Tales from the Slush Pile

CD slush pileIn the parlance of the publishing trade, a “slush pile” is a collection of unsolicited submissions that have been mailed to a publisher by unknown authors and agents. Typically, assistant editors are entrusted with picking their way through this glut of material, and on the occasions where they find a piece that interest them, these lower ranking associates then pass such work on to senior editors for consideration.

The grind of digging through all this slush can be a thankless job, but during the moments when one stumbles upon true glimmers of talent amidst numerous other attempts at crafting the “next big thing” all the strain can feel worth the effort.

The same maxim holds true in the world of the freelance music writer. Indeed, one of the biggest perks of writing about music for a living is the multitude of albums one gets sent for free and often before the official release date that the rest of the public must wait for. However, a significant drawback of this unfettered access to new tunes is that a solitary writer can often get overwhelmed by the numerous PR firms and label representatives who manage to get a hold of one’s contact information and quickly send a deluge of records, each with accompanying press materials that proclaim the discs sent as the greatest recorded sounds put to tape, at least until the next album is passed along with a similar tagline attached.

Still, the discovery of seeming greatness that lurks somewhere within the overflow never ceases to induce wonder and even amazement. Maybe it’s a guitar lick here, an unbelievable chorus there, or perhaps a previously unthought-of of use for some special instrument that has just never been put to tape in such a manner before that does the trick.

Of course even the most patient of listeners, no matter how much they strain, can never listen to it all. So as a critic one can become choosy and trusting of only a small number of labels or industry contacts. But when such narrowing of vision occurs, so can doubt emerge and make a writer question their instincts.

“What if I’m missing something?” They ask themselves. “There are at least a dozen names on the indie charts that I don’t recognize. Have I lost my touch?”

So the net once again widens, and more slush is slogged through to the point of persistent headaches and sore ears. But each lyric that ingratiates itself into the cerebellum or every multi-instrumentalist that awes with their mastery of…well…multiple instruments…can make the effort worth the work.

The lesson here is simple. Always keep an open mind. Your ears might not always thank you. But your heart will. And who knows, in some basement or garage right now the next voice of a generation could be honing their chops and nurturing the seeds of talent that will make them a star. They just need someone to hear what they have to offer. And wouldn’t you like that person to be you?

Then again, if this writer has to listen to one more intentionally tuneless art rock demo or the caterwauling of some wannabe pop star, then consider me an advocate of the “political” message espoused in videos such as this one.

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Author: Michael Cimaomo

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