forward?
a bit more realistic. We used to project numbers for growth and talk about expansion. At this point, we want to keep doing what we’re doing making a difference in the lives of musicians as well as fans. If we can help people find music they love and help artists find great new fans, then it’s worth it in the end. As for practical goals, we do want to get some fresh branding and merch for our site. This year we want to put a focus on quality on the site. We’ve always tried to write about the best music, but we’re looking to do fewer rundown articles (with 5-10 tracks each) in favor of fewer, but deeper articles. Full album reviews don’t always bring us the statistics that we’d like to see, but they are rewarding to write and the depth is more edifying for the artists. That’s a theme for us this year. We’ll see if it sticks around into 2020 and beyond.
Thanks for the opportunity to answer these questions, Clarence. We appreciate working with Pop of Colour and for your insights into the music industry. Thank you for the detailed questions about our brand. It’s nice to think about some of these things in a deeper, more intentional way.