Last year I got a call from a veteran musician. He told me how he did his homework and avoided hiring one firm with a reputation for not delivering strong music blogger results. Only to get all of his money taken by music publicists who never answered another email or phone call the day after the check cleared.
I’m not saying this is common behavior, but unfortunately, it happens more than I’d like to see. It’s bad for artists, bad for business, and bad for music!
You Need A Few Things BEFORE You Need PR!
I spend a lot of time explaining to artists who come to me wanting PR that it may not be the right time for it. A few years ago, this was not the case and the first step out of the gate was often to hire a publicist. There are many things you need to have in place before you start PR, including:
Foundation: at least SOME real fans who know you and like you enough to come to your shows or comment and listen when you post new music.
A great signature story: this is what a PR team will be working with.
A solid social media strategy: which a publicist will be defending if you don’t have one so get one and save her the agony. Plus, an actual plan that addresses a 360 degree view of your whole career and not just “PR” .
When Bad Music Publicists Happen to Good Artists
Quite often, artists get taken for a ride because they don’t actually know what music publicists do, or what to expect from one. This allows the bad guys to take advantage by promising the world and under-delivering. Misconceptions about music publicity can also create false expectations and disappointments down the road when you realize that your publicist might not be able to get you that massive blog you were hoping for.
I’d like to do my part to prevent this from happening to you by presenting – and correcting – the five most common misconceptions about music publicists.
Misconception 1: Music Publicists Call Me. That Means I’m Ready!
This is the biggest problem I see. There are a few music publicity firms out there who hire teams of sales reps and force their publicists to get on the phone, work the socials, and get artists to sign up. In fact, a publicist who worked for me came from such a firm and told me she had a “quota”. They would threaten her if she didn’t reach out to 25 new potential artists a day on top of her huge workload. She was sought to keep the clients coming in the door at a steady rate so her greedy boss (who never did a day of PR in his life) could keep money coming in.
Here’s the thing: 100% of the publicists I know are way too busy to be cold calling and reaching out to artists on socials.
Now, if that publicist sees you play and goes nuts (I’ve had many fangirl moments), or you are introduced through a legitimate source – that’s another thing altogether. But the cold call or a random reach out is something to be very suspicious of!
Request A Proposal Outlining What Music Publicists Will Do
If you do get a call and you are in the market for a publicist, MAKE SURE you reach out to a few other firms and get additional proposals. This is a standard practice called an RFP (Request For Proposal) and all real publicists who are serious about working with you will be delighted to create a comprehensive proposal. You should also do your research and talk to at least three PR firms to inquire about their approach and methodology.
Remember, this is a BUYER’S market, and YOU, dear artist, are the buyer! Don’t forget this!
Misconception 2: If I Hire Music Publicists, They Can Create Magical Opportunities
Nope. She can’t work miracles, but she can introduce you to the media and help you create a defined strategy and roadmap. Hiring a publicist is just the beginning of your work. You need to keep her busy with stories, angles, and events to work throughout her time managing your campaign. Also, you MUST have a consistent social media strategy throughout your time with your PR team. Every single outlet they are pitching you to will look at your socials. If you suck at posting and you don’t have a well-defined brand and narrative on social media, your PR results will not go well.
A music publicist is only as good as whatever she is publicizing, and it is critical to give her as much to use as possible. Understanding these key points of music publicity will help as well.
Misconception 3: She Works For a Huge Band; She Knows All The Writers; She Will Get Me in Pitchfork, Brooklyn Vegan, Stereogum, and NPR Tiny Desk
Music Publicists should absolutely be hired for who they know and other clients they represent. Their relationships at national publications are critical.
But please be warned: Larger bands, on labels with big followings and history (not to mention sales and tours) get placed over smaller, up-and-coming artists. If you are an emerging artist, you need to build up to the larger publications. Sadly, there is no jumping to the front of the line, no matter who else your publicist represents!
You Must Be Newsworthy
Simply having a new EP, album, or show is not grounds for national coverage. Many larger publications may pass you up the first campaign around. That’s okay; this should be considered a building block and not a rejection. So, the more (appropriate) journalists, blogs, and outlets your music publicist reaches out to, the better.
This does not mean that the publicist won’t try to get you appropriate placements, she will! Just know that even the tightest personal relationships don’t always equal results. Of course, the publicist knows these people and can always ask, but it is absolutely not a guarantee.
Misconception 4: I’m Gonna Be On National TV
Television shows such as Late Night, Ellen, and The Tonight Show, sometimes showcase independent artists. But this is extremely rare, and not all publicists have the connections to get you on these shows. In order to avoid a major letdown, discuss this with your publicist before hiring her. Ask: “Have you ever placed anyone on national TV?”/ “How many artists have played and on which shows?”. She will be honest both in her ability and about what chances she thinks you may have to end up on one of these shows. There is another secret that they won’t tell you. Most major national shows charge the bands’ backline rental and union fees for moving the equipment. The charge for this can be $10,000 and up. This is the real reason you don’t see non-major label artists appear often – someone has to pick up that bill.
If you are just starting out, music blogs and Spotify Playlists are much better places to focus your energy.
Misconception 5: My Music is Good Enough, I’m Going Straight to The BIG TIME.
This is a misconception we see a lot. Yes, once in a blue moon a completely unknown artist will go straight to the big time. But this is a matter of LUCK (and usually a team behind them).
The vast majority of artists labeled an “overnight success” have actually been toiling away behind the scenes for a long time, and paid their dues in smaller blogs and publications – no matter how good their music is.
There is NO JUMPING TO THE FRONT OF THE LINE.
There is no fast track to the top. I hope this happens to you, but in the meantime, be realistic with your expectations. Do your work, create a long term plan for yourself, and keep grinding and hustling.
Your publicist will get you the best possible press. But it’s going to take a little while to get major press.
Be okay with starting small and building your reputation organically, which is something a good publicist can help you do.
I know this post sounded a little ominous, but I speak from experience when I say that most music publicists are hard-working, talented, and trustworthy people. They will do great things for you! Just do your research first, and make sure you know the real benefits and get the right person for the job!
Make sure your plan has all bases covered with this Free Music Publicity Checksheet. You’ll learn all the strategies, hacks, and platforms we use right here at Cyber PR for artists just like you.