By Mike King of Berklee College of Music
Outside of online marketing, one of the only other relatively level playing fields for independent artists is publicity. It’s entirely possible for unsigned artists to get the same media coverage as major label artists based largely on the merits of their record, live show, and the intangible “buzz” that occurs when artists begin to reach the tipping point. Having said that, one important point: while it is possible to get similar coverage as major labels, it is not easy. Let’s discuss what the print writers are looking for from you and how you can present your music and story to them in the best possible light.
Press Kit Essentials
The music industry tends to be a jaded group to start with, and nothing raises the ire of these folks more than a poorly planned and executed press kit. A poor promo kit is sure to keep music un-listened to, and the rest of your kit is sure to be sent to the circular bin “with a bullet,” as they say. The good news is that the elements that make up an effective press kit are straightforward, and the essentials are not going to change much from band to band.
The goal of the promo kit is to have the kit itself forgotten.
When putting together your promo kit, the first rule of thumb is to put yourself in the shoes of the people who receive these things on a daily basis. The music writers at the major locals like The Boston Globe and The Chicago Tribune receive dozens of promo kits a day, and the fact is, the fewer barriers (extraneous material) you put between them and your story/music, the greater chance there is of them listening. While you may have the urge to create something that really stands out from the crowd, the bells and whistles may in fact get in the way. I urge you to reconsider and instead let your music, bio, and press clippings do the talking for you. Like many things in life, simple really is better.
So What Makes a Good Promo Kit?
An effective press kit contains the following:
• bio/press release
• an advance or finished product
• link to hi-res photos
• press quotes (this could also be part of the bio/press release)
We’ll get into more detail on presenting a story to press, but the main point of your press release and bio should be to set the stage – identify what makes you unique, highlight individual background/accomplishments of the members if they are interesting, point out any career highlights so far, provide information on tour dates, and perhaps share some key press quotes. You’ll find that many writers, especially the daily and weekly folks, copy and paste directly out of your press release and bio. So make it good. PS: don’t forget to add the street date!
Your Advance or Finished Product
At the current moment, writers still like to be serviced with a physical piece (especially for new bands). If you are making advances for press, be sure your (or your publicist’s) contact info is all over it – CDs easily get separated from their boxes in a pile of to-review music. If you are sending out finished product, be sure that you are sending out a full art version.
Photos sometimes make the difference between whether something will run or not. Hi-res press photos are a necessity. Back in the day, press releases routinely contained a glossy shot, but these days, the norm is to provide a link to your Web site where a writer could download a 300 dpi hi-res image. Writers sometimes finish their articles at 2AM the night before deadline. If there is a private link for media to hi-res shots, it ensures that the photos will run!
If you’ve had some past success with the press, your promo kit should include a “paste-up” of this media coverage. Format is important here. Any editorial you band gets should be cut out from whatever else surrounds it in the paper. Cut out the masthead of the publication, affix it on a piece of paper with the article below, and be sure to format it all so it looks nice on an 8” ½ x 11” piece of paper. Alternatively, if you have some really key quotes, these can simply be dropped into your press release or bio.
It’s definitely not necessary, and odds are it won’t be read, but a very quick introduction, a note of thanks, some key bullet points on the project, and your contact info in a cover letter might please a writer here or there. Again, if you are working with a publicist, this is less necessary because the writer likely has a relationship with the publicist, will hear from them on the phone, and an intro is not necessary.
If you have a busy tour schedule, it may make sense to include an itinerary of upcoming shows as well. If the recipient of your kit is not all that familiar with your band and they see you’re playing places like the 9:30 Club in DC or Yoshi’s in SF, they’ll know you are the real deal. This is particularly important for show preview or review press.
Digital Servicing vs. Physical Servicing
Music publicists are moving into digital servicing for promos/advance music but it’s usually on a case-by-case scenario. Publicists that are working albums that they expect writers to be excited about often do 100% digital servicing. As an example, the large independent label Beggars Banquet e-mails a unique code to writers, which leads them to a Web site where they enter the code and then download a full album and a press kit. However, not all writers are adapting to digital servicing, and for new bands, a press kit should still contain the physical essentials: a CD, a press release, and press quotes. Again, all photos are sent digitally all the time. Photos are never serviced to writers anymore unless they are photocopied within the press kit.
The Importance of a Press Story
Music writers have it tough. Not only do they get inundated with more information than a human is designed to comprehend, but they are under the added pressure of writing about music—which is one of the more difficult topics to describe using words. Good music writers are always searching for ways to differentiate their reviews and features from the multitude of other reviews out there. The famous Rolling Stone writer Lester Bangs was fired by publisher Jann Wenner for being “disrespectful to musicians,” but his unorthodox writing style and ability to create a story around a record (he is credited for coining the term “Punk” in a negative review of the MC5’s Kick Out the Jams record in 1970) is legendary. It’s essential that musicians try their best to help writers create their story. For an artist or publicist, a creative story provides the “foot in the door” that is necessary to elevate their relationship with the music writers to the next step: having them listen to the music to decide if it is worthy to review on its own merits.
How to pitch print media
After you’ve identified the print publications that are most appropriate for your music or your tour dates, you need to connect with the folks that are actually doing the writing for these pubs. An up-to-date media database of names and address is the cornerstone of a good press campaign. Almost all print publications have a masthead, which is the section up front that lists the publisher, editor, art director, and writers. Take a look through the magazine, and identify the writer that has written about music similar to yours, and send them a copy. A lot of pubs also use freelance writers. If you find the name of a writer in the reviews sections that is not listed in the masthead, call the magazine and see if you can get the address of that specific writer. If the writer has a good track record of bringing interesting music reviews to the publication, they might be able to pitch a review of your record to the editor as a freelancer. Lastly, many pubs have Web sites that list e-mail contact info. Find the proper writer and send a respectful e-mail inquiring about their submission policy.
Record Release Press VS Tour Press
A good music publicity campaign is focused on two distinct press segments with two different goals: Pre-release press leading up to the record’s street date is mostly focused on record reviews and features, and if you are a massive artist or really connecting with folks, TV appearances to support the upcoming release. Once the release date hits, the press campaign is less focused on reviews (as we mentioned, pubs rarely review a record post street date), and more focused on supporting tour dates, or larger “trend” stories.
How to Pitch Blogs
While many of the same concepts that you apply to traditional media are used when you pitch blogs (be relevant!), the process by which you pitch them and the information that they require is slightly different than the way you would approach traditional media. Many blogs (Pitchfork is an exception, and operates more like a traditional magazine) are staffed by maybe one or two folks that are simply die-hard music fans. They admire folks that send them personalized messages, and abhor cut and paste “templatized” outreach. They appreciate folks that have taken the time to read their blog, comment on it, and get involved. Blogs generally run quick-hit pieces, and don’t have the time or space to print a full press release. If you can summarize the press release and provide a link to the release elsewhere, you’ll have much better luck. Also, blogs love exclusive material. Keep some tracks and video free for blog and online (iTunes loves exclusive tracks too!) outreach.
Mike King is the author of Music Marketing: Press, Promotion Distribution and Retail out now on Berklee Press, as well as a course author and instructor for several courses on Berkleemusic.com, Berklee College of Music’s online school. Berkleemusic offers over 130 instructor-led online courses and certificate programs in music business, music production, guitar, bass, voice, music theory, songwriting, and more. Enrollment is now open for the winter term starting on January 11, 2010.
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