When you hear “music publicity,” what comes to mind? A feature on the cover of Rolling Stone? A glowing album review on Pitchfork?
For many independent bands, the concept of getting publicity sounds out of reach, so they figure they don’t need to worry about it unless they “make it big.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The reality is that if you ever want the opportunity to promote your music to a bigger audience, you have to start thinking about your approach to publicity long before you hire a music publicist.
So what exactly is music publicity? Well, it all boils down to working with the media to attract public attention. Of course, the word “media” now encompasses a whole slew of digital-based outlets that were never part of the definition until recent years.
But even though the channels through which you can attract public interest are constantly evolving with trends and technology, the core of publicity is always going to be about relationships.
“if a band is good enough for a trusted publicist to take on as a client, the band is likely worth the journalist’s time”
Music editors and writers are bombarded with hundreds upon hundreds of pitches every day. As much as they would love to listen to every band, it’s simply not realistic. This is why they’re always going to give priority to emails from publicists who they know and enjoy working with.
The perception is that if a band is good enough for a trusted publicist to take on as a client, the band is likely worth the journalist’s time. Even if they’re not familiar with the band, journalists trust that a good publicist won’t waste their time with a pitch that doesn’t fit the writer or the outlet.
There are several methods you can use to find a music publicist who’s a good fit for you. Start by simply searching on Google, asking around on Facebook and Twitter, and getting recommendations from your musician friends.
You can also research which publicists work with bands similar to yours. Check out who else is on the PR firm’s roster and where they’ve scored coverage for their clients. If it seems like your band would be a good fit and you can realistically envision getting covered by some of the same media outlets, add them to your list.
Once you’re in touch with a few potential publicists, be prepared to explain the projects you’re currently working on, and why your band is unique and promising. You’ll also want to have a few questions ready regarding pricing, campaign length, reporting, and realistic goals for your career level.
One thing to watch out for: No legitimate music publicist will ever guarantee you coverage in a specific media outlet in exchange for your money, so run in the other direction if you hear that. However, they should be able to tell you what’s attainable, which outlets they would target for you, and what their approach would be to try to get you the best results possible.
“it’s a smart idea to handle your own publicity first so that you can learn what goes into the process”
As you can imagine, building and maintaining strong media relationships is a full-time job, and doing press outreach the right way is quite time-consuming. But if you’re still early in your music career, or you can’t find the kind of publicist you need within your price range, it’s a smart idea to handle your own publicity first so that you can learn what goes into the process.
Below are the four essentials you’ll want to get together before you reach out to the press for your new album or upcoming tour. Once you start working with a publicist later on, they’re going to ask you to have these same things prepared anyway, so you’ll be ahead of the game!
Just being a decent band with decent music isn’t enough to get covered. A great story is what makes all the difference between bands that get press and bands that don’t.
What makes your band unique? Which part of your story do you think resonates the most with readers of the blogs and publications you’re targeting?
If you came across an article about a band you’ve never heard of, what kind of story would make you care enough to read it and check out their music? Consider all of these things, and then figure out how you can relate them to your new music or upcoming tour.
An eye-catching press photo is more powerful than you might think, so it’s worth the investment to get yours professionally done. Be prepared with a few different sizes and options (such as black and white, hi-res, and vertical and horizontal versions), because you never know what a publication might need. Make sure that every photo is high quality and undeniably gets across who you are as a band.
An up-to-date digital press kit shows the media that you’re professional and that you take your music career seriously. A great press kit includes these eight things, which you can easily add to your website with Bandzoogle’s preset EPK page template.
This is where you really need to do your homework. It may seem like sending a blanket pitch in a mass BCC’d email is a sneaky shortcut to getting more press, but journalists can spot these impersonal emails in an instant, and almost always ignore them. You’ll get a better response rate if you take the time to research each publication and person you’re targeting, personalize each email, and present a customized idea for a story they can work with.
A typical music publicity campaign for an independent band takes about 8-12 weeks from start to finish. Decide on your target date (the day you release your album, the day you hit the road for your tour, etc.) and work backwards from there to figure out when you need to start planning.
The first thing you need to do is research the media outlets you want to target. Start local, and if you’re playing out-of-town shows, expand your search to those areas as well. Check out where other similar bands have had success, make a note of those specific outlets and writers, and try to find direct email addresses.
Keep all of this information organized in a spreadsheet, because you’ll also need to use it to track which outlets you’ve contacted and when, how many follow-up emails you’ve sent, and when confirmed coverage is scheduled to run.
The last thing you want to do is send a bunch of frantic emails the day before your album release, so make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to send the initial pitch and a couple of follow-up emails. Magazines and newspapers usually require more lead time and have stricter deadlines, so reach out to them first to increase your chances of getting covered. Then, about four weeks out, start contacting any podcasts, indie/college radio stations, and blogs on your list.
“make the pitch about them, not you.”
The media world operates on tight deadlines. So pitch emails that are succinct, personalized, contain a simple link to your music or digital press kit, and precisely follow the submission guidelines are the ones that are most likely to get a response.
Here’s the trick: make the pitch about them, not you. Sure, you’re releasing a new album that you’re super excited about, but so are 70 other bands that contacted them today – so why should they care about yours?
Show that you’ve done your research – point to past articles they’ve written that lead you to believe they’ll be interested in your music. Mention a specific type of feature or series the outlet has that you think you’d be great for. The more specific you make your story and pitch, the easier you make it for them to say “yes.”
In just a couple of sentences, you should be able to introduce yourself, explain exactly what your request is, and provide a link with more information. The pitch email is not the place to share your full bio. If they’re interested, they’ll click on your digital press kit link and read more about you.
Also, remember to never attach large files to your emails – journalists hate that. Just send a simple link where they can stream or download your media.
It may be frustrating, but the reality is that most writers won’t reply to your first pitch email. However, you significantly increase your chances of a response when you send one or two follow-up emails. The key is to show that you’re professional and persistent, but not annoying or desperate.
If you don’t hear back after you send your initial email, wait at least a week before you follow up. Send a polite, brief note that gauges their interest. Include a simple question related to the coverage you’re requesting that they can easily reply “yes” or “no” to.
If you haven’t heard back after your follow-up email, wait another week and try one more time. If you still get no response after three emails total, it’s safe to say that you can move on.
Scoring press coverage is an amazing accomplishment, but the work doesn’t end there.
Immediately after the piece goes live, make a note of it in your press outreach spreadsheet, and send a short and sweet thank-you note to whoever helped make it happen. Let them know that you’ll be sharing the coverage on your website, adding it to your press kit, and promoting it on social media (be sure to tag the publication and the writer when you share it). Media outlets always appreciate when bands help spread the word!
Hopefully this will be the beginning of a long, fruitful relationship with the writer and publication, and it’s in your best interest to maintain it. Even if all you got was a short write-up from a small indie blogger, you never know which publications that person will end up writing for down the road. It’s a beautiful thing when the careers of both the writer and the band can grow together!
Music publicity is a very time-intensive process, and it can take years to develop valuable relationships with the media. But putting in the work now to build your network and get that early buzz will pay off in a huge way as you grow your music career.
Lisa Occhino is the founder of SongwriterLink, a free songwriting collaboration website that matches you up with exactly the kind of co-writers you’re looking for. She’s also a pianist, award-winning songwriter, and graduate of Berklee College of Music.