If you’re an indie artist who has released music in the past five years – if you’re reading this article, the odds are high that’s exactly what you are – then you’ve almost definitely come across the promotion service called SubmitHub. Pretty much every independent music blog and playlist, is on it (including this one). By now, it may or may not be the most recognizable shade of purple this world has ever seen.
The model is simple: On your end (again, assuming you’re an artist) you upload your music, then pay to submit it to curators (there is a free song-submission feature as well). They listen, and then respond directly from their end.
Personally, I’ve been on both sides of the platform. I’m an indie artist like you, and have rolled the SubmitHub dice on songs that I really believe in; I’ve also been a curator for Two Story Melody for a few years, and I’ve used SubmitHub to find artists and songs to cover.
When explaining the process to my artist friends, they always have the same question which, if you’re reading this, you probably also have: Is SubmitHub worth it?
The short answer?
It depends who you are and what you’re looking for.
The long answer?
Well, it’s pretty nuanced. This article will be my attempt to explain, transparently and in-detail (with no annoying pitch of my own music, I promise), the complete process of using SubmitHub as both an artist and a curator, with the sole purpose of helping you decide whether or not it will be worth it to you.
So, if that sounds like something you’re into, keep reading, or skip to the end for some firsthand statistics, and what I think are the best practices for a successful SubmitHub campaign.
Why SubmitHub Exists
The Artist Side
If you’re an artist who does their own promotion, you’ve probably sent more than one email to an address you found in an Instagram bio or on a website’s contact page. As someone who’s done a fair amount of cold emailing for my own music, I’ve noticed two main problems with this:
First, most blogs and playlisters have their own guidelines for how to submit music. Some want SoundCloud links, some prefer MP3 files, some ask for bios or photos, and everybody wants a different subject line; so in short, it never does well to send the exact same email to everyone. The problem is, then, that to submit to any large amount of curators, it will take a good bit of time, because care has to go into every email.
Second, even if you do take the time to carefully tailor every email to its recipient curator, it still takes about 100 submissions to yield one or two acceptances. A recent study has shown that cold emails have a frustratingly low response rate, so unless you’re going to send around 100 different emails, your chances are low of being covered. The higher the quality of the curator (whether it’s a bigger audience, fuller coverage, etc.), the less likely they are to respond, because those are the ones that receive the most submissions, naturally.
So, an email-based submission process is unlikely to offer much success for artists. Unless you have an absurd amount of time, don’t get phased by constant rejection or ignorance, and are fine with staring at your computer for hours on end, then you need a better way.
The Curator Side
Enter Jason Grishkoff, the founder of the popular music blog Indie Shuffle, who had a brilliant idea born out of necessity. As a curator of an extremely successful independent website, he found that the submission process was painstakingly clunky for the curator as well, and it only got messier as his website was growing: that is, the more traffic the site received, the more artists submitted their music. And since email was the main vein of submission, it became impossible to sort through the mountain of emails, some of which were spammy, most of which were impersonal, and all of which were formatted completely differently.
He wasn’t alone; every curator, as their platform grows, encounters this problem. Sifting through emails is soul-crushing, and it’s too time-consuming to be profitable.
I can tell you from firsthand experience that this is true. My Two Story Melody email is constantly overflowing with submissions from our contact page, and it would be at least a full-time job’s worth of work to open every email, listen to every song, and reply to every artist. Even though I promise we try our best, the truth is that, because most blogs and playlists are passion-projects or side-hustles, it just isn’t possible, and we often start to ignore submissions for surface-level reasons, like typos or bad formatting.
In an effort to combat the problem, Grishkoff began working on a way to streamline the process, and in 2015, he launched SubmitHub.
The Submission Process
The Artist Side
So, SubmitHub is meant to make the submission process faster, easier, and more transparent. On the artist end, it’s free to sign up, and the interface is extremely simple and intuitive.
When you’re ready to release your music, you upload your song in the form of either a streaming link or an MP3 (Accepted streaming formats are SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, Beatport, Deezer, Bandcamp, and Audiomack).
