You have your music, your vision, and you are eager to make that first move in the world of Music Publicity. Congratulations!
But before I jump into what you’re here for, the nine critical things you should know about Music Publicity, we need to be sure that you’re ready to begin a relationship with the media. It’s not a matter of feeling ready, it’s a matter of being ready. This means understanding what PR is (and especially what it isn’t), knowing how to find and vet the perfect PR company for you, being financially ready for the decision, and having the timeline needed to see the kind of results you’re after. It also means having your assets ready to go and being in a place where PR makes sense. Here are nine critical music publicity tips you should know.
Getting Started With PR
Before you even begin thinking about PR, you need to have what I refer to as your social media house in order. This is your foundation and it will be SO important when it comes to seeing results in your publicity campaign, as well as your day to day of building your fanbase. You need to have your presence sufficiently established online from your website to your blog to your X profile. You won’t get the results you want from your PR campaign if you don’t have a strong internet presence. WHY? Because if the lights are on and no one is home, no blog will care! Capeesh?
With the number of musicians and music publicists flooding the inboxes of the media, you can count on the fact that these editors and writers will be checking each submission’s social media presence as a means to weed out who not to cover. You have to understand, for them, it’s as much about being a business as it is loving the music. They might think you have the greatest song in the world but if they also think another band has a great song and one of you has a strong fanbase and the other is lacking, they’re going to use their limited time to cover the one with the stronger fanbase—because it means more eyeballs on their outlet too. As always, you want to have the edge.
Having a presence doesn’t mean having more Facebook likes than everyone else. It means having consistent activity online and engaging with your fans. This is important to remember, because growing numbers takes time, but building engagement can happen a lot faster. It’s a matter of consistent engagement.
Once your social media house is built and stable you can begin thinking about amassing the publicity you’re looking for.
Let’s get started…
1. What is Publicity?
Before we delve into specifics, let’s make sure we have the basics covered. Here are some definitions of what publicity is exactly, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: (I know this is trite but it’s GOOD)
Publicity – “An act or device designed to attract public interest; specifically: information with news value issued as a means of gaining public attention or support. Also: The dissemination of information or promotional material.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Publicity is precisely all of these things. I have been doing this for 22 years so, YES.
A music publicist is hired as a member of your team to represent you to the media. Media is traditionally defined as editors and writers of blogs, podcasts, newspapers, magazines, and some TV bookers. Some publicists may also cover radio for interviews or live sessions on tour stops. But if you want to get on the radio “charts” which is really not a thing, you will need a radio promoter.
A music publicist’s job is to work with the press. In other words, a publicist establishes working relationships between you and those in the media. These days the media means BLOGS unless you are Sia or Drake then, by all means, go to The New York Times. You should not expect your publicist to get you a booking agent or gig, a label deal, or any other type of marketing deal. That is what a manager is for. A savvy and well-connected music publicist may be able to hook you up with all of the things mentioned above, but it is not in her job description.
In other words, it’s her job to be the go between with you and the media and broker those relationships.
2. You Are in the Driver’s Seat Here. If A Music PR Firm Contacts You – Be Wary
Remember, as the artist, you are the buyer, and you are shopping for music PR. You’re in the driver’s seat. It’s your money and your music that enables publicists to stay in business. Hiring a publicist is like hiring another guitar player for your band. You have to choose someone you like, who is in alignment with your vision, your short-term and long-term goals. Everyone on your team has to be on the same page for you to advance. All too many times I’ve heard that a publicist was hired in spite of the artist’s personal opinions. You should like your publicist, and she should be the right fit for you. This is why getting on the phone with them, asking questions, and having conversations PRIOR to hiring them is so important. This is a long term relationship, you want to trust and like the people on your team.
