Bands, stop paying for album reviews

I recently submitted my band EIN’s latest EP to a few music blogs to see what would happen. When an email came back from one blog saying they wanted to cover it, I was surprised to see several review options.

The first one, the free option, gets your band’s name and album name on a weekly roundup list with a simple number rating. Nothing more.

With the second, which costs $25, you get a little more: a full review, cover art and two links of your choice.

With the third, which costs $35: a full review, two links, cover art and an embedded song.

The fourth? All of the above, plus a video, for $40.

To say this email took me off-guard would be an understatement. I screamed “What the hell!” so loudly when I first read it that my wife had to come in from the other room and make sure I was OK. I was completely shocked that this sort of pay-for-play scheme was going on.

Everything I was taught about ethics in college immediately flooded my brain. “That’s so dishonest! How can a music review be considered valid if it was paid for? How do we know the artist didn’t pay for a positive review? How would the readers feel if they knew? How can anyone trust this website?”

Not to mention, those particular review options are ludicrous. The point of a music blog, in my eyes, is to support and promote musicians to a community of people who share a similar interest in music — not charge them for publicity.

Of course, that’s a bit naive of me. Money is usually at the center of everything in this capitalistic society, so it’s no wonder this sort of pay-for-play scheme is going on. And no doubt, there are likely 100 other blogs that are using this exact same model.

I won’t mention the site I’m talking about by name because the point of this is not about how bad they are, it’s about the questionable model they use. Honestly, they have some pretty well-written reviews on the site. It’s just odd to think that they were paid for.

And the site states that they only give positive reviews (good, great or excellent,) which I’m honestly not sure how I feel about. Typically, I don’t think an entire website’s staff has to like an artist for them to be featured. Plus, if you like the music, review it. If you don’t, then don’t. Easy as that.

I was talking to my friend Jesse about it recently, and he mentioned a valid point. This pay-for-review model seems like it would be aimed at a middle tier of bands who are not quite as popular as someone like Mitski but not as underground as a band like my own. It hits those people who are so close to getting their name out there that spending $25 on a review isn’t a terrible deal, especially if you have money to spare.

I understand these websites need to make money somehow, but that seems like a pretty low way to do it. In fact, the whole thing reminds me of Payola.

And really, this isn’t about the money. It’s about integrity.

Ultimately, it’s the band’s decision if they want to pay, but I think this model takes advantage of bands. Many music blogs are super busy, have a small staff, and tons of submissions go untouched. So when a blog does reach out saying they want to review you album, it can be tempting to immediately say yes, even if you have to pay.

I encourage bands to resist this at all costs (no pun intended). There are so many music blogs out there, and there is almost certainly one that would like to review your album. You just need to find it.

If you’re in a band, have you ever encountered this pay-for-review model? How do you feel about it?

Ambitious content creator. Part-time music maker.