Zen & The Art Of Promo – An Enlightened Approach To Music Publicity

Publicity in any industry is a dark art, which is why it must be used with great caution. Just as brilliant publicity can make a career, poorly thought out publicity can destroy one; in the changing tides of the music industry landscape, publicity is proving to be more essential for an artist than ever before. With the sheer number of freelance publicists, label publicists and PR firms, it’s a goddamn madhouse out there…

So, if you’re thinking of engaging a publicist, currently working with one or interested in taking the first few steps into the realm of promo on your own, here are some things to always keep in mind. Knowing the below will allow you to better understand what your publicist is doing / needs to do, and what you can do off your own back.

Be polite

Manners maketh the wo/man. People will rarely remember what you say to them but they will always remember how you made them feel. In Australia we have a small, insular industry and for that reason, you never know when the editor of a publication will pop up again as the A&R rep from a label standing in the crowd at one of your shows…

You know what, in music, treat everyone as though there’s a chance they could pop up again in such a manner, there’s a good chance it will happen at least once. Be kind to media, take time with your correspondence with them. If you get a negative response, a rude response or no response at all; take a deep breath, thank them for their time and move on.

Not getting the media response you need? Make sure your publicist isn’t being the rude one.

Be organised

A lot of people mistake Batman’s superpower as being rich. This is incorrect. Batman’s superpower is high-level organisation. Unlike most superpowers, this can be taught. Google docs, sheets and drive are invaluable tools to have in your cache. In your emails with media be sure to link back to everything. Link to things rather than attach. Save your press release and bio in Google Docs, store your press images and music in Google Drive and report your work in Sheets.

Don’t Spam

Spamming publications is a very quick way to ruin a relationship before it’s started. Always remember, editors and info@ email addresses get ~hundreds~ of emails a day. Most of them are important. A lot will go unopened. For that reason, it’s important to ‘play the game’ and try two or three times to stand out in their inbox but a fourth email is pushing it. Five is rude and any more is borderline stalking. Be striking in your emails subjects and remember brevity isn’t just the soul of wit, but also successful publicity campaigns. Don’t include whole press releases in your email pitches, link back to them. Also take the time to research the site. Do they only do news posts? Do they do reviews? Do they not do interviews? A lot of editors simply won’t have the time to respond informing you of something you can discover with a cursory glance. Save time by doing the research.

Don’t lie

While some maintain that publicity is the business of professional lying, it doesn’t always have to be the case. You aren’t the biggest local band in the city. Your single isn’t a ‘Game-changer’. Find the interesting traits of your project, expand on what makes them interesting and spread the word. Adjust the angle of what you’re saying not to trick someone, but to explain your project to them in terms they’ll understand.

For example, it may interest artists that one of the main tenets of Six8 is accountability, ensuring artists are paid in full promptly. However, Hosts may be more interested in the idea that artists are being held accountable for arriving on time. No lies were told, but spin still happened.

The magic happens in follow-up

It’s easy to lose some of the wind in your sails due to a lousy open rate off the back of a press release send out. Spending days finalising a press release only for it to be completely ignored sounds soul crushing – but don’t let it be. Here comes the cold water: No one opens press releases. Try and see the initial press release send out as an ice-breaker, a place holder for the larger conversation.

The magic happens in follow-up. Allow the press release to sit and stew in an inbox for about two days before following up. In your follow up, condense what’s in the press release, and pull from it the key points you want covered. Re-add links to bios, songs and images and be specific with what you want. Is it a news piece? An interview or a review?

Give your publicist some time post-press release.

Build your promo plans on the shifting sands rather than the stable rock

Things in the media world can change rapidly. All it takes is Eminem to tweet an image of an empty black square and the whole music media will go into meltdown for the next 48 hours. This means there won’t be time to cover your new video clip. Instead of freaking out, move with it. Adjust. Push things back and give media time to clear their heads.

Are you hit with a series of ‘Nos’ from publications you were counting on to form the foundation of your plan? Too bad, shake it off and keep moving, there are plenty more blogs and regional radio stations. Perhaps you’re aiming too high? Shift and re-calculate.

It’s important for artists to be involved in the creation of the promo plan, should their publicist be working on one. Have you seen it yet? You better get a look at it before you kick off. This isn’t rocket science, you can tell if something is out of place. For example, are you an acoustic act? Then why is a hip hop blog listed as a target?

You and your publicist must be like water.

Manage expectations

The business or promo is just as much the business of managing expectations as everything else. Before you start a campaign, what do you want to achieve? Is it more profile to get on better shows? Are you looking for specific airplay or media coverage? Or are you laying the foundations for a bigger announcement? Leave the kitchen sink at home, and be strategic with your campaign.

You may think that because there’s 100+ music blogs in the country, that at the end of your campaign you’ll end up with 100+ pieces of media. This won’t happen, not unless you’re Adele. Be strategic, it can’t be said enough. Rather than 100+ publications, pick 10. A mix of radio, print and online, and hit them with unique pitches, specialised to their world. The ‘No’s’ may stand out more, but the ‘Yes’s’ will have a lot more impact.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

Have fun with it

This is the cliché ‘posy’ point but it’s true. Publicity is one of the last free-form jobs left in music. Go crazy, think big, come up with ideas that are fun and rewarding for all involved. Be the first to do something. Do things better than other bands did, and give your fans great content to sink their teeth into.