There are a few completely SHADY PR firms out there who will contact you and tell you that they can’t WAIT to represent you. RUN screaming for the hills unless that publicist has a damn good reason for taking the time out of his or her insanely busy schedule to reach out and find you on ReverbNation, Twitter or SoundCloud. If they saw you live or they have a REAL reason (like they represent a band you are friends with) or seem especially passionate then, okay, talk to them but WITH CAUTION. There are unfortunately lots of firms that call themselves PR firms only to do shady work and steal your hard-earned money and while these firms are not the norm, they are the kind of music publicity firms that are hurting firms who do our work with passion and integrity.
3. With Publicity, You Pay for Effort – Never for Results.
Ever heard something like this: “I hired a publicist and I only got six placements. That cost me $1,000 per placement.” Unfortunately, this is not how you quantify a PR campaign. You pay for the amount of time, effort, and strategy the publicist makes on your behalf, as well as their experience. It is up to you to help make sure time, effort, and strategy are part of the equation. Of course, you should get many results. Getting nothing is totally unacceptable. But you never know when your publicist’s efforts will show up months, and sometimes like a year after your campaign is complete. This is the part of PR that is so important to remember. For example, not everyone who is going to see your YouTube video is going to view it the day you post it but over time the right person can see it and, an amazing thing may happen. A blog you placed with today might invite you to do a showcase overseas three years from now when they’re head of a festival. You never know. (and yes, I have seen these things happen!) And don’t forget you CAN do all of your own PR (read our handy-dandy 3-part guide here!) – it just takes a LOT of time and effort.
4. A PR Campaign Needs to Be Planned Well in Advance.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had artists roll up to my email with a few days until their release or a month after it’s been out. For the most succesful PR campaigns, you need to give yourself plenty of time. For long-lead press (meaning, for example, magazines with national distribution like Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair), the editors put their publications to bed months before they are published. So, if your album or EP is coming out in October, you must have it ready to go, artwork and all, in July. Of course, not every PR campaign focuses on national press, but understand that with little or zero lead-time, it makes planning a bit more tricky, so you definitely need to prepare lead-time for every scenario.
Even for digital-only press your publicist will need time to prepare, curate the perfect media list for you, brainstorm angles, and get your music to the media a little bit ahead of its release date. These things take time so make sure you allow at least a few months between when you’re hiring a publicist and when your release is out.
Recommended Publicity Campaign Lead Times:
- National Campaign – 3-4 months before release
- Tour Press Campaign – 4-6 weeks before the shows
- Online Campaign – 4-6 weeks before placements will start to happen
- Premiere – These can take time! Please read our The Musician’s Guide to Premieres to understand this.
- (Placement = blog post, feature article, review, calendar listing, podcast/ online radio interview, etc.)
5. The 4 Components of a Press Kit
In today’s digital world, a thorough press kit consists of four parts: the bio; the photo(s); the articles, quotes & music reviews; the music.
The Bio – Create a one-page bio that is succinct and intriguing. You have an original story; tell it! I strongly advise hiring a bio writer. If you are not ready to pony up the cash, come download my 12 Qs that will help you build a captivating bio. I find that people who are great storytellers make great bio writers. Don’t skimp on this though. Your bio is the first impression and it’s worth getting write.
The Photos – Arrange a photoshoot; if you take this seriously, you will benefit tremendously. Create a photo that is clear, well-shot, and attention-grabbing. Showing movement is a plus (sitting on a couch or up against a brick wall has been done too many times before). If you have a friend who knows how to use PhotoShop, enlist him or her to help you do some creative and fun editing. Always utilize your resources! Please hire a professional for this—your photos are incredibly important! You don’t have to shell out thousands but finding someone who knows their way around a camera and (preferably) understands a good press shot is going to make a difference. Be sure to try and convey your brand through your photos and have a couple that your publicist can offer the press. Ideally, at least 3-5.
The Articles, Quotes & Music Reviews – Getting that first article written about you can feel daunting (and then amazing when it happens!) Two great places to start are your local hometown papers (assuming you don’t live in NYC or LA) and your existing fans! It’s ok to ask fans to provide a quote, and to even try some smaller outlets to start. Also don’t forget to check for comments on iTunes, Amazon, and CD Baby that you can use!
