If you’ve got any desire to share your art, publicity is a no-brainer.
Save for “viral” success along the lines of greats such as Rebecca Black or Miley Cyrus’s tongue, you are going to want press coverage. It won’t always directly correlate with breaking your career, or even selling albums, but it’s a vital part of raising awareness of your music and brand.
Before expanding your team and bringing on a publicist, you need some essential items:
- A well written bio, preferably in both a long and short form.
- Press photos. Preferably you’ve got enough quality shots that you’ve got a few set aside as unpublished, exclusive photos.
- An interesting story.
- Something that ties into the story (new music, tour dates, etc.).
For brevity, let’s assume that you’ve got all of these in place and the focus is on building your team.
Step One: Look at the Money
Take a look inside your wallet and decide how much money you can reasonably spend on a press campaign, which includes both the publicist’s fees and the production of promo materials (one-sheets, promo discs, etc). This will not be a cheap endeavor, and it’s good to know your limits before beginning a conversation.
Step Two: Look Around
After you’ve set a budget, begin to do research. Find an artist at a level where you would like to be in a year (be realistic!). See who is on their team. Look at record labels that you feel would be a good fit for you and see who they use. If you’ve got any professional connections, inquire about their experiences. Cast a wide net and see how many candidates you can find.
From there, look into these publicists’ client lists. See what recent press they are scoring. See if their client list looks like a good fit for your aesthetic. Do they seem to have more contacts than you do? After you dig deeper, make a prioritized list of who you’d like to reach out to.
Step Three: Reach Out
You made a list of publicists, right? Great! Begin to reach out to them. Most likely they are going to be busy. Respect their time, but also, respect yourself. Be pleasantly persistent and don’t wait weeks between names on the list.
When reaching out, it’s generally a good idea to send links to both stream and download your current music, along with a quick summary of your music, and what you are hoping to do with the campaign. Have more materials at the ready for when conversations go further.
If the initial outreach leads to a conversation, be prepared with some questions. Some good topics to cover include: What the publicist thinks of your music; where they could see it being covered; and setting reasonable expectations for the campaign. This is also a good time to find out more about how the publicist works. Do they operate on a month-to-month basis, or do they work “life of campaign”?
Step Four: Bring It Home
If you’ve clicked with a publicist, the last step will be to evaluate your plan and to confirm that they are the right fit. Did the amount that was quoted fit in your budget? If so, do you see this person opening doors that you couldn’t open otherwise?
Some miscellaneous points to consider when hiring a music publicist:
- If a publicist guarantees coverage and results, run! Although there is back-scratching, and some publications let ad sales affect their editorial, and all kinds of similar questionable things, most coverage still has independent editorial consideration behind it. Even the most respected PR firms sometimes can’t get coverage, while the little guys knock it out of the park. Regardless, coverage is out of a publicist’s control, and anyone who says otherwise is full of it.
- Does this publicist respond to your e-mails or phone calls? If not, consider that a red flag. PR campaigns are built on effective communication, and if your publicist isn’t responsive, what makes you think they treat everyone else differently?
- If a publicist says that they’ll only service your album digitally, consider another red flag raised. Yes, a lot more is done digitally now and yes, shipping CDs is expensive, but a lot of journalists and freelance writers still like to receive a physical copy of the album.
- Don’t expect your PR campaign to pay for itself immediately in CD sales, increased bookings, etc. The value of a PR campaign is all about building awareness about you, and that can take time. It goes back to Marketing 101: You need to have multiple exposures, and hopefully you’ll connect on the eighth pass.
- If a publicist is a fan but is out of your budget, don’t be afraid to bring up non-traditional payment models. If s/he really believes in you, perhaps you could arrange a small upfront fee, along with a backend deal. It might result in a small financial hit if things really take off, but I think things like that are worth it. It encourages investment from the team.
- If given the option to handle the initial promo mailing yourself, do it! You’ll save a little money—compared to them having their intern handle it—and you also will get access to a press list. It might not be worth a lot now, but as you build relationships and grow, this can save you quite a bit of time down the road.
- Be prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they come up. In other words, don’t say no! Similarly, listen to your publicist. If s/he has some suggestions, at the very least, give them some consideration.
- Don’t procrastinate on these steps. Press campaigns generally have a lead-up of a few months and can be scheduled out even before then. Unless the universe steps in, the chance of finding the perfect team right near your release is minimal.
Hiring a music publicist can be a big deal.
Someone is acting as a representative of your band to media, and working on opening doors on your behalf. If it’s a relationship you are comfortable in, and you’ve done the appropriate research, follow your gut. With some luck, you’ll be getting more coverage than Miley’s tongue.
Illustration by Justin Prime.