New or emerging musician. You need press. To book better shows, get radio airplay and maybe the attention of labels. But when do you know that you need someone to do it for you?
There comes a time in every independent music career when one realizes that they’re going to need a team. Whether to help book and promote gigs or spread the word about an upcoming release.
What’s in a PR campaign?
There are 3 key ingredients to a good PR campaign (although the recipe really only comes together if the music follows): strategy, time and contacts.
Your publicist is not only going to open new doors for you, (s)he’s going to save you literally hundreds of hours of work including research, emailing and following up. Knowing which outlets you want to aim for is one thing. Getting them to publish is another. Your publicist will aim for those as well as blogs and magazines you may have not thought (or heard) of: because the chances of you having 500 contacts at hands for about 350 blogs and magazines are small. Unless you’re in the biz.
A publicist will usually reach out to hundreds of contacts, most unknown to the public or very hard to find. That’s no guarantee for features but it sures helps you get the attention of people you would never have found, thought of or gotten to open your email (because they get thousands a week. Most of them forever to wait unopened for an inbox spring cleaning).
But your publicist will do more. I can’t tell how many times I’ve seen artists putting themselves out there and yet missing on crucial aspects of promotion, ending up with literally no press or attention for their record. And that hurts. Because it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the music. It’s all strategy, timing and communication.
PR is a job. And there are rules.
The God of PR is timing. Planning your timeline way ahead of release day is the first important step of your PR campaign. And your publicist will help you put together the right strategy for your niche, targets and in accordance with your production abilities.
Here at HighwayPR, we regularly get requests from artists after they JUST released an album. That’s when they think of us to help them get more attention. And that’s when we gotta say: sorry guys, it’s too late. We hate to pass on good records like this but the press is just not going to pick up on them. It’s not fair because there shouldn’t be an expiration date on good music. And there isn’t. But there are standards when it comes to PR. And sending your music to writers months before it drops is a golden rule.
Talk to a publicist at least 4 or 5 months prior to your desired release date. If possible, even sooner.
Oh the ugly word: branding. I know, no one likes to call music a “product”. And yet, at the end of the day, it comes down to people buying your music or not. Whether they stream it, download it or enjoy it live with a 3$ beer in their hands, they act like consumers. And you need the cash to continue touring and recording. As an artist or band, you need to be able to see yourself as a brand. And that’s not a bad thing, that’s not “selling out”.
What’s a brand? A brand is an identity, a personality and an atmosphere. Branding was inspired by people in the first place to make products and corporations appear more human. Good news: you already are human. All you need is to communicate clearly on what you do. Using methods that have proven their efficiency is just common sense.
Press Pictures in line with your music. Is your music urban? Badass? Sweet? Intellectual? People don’t have a whole lot of time to guess. Give them enough information through your visual communication.
A professional biography. There are rules to writing a biography. It’s not the point of this article so we won’t list them here but if you don’t know them, do your research. You can also ask your publicist (or a professional writer) to help. First person diary-style bios are not okay. And the press will immediately label you unprofessional for it. It’s crucial to get the essence of your story and write a bio, which is both memorable and interesting.
A Professional Website. Only Facebook or Instagram is not enough. It’s fine to start things out. But you’ll need a professional looking website real fast. If you have a talent for design and can work with a CMS then you can do it yourself. Otherwise, you can shop around for various solutions. Including ours.
Consistent Social Profiles. This goes back to our original branding point. Know that journalists and bloggers will check these out before they write about you. Are you active online? Are you likely to RT or share their feature? This matters a lot. So it’s important that your social profiles look beautiful and alive, ideally with consistent design assets. Here again, a good publicist will be able to help work on your strengths and correct possible weaknesses.
The way you or your publicist reaches out to writers is crucial. Here too, there are rules including but not limited to:
- being nice and respectful (arrogant or angry emails will get you nowhere. Or maybe on the wall of shame)
- being clear and concise (writing a good press email is an art)
- knowing whom you’re talking to (impersonal templates and email blasts will be ignored)
- having all promo assets organized and at the ready (EPK, Bio, Streaming Links, Downloads, Pics etc.)
- knowing when to follow up or not
- and so much more
If you feel up to doing all this yourself, then you won’t need a publicist. And some independent musicians actually don’t. It all depends on what their current development stage is and what their goals and ambitions are.
But if you do understand that doing all of this right will indeed take you weeks and weeks of research, preparation, excel sheet updates and tons of emails and feel like you gotta use this time to write songs and book more gigs, then you may be ready for a publicist.
WORKING WITH THE RIGHT PUBLICIST
Once you’ve made up your mind, you’re going to have to find the agency or freelancer who is right for you. Most PR agencies have a specialization or niche. If they don’t it’s usually a bad sign for you as a DIY or indie musician.
Agencies that are not specialized rarely deliver for niche projects (hello Americana, howdy World Music) and to the very big players you’ll likely be a tiny fish whose campaign is not going to be a priority. It can be exciting to work for a PR agency that handles some of the biggest pop stars on the planet. But before you sign, make sure they’ll treat you with the same attention as a certain Katy P.
To find the right PR agency, you’ll have to look at their roster: do you see yourself fitting among their artists? And don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions before you sign. What do they know about your genre? What outlets will they reach out to? Make sure they truly understand your niche and audience. A serious agency won’t take your project if it doesn’t fit but it’s up to you to double check.
For example, we may love your new rap tune, but we’ll never promote it. Because that’s not what we do. But if we love your new alt-country tunes, we’ll bust our asses trying to get them out there.