Putting Yourself First: Ten Questions To Ask Before Taking On A Music Publicist
by Matt Benton, Account Manager, Hold Tight PR
1. Is the music ready for a PR?
Make no mistake about it – being a musician is an expensive and largely thankless process. The cost of instruments, recording, paying for a practice space – the list is already punishing, before we even think about releasing an album. Rightly so, a band’s music is their ‘baby’ and there’s always a rush toward getting it out there as soon as possible. Ask yourself though, are you ready to splash out on a PR? Is the music good enough to catch someone else’s ear? Is the quality of sound up to standard? This might seem like a blindingly obvious question but needs to be asked – sometimes you can be too close to the music.
2. Are you – as a band – ready for a PR?
Being in a band – like it or not – is about creating a brand. On the basic level, this means how you present yourself, above and beyond your music, especially when it comes to artwork, band promo pictures... having professional, hi-quality visual assets is essential to a PR. All visual assets need to be as up-to-date as possible and watermarkless: a magazine will not print a band image with a massive watermark taking up space. It’s amazing the number of times bands come to us with fantastic music and yet phone promo pictures, for example.
How do we stand out – traps:
3. So how do you choose the right image(s)?
An example: it’s clichéd to the point of painful to see metal bands’ promotional pictures: mid-length shot of all members blankly staring down the camera with a bland background. Why not shake it up a bit? Be inventive. What will catch a PR’s eye is a good bet for what might catch journalist’s eyes.
Every genre has a slightly different look, from alt-rock to doom metal. There is a fine line to tread between signalling quickly and easily which musical world you’re from but also keeping the images fresh and unique. Find this line, play around with it – every aspect of a band should be as important as the music and treated with the same level of care. Including...
4. How do you choose the right name?
More often that you might expect, a band’s pitch to a PR fails on the basis of either the band name or release name. Especially in metal, there are some downright stupid names – either boring, or worse, the wrong side of offensive. It’s all very well and good having a challenging band name or album title, but if it’s lazy in its edginess it will cause problems further down the line and PRs will not touch you. I see examples of this online all the time. Don’t be sexist, don’t be racist – if you’re going to name yourself something controversial, have a reason for it and be prepared to discuss it. If your reasoning is just ‘it sounded cool’, chances are the name won’t last long.
5. How do you stand out when contacting a PR?
Keep it simple in the subject line: name of band, genre, type of release, artists you’ve been compared to. Sometimes that can be all that’s needed, if you’re contacting the right PR who works in your area of music.
6. Why will a PR get back to you?
Your best bet is to make your pitch a) appealing, b) accessible. That’s basically it. If we can’t find your music and quickly, chances are we won’t have the time to listen. Soundcloud / streaming links are great. Do not send attachments or large emails. Pictures are good. Genre-description and similar artists will also catch our eyes, especially if it’s in an area we specialise in. Basic information like release name / date and contact information is vital.
Please don’t include us in a mass mailout to multiple PRs or make it seem blindingly obvious that your email is a copy-paste. PR is a personal relationship, so we want to feel that you’re coming to us, in the same way we’d want to work with you.
It’s amazing how often we get emails like this (please don’t do this):
“hi our band are releasing an album soon can you check us out for PR please?”.
99 times out of 100 this will not get a response as we won’t have the time to chase you down or look you up.
Looking after yourself:
7. How do you know we’re the right PR for you?
Do your research. Look us up, on our website and our social media – the best PRs I think have an active and personable voice, especially on twitter. Ask yourself: which other bands have we looked after? Do we specialise in your genre? Do we seem to get good results? As rock/metal PRs, we are probably not going to help you if you sound like Bruno Mars, much as we’d like to.
8. How do you stop yourself getting ripped off?
Regrettably, there are good PRs and there are bad PRs, like any other business. If possible, find PRs via recommendations from other bands. Follow bands covered by PRs and see what coverage they’re getting. Importantly: know what it is you want out of the relationship, where you’d like to focus, and how much you can afford.
9. What are your targets?
The best bands to work with from a PR perspective are bands with a sense of perspective. Know your own limits and be aware of your own status. If you’re a local band and you approach a PR asking for daytime Radio 1 plays, you’re probably going to be ignored.
As importantly, ask yourself where you stand in relation to other bands on a PR’s roster. This’ll give a great indication of what exposure they might be able to give you and if it matches your targets. Importantly it’ll also tell you how you might be treated: would you rather be a small band on a big PR’s roster, underneath household names (a greater reputation overall but you might be allowed less time) or a larger band on a smaller PR’s roster (more specialised and the chance to be treated with more time and energy)?
10. Have you yourselves allowed enough time for your music?
You, the band, have spent a year writing this album. Then a few weeks recording. And then weeks mixing and mastering, getting promo shots and artwork complete. And now you approach a PR, itching to finalise a release plan. The hardest thing to do now is wait. Tell yourselves, though, there’s no such thing as too much time.
Even the best PR in the world needs lead time. Generally think about approaching PRs around 3 months before an album release, at least, especially if you’re looking for print PR. Please don’t approach us after you’ve released your album. It may sound obvious but it does happen quite a fair bit. With rare exceptions, the majority of PRs will not touch an album that’s already out as it’s by definition not news. Look after your music, and give it the best chance to get the attention it deserves.
Any more questions? I’m happy to answer – firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheers!