Dear Music PR Person, You’re Doing It Wrong

If you send out digital music files or CDs, do it right, or reviewers will simply ignore what you send them.

I get a lot of music to listen to and review. I review classical CDs for MusicWeb International, and I review lots of CDs and downloads here on Kirkville. When I get CDs, I rip them so I can listen to them more easily on my Mac, or on my stereo that connects to my iTunes library. And when I get digital downloads, I add them to my iTunes library immediately.

I got two lots of music in the past few days, one was a single album, and the other was about a dozen albums. And when I added them to my iTunes library, I saw that they were poorly tagged. One had no tags at all: the tracks were just “track 1,” “track 2,” etc. The other had track names, but nothing else.


So, in the interest of helping music PR people get music listened to, let me make some suggestions for how you should provide digital music.

  • All tracks should be tagged. All tracks should have tags at least in the following fields: Name, Artist, Album, and Year. You can add a Genre tag, but I might change that. If you can’t bother with tagging files, why should I bother listening to them?
  • The music should be provided at a decent bit rate. The best option is to provide lossless files: either Apple Lossless or FLAC. You can provide WAV or AIFF files, but they take longer to download, so I recommend you avoid them. If you provide files in any other format, make them at least 256 kbps. (And please, don’t send Ogg Vorbis files.)
  • All tracks should be the same bit rate. The single album I got this week had 24 tracks at 160 kbps, and 1 track at 80 kbps. Do you seriously expect me to judge the sound quality of a recording at 80 kbps? If so, then you need a primer on digital music.
  • The downloads should include album art. This can either be embedded in the files (best option) or separate. If it’s embedded in the files, you should make sure the embedded file is at least 600 x 600 pixels, and you should include a high-resolution copy of the cover as a separate file. If you only send me a 200 x 200 pixel file for cover art, I’ll throw it away.
  • Include liner notes. All downloads should include liner notes. These should be in PDF format, so they reproduce the layout of what one gets when buying a CD (or a download with a digital booklet). Don’t send me Word files.

Feel free to include other items. You might want to include an EPK (electronic press kit; generally just a video with an interview of an artist). If so, make it clear whether I can use this video on my website. As for photos, make it very clear what conditions must be met to use them. For example, if credit of any kind must be given, make it easy for me to find out what I need to say.

I understand that some music PR people just send the files they get from labels. If the labels can’t get it right, don’t waste your time sending me crappy files. You may have an excellent recording to promote, but I’ll just delete the files and ignore the album. I’m not wasting my time with poor quality files, and I’m not wasting my time trying to find tags for untagged files.

If you can’t be bothered sending me quality material to judge your music, why should I bother reviewing it?

P.S.: If you’re sending out CDs for review, make sure to:

  • Upload track information to Gracenote. This is the service that iTunes and other media players use to provide track information when you play or rip a CD. So, if I want to play a CD you’ve sent me in iTunes, I want to see the track names. If I rip that CD – which I do for most CDs I receive, as it’s easier to play them, move around in them, etc. – then I want to know what tracks I’m listening to.  I got a CD the other day that, when I went to rip it in iTunes, no track information was displayed. That CD went on The Pile, and I’ll probably not think about it for a very long time.