A while back, the wonderful Aaron Bethune who wrote a book that is a must-read for artists called Musicprenuer interviewed me for his blog Play It Loud. I just stumbled across it and it has quite a few great points so, I refreshed it here for you!
Enjoy and do leave a comment if you feel inspired.
Aaron Bethune, PlayItLoud Music: What is PR?
I asked the same question on the first day of my first internship at the PR firm in London that the TV show AB FAB was based on (I’m not joking it was HORRIBLE, but I digress). I’ll never forget the answer my supervisor gave me. I was 19 years old, it was my first internship, and I said, “Can you tell me what PR is?” (in my defense the internet did not exist and I really didn’t quite know) He said,
“PR? It’s PR!”
I thought, “Wow. Thank you for that.”
You can imagine that internship was a disaster from that moment on. Anyway, the process of PR is the communication of a product, a good, a service, or a person, to the media.
So when you hire a publicist, you’re basically hiring a mouthpiece to communicate to the media world your message or what it is you would like to promote. Until I started working in PR firms, I really didn’t understand the depth of how PR touches almost everything you read in the media. For example, if you’re a woman who likes fashion magazines, when you pull open a magazine and you see “Our favorite shampoo of the month”, or “Our favorite lip-gloss”, or “The best pants to wear this season”, that is all 100% work of a publicist. The editor did not go walk around to find the best anything. The publicist worked very, very hard with the editor to place the product. Every facet of almost every business has publicity – politicians, products, goods, services – almost everything you can think of. Stores, cities, towns, and of course, musicians all have publicists. When you hire a publicist, what you are doing is hiring someone to represent you to the media. When I say the media, I mean newspapers, magazines, television, radio and now it’s been the vastly expanded in recent years to blogs, podcasts, internet radio, almost anything. So that is, in a nutshell, what it is.
What is viral marketing and how does it affect the music business?
Viral marketing is an interesting term, because, you can’t really make something “go viral”; it is near impossible to do. We don’t know what could go viral. For example think about the Double Rainbow video, that got over 23 million views on YouTube in 2010 or almost anything that gets a ton of hits – maybe people create those things hoping they “go viral” but the truth is ‘viral like a virus, just spreads.
We don’t say “I’d like to get a virus today,” you just get a cold. It catches.
Viral marketing is the practice of working with unique assets like videos or music, or blog posts. It could also be products in the real world but because I’m an internet publicist, I’m speaking about the online world.
Viral marketing is something that gets put on the internet and it catches on and takes off. It gets multiple views and when it goes viral, it just means there’s some sort of stickiness attached to it. We never know if it’s going to go viral: certainly there are some predictors but there are no guarantees. Almost every time I interview artists, if I say “If you had $500 to spend, what would you do?’’ The most popular answer is: “I would hire someone to make me go viral.” I wish it were that simple.
How important is a band’s pitch?
I believe a pitch is the most important thing a band or artist can develop.
Without a pitch, people will have no context for understanding who you are or what you sound like. Unfortunately, many bands are terrible at creating pitches. It’s critical because we have very, very short attention spans in today’s world. If you don’t have a concise pitch that gives people an instant hit, you’re basically robbing yourself of possibilities.
What makes for a good pitch?
Something that’s extremely descriptive and catchy; descriptive doesn’t mean you have to sound like somebody else, though that’s a very helpful context. Catchy could be anything from fun, like hillbilly-flamenco, or poly-ethnic Cajun-slam-grass, or it could be really descriptive like Joan Jett meets Jessica Rabbit. Those are three of my favourite pitches, they’re in my book because they are really good. If I was in an elevator with Devil Doll and I asked her “what kind of music do you make,” and she answered “it’s Joan Jett meets Jessica Rabbit,” that’s dead on. She’s a rocker who’s got a really sexy, curvy look. A pitch like that, a short concise piece, is crucial.
Bands are normally terrified, they don’t want to say they sound like anybody, they don’t want to pigeonhole themselves. It really is a disservice to try to invent a new genre of music to explain what you are. It may feel creative, but people don’t understand it.
What are the most important social sites that bands should be a part of?
I think if you ignore social media you’re crazy. It’s important to keep your socials updated. Of course, there are other sites that could be very effective as well, for your genre, but Facebook, Twitter & Instagram you should absolutely use and use well.
In today’s music business, how do you think a band can best get through or above the noise?
That’s a tough question. There is so much noise. What I preach, and what I think is really effective is engagement. Engaging people online starts with understanding your audience. People want to feel connected. If you’re just speaking at people and you’re not speaking with people, they’ll go elsewhere for that connection.
So, to rise above the noise… first of all, of course, this is all predicated on having really good music, so don’t suck. Work on your music, don’t just put anything out there. I see that all too often – people think just because they have a home studio, they have a right. Just because it’s easy to post on social media sites, that doesn’t mean you should. Be thoughtful, that’s the first step in rising above the noise. Just because I have a digital camera doesn’t mean I should take 3000 pictures and post them on Flickr. If I take 3000 pictures and I edited them down to 5 that were really stunning, and people saw them and appreciated them, that’s a good start. So, have great music – that’s the cornerstone.
Then the next piece is make connections. How do you do that? That’s really based on understanding your audience and that’s critical. There are million articles and books about how to do that but I also think you can get out there and play live. Connect with people and never squander an opportunity. Every day is an opportunity to connect with people, and that means if you’re playing a live show, get your butt behind your merchandise table and sign. I don’t care if you sign free postcards, or give away stickers – talk with people, connect with them. The most successful artists I know today who are making money and I’m not talking about Mick Jagger, but independent artists that are making it on their own – they take the time to connect personally with their fans.
What are some good ways to get people to sign up for a newsletter?
When people are considering signing up to a newsletter, which most people are not excited to do because we all get too much email, it’s not only about just getting people to sign up, it’s about making sure that when they do sign up, you’re giving them an amazing experience. I think that piece we forget. We’re so busy worrying about “get me names! I want names,” we forget that it was really important to have great content.
First, make sure you’re building a newsletter that has great content, then second make sure it’s going out regularly, consistently, and that it’s trackable (meaning you can pull up statistics on how effective it is). Whenever anyone is thinking of joining a mailing list, they’re thinking “What’s in it for me?” So you have to make sure you’re providing good content for them, make sure that you’re giving away music, make sure you’re doing something that’s interesting. So always think when you’re asking people to sign up, “what can I give?” Be generous. Giving away one track for a newsletter signup is probably not going to get you far. But if you give away three plus a video, then there’s something in that for a potential fan or a loyal fan already.
What should a band not do while trying to succeed in this business?
Don’t be impatient. It’s hard when you’re talking about your art: we want it now. I’ve definitely felt that way, and I’m not a band, I’m on the other side of it. Don’t be inflexible. Don’t be lazy. I like equating succeeding in the music business with succeeding at losing weight. I think every band should look at themselves as completely obese people. If you weigh 350 lbs and your goal is to be a strapping healthy weight, that means you probably have to lose 150 lbs. That doesn’t happen overnight, that takes sheer dedication and effort. There are no shortcuts in the music business. You’re going to have to get up at 6 in the morning, go to the gym, do your cardio, lift your weights, eat well and you have to do that for a long time.
That’s really what it takes. I don’t know any artist that has been in the music business a long time that isn’t experiencing some level of success. That doesn’t exist. What you focus on expands. If you focus on being successful in the music industry, you will succeed. It’s really that simple. But that’s not easy information for most people.
The average is about seven years. That is depressing – 7 years. When you look at all these artists that have supposed meteoric rises to the top – they didn’t. If you go back and look, they gigged and gigged, and failed many times along the way, and they all worked hard for many years to get there.
What are some of the changes you’ve seen, and what are some of the changes that you foresee in the music business?
Obviously, the biggest changes I’ve seen, is the rise of social media, the two-way conversations online, online promotions, and marketing. All that is only going to get more intergrated and it’s never going to go away. That’s the bad news. You will never be done with your online marketing, never. Staying malleable and adaptable is the true key there. Technology will continue to expand our horizons. It’s all about staying on top of it, or at least in it.
You’re focusing a lot on the PR and online side of things. Realistically, what percentage of an artist’s career is in the marketing and the online presence, what you were talking about in your book, and what % is left in the music and its performance live… where’s the money?
There’s money in placements in film and TV, in live music, in bundling merchandise and of course in Crowdfunding. There are fewer places to get it, but if you go to a spectacular show and the artist moves you and the hair on the back of your neck stands up, and you’re going to walk out of that show with a CD. Of course, there is still a profit center there. I think that many artists have gotten really smart: they’re looking at diversifying, some artists teach piano lessons, some artists conduct church choirs, and some artists do other things that are music related – vocal lessons, etc. There are a lot of ways to make money from music, that’s not about making your own original music and selling it.
What’s the percentage? Some people say it is 50% music, 50% business….
I’ve heard an even more painful statistic: to really win at business, you have to spend 30% of your time working in the business and 70% of the time working on the marketing of the business. Telling that to a musician is blasphemy. They don’t want to hear that.
I don’t think that you have to do that all the time, but to really succeed you better understand that locking yourself in your basement and just writing music, which of course is critical to your craft, is only one side of what you need to do to succeed, and the other side really has a lot to do with getting the word out there and making sure that you have gigs and making sure you have everything else, all your ducks in a row. It’s an extremely painful lesson, unfortunately. Yes, 50% is a good percentage, but 70% is an even better percentage. If there is 5 people in a band, I see this all the time, there seems to be one person doing all the business work and everybody else just gets to show up. That’s a recipe for total disaster.
What is a realistic time-frame for a PR campaign to show results?
Depends on the type of results you are looking for. If you’re talking about a traditional PR campaign in major publications these are known in the PR-world as “long-lead press,” (Spin and Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair) that means you have to begin thinking about your press placement at least three months before the issue comes out. So for Christmas press, you must have your Christmas tracks ready to go at the end of August, and your publicist should be lining up your Christmas pitches for long-lead press by September. This takes planning and foresight and I have met a lot of artists who don’t think this far in advance. Of course, for daily and weekly newspapers, there is a shorter window. If you’re promoting a live event in a local newspaper, the editor needs a minimum of 4-6 week’s notice to schedule you in. They have to get interviews and artwork and they are getting inundated by hundreds of other publicists and events that month, no matter what city you are playing in, so again: Planning and foresight are key.
With the internet, it’s very fast and can be instantaneous. Blogs are looking for information quickly and efficiently. We’ve released MP3s on a Monday and by Tuesday there are internet radio stations streaming, blogs posting, and people sharing it all over the social networks. So when you talk about an online PR campaign that’s a whole different beast.
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A slightly outdated version of this was originally published on the PlayItLoud Music blog