Am I Allowed to Tell An Artist Their Music Sucks?

Submitted by Peter Astedt.

For inspiration to write this column today, I just randomly went through my recent emails. This is just of one of the many I receive on a regular basis, but many of them have the same theme.  Since so many make the same mistakes, I thought I would use this one as an example so I will hide whoever sent it and any other personal information.

–          My name is “insert artist name here*-  I’m one half of *bandname*, Indie Folk duo.
My new single “*single name*” comes out on October 20th, and I’d love to send it over to you to check out prior to its release.  Getting in touch with anyone at your publication about my music would be beyond a dream. 

Well let’s stop here. When I writing this it’s the 19th  of October and late afternoon;  this mail came in 40 minutes ago. So practically I have around seven hours to be the first to listen to this new single in my time zone. What is the point? She could just have sent me this email tomorrow when it’s out? There is no point sending a song a day before the release. If you are pre-releasing a song,  get it to the press at least a month ahead. Or even two months ahead since many printed magazines really have a long deadline before it comes out. Now, this is a single and no printed magazine or online publication would write a review on a single. I know that many people talk about the fact that albums and EP’s are dead, but to get a review you probably still have to release in those formats. Right now, it seems more like we are releasing eight singles and they just put them together with four tracks that were left behind and call that an album. Still bear in mind, really no one is reviewing a single.

You can still send out singles you can always put it on a playlist but look at the publication you are sending to submission.  A radio station would be great to send a single to not an album and magazines are the opposite.

Here comes the second problem with this email. She doesn’t tell me which publication it is and it’s to my personal email. I have a radio show and writing for two magazines. I guess she just found my email in a list of publications that is usually the story. Already here I can tell she hasn’t done her homework.

– This song is about climate change and losing your relationship all at the same time, and you’re still concerning yourself with making dinner and whether or not it’s going to rain. Pure mundanity in chaos. 

Stop again. To be honest two subjects that are impossible to do anything with are COVID or Climate songs. Both are topics that we all are affected by, and we all must care about. But another depressing song around it won’t help in any way. Would have been much better if you took the hours that you spent recording this song and did some volunteer work for the climate, plant some trees, that would have been much better.

I get at least three to four songs about this topic a day. It’s as unique that you use a toothbrush, not all people do, but most of us do. Then top the misery with broken love with the rest of the songs that come in are about is not a good move. Right now, after being locked in for over a year and a half, having a darn depressing song is not tempting at all to hear or even want to listen to at all.

– I’m really excited to get your feedback and hear what you think about it. I’m excited about making all the connections that I can and look forward to sharing my music with a broader audience.

This is a darn lie. You are only interested in the fact that I should get back to you and tell you that you are the best thing since sliced bread. All the things I’m writing here that are critical that might get you further in your career are not of any interest to you.  Many years ago, I actually tried it and wrote back some lines, but then the artist was going direct on and tried to debate whatever I said. Or they got hurt feelings and never sent me any material  again. The problem with this is that the internet today just writes good reviews. 

Back in the days when you had to spend quite much money to buy music the reviews told you if it was worth buying. Today when you have unlimited music for cheap money or even free what is the point to hear someone’s opinion you can just go out there and listen. Because of that, all the reviews today are just the ones where the journalist or blogger found the music good enough to post about. Do we really need that?

 I like Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated” so what good does that information do? Nothing,  just that another middle-aged guy still thinks that punk rock is cool. And do you want to know that I really hate “Everything I Do” with Bryan Adams, not really just another middle-age guy having a rant around a ballad from the 90’s.

I usually thought that, but one thing me. The artists in the days of the reviews at least had to fight for their songs and ideas. First, they had to record a demo,  then that had to convince the A&R department. Then the A&R department had to convince the label to put money behind it. Then they had to talk it all over  with the sales team. After that, the sales team had to convince the record store to buy it. Here you have several people that the artist probably had to go back and redo the song, writing is rewriting. This is how you learn to do a thing really well. You practice over and over. The digital world just lets you record anything and just put it out. You never learn from it because the only people that might give you criticism is your mom and she will say that you are good anyhow.

I don’t want to get back where a review more or less could break or make your career. I miss that people are working through their songs. So sometimes I just wonder if I just should tell them that it sucks, or is the society not ready any longer for that have we curled all these people into a ball causing totally anxiety?

The song is currently available on Bandcamp and will be out on all platforms tomorrow. 

What? Then the song is already out?  If it’s on Bandcamp  then it is already released. This is just shows  that you are darn stupid to not put it out everywhere.

– Thank you, I look forward to getting your feedback and discussing the piece! I’ll follow up tomorrow once it goes live on all platforms. 

Like I wrote, no you are not. And what’s in it for me writing feedback? Where should I start? It’s like putting makeup on a pig! Normally emails like this just go to the bin, but since I actually wrote about it, I took a listen to this artist on Bandcamp. The funny thing with that, if I liked the song, I had to pay money to download it to play it on the radio. Now that was not anything that was at risk. I manage to get through 40 seconds out of five minutes. It was badly recorded, not thought thru, the singing was not good, the lyrics not appealing at all. One of the other 39,999 songs that are released tomorrow and the artist thinks that by doing that they will get recognition they would break big.

Editor’s Note: Peter Åstedt has been working in the music industry for over 30 years. He has started record labels, distribution systems, and publishing companies. Peter also runs several major showcase festivals and is an advisor for INES and co-founder of MusicHelp/Discover Sensation. He has worked with the Top Ten most streamed songs and had music on both the Olympics and Super Bowl. Peter has currently taken up the seat of Station Manager of Cashbox Radio, working with MD, PD and station owner, Sandy Graham. As well he recently worked as the European Consultant for Heal the Earth – An Earth Day Celebration. His latest venture is a new Showcase Festival in Sweden, Future Echoes As well, Peter is Co-Founder and Editor of the newly launched Record World International.