Music publicity has changed drastically in the past few years. Gone are the days when just having a CD was considered a shoe-in, and gone, too, are the days where staying on the road for 6-10 months a year guaranteed a good living.
Here are the days of Pro Tools, cheap CD manufacturing (or DIY at home with a color printer) and the internet… Immediate access to free music and total information overload at the tip of your fingers! The internet is both a blessing (just about everyone with a pulse has access to it) and a curse (just about everyone with a pulse has access to it).
There are more bands on the road than ever before, over 1,000 brand new releases each and every week and fewer and fewer media outlets writing about independent new music. This combination, from a traditional publicist’s perspective, is lethal. However, it is still possible for an indie artist to get attention.
Publicity, like building a fanbase, takes time, dedication and effort. When you are doing a PR campaign the effort is sometimes Herculean compared to the result (if you gage the result solely on how many articles get written).
Publicity is time-consuming and detail-oriented. But with a bit of planning and focus, you can spin your own publicity wheel – all it takes is foresight, organization and patience.
An artist that plans well and understands publicity is an artist that receives the most PR. The good news is that the publicity process for any band, no matter how big or small, is very much the same. Of course, the size of publications in which you place articles can vary dramatically (this is based on what style of music is hot at the moment combined with record sales and label status).
For this article, I interviewed two music journalists. Their comments and advice are included throughout. I also included several web links to help you along.
Writers who will come up throughout are:
Kristi Singer – Writes for: American Songwriter, Singer & Musician Magazine, Sun News and The Wilmington Star News, among others.
Waleed Rashidi – Writes for: Alternative Press, Modern Drummer, Alarm, MeanStreet, Law of Inertia, and e-online among others.
It was fun to interview writers who usually interview my artists. It was insightful to get their opinions on what they like to see (and what they don’t) from bands.
PART ONE – THE PRINTED PRESS KIT
A printed press kit is a critical component to add when sending out your CD to anyone in the industry who needs to understand the details and background information on you. Your press kit that goes out to journalists should vary slightly from the one you send out to get gigs (this one should include all four elements listed below PLUS past touring history in detail, as well as your stage plot).
MYTH: I don’t need a press kit – people can see all of my information on my website.
TRUTH: Your press kit is still a vital and important component to your overall marketing strategy.
Writers are very busy people who are constantly under deadline, so don’t EVER make a writer work to get information about your band. Press kits help them access information quickly and efficiently. A big fat press kit in a folder won’t impress. Writers will only become exasperated by a press kit that is not succinct and to the point.
The 4 Steps: The first step in your journey is to create a press kit, which consists of four steps:
The photo postcard
The articles or quotes, articles and CD reviews
STEP 1: The Bio
Create a one-page bio that is succinct and interesting to read.
TIP: Many music journalists write bios as well as articles, so if you read a great profile on a band in a local paper, on a blog, in an online ‘zine, or in a music magazine don’t hesitate – track that writer down and ask him if he or she writes band bios. I suggest updating your bio yourself every few months to keep it fresh and current.
Waleed: A bio does not have to be extensive. I want a general idea of the band’s history and some key shows (but please not a whole show history). I love the “recommended if you like” line. I know some artists hate to compare themselves to others but I definitely like that – It makes the sorting process easier.
Include your Pitch / USP towards the top of the page. Create an introduction that sums up your sound, style and attitude in a few brief sentences. This way, if a writer is pressed for time, he can simply take a sentence or two from your bio and place it directly in the publication. If you try to make a writer dig deeply for the gist, that writer will most likely put your press kit aside and look to one of the other 30 press kits that arrived that week.
Avoid vague clichés such as: melodic, brilliant harmonies, masterful guitar playing, tight rhythm section, etc. These are terms that can be used to describe any artist and music.
TIP: Try to create a bio with the assumption that a vast majority of music writers may never get around to listening to your CD. Also, writers are usually under tight deadlines to produce copy – so many CDs fall by the wayside. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get a great calendar pick or photo inclusion.
STEP 2: The Photo
It is very tough to create a great band photo. In the thousands that I have encountered only a few have had creativity and depth. I know it can seem cheesy to arrange a photo shoot, but if you take this part seriously you will deeply benefit from it in the long run.
Create a photo that is clear, light, and attention-grabbing. Five musicians sitting on a couch or backed against a brick wall is not interesting. If you have a friend who knows how to use PhotoShop, I highly recommend you enroll him or her to help you do some funky editing.
MYTH: We need to have 8 X 10 photos
TRUTH: Gone are the days of the 8X10! Color postcards are more versatile, and newspapers will download the photos they will run directly from your website!
8X10 Photos used to be the industry standard but they are no longer the norm. My company recommends that band print 3X5 or 4X6 double sided 4/4 color postcards. They look great and professional and extra postcards not used in press kits can be sent to people on your mailing list, or you can give them away at gigs.
You Must make SURE your photo is easily downloadable n 300dpi on your website so journalists who want images can easily get them. Make sure that the jpg is PROPERLY LABELED after it is downloaded with your name. I suggest putting several color images both vertical and horizontal on your photos page so editors can choose the ones they would like.
