This past Friday I moderated the How To Make It in the New Music Business panel at the ASCAP Expo.
One the panelists was the co-founder LaFamos PR and Branding, Hunter Scott. He is one the few publicists out there who won’t take your money if he doesn’t think he can help you. If your music simply is not at a the level where PR will help, a publicist should tell you this. Most don’t because they need the paycheck.
Most publicists charge thousands a month whether they bring you results or not. I’ve talked to way too many musicians who have been burned by “top-notch” publicists. I once toured with an artist who paid one the biggest music publicists in the world $5,000/mo for a 4 month campaign to promote our shows to the local outlets in every city, get him on the national talk shows and in-studio radio interviews. After dropping $20,000 this big-time publicist got him exactly 3 articles in local newspapers. I got 4 on the same tour by doing the PR myself.
Mind you, this artist had millions plays. His lack press was not because he sucked. It was because the publicist took his money and did exactly nothing.
Hunter will be the first to admit, though, that nothing is guaranteed in the world PR. Even if the music is undeniable and the publicist truly cares, there are things outside everyone’s control (like Radiohead is in town and all local music press is covering that, Kendrick Lamar released his record on the same day you did or all TV shows have been booked up on the days you’re passing through). A good publicist, though, will be able to get you at least something.
But a publicist’s job is so much more than just sending out press releases.
Actually, Hunter straight up said to the packed room musicians, managers, songwriters, producers and industry execs “Fuck press releases.” Everyone gasped. I asked him to clarify. “Are you saying you don’t work with press releases? That you don’t write them?”
He clarified that his company does in fact write press releases, but they never include them in the body their pitch email or (god forbid) attach them to the email. They only send them if the writer requests one or they include a link to one in the email along with a link to the artist’s DPK.
Hunter explained that the reason their success rate is so high is because they take a personal approach to everyone they pitch. They don’t blast out “Hi First Name], you’ll love this new song by SoandSo. See press release below.” Their initial email is personalized and includes the “hook.” What is the hook? Well, it’s the reason the reviewer will write the story. What sets this artist apart from every other artist in the world? Why this publication should write about this artist. Because everyone is saying that their artist’s music is great. But why should people care?
Good publicists help artists come up with their “story.”
The story is the one thing that will get everyone talking about them. No one cares how incredible your drum tones are or that you recorded your album through a Neve console. That’s stuff for you and your musician friends to geek out about. The general population and music reviewers don’t care. But they do care if your van flew f the side the road on your last tour, every member was thrown out the window, it burst into flames shortly thereafter and your new album is a based on this experience — focusing on, specifically, the moment you saw the van go up in flames. Now that’s a story!
Everyone has a story. An angle. Just because you haven’t had a near-death experience, doesn’t mean you don’t have (or can’t come up with) an incredible story that will get everyone talking about you. Bon Iver’s story for his debut album was that he recorded his album in a cabin in the northern woods Wisconsin in the winter time. Everyone heard this story. Yes, Justin Vernon had been in and out rock bands his entire life. That wasn’t the story. That’s not interesting. That’s every musician’s story. But his bio and press release wasn’t about his many failed bands. It was the one story that got everyone talking.
If you’re paying a publicist a jaw-dropping price, they better help you come up with a jaw-dropping story.
Let me give you a little tip. There’s this database called Cision which includes the names and contact information virtually anyone a publicist would ever need to contact from writers, reviewers, music bookers on TV shows and so forth. Anyone can pay a few hundred dollars a month and get access to this database.
As a writer for Digital Music News, my name and email got included on this list and I get sent countless emails every day with (shitty) publicists pushing bands on me. One, I don’t review music and if that publicist would have spent 2 minutes glancing at my column they would realize this and two, these emails are almost never personalized. And tentimes they start with “Hi First Name]” instead “Hi Ari” as in they didn’t format it properly in Mailchimp. SMH.
Don’t pay a publicist who is just going to blast out press releases to the “Music” list on Cision.
You can do that for a hell a lot cheaper — and do a better job at it too, because you care!
The reason you are (or should be) paying a publicist their very expensive rate is for their connections. The good publicists don’t blast out press releases to their entire contact list. The good publicists personalize every email for every single contact and only hit up the contacts they think will dig what they’re promoting this time. It’s how they keep their good relationships up.
If writers get hit up by the same publicist every day with a new band and virtually the same message, you think that reviewer is ever going to give this publicist the time day? But if writers get a personalized email mentioning WHY they will most likely dig this artist (they follow in the footsteps So-and-So who you wrote about last month or their story is mind blowing) that writer will not only give it a listen, they will always open emails from this publicist in the future.
It is very seldom just about the music.
Music reviewers don’t write about music. Let me repeat, music reviewers don’t write about music. They write about the culture music. They aren’t writing about your drum or guitar tones, syncopated rhythms, schizophrenic meters, or interesting mix techniques. The things that musicians get f to, music reviewers (and the general population) couldn’t give two shits about. That’s why your story is so important. Something that reviewers can write about. Because most reviewers aren’t musicians and don’t have a musical ear like you and I have a musical ear. But most music reviewers are passionate about music. They know if they like something or not, but their opinions are also influenced by the artist’s story, image and overall aesthetic.
We’d like to think it’s all about what’s coming out the speakers. But it never is. The quicker you realize this, the quicker you will be well on your way to gaining much more press — with or without a publicist.
Ari Herstand is the author How To Make It in the New Music Business a Los Angeles based musician and the creator the music biz advice blog, Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake