Getting sent free music is one of the biggest benefits of becoming a DJ, but there's a certain etiquette involved
Along with pretty much every other aspect of the music industry, the nature of promos has changed over the years, but the principle broadly remains the same. Promos are free copies of unreleased music, given to DJs in order to obtain feedback and pre-release promotion. Ideally, DJs are supposed to respond to promo campaigns with some kind of useful feedback to the label about which mix or track they prefer and details of where they’ll playing it.
Prior to the digital revolution, DJs were sent promos on 12-inch vinyl (and later on CD-R's), along with a feedback sheet they would be expected to complete and return with details of preferred track, which went down the best and any chart positions, radio play, etc. Today, though, most DJs don’t provide much in the way of useful feedback, as digital promotional campaigns tend to require DJs to leave feedback prior to being able to download. Which means the DJs don’t play the tunes out and then get back to the label telling them that the third mix needs a re-mastering job, they simply leave the label with a series of comments (generally with no capital letters, because DJs are always far too busy for capitals):
“will support, good trax, nice ep, cheers, not for me, dope trax, will play on my radio show, check out my radio show, also check out my mixtape, it's fire”
And there’s always one guy who says ‘can’t download’ because he was using a dial-up modem and a ZX Spectrum. For DJs, the point of getting promos was to ensure that you had the very latest and very best music available, and this remains the main reason. But a label will generally only send you free music if you have some kind of reputation and following, and your support would be helpful for them. So you’re going to need to get working on upping your radio shows and podcasts, but more importantly upping your actual real gigs too. General professionalism - submitting charts, including complete track listings on your mixes, that kind of thing - can only help too.
Join the club
Getting on a promo list can seem like entering a secret club, getting past the velvet rope and into the business lounge of dance music. But like all clubs, there are rules and there is etiquette.
DO: Let artists and labels know if you include their new music in your mixes, podcasts, radio shows or gigs. They may well promote your DJing for you if you include their tracks on your latest mixtape - as long as you don’t suck, obvs.
DON'T: Give any promotional music away to other people. We shouldn't even need to point this out! That music is given to you on trust - things are tough enough for labels and artists without the DJs making it worse by pirating their promos.
DO: Try and give some meaningful, useful feedback. Imagine yourself as the producer who may have spent weeks agonising over that snare sound, or the label manager who works tirelessly to put out tunes for you to play - and actually tell them if you think it’s brilliant.
DON'T: Use the promo feedback campaign as a marketing opportunity. Although rare, we’ve seen a few campaigns where the lucky recipient of some free music has returned the favour by advertising their radio show in their feedback. Not cool.
DO: Be a pro, and submit regular charts to online retailers. It really helps labels and artists as well as promoting yourself.
DON'T: Try and stream promos in your car on your nephew's Bluetooth-enabled Nintendo, then leave angry messages as feedback when you can’t access the music. A lot of DJ promo campaigns allow participants to see others’ comments, so maybe bear this in mind before you start leaving a trail of sarcastic comments.
DO: Make sure that, when you go away on holiday, you come back and tell everyone that you’ve got loads of promos to go through. Everyone will be grateful that you’re keeping them up to speed.
DON'T: Confuse a legitimate label promo campaign with an illegal ‘DJ Pool’ site. If it says can pay a monthly fee and download unlimited unreleased dance music, then it’s extraordinarily unlikely that it’s a legitimate enterprise.
One final word on the subject of promos... being the recipient of promos does not make you a ‘tastemaker’. ‘Tastemaker’ was recently voted #1 worst word in dance music, right above using ‘naughty’ as a genre prefix. You’re either a DJ or not a DJ; there isn’t a separate role of ‘tastemaker'. No one ever answered the question “So what do you do?” with “I’m a tastemaker”.
Apart from that, good luck diving into the promo pool!
Words: Harold Heath Pic: Pixabay/Creative Commons