Interview: Jason Grishkoff, Founder of SubmitHub & Indie Shuffle

Whether you’ve got some scratch for a publicist or you’re an indie artist handling it yourself, pitching music to press outlets can feel like a long, tedious, and often unfulfilling process. Lots of email addresses, figuring out a proper word count, providing the right links, establishing relationships with bloggers and staying on top of their output – and that doesn’t even include the waiting for a potential response.

Jason Grishkoff knows all about this – but from the perspective of one of those folks whose inbox you’re jamming up. Founder of the well-known music blog, Indie Shuffle, Jason was able to ditch his job at some search engine company (Google) and pursue his taste making and curating passion full-time.

Even as indie music blogs exploded and eventually died down in numbers, artists, labels and publicists still consider this outlet to be an extremely important facet of press outreach. While he still runs Indie Shuffle, Grishkoff’s latest venture – SubmitHub – sets out to solve the problem faced by parties on both sides of the equation:

The goal of [SubmitHub] is to centralize the disorganized process of submitting to music blogs.

Premium submissions to SubmitHub see a response-rate that significantly exceeds standard email campaigns. Blogs respond quickly, provide feedback, and actually *listen* to your music. Even if they don’t like the song enough to share it, using Premium credits means you’ll be able to get insight into why.

On top of that, bloggers earn money for spending time with your submission: premium credits encourage focused listening and timely responses.

To provide a little more insight on his new platform (now with over 24,000 users!) and how it impacts the way in which artists and music industry professionals can pitch to bloggers, Jason was kind enough to answer some questions for us:

Let’s take it back to 2009 – a glorious time for indie blogs – what drove you to start Indie Shuffle in the first place? How did you grow it?

Jason Grishkoff: Glorious indeed! Indie Shuffle began as a mailing list in ~2008, and I honestly had no clue about the crazy music blogging world that existed at the time. It wasn’t until I joined a forum on a site called Elbo.ws that I discovered there were a few hundred other bloggers out there, many of them scrambling to grow their own passion projects into something sustainable. We shared a lot of tips and ideas, and we probably owe a lot to Hype Machine, an aggregator that drove many new visitors our way.

Tell us a bit about your time working for Google and how you wound up taking on Indie Shuffle ‘full-time’.

I was doing something completely unrelated at Google (figuring out how much to pay their executives), so Indie Shuffle provided a great outlet for my more “creative” side. It wasn’t until the blog was ~four years old that I decided I was ready to take the leap and make it my full-time schpiel. And boy-oh-boy has it been a roller-coaster ride since then.

Quitting a safe and comfortable job is always a risky move, but I was confident at the time that I left that I’d built a solid foundation for Indie Shuffle — both from a traffic and a monetization standpoint. In fact, I was already running pretty well at least a year prior to quitting Google, so it took some time to take that leap of faith.

In your experience, how has the way ‘active music listeners’ consume and discover new music since the time you started Indie Shuffle?

I reckon a huge portion of music enthusiasts (the audience that used to frequent blogs) has transitioned over to the major streaming services. If you’re paying $10/month for Spotify, why look elsewhere? Especially given that they’re getting better and better at highlighting new music.

As for the remaining active music listeners who haven’t yet put all their eggs in the Spotify basket… I think a lot of power still lies in the hands of bloggers. We’re the ones that A&R folks at major labels are keeping an eye on, and regardless of how much our web traffic might be slipping, they’re still relying on us to weed out the gems from the rubble.

Similarly, do you feel there has been a tide change in the way bloggers organize, keep up with or choose to promote up-and-coming indie artists that get sent their way?

I think we’re going to get to this in a moment, but, SubmitHub has changed that dramatically.  Prior to its arrival, bloggers were seeing their passion turn into an unpaid job — one where they would have to sift through thousands of unsolicited email submissions, rather than focusing on the methods that got them into music discovery in the first place.

The net result was that for many of us it was no longer fun to find new music; we were too busy telling people to stop emailing us. And in doing so, we missed a lot of up-and-comers.