After uploading a song, you have two options to submit to curators, both of which operate on a credits-based system: either you can use your standard credits, which are allotted for free every four hours, or you can pay for premium credits.
If you choose to submit using standard credits, your submission will go to the bottom of the curator’s queue, with no guarantee that they will listen to it or provide any feedback. The smaller the blog or playlist, the more likely they are to feature songs pitched with standard credits, simply because those curators receive less submissions, and are more likely to see yours. Standard credits are usually unlikely to work with larger curators. But hey, they’re free.
Premium credits are what most artists wonder about: they are priced at a little less than a dollar per credit, with discounts the more you buy ($80 for 100 credits is the best offer). When you use premium credits, your submission will go to the top of the curator’s queue, and if they don’t listen to it, you get your credits back. Premium submissions also grant you the choice between receiving written feedback on your song at the expense of a potential lower listening time, or simply extending the curator’s required listening time to 90 seconds (plenty of time for your first chorus to hit).
Once you’ve chosen which type of credit you’re going to use, you’re given a list of options for narrowing down your search for coverage. You can sort curators by name, quality, preferred genres, response rate, coverage type, and influence. All of these categories are designed to get your music to curators who A) you want to feature your music, and B) are most likely to feature your music. Note that some curators may require you to spend up to three credits to pitch to them.
When you submit, in addition to a general long description about the song you add when you upload, you can also add a short “quick pitch” for every curator you submit to; this allows you to personalize each submission, and tailor it to the curator you’re pitching to. This is worth putting effort into, because some curators want you to tell them when the chorus hits, who your influences are, what kind of coverage you’re looking for, etc.
So, SubmitHub allows you to compose, send, and track your submissions through every step of the process, with statistical analysis at every turn. You can even see the amount of time each curator listened to your submission, a data point that would never be possible over email. It’s truly designed to make it easier on you.
If one of your songs is accepted, you will be given an estimated date of feature, and a chat line will be opened up between you and the curator. This allows for you to ask questions, give and receive contact info if necessary, and get connected in a tangible way. After they feature your song, they are required to send a link of the playlist, post, or whatever it is you’re in. And if for some reason they accept your submission but never feature your song, you can apply for a refund.
Everything is transparent, and while there is risk, it’s the same risk you take when you do any kind of promotion: potential loss of time and money.
The Curator Side
Alright, here’s the back end that artists don’t usually get to see. I’m lucky enough to have used SubmitHub often as a curator as well, so I’ll do my best to explain what it looks like from that side.
Curators set up their profile by connecting their points of influence (social media, website, and any playlists on which they plan to feature accepted songs), setting their preferences (genres, languages, credit price, and whether or not they accept standard submissions, remixes, premieres, and covers), and selecting the types of coverage they want to offer. Once that’s done, they start accepting submissions.
At Two Story Melody, we receive, on average, around 150 submissions every two days (submissions expire after 48 hours). As our audience has grown, this number has increased, so it’s clear that the larger the curator, the more submissions they’re likely to receive. About one third of these submissions are standard, and about two thirds are premium. The submissions are all sorted, labeled, and laid out in a queue, kind of like a Facebook feed, with all premium submissions at the top, and all standard submissions at the bottom. Within those boundaries, they’re lined up in order based on time of submission.
When we respond to a premium submission, whether we accept it or not, we receive a portion of the cost of the credit. When we respond to a standard submission, we don’t receive anything. So, as you can probably see, we’re incentivized, for better or for worse, to deal with premium submissions first.
Truthfully, by the time I finish going through premium submissions, I never want to go through the standard ones. Most curators feel this way.
Curator’s statistics like feedback rating, approval rate, and average listen time are all tracked and available to the artist before they submit. This makes it so that, as a curator, we’re incentivized to listen longer, provide quality feedback, and accept as many as we can.
