NPR Music is an editorial team devoted to connecting the dots between the people who make music, the people who listen to it and the context surrounding both. We prioritize publishing a wide array of perspectives, not a single definitive “take,” and are open to all genres, especially those you think we could be covering better. If you haven’t written for us before and are interested in pitching a feature, here’s what you need to know.
At a basic level, your pitch should follow the common-sense guidelines you’ve seen elsewhere. Put “PITCH” in your subject line. In the body of your message, clearly explain your central argument or question. Explain why now is the time to tell this story and how you’ll go about it, including a target length (800-1,200 words is a good range for a first assignment). If there’s a particular audience you’re hoping to reach, say so. Keep it to two or three short paragraphs.
Most importantly, remember that a pitch won’t stand out if all it does is broadly endorse the music. While many music stories do hinge on taste, just as important to us are history, community, identity and the mechanics of power — the things that filter how we listen. What excites, concerns or startles you about this music, how it was made or how it’s been used? What should your reader understand about it, regardless of whether they like it? Give us a focused, specific angle on your subject and you’ll be ahead of the pack.
So what kinds of stories are we looking for?
Just about any written format is fair game, but most of our features fall into a few categories:
- Interviews and profiles of musicians, industry professionals, subject matter experts and other very interesting people whose lives and insights can help illustrate a big-picture lesson. Tell us what you’d want to find out and why this is the moment to ask. Examples:
- This profile of Raveena, looking at the musician as she was taking ownership of her career.
- This Lucy Dacus profile about songwriting as an empathetic window into your most vulnerable memories.
- This interview with D’Angelo’s audio engineer about making a contemporary artist sound timeless.
- This Japanese Breakfast Q&A, explaining the production decisions that went into making an album about joy.
- Essays and criticism on the experience of listening. For reviews, we’re interested in what makes a musical work exceptional — not merely good (and not even necessarily good), but possessing the kind of layered significance that rewards a closer look. Examples:
- This St. Vincent review about what’s at stake when a “futuristic” musician decides to go retro.
- This essay on how an album by the elusive electronic artist Burial helped one writer understand climate catastrophe.
- This essay unpacking the heavy baggage of Aaliyah’s music arriving on streaming platforms.
- This trend story on a wave of bookish U.K. post-punk bands and what their music may reveal about life after Brexit.
- Reporting and analysis on current events and forgotten histories. We love inquisitive, well-informed stories that reveal new levels of meaning in the entertainment culture we consume every day. Examples:
- This Dodos profile that widens into a story about musicians living with career-threatening chronic pain.
- This examination of Dolly Parton’s saintly status in pop culture and the knee-jerk urge to protect it.
- This reported essay on the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series as a generational gateway to alternative music.
- This reflection, after Phil Spector’s death, on the Black women whose voices built his wall of sound.
There is room for the occasional wild card — say, a high-concept list or a live review with a grander point — as long as the presentation justifies itself. But no matter what, say what shape your piece will take and why. Stories come alive in the telling; how you’ll tell yours is as important as what it’s about.
OK, what aren’t we looking for?
There are a few common pitfalls that all but guarantee your pitch won’t get a response:
- “This thing exists.” The least exciting thing in an editor’s inbox is a pitch that simply says, “[Artist] has a new album, are you interested in a review/interview?” and leaves it at that. Instead, tell us why you, specifically, are compelled by this subject at this moment: an odd detail that’s sparked your curiosity, a fascinating parallel, an entry point that makes a big topic approachable. Let us see your mind at work.
- Information overload. Anyone can find raw info on a new release or a rising trend and dump it in an email; your pitch won’t feel essential if it’s just a list of facts. Instead, put some thought into highlighting what your reader needs to know — the stuff that’s really crucial to the particular story you want to tell.
- Right thought, wrong time (or vice versa). A straightforward review might not be right for an artist who’s currently mired in scandal. A 20th anniversary story shouldn’t sound like it could have been pitched when the album turned 10. Instead, be aware of the context in which readers will encounter your piece, and write for that world.
That said, a good pitch doesn’t have to be 100% perfect to be worth sending. If there’s an idea that you know would make a great NPR Music story, send it along with details about why it means something special to you, and we may be able to help find the edges of the frame.
If you’re ready to submit:
Email your pitch to [email protected].* Our editors will review it and, if we’re interested or have questions, contact you within a week or two. We can’t respond to everything, but if you’ve sent several pitches without hearing back, feel free to ask how your submissions could be improved and we’ll do our best to offer some guidance. As of early 2022, our base rates for common story types are $600 for reviews, $800 for short features (including interviews and obituaries) and $1,200 for longer features and essays.
*Please use this address only for pitching your own web features — it’s not the place to pitch a radio piece or a new podcast, or for artists or publicists to lobby for coverage. Also, NPR is a news organization: If a story involves a clear conflict of interest between writer and subject, it’s not for us.
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