My team and I speak to a lot of musicians who want to hire a music publicist. Suffice to say, we’ve seen (and heard!) a few wild stories from the artists we work with and from our time in the music industry. One thing has never been more clear, and that is that when it comes to finding a music publicist and hiring a music publicist, there are still a lot of misunderstandings and confusion about what to do and what to expect.
This though is important: as the artist, you are the buyer, and if you are shopping for a music publicist, you’re in the driver’s seat. It’s your art and your money that enables publicists to stay in business. So, do your homework and research well. Take your time. My team and I speak to a lot of musicians who want PR. What continues to baffle us is the fact that many of the artists who contact us have no idea what they are actually looking for – someone told them they should “Get a Publicist” so that’s what they do.
This can lead to a lot of confusion, misalignment of expectations between artist and publicist, and confusion over results when it comes to actually running a PR campaign. To have the best experience possible with your music publicist, you’re going to want to keep a few things in mind.
I have written this guide in addition to my series to help you understand the music publicity process.
First, Figure Out Your Music Publicist Budget
Here’s one of my favorite jokes about the music business:
Q: How do you make a small fortune in the music business?
A: Start with a large fortune.
You are calling this PR firm to hire them so asking about the general ballpark budget is not a bad idea before you get too attached, or deep into a conversation. This works out for both you and the publicist as it immediately gives you an idea of if they’re in your budget (or what you want to aim for your budget to be) as well as what’s realistic for your budget.
Music publicist prices vary wildly from a few hundred dollars a month to $5K plus. Most PR firms do not publish their rates. A word of warning – many PR firms try to charge what the client can afford. I have known many wealthy clients or artists with investors or Google-able information about how much money they have and they pay much more than independent artists with smaller budgets. This is a practice that is alive and well so be mindful and careful not to volunteer too much. I have had many artists tell me right off the bat that they have investors or are willing to pay top dollar. This is not a great idea.
Ask yourself instead: How much money are you willing to spend on PR specifically? That’s the primary question. There are hundreds of music PR firms and individuals who make their living helping musicians get press. Individuals can charge less than larger agencies that have NYC or Los Angeles overhead and expenses to pay.
I know that this is extremely broad and therefore not incredibly helpful but if you have a small budget, being clear and upfront about that will save you time and also keep you from wasting time when asking for proposals from agencies. This process in agency speak is called RFP – Request For Proposal.
Making Contact with a Music Publicist
Before You Call: Set Your Expectations & Goals
I get a lot of complaints from artists who call me and say that they have tried to contact certain PR firms and that they never get a response. Speaking in defense of a busy PR firm, many are just too crazed with work to handle all of the incoming inquiries and many don’t handle independent artists preferring to work with represented clients only. With a little finessing, you can get to them. This is not a guarantee that they will take you on as a client, but it will at least get you in the door. That said, you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. Choose at least three publicity firms to contact and give them a few days to respond before following up. It’s ok to have to follow up, and it shows the firm you’re serious.
The more information you can provide them at the onset the better. Most major firms for music publicists (the ones that have national acts on their rosters) have strict criteria for accepting clients and many of them plan music publicity campaigns months in advance, so it’s important to come to them with enough time between inquiry and release date—not three days before your new music drops.
Another thing that’s helpful is to have reasonable goals in mind that you can talk to her about. Reasonable does not mean Pitchfork if you are just starting out. It means figuring out what is attainable from where you are today. Create a list of at least five goals – these should be specific media targets. This way you will know what you are aiming for when you hire. Most PR firms will ask you these questions and set expectations on a call but it’s helpful to know them yourself so that if for whatever reason it doesn’t come up, you can bring it up yourself.
Know Who You Are Calling
A solid few minutes on any PR firm’s website will reveal a lot. Ask yourself – does this firm represent the kind of music I make? Does it represent artists who are in the same place in their careers as I am (IE if you are an indie artist do they work with other indie artists or only major label signed artists? You will want to understand who you are talking to and you don’t waste a busy publicist’s time or your own. Every PR firm has their roster of clients listed on their website so make sure you are a great fit and be prepared to tell this to a publicist to show her you understand who you’ve called. It’s your job to research and understand the firm just as much as it is theirs to have listened to your music and gotten an understanding of who you are.
Pick Up The Phone
If you are a telephone kind of person, by all means call. Have a few questions prepared, but don’t just dive in as soon as the publicist or their team pick up the phone. Take a moment to get to know one another and know that if you’re speaking with their assistant or intern they may not be able to tell you prices. If you have to leave a message, be sure to include your name – first and last, and your band / artist name. Your telephone number and your reason for calling – “I am interested in hiring a PR firm and I am inquiring about your interest and availability for a release on (give the date of anticipated release).”
