The Ins And Outs Of What A Music Publicist Is, And How To Effectively Work With One
During the 16+ years I’ve worked in the music industry, both as a publicist, and as a writer, it’s become increasingly clear to me that not many people have a firm understanding of what a music publicist actually does. When asked the question “what do you do for a living?” I’ll often answer with the easier of the two and say “I’m a writer,” because more often than not replying with the other job I do, the one I started a company for, and the one that brings in the majority of my yearly earnings, is met with follow-up questions like: “oh, what kind of music do you publish?” Or flat out, “what’s a music publicist?”
A music publicist, put simply, is someone who helps bands (or solo acts, or venues, or festivals, or even podcasts, etc) get more attention. The way we go about doing that is by accumulating contacts in the music industry, keeping up to date with what they cover, and reaching out to them about