You have got to be kidding me.

Check out this email exchange I had with Indie Music Album Reviews today- they wanted me to pay them to review “Dark Days”.

Totally audacious- and their answers have to be seen to be believed.

Their first email:

Hi,
You submitted an album entitled "Dark Days" to our website. The staff took a vote this morning and we decided to move forward with a review. If you are unfamiliar with our website we only review submissions that we like. Your review will either have a favorable, good or great rating meaning a 3.0 or above. (We think it's a little more fun to keep the detailed rating a secret till your published date). In order to maximize the exposure to our audience we give the artist a couple of different options.

Option 1 (Free)
With this option your album will be included in our "weekly roundup" section.
This section is published once a week (on Friday) and is a list of the albums we enjoyed. Here is an example of what it would look like:
http://www.indiemusicalbumreviews.com/1/post/2013/02/weekly-roundup.html

Option 2 (25 dollars)
With this option your album is featured as one of our daily reviews. One of our trusted writers will elaborate on the rating we have given.
We talk about the genre of music, the tracks we felt were highlights, where the band is from, etc. This includes its own distinct URL, cover art,two links of your choice (bandcamp, website, reverbnation, facebook, record label,etc) and a professionally written review. (2 -3 paragraphs sometimes more) Here is an example of what it would look like:
http://www.indiemusicalbumreviews.com/1/post/2013/03/david-bowie-the-next-day.html

Option 3 (35 dollars)
This option includes everything from option 2 and also includes a song or songs of your choice to be embedded from soundcloud or bandcamp.
If you want people to actually hear your music from our site while reading your review-we can do that to. The song or songs have to be uploaded to soundcloud or bandcamp. We will embed it right on our page. Here is an example of what it would look like:
http://www.indiemusicalbumreviews.com/1/post/2013/02/eels-wonderful-glorious.html

Option 4 (40 dollars)
This option includes everything from option 2 and 3. It also includes a video upload. The video must be on youtube and be a music video or live performance. Here is an example of what it would look like:
http://www.indiemusicalbumreviews.com/1/post/2013/03/youth-lagoon-wondrous-bughouse.html

Process
No matter what option you chose we will need to hear back from you to confirm your review. (You will need to reply to this e-mail telling us what option you selected in the body of the e-mail.) If you chose option 1 all you need to do is reply to this e-mail and put option 1 in the body.

Within a couple of days we will send you a follow-up e-mail confirming what day your review will be published. If you chose option 2, 3, or 4 we will send you a invoice through paypal for the option you selected to your e-mail (let us know if you want us to send the invoice to a different e-mail).

Once the invoice is paid we will send you one last e-mail confirming the date that it will be published. For option 2, 3,or 4 we will also need you to include the proper links for soundcloud, bandcamp, youtube video, your mp3 etc.

This review will be up on our website forever with its own specific URL. Feel free to put it on your website, use it in your press kit or send to fans.

Cheers, The team at indiemusicalbumreviews.com

I checked out their blog and was taken aback. Going by their pricing scheme and the number of posts they were making, “Indie Music Album Reviews” was pulling in ca. $475 a week charging bands for vanity reviews. I wrote back:

Hi,
I got your email and found it to be incredibly audacious. I was under the impression that when a blogger finds music they like, they're normally overjoyed to write about it, embed a few tracks, and link to a download. Do you know who I work with on a routine basis?

Their reply came back almost immediately-

Hi,

Thanks for responding to the e-mail. Im not sure why you would assume that all websites work the same or use the same model. They aren't any rules that say how a business is to be run. A lot of websites chose to run ads and not pay their writers. However, we don not make enough off ads atm and want to pay our writers for their time. It is clearly mentions on our website how our model works and make sure to even mention on the submission form that people review how we operate before we submit, If people have a problem with our model then they shouldn't
submit. Its that simple

Thanks, Al

He was already nervous and on the defensive. I wrote back:

Let's put it this way: How can you expect to have credibility as a review site if bands pay you for reviews?
There's a bunch of bands out there now waving your reviews around as if they were genuine, non-paid reviews. Your "About" page mentions the paid aspect only in passing.
What you are doing may not be illegal, but it's certainly unethical.
-Duncan

Their response was laughable: This guy writes for money?

You're wrong Duncan- our staff approves the artists we want to review- why do you think 90% of the music review is of similar genres. If we don't like it or don't think it is a good fit we don't send out an email. Furthermore we often have free options that rate higher then the paid reviews . Again we state on the website how we operate. Our website gives bands honest feedback on their material. Read through the reviews yourself they all aren't glowing and if we think a bands needs inprovement we point that out. It's offensive to me that you think this is unethical when we disclose exactly how we operate and what we provide.
Thank you, Al

Offensive? God forbid I offend someone who is charging desperate, inexperienced indie bands money for reviews. I wrote back to him:

Hi Al,

You can't possibly expect anyone to believe that your reviews will be impartial when bands are paying you to review them. When readers visit your site, they have an expectation that reviews be posted with no ulterior motives, and they don't necessarily click over to the "About" page to see the disclaimer buried at the bottom. Furthermore, you know full well that when bands list your reviews on their website or in their press kit, they are not going to divulge that they paid you to do it. This is unethical.

Regarding business models: I am a musician who has worked many hundreds of hours on two EPs and an album, and I let people download them without expecting anything in return. I am also a music blogger: I post reviews for free, because I love the music and I want other people to find out about it.

If you want to make money off your music blog, you could do a few things:
1) If your reviews are good enough, you can set up a paywall.
2) You can have ads on your site. If you want to get more pageviews and make more money, you can write better reviews.
3) You can have a "Donate" button on the sidebar labeled something like "Buy us a coffee".

All of these three options are up-front and transparent to the reader.

What you absolutely do not do is send emails to bands soliciting submissions, and then ask for money in exchange for a blog post. At least when companies take out article-style full-page ads in magazines, they have to have the word "ADVERTISEMENT" front-and-center.

-Duncan

Their final response was where it became totally clear: They didn’t care whether charging bands for reviews was unethical. All they cared about was making a buck, ethics be damned:

Duncan,

This is the last e-mail I am going to respond to and I respectably disagree with most of what you say.

Your argument is based on assumptions.

"You can't possibly expect anyone to believe that your reviews will be impartial when bands are paying you to review them."

Why not? The writers rate and review the album which are pre-approved by the staff. In no way do they tamper with the rating or review

"and they don't necessarily click over to the "About" page to see the disclaimer buried at the bottom."

The disclaimer is far from buried. There are two short paragraphs on the about section that over 90% visit!
We also tell people to please fully review the "about" page before submitting.

"Furthermore, you know full well that when bands list your reviews on their website or in their press kit, they are not going to divulge that they paid you to do it. This is unethical."

This makes no sense. How can you call us unethical for the actions of another person. So if that person does announce that they did in fact pay for the review does that make more ethical. This is a basic 101ethics course

"Regarding business models: I am a musician who has worked many hundreds of hours on two EPs and an album, and I let people download them without expecting anything in return. I am also a music blogger: I post reviews for free, because I love the music and I want other people to find out about it."

Great! Im glad you do what you love

"If you want to make money off your music blog, you could do a few things:
1) If your reviews are good enough, you can set up a paywall.
2) You can have ads on your site. If you want to get more pageviews and make more money, you can write better reviews.
3) You can have a "Donate" button on the sidebar labeled something like "Buy us a coffee".

All of these three options are up-front and transparent to the reader."

Yes these are all option but that whats great about capitalism is that we can chose how to run your business

"All of these three options are up-front and transparent to the reader.

What you absolutely do not do is send emails to bands soliciting submissions, and then ask for money in exchange for a blog post. At least when companies take out article-style full-page ads in magazines, they have to have the word "ADVERTISEMENT" front-and-center."

Our method is upfront as well- Is it not- We explain our full model and anyone who is submitting their music should and will take the time to who they are submitting to.

Why not- They made the submission? They know how it works/ What the worst thing that happens? They chose the free option. Wow! Ill tell you this Duncan, maybe you are young but their are a lot worse thing in the world. We are not a huge blog but at the end of the day we have a lot artists who have been very happy that we recognized them.
I don't think their is anything wrong with and being able to cover our production costs at the same time.

After this email exchange, I did a bit more investigation.
A search for their name turns up three websites full of spammy text, linking to their website, plus a boatload of pingback spam. Their Facebook page is a barren wasteland apart from posts by bands looking for exposure, and their stats show them going from nearly zero to 4,000 followers over one week in March- that is to say, they bought their followers.
And the comments on their site? Almost all of them are clearly fake.

So why do I care?
First of all, because when music blogs take money from the bands they are reviewing, it undermines trust in the entire music community. A quick Google search turns up dozens of bands posting “Hey look, our first review!” when in truth, they paid for a vanity review.
Secondly, they’re getting away with it- so far nobody else has called them out on this racket, and they’ve been doing it for more than a year. If blogs like this one were named and shamed, it would punch a serious hole in their “business model”.

It’s so depressing how some people think the words “business model” can be used to justify anything.

One thought on “You have got to be kidding me.

  1. Jan

    We also received a mail by these scumbags. Thank you for your write up, it really cleared up the situation quite fast. Keep up the good work.

    Reply

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