If Sending An Email
If you find an email address, prepare a short and thoughtful email with who you are, the name of your project, when you want to release, and links to music. A private SoundCloud link is always preferred. One of my clients taught me a fabulous strategy he used. He created an individual playlist per PR firm and he was shocked to discover quite a few wanted to schedule a meeting to discuss working together and they had not listened to any of his tracks. Take it from me—this kind of personalization goes a long way!
3 Strikes – They’re Out!
If no one responds within 5 business days, repeat three times. Use the three strikes and they’re out method and move on. If a PR firm can’t call you back after 3 tries and 15 days they’re not the firm for you.
When You Get The Music Publicist On The Phone
If you do get someone on the phone on first contact, ask only three questions.
But, first, introduce yourself very briefly:
Hi, this is ______________ and I’m in an indie pop band from ________________about to release an EP.
1: Are you considering new clients for the time frame of ______ (your release date?)
2: Give a very brief synopsis of your project, three sentences max. Include:
- The genre of music you play (if you didn’t already mention it)
- Distribution plan (when you plan to roll out singles, for instance)
- Your release show / tour schedule with markets and highlights
- Then any other parts of your release plan, like your radio promotion, your social media promotions, etc.
3: Ask – can I send you the music to consider? Then send a private SoundCloud link. Do not clog up her inbox with a Dropbox link or attachment. One click is all she should have to do, unless she requests your music in another format.
If the PR firm is interested, you will set up a call to chat. This is the time when you can really see if you like the music publicist, their ideas, and their ability to listen, and this is the time to have a candid conversation about your expectations for the campaign. If she has not listened to the music you sent and checked out your site and socials or she “yeses” you to death and doesn’t manage expectations, move on.
Round 2: If The Music Publicist Is Interested
Have These 3 Talking Points Ready
- National distribution CD Baby or Tunecore may not be enough of a distribution plan for some larger PR firms.
- A release date in mind that is at least 2-3 months away from your initial contact.
- Interesting angles, a charity affiliation, and strong newsworthy or niche angles can be enticing for a publicist. Part of your PR plan will include this but it’s still good to come to the table with these ideas. After all, no one knows your music and brand like you do!
Ask About Accountability & Reporting
This is CRUCIAL! You deserve to be updated as your PR campaign progresses and most (read: all) PR companies should have a reporting process of some kind. You want to know who is pitching on your behalf, is it an intern or an experienced publicist? Is it the person you’re speaking on the phone to or someone else? Also, you should expect regular press reports and updates from your PR team so be sure to ask about the reporting policy. Also, will they be telling you and showing you who they are pitching you to so you can follow along with social media followers? This is key.
Ask Hard Questions
Don’t be afraid to ask challenging questions and really have a candid conversation. You don’t need to treat them like they’re trying to scam you (most are not) but it’s ok to ask the questions you’re curious about. BE AWARE: A PR firm is NOT a used car lot! I have heard stories that PR firms do “hard sells” saying that rates are only available for a certain amount of time – this means you should be running away.
After the call, you should get some sort of a proposal that outlines what you spoke about, the campaign, and the pricing. Take your time to consider this and send back any questions or further points in need of clarification.
Do Your Research
99% of publicists all sound fabulous on the telephone, and they should, after all, communication and sales is their job.
But, sadly, there are a few publicists that are known for not delivering great results, or for being accountable. Therefore, it is critical that you do some due diligence and research. I suggest that you use these four methods to research publicity firms.
Google the names of each publicist, and the company, and look for information about these individuals. Dig past the first few pages of results. Try adding keywords at the end like “reddit” or “forum” to see where discussions about them might be popping up. You can also try searching for their name on X (formerly Twitter).
Google the different bands and artists that they rep and search for placements (articles, blog posts). If you don’t see articles this may not be a great sign.
Search Glassdoor. An artist client of mine who was ripped off by a PR firm taught me this technique – search for the name of the company at glassdoor.com and see if anyone who has worked there has reported about what goes on behind the scenes and what the morale is like.
Ask Artists. Reach out and ask bands on socials – the best part about social media is you can reach out directly to bands and artists on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and ask what their experience was like. You can also scour Facebook Groups or other forums (such as Reddit) to find out other people’s experiences with specific firms. Word of mouth will always be the BEST way to vet a PR agency or anyone else, as artists will always watch out for other artists.
Want more advice on music Publicity? I have a BOOK for that 🙂 Check Out The Ultimate Guide To Music Publicity