Also include your album cover for download as well so if a CD review is running it can have album artwork with it!
Postcards should have an image of the band on one side and an image of your album cover with the URL of your website on the other side. You can also include your release date of an upcoming album, your contact numbers and a quote about the band’s sound from the media or from your bio.
There are many great inexpensive printers online.
Waleed: The best types of photos are ones that are crop-able in a vertical or horizontal format; sometimes when I have to fill a hole in the magazine I may need a photo that will fit it into any frame. I also like photos that have room around the photo – this way I can put text around the photo. I want a photo that depicts a band in the way they are. A junkie band should be in a junkyard a clean band should be in a cleaner atmosphere – environment, wardrobe and location are all very important, as is creativity. I get an overkill of fisheye lenses and overkill on oversaturated colors – try not to copy too much of what is going on.
TIP: Don’t make journalists hunt around for the photos – they will go to someone else’s site to grab them. Downloadable COLOR photos should be readily available on your website, and should be at least 300 dpi and easily findable and downloadable with less than 3 clicks. Put the band members’ names from left to right (l-r) under the band photo to give journalists a point of reference. (Many publications publish photos with all band members’ names from left to right to save the writers the trouble of having to ask for the names.)
STEP 3: The Articles, Quotes and CD Reviews
Getting that first article written about you can feel daunting. Two great places to start are your local hometown papers (barring you don’t live in NYC or Los Angeles), and any music website that you like.
TIP: You can archive additional articles on your website and if a writer wants to read more than that he can visit your site for further information. If you don’t have anything written about you, not to worry – this will soon change.
TIP: Use Google and MySpace and Facebook as a resource to find them, or work backwards and search for indie bands that you would compare yourself to. Call or email the reviewers that wrote about them, politely introduce yourself and ask if you can send them your CD for consideration. This is a much better technique than the old-school method of getting a “media list” and blindly mailing precious materials out in bulk.
Always Follow Up
Kristi: 75% of all bands don’t follow up with me aggressively enough – I often am on deadline and I will ask a band to call me back in a week and most never do.
I keep new CDS in 3 piles in my office:
The one I am about to write about because it is assigned.
I really want to pitch this to my editors because I think they will like it.
I don’t know what these CDs are and no one followed up with me on these, so I never get to them.
There could be some wonderful and appropriate CDs sitting in my office that I could write about but if no one pitched me on them they usually get overlooked.
Waleed: I think it is important to follow up on all mailings. 75 to 80% of indie bands that send me stuff never follow up, and those CDs always fall through the cracks.
STEP 4: The CD
The CD artwork, like the press kit, must be well thought out. You should customize your press kits so that they look in sync with your CD. This way, when a writer opens up a package the press kit and the CD look like they go together. Do not bother sending out advance burns of your CD unless the writer requests them. Full artwork is always preferred.
Kristi: I enjoy getting full artwork CDs – advances and burned CDs are not as intriguing. Presentation is very important.
Waleed: My Micro pet peeve is that I do not like CDs that do not have jewel cases (or at least spines). If a CD is in a baggie or a thin sleeve it makes the CD impossible to find.
A few months ago the “PR List” (a group of music publicists -over 400 of us) ran a survey of music journalists asking them if they would take downloads over CDs and the OVERWHELMING response was – Send Me the ful CD with artwork or don’t send anything at all!
So – for journalists send the full CD with color artwork and most importantly a READABLE SPINE so your CD can be found amongst the piles when you call to follow up.
TIP: Put your phone number and contact info in the CD so if it gets separated from the press kit, the writer knows how to contact you. Also, “Recommended Tracks” stickers are great for the press (suggesting no more than two or three selections).
TIP: Don’t waste precious CDs! That is, unless you are sure a writer actually writes CD reviews (few newspaper writers are given the space to run them these days, so check first).
Waleed: I like well-organized packages as well that are stapled together, so I can take a minute to get through it and flip through cohesive info. And PLEASE put as much contact info EVERYWHERE – on the CD, on the bio and on the photo. We get a lot of glossies with no band name on them and we sometimes stack photos separately for our photo editors. If there is no name or number or URL on the photos they will never get used.
PART 2 – GETTING THE WORD OUT
Internet – Getting your online press materials together
I suggest first that you duplicate your finished press kit electronically. Either make a PDF of it that you can send to writers as attachments or open an account with SonicBids and drop all of your information into an EPK
If you don’t already have an updated website that you are proud to show off to the world, get one ASAP! Register a memorable name and remember: .com is much easier than .net or .org
TIP: My favorite DIY website building tool was created by my friend Derek Sivers at CD Baby – It’s called Hostbaby and it’s brilliant. A step-by-step guide will show you how to set up the ideal site for you and it will only take a few minutes, It’s only $20 per month and includes a place to add your online press kit, email list mailer and dashboard, your concert calendar, streaming audio, guestbook, news/journal, and more.
If you work with HostBaby for your domain hosting they can import a wordpress template for FREE and save you the hassle! Just contact them and they will set it up for you. I suggest [http://www.yourdomainname.com/blog]
Tour Press – Getting your press materials out
Start planning PR for any tour 6-8 weeks before you hit the road. As soon as a gig is booked, ask the promoter for the club’s press list (most clubs have one). Promoters are dependent on this local press to help sell tickets. Have the list emailed to you and reach out to the appropriate journalists on it. Don’t be shy – you are working with the promoter to make the show happen and promoters love it when the show is well publicized.
