[The following is an excerpt from The StoryAmp Music Publicist Directory.]
What will a publicist want you to have ready before your PR campaign starts?
Though journalists and media producers are moving towards digital consumption of music before release dates, there are still a shrinking, but significant number of journalists who strongly prefer a physical recording (usually a CD and in special cases: vinyl).
In addition, some journalists want to see what the final physical package looks like to make a decision: the quality of the artwork and packaging; the track titles, lengths, and sequence in print (as digital versions sometimes change before release date); and liner notes, if they exist. The more famous the musician, the more journalists who prefer physical promotional CDs will bend to review with digital only. In rare cases, in order to protect from pre-release leaks or piracy, some record labels will require journalists to physically come to the label office to listen to music. But more and more, journalists are getting used to be “serviced” with digital recordings. This typically means a zip file via Dropbox, Hightail, or a similar service. Sometimes, labels or artists will only allow journalists to stream tracks in advance of the release date. Again, this is tougher to do if the artist is not yet known or popular.
Regardless, you will need to provide to your publicist before campaign launch: mastered audio tracks (at 320BPS), hi-res album cover art (300 DPI at actual print size), a track listing in the correct sequence, and the album title, record label, and exact release date. You should also provide new hi-res photos of the artist. Ideally, photos should vary between portrait (vertical proportions) and landscape (horizontal proportions), color and black & white, and posed and candid (including live performance shots). Photo composition can be as complex as thinking about where a publication could layout text copy overlaid on the photo (which requires providing a lot of “empty” space somewhere in the photo. It’s best to always present photographer credits as well as a caption that indicates the individual names of band members (specifying that they are listed from left to right, or which instruments they are holding). This saves art directors or editors from wasting time trying to track down either piece of information.
The importance of music videos
In addition, it can be very helpful to have one or more music videos and high quality live performance videos. The live performance videos are important for journalists to get a sense of what your music looks like in a live setting. Music videos can be very helpful in securing exclusive placement (discussed later) or with outlets that only feature videos (not reviews or feature articles).
How many CDs will you need?
Each publicist will request a different quantity of physical promotional CDs. Numbers vary because of the number of outlets that cover a specific genre or musician type, the cost-to-reward benefit of the expense of pressing CDs and mailing them to the media, how targeted one publicist is over another, what systems one publicist may have for digital delivery versus another, and how well-maintained a publicist’s address book is. Expect to ship a minimum of 50 physical CDs and up to 300 or more for a major artist (plus additional CDs if you are hiring a radio promoter, which is typically a separate role and expense item in music promotion).
Another thing that varies from publicist to publicist, or project to project, is whether finished CDs are required versus a promotional version without full packaging. Having finished, retail-quality physical product gives you a competitive advantage over CDRs, promotional pressings, or CDs in flat sleeves. Just like everything in marketing, visuals make a difference. Holding a thoughtfully designed and packaged CD gives journalists a different impression than squinting at a thumbnail-sized cover and tracks with titles like 01Humping_and_Bumping_version_6a_ working_title. It also gives them more assurance that what they are spending limited time auditioning on their commute is what fans will hear.
Labels or artists with a well-oiled marketing and PR machine and strong brand recognition with the press, frequently get away with a less finished CD. They may do a short run of CDRs in house or do a short production run with an album cover only or in flat sleeves (which cost less to produce). Note that any promotional CD without a sleeve that says the name of the artist and album title is invisible once it is in a pile on anyone’s desk. You can now get flat sleeves that have a skinny spine with printing. Unless you have done PR before, your best bet is to schedule your release two or more months after you receive the finished physical product.
It is still wise to mark the CDs as promotional and not for sale (this can be done with a rubber stamp over the bar code), though many people skip this step these days. Larger labels especially concerned about leaks or piracy may choose to use a “watermarking” service, which assigns a separate MP3 that is traceable to a specific email address. Others simply use a “take down service” which monitors the Internet for unapproved delivery of audio tracks and takes expedient legal action on behalf of its paying clients.
A publicist is one important player in a larger team
Most publicists do not handle other aspects of marketing, management, paid performance booking, record distribution and retail placement, website creation, direct-to-fan sales, etc. (though some publicists work within larger marketing companies whom you can hire for these additional services). Publicists typically expect that you or someone else on your team is handling these other important aspects of your career. If you are seeking press by hiring a PR expert, it makes sense to connect all of these dots in advance of press coverage: a website where new fans can find information, music, videos, tour dates; a way for fans to buy directly from you or your label; access to your recorded music or streams through commercial outlets (from iTunes to Spotify); an opportunity for fans to see you in live performance. Though publicity starts far in advance of your release date or tour, you need to have these other marketing and management components in place before any press hits as well.
In summary, before hiring a publicist you should have a finished recording, a tour planned, new photos and videos, retail distribution, and a direct-to-fan channel all set up.
WHAT THE PUBLICISTS SAY…
What should I have ready when I hire a publicist?
“By the time the P.R. campaign starts, we ask that the client has a finished album or single ready. We also request high-resolution versions of both the cover artwork and artist photos. Having a previously used biography or fact sheet is also very useful in helping us assemble new written press materials for the campaign.”
— Jerry Graham, Director of Publicity, The Syndicate
“We typically see a band receive the most press leading up to the release of a new album. The more you give a publicist to work with, the better results you’ll see. Unreleased tracks and videos may help you secure premieres and publications who wouldn’t otherwise post without exclusive content. Tour dates provide an angle to pitch to writers at regional and local outlets. Your publicist can help you figure this out, but start thinking about what story angles about you would be worthwhile to a writer. So you have a great record: what else? What’s unique or relatable about you and your record?”
— Alyssa DeHayes, National Publicist, Team Clermont
“Before you hire a publicist, it’s ideal to have an album or EP, but these days it’s not a deal breaker. We’ve been doing a lighter “awareness” campaign to get the press world familiar with an artist. This can include placing 2-3 songs and/or videos on a few different websites and a few well-timed press releases out to the masses. A label, agent, or management isn’t a necessity anymore either, but it definitely helps the overall press picture. An upcoming tour is definitely a plus.”
— Pamela Nashel Leto, Senior Publicist, Girlie Action
“Everything! More seriously, we need to hear what we’re going to be working, before we get too far into a conversation about publicity. Many of our clients cross musical boundaries, and we can only understand the full potential by listening carefully and thinking about how a project fits in. So, artists need to have, at the very least, rough mixes in hand, with a general notion of when they hope to release, or with a few concerts booked (or close to booked). We work with plenty of independent artists, and we often play the role of a manager during the course of a campaign, helping them figure out what to do when, as well as offering more general advice and making introductions to relevant players in the field they may not know.
For our clients, we find it’s crucial to have a new recording, preferably a full album, and live dates that hit around the same time. It’s also important for artists to remember that if they’ve gone to the trouble and expense to produce a video, say, they need to hold it back and not just toss it up online. The more exclusive material we have to pitch, the better.”
— Tristra Newyear Yeager, Campaign Manager, rock paper scissors
“Before a client even hires a publicist, it is important to have something new to work with, whether it is a new single, EP, or full album. There needs to be enough ramp up time to seed the media with the new product before it is released. Once it is out and available it is old news. Live shows are very important, especially if you want to secure press across the country. The amount of music coverage that outlets are giving these days continues to shrink so actually performing in the market helps. While having a manager, agent, and label are important, it isn’t totally necessary if you keep yourself out there. Continue to perform and release new music… Staying active in your pursuit could help eventually secure the label, manager, and agent.”
— Jodie Thomas, Associate Vice President, 5W Public Relations
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[Publicity image from Shutterstock.]