Of course, every approved submission means, for us, that somebody has to write a review or conduct an interview, which both take time. In that regard, we only accept as many as we have the bandwidth for, which occasionally means we reject songs we like because we reached our limit. This is true across the board: playlisters, bloggers, radio stations, and influencers are only able to feature a certain amount of songs, so sometimes good songs may be rejected because of unfortunate timing, when we listened to other good songs first. (This might account for the classic SubmitHub curator move, “provide positive feedback but reject it anyway.”) This is also why some blogs specify their best days for submission, or close submissions on certain days altogether.
Alright, I hope that all makes sense, and gives you the baseline for how SubmitHub works. Here are some best practices and statistics to help you decide whether or not SubmitHub is worth it for you.
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Best Practices and Statistics
What’s the average submission approval rate on SubmitHub?
- According to the official site numbers, about 20% of premium submissions are accepted, while that number drops to 4% for standard submissions.
- In a recent campaign I ran as an artist, I paid $27 for 30 credits, and submitted to 19 curators. Out of these 19 submissions, 5 were accepted, which amounts to a 26% approval rate. That’s pretty close to the site-wide standard, and it means I essentially paid $5.40 for each placement.
- Now, most curators have an approval rate that’s significantly lower than 20% (Two Story Melody’s sits at about 2.5%).
- If you want to give your music the best chance to get heard, use premium credits to submit. That being said, if the approval rate holds true, then the best practice is to buy your credits in bulk, because they’ll cost less, and you’ll get the same proportion of coverage.
- When you’re choosing between individual curators to submit a song to, a lower approval rate is actually a good thing; if a curator has a high approval rate, it’s usually a red flag signaling poorer-quality coverage. The sweet spot is generally between 2% and 5%.
- The elephant in the room is that most independent artists are wary of anything that feels like Payola or “pay-to-play.” My take on this is that SubmitHub clearly is more effective when you spend money, because that’s true for any business. So, if you expect to make money as an artist, you have to spend money on your artistry, which includes promotion. You would never expect a PR company to work for you for free.
- Curators are clearly incentivized to pay closer attention to premium submissions because they stand to gain something. But let me be clear: if someone’s just trying to make money, being a curator on SubmitHub is not really the way to do it. I’ve done it, and it’s pretty much a minimum-wage job. Music blogs and playlists are almost always passion-projects run by real people who need to make money from their work, and SubmitHub just acts as an easy-to-use way for curators to be rewarded for the hard work of building and running their platform.
Will my songs be listened to in full on SubmitHub?
- According to the official site numbers (this chart includes every active curator on the site), the average amount of time a curator will listen to your submission is around 2 minutes. Given the length of most songs, that’s probably more than enough time to have an accurate idea about how a song sounds.
- During my last artist campaign, pretty much everybody listened to the whole song. And as a curator, I average between 2 and 3 minutes of listening time.
- Premium submissions can pretty much guarantee you get a meaningful listen. You get the option between a 90-second listen with no required feedback, or a 20-second listen with 10 words of feedback. Unless a curator you love specifically asks for the first one, almost always choose the second one.
- 20 seconds isn’t that long, but there are other factors that curators have to pay attention to; they aren’t allowed to copy and paste, they aren’t allowed to keep saying similar things to everybody, and they’re incentivized to keep their ratings high.
- Asking for feedback is a little scary, but generally, if you let people know their opinion matters to you, they’re more likely to listen intently to your song. Selecting the feedback option is a way to let them know you care about what they have to say, and in return, they’ll pay attention.
- A lot of feedback you receive will be trivial, condescending, and meaningless. Don’t worry about that; music is subjective, and just because people didn’t like yours (or clearly didn’t give it a fighting chance), doesn’t mean it isn’t good. There’s a hilarious twitter account, now out of commission, dedicated to making light of this.
Is the coverage from SubmitHub always high-quality?
- SubmitHub has what they call the “Really Good Bloggers” program, which is explained in detail here. If a curator is a “Really Good Blogger,” it means that they write original articles about the music they cover (no copy and paste), and post quickly (within two weeks). About 10% of SubmitHub blogs qualify for the program. Two Story Melody is one of them. As an artist, I’ve been covered by 3 of them, and those articles really are the best ones.
- SubmitHub also lets you know whether or not a curator is listed on Hype Machine, a website which keeps track of other quality music sites. Around 5% of SubmitHub blogs are on it.
- If you want good blog coverage, filter out the curators who either aren’t “Really Good Bloggers” or aren’t listed on Hype Machine. If you do this and your coverage is still poor-quality, then A) you’re probably not alone, so B) just take it out on the ratings. You can ask SubmitHub to review their coverage, leave feedback for others to see, and rate them on everything from communication to writing to business practices. If they really do suck, SubmitHub will make sure there’s justice.
- SubmitHub is incredibly thorough in their auditing of everybody who uses their site as an artist or curator. It’s not uncommon for people to get kicked off for failing to adhere to their standards of fairness and quality. Because the whole process is so transparent and democratic, it’s pretty much impossible to get away with sketchy business practices on their site. Again, their founder comes from a music-blogger background, so he understands what makes a good curator, and he’s put just about every possible guideline in place to guarantee you don’t get scammed.
What are other good ways to get my music covered on SubmitHub?
- On average, there are about 2,000 active curators on SubmitHub (the ones accepting submissions). Over 50% of them are either bloggers or playlisters, and the rest are either social media influences, radio stations, or record labels.
- It can be overwhelming to go through them all. When you’re sorting through curators, sort using the tag “Genre match: high to low.” Because music is so subjective, genre is generally the thing that matters most to curators, so it should play the biggest part in your strategy. You can even sort a curator’s approval rating by genre, and listen to their recent approvals to see if your song is similar. Definitely do this.
- Also, it is really important to decide what type of coverage you’re going for. You can filter by every kind, so it’s usually best to deselect what you don’t want. Spoiler: you probably don’t need to check SoundCloud, Twitch, and radio stations. Spotify Playlisters, YouTubers, and bloggers are the best kinds of coverage.
- You can label your request for coverage as a “premiere,” which essentially means you’re giving a certain blog permission to be the first ones to cover it. If you’re willing to do this, do it. It will increase your chances of getting covered, for a few reasons: blogs like to be first, and it will inherently drive your fans to their site if they are the only place to hear your song for a day or two.
- As an artist and blogger, I’ve met too many independent artists who are worried about their music getting “put in a box” or being “defined by a genre.” Personally, I think that’s stupid; genres exist necessarily so that our music can be discovered by more people, and it’s smart to use them that way. Not every song in every genre sounds the same, but it’s worthwhile to know what genre you fit into the best.
- Also, the reason I’m against SoundCloud playlists is because there’s not much real-world benefit to them. My top song on SoundCloud is at about 170,000 streams, but other, more meaningful statistics (comments, downloads, messages, etc) aren’t very high. SoundCloud is not a place for meaningful connection with fans, so success on it doesn’t serve much of a purpose.
- And about Twitch and radio: similarly, unless you think your music has an especially solid market on these platforms, they’re just probably less meaningful than Spotify, YouTube, and online blogs. Your money is better-spent on other curators.
Final Thoughts: Is SubmitHub Worth It?
As I said at the beginning, it depends who you are and what you’re looking for. It also depends on whether or not you think music is something you want to make money from, and therefore spend money on. As an artist, writer, and curator, I’ve struggled with this idea, because I never want music to feel like it has a price tag of any kind. But the truth is that music is a business, and to be involved in it for a living means putting time and money into it. You spend money on the things you love; I don’t see why music should be any different.
All in all, SubmitHub probably is the best place to guarantee listens, feedback, and attention from most online curators not named Pitchfork. It’s really easy to use, thorough, and cheap, and the results are pretty predictable. Just like any PR service or tactic, it can be disappointing and frustrating, and you usually lose more than you win. But it gives you a chance to see promotion as an extension of your artistry – to add charmingly personal, strategically detailed, and deeply intentional touches to your pitches the same way you do with your songs – and it’s a simple, great way to connect with more people around what is most important to you: your music.