TIP: Ask the promoter which writers like to receive CDs for review and which ones don’t need them. Also be sure to ask the promoter who his favorite writers are and which ones will like your style of music.
Kristi: I really enjoy it when the band adds a personal note with their press kit. A short and sweet note is that extra personal touch that really makes a huge difference.
TIP: If the local promoter has a publicist, let that publicist do her job. Pack everything up and mail it to the promoter’s publicist. This publicist knows the writers in his or her hometown and will be instrumental in helping you.
Don’t get territorial about your PR! Anyone that is willing to help should do so.
If the club does not have a press list, you can easily pick up The Musician’s Atlas. They have a great list of publications in all 50 states with names of music editors at each one.
Or simply search Google or Yahoo for a good target list.
TIP: With monthly publications, if you are not at least six to eight weeks out, don’t bother sending to them.
Work Your Niche Angles
Work any angles you may have – Is the lead singer in the band Jewish or Irish? Is someone in the band a parent? Most major markets have a Jewish publication, an Irish publication and a parenting magazine, and these are great angles to work.
TIP: Many smaller local publications only cover events and people from certain areas so if someone in the band is from the town you are touring in make sure you let the local editors know.
Following Up Is Critical
It is critical that you follow up. As you read in part 1 of this article, 75% of all indie bands never follow up and writers do not include bands that they don’t know if they do not hear from them. When you call the writers, understand that you will be leaving messages 90% of the time. Leave short and sweet messages that include your phone number and email address as well as your show date and venue to spark the writer’s memory. 9 times out of 10, writers will not call you back; that’s OK, because you have given them everything they will need. If you do get them on the phone, don’t be afraid to say which promoter recommended you and always invite them to the show. Don’t let all that all that voicemail discourage you. I have placed hundreds of articles, mentions, and photos without ever speaking to the writer.
Waleed: The one piece of advice I would give an indie artist is: Be tactful about your pitches and be mindful that writers have to listen to you as well as thousands of other bands in any given month, but also don’t be afraid to reach out. It is journalist’s job to listen to new music. Don’t give up but at the same time don’t bombard – be mindful not only about your career but also about their careers as well.
If you are a totally new band and you are worried because a paper did not cover you the first time around, keep sending that paper information every time you play in the area. I have never met a writer that ignores several press kits from the same band sent over and over again. It may take a few tours through in each market, but the more a writer sees you over time, the more likely he will be to write about you.
The first few times you play a market, you may not get any press. PR is a slow moving vehicle that can take time to get results. I have worked with some bands that have needed to go through a market three or four times before any results started showing up in the press. When sending materials on repeated occasions, include a refresher blurb to remind the writer of your style. Always include the following information: date, show time, ages, ticket price, club name and address, time, and who is on the bill. Don’t make writers hunt around for the event info. Make their job as easy as possible by providing as much information. Also keep in mind that some writers will probably not write about you over and over again. If you hit the same markets continually, a great tactic is to change your postcard every few months.
Bonus Round – More Marketing Elements
Posters are a great form of PR and they don’t have to cost you a fortune. I highly recommend 4/4 color posters, and it’s a good idea to create a space on the bottom where you or the promoter can fill in the show info.
The most cost-effective way to make posters is to buy 11×17 colored paper from your local paper store (comes in reams of 500) and run off copies at the copy shop (approx. 7-10 cents each). Make several white copies and include these with your colored posters – this way the promoter can make extras, if needed.
TIP: Make sure you ask the promoters how many posters they would like and send them along with the press kits. After a few days, it’s best to call and verify that the posters and press materials were received and are up.
Your Street Team
Try to enroll your biggest fan to be the head on your street team. Put this person in charge of reaching out to other fans who will join the street team in each market you visit. In exchange for a few tickets to your show, some merch and some love from you, your field staff will put up posters, hand out fliers and postcards, and talk to their college newspaper about writing a feature or the local radio station about spinning your CD.
If you are not playing out, that’s OK – they can help you manage your MySpace page, and hit other social networking sites.
TIP: Street Team Management: To get a street team started, include a sign-up column on your mailing list and a form fill on your web site. and manage your street team using the FREE tools at… Ariel Hyatt founded Ariel Publicity & Cyber PR 11 years ago and her firm has worked with over 1,000 musicians and bands of all genres. The Ariel Publicity mission states that all artists deserve to be heard and there is a place for artists of every level to receive exposure. Ariel Hyatt has managed to place tens of thousands of artists in countless outlets from national magazines and TV to the most grassroots online fanzines. Her company is now 100% digital and helps artists increase their online exposure. She also runs Bandletter.com a company that creates newsletters for musicians.
– Ariel Hyatt
Ariel Publicity’s Sound Advice is a free monthly e-zine for musicians & entrepreneurs who want marketing, promotion and PR tips for navigating the new music business. Sign Up here: http://www.arielpublicity.com.