As the founder/editor of a successful indie music blog, what do you consider to be some of the pain points of receiving pitches from artists?

95% of them aren’t going to make the cut, and when you’re receiving 300 of them a day and getting not much in return, it becomes hugely frustrating. Music bloggers didn’t start blogging because they wanted unsolicited emails; they started blogging because they like finding new music on their own.

SubmitHub's 'Popular' Charts
SubmitHub’s ‘Popular’ Charts

How did you establish the idea for SubmitHub and what drove you to pursue its creation as a platform?

I think you’ve laid out your line of questioning nicely, with the end result landing us on this one: why SubmitHub? The short answer: it was to solve a major pain for me as a blogger. The slightly longer answer is that I wanted to learn a new “stack” of coding languages, and needed a project to do that with.

What was the initial reaction of bloggers who eventually made themselves available for artists or publicists using SubmitHub?

Relief. Pretty much everyone who has signed up has done so because they were frustrated with the unrelenting barrage of email pitches. SubmitHub puts the focus back on the music: all they have to do is click play and make a decision. No need to open multiple tabs or sift through 300-word promo pitches for a link.

SubmitHub Stats

How are you ensuring integrity across the board while being up front and transparent about the entire submission/review process?

This is one of the biggest challenges right here! I think we’ve got a nice community going, and I’ve focused primarily on getting Hypem-listed blogs to join. Those guys already have a reputation for being reliable, and so 95% of the blogs on SubmitHub are a dream to work with.

The whole system of SubmitHub makes things really transparent. Submitters have access to statistics such as when a blog listened and what their reactions were. On top of that, I’ve put a lot of emphasis on setting expectations: when submitting, you can see how likely it is that a blog responds, what their most-likely response will be, and what their preferences might be.

All of this 1.) helps the submitter ensure their song finds the best possible fit; and 2.) ensures that blogs aren’t overwhelmed by songs that aren’t a good fit for them.

In what ways specifically are you hoping to expand the services that SubmitHub provides in the coming year or so?

More blogs! More SoundCloud channels! More YouTube channels! And… I’m also planning to open it up to record labels one of these days so that they can receive demos via SubmitHub, rather than having their inbox flooded.

Interview: Music Supervisor Amanda Krieg Thomas Talks Sync Licensing

When it comes to the music industry, one of its most complicated and often confused components is publishing and licensing. Mechanical royalties, neighboring rights, performance rights organizations – for independent artists, it can seem like one big gray area!

While TuneCore Music Publishing Administration is here to help you collect worldwide royalties and answer questions, we know that one of the most tantalizing aspects of publishing is landing synchronization licenses – or in other words, getting your music placed in movies, television shows, ads, and video games. The notion of ‘selling out’ has become a relatively antiquated term for artists who want to get heard and make money.

Each month, we catch our readers up on our pitching efforts and license placements for TuneCore Artists/songwriters, but to give you closer look into the world of ‘synch’ licenses, we interviewed accomplished music supervisor Amanda Krieg Thomas (Format Entertainment). Amanda works with directors, producers and artists on a daily basis and has coordinated/supervised music on projects like Pitch Perfect 1 & 2 (Universal), Fake Off (TruTV), Grace Stirs Up Success (American Girl/Mattel), The Other Woman (Fox), and Beyond The Lights (BET), and has placed TuneCore Artists’ music. Enjoy and take notes, TuneCore Artists!

What led you to pursuing a career as a music supervisor? 

Amanda Thomas: I kind of fell into it – I moved out to L.A. to pursue writing and producing, film, TV, etc. I took a job assisting the music attorney at Lionsgate with the idea that if I learned this part of filmmaking, it’d lead to other things. I did that for over a year, working with contracts and legal, and I’m so grateful to have gotten that nuts-and-bolts knowledge. I was about to leave music because I realized I didn’t want to do just the legal side, and I didn’t know if I could work on the creative side, you know, I loved music, but I wasn’t a ‘musical savant’ or anything. That’s when I got the opportunity to work assisting the Head of Film Music.