The Music – The way you present the music, like the press kit, must be well thought out. Do not send out copies of your CD via snail mail unless someone is specifically asking for it. Instead, send a link to Bandcamp or SoundCloud with professional artwork and proper tagging so the writers can access your tracks easily. Also, consider single artwork as well. For videos that are unlisted and set to premiere at a future date, be sure to include all relevant info like song name, lyrics, links to social media, etc in the description.
Make sure your press kit is posted on your website in a discoverable manner.
6. Publicity is a Marathon, Not a Sprint.
If you remember one thing from this whole article, let it be this. Publicity is a marathon, not a sprint. It is very different in nature from a radio campaign that has a specific ad date and a chart that you are paying to try to get listed on or an advertising run that has a set budget and run time. With the number of albums and EPs coming out into the marketplace (approx. 2,000 per week), not to mention singles and videos, it could take longer than your publicity campaign runs to see palpable results. Given the staggering influx of albums, EPs, singles, and music videos being released into the world, (around 2,000 per week) it’s imperative to recognize that the timeline for achieving tangible results can often extend well beyond the duration of your publicity campaign.
It may take weeks, months, or even longer before your music finds its place and resonates with the right audience and that’s ok. This prolonged approach is especially important to understand given the competitive and ever-changing nature of the industry. While the end goal is to garner recognition and connect with your target audience, it’s essential to keep in mind that building a lasting presence and reputation in music requires constant commitment and a willingness to play the long game.
7. Online Publicity is More Important for an Indie Artist than Offline Publicity
The evolution of devices, expanding social channels, the 24-hour news cycle, and instant access to every imaginable type of media for all who are connected constantly shifts the landscape. The opportunities for exposure online are far greater for an independent artist. So, you want to get familiar with music blogs on SubmitHub and with the inclusion on Spotify and SoundCloud playlists. These are powerful and effective outlets. My Music Publicity Checksheet will keep you on target.
8. Publicity Does Not Sell Music.
If you are hiring a music publicist to see a spike in your sales, I have news for you: There is absolutely no correlation between getting great PR and selling music.
PR is designed to raise awareness of you in the press, to help build and share a story, as well as build up critical acclaim. Of course, a great article may lead to sales, but overall, if selling music is your goal, music publicity is not the only thing you will need. Like so much of the music industry, PR works best when it is done in conjunction with other things such as branding and social media.
WHY is this the case? Why doesn’t publicity sell music? Because: streaming.
People no longer buy music when they love it because they already pay for their Spotify, Apple Music or Pandora subscriptions….. OR they listen for FREE on Youtube, music blogs or the countless other outlets where people listen. Music is now free—which means fans have to find other ways to support their favorite artists, such as going to their concerts and buying merch and all of these things exist outside of music publicity.
To sell music you will also need to build a loyal fanbase and take care of fans with constant communication and great offers.
9. All Publicity is Good Publicity.
I know we have all heard the phrase “all publicity is good publicity”. It’s beneficial to truly understand this. If one of your goals for music publicity is to get your name out there (and this should be a goal), the truth is that the average person remembers very little of what they read. People only retain a tiny percentage of what they come into contact with. Readers are not going to remember a lukewarm or mediocre review of your album. I mean, when was the last time you remembered the band that was the subject of a tepid review? Honestly, not a lot of outlets will cover an artist they aren’t into to begin with, so if you’re getting a review or feature, odds are it’s praising you to begin with.
Not only that, the more press you get over time, the more you’ll see the weight of these results. The way one review leads to three reviews leads to a show opportunity, leads to more fans and so on. It’s a slow burn, but it’s worth every minute if you want to make music your full time career.
Final thoughts? Never ever take your own PR seriously. As my favorite visual artist, Andy Warhol once said, “Don’t read your press; weigh it.”
Need more assistance for your Publicity strategy? Find out how to use ChatGPT to help you out!