I remember we were working on a search for a movie, we were pitching all sorts of stuff, and the director had lots of ideas. I remember being in her office and her saying, “These are funny, but what would the character really listen to in this moment?” And it just clicked for me – this idea of character and story, and telling that story with music. I had studied theater and film, and I worked on a lot of musicals, so storytelling with music really resonated with me. That’s when I decided that this is what I wanted to do.

What kinds of relationships have been vital to build on both the music business side and film/TV/advertising side?

Pretty much ‘all of the above.’ I’m the type of person who says ‘yes,’ especially when it comes to meeting people. It’s made my life easier to be friends with people sending and pitching me music – it’s always saved my life. The publishers, people at labels – the joy of collaborating with people I like and respect is a big part of why I want to stay in this career field. There’s a strong sense of community.

But on the other side, the key relationships are definitely the people who are making content – films, TV shows – it’s really those people who hire me. Overall, you never know what is the relationship that’s going to get you the furthest and pay off. Be friends with everyone, and be grateful, because you never know where that amazing opportunity is going to come from.

Given your well-rounded resume of television and film, has there been a project that stands out as your favorite?

For me, there are projects that I was proud to be apart for slightly different reasons. Pitch Perfect 2 is a project I was a member of the music team for. The Pitch Perfect films are probably the biggest projects I’ve been involved in. They really valued everyone’s ideas and it was a very collaborative environment.

Also recently premiered is a TV show I worked on for 7 weeks in Georgia called “Fake Off” (TruTV). It was totally out of my comfort zone and also a combination of my weird skill sets: it was basically performance, illusion, theater and storytelling. I oversaw the creation of the tracks the teams performed to, which were largely combinations of existing instrumentals from production music libraries, crafted together into cohesive, 90-second, performance pieces. It was an amazing experience and I got to work with really cool people.

Aside from value and/or ‘buzz’ factor, what are some of the benefits of placing music by unsigned or independent artists?

Budget is certainly big. I’m still building relationships so I still work on plenty of low-budget projects. Personally, the feeling when you find an amazing new artist and the excitement when presenting to a director is great. While it’s obviously fun to place an artist I love, I don’t start with that.

I start with what the director’s priorities are – so it’s refreshing when directors are excited about lesser-known music, from a creative standpoint. Some directors get really jazzed about the unknown artists or songs no one has heard of, but some just want what they know and like.

What are some of the most common mistakes you see independent artists make when they want to approach or pitch to a music supervisor?

That could be a whole other article! First thing I’ll say is you’re always going to be better served having someone else pitch your music with those relationships in place. Focus your energy not on cold calling/email music supervisors and studio executives; focus your energy on researching the right opportunities and people who can get your music where it needs to be. It’s so much more effective to find the right team and partnerships.

It’s not a ‘common mistake,’ but I would say be open to low-budget projects. I know it’s tough because you don’t want to give music away for free (really you shouldn’t have to, again another article) – it’s a personal decision – just make sure to evaluate the big picture. Is that music supervisor working on a lot of projects? Is the long-term relationship worth it? Personally, if I’m dealing with an artist directly, I’ll remember if someone does me a solid, and I’ll call them again.

One mistake is that people get pushy and ask for a lot of feedback or follow up every week. Those are two things that make me cringe. In terms of feedback, I’m listening to it for the most part basing it on what I need at that point, so I don’t have time nor do I feel qualified to provide that. Also, research is appreciated. At least be aware of what a supervisor has worked on. You’re being polite and showing that you’ve done your homework.

How do you discover new music on your own time?

I always feel so backed-up in what I get sent, that even when I get artists and albums that come through that make me say, “Oh my God I wanna listen to that!” – it still takes plenty of time to get there. I have a lot of friends in PR or music journalism, so I tend to listen to them a lot in terms of keeping my eyes out. They’re the ones who can predict whose going to break. I love having them in my life. They’re the ones who are plugged in on who people will be talking about. Twitter also comes in handy for this; when I see an artist name pop up again and again I pay closer attention. I also discover openers I haven’t heard of and try to get to shows early when I can. It’s those fun, unexpected, discoveries that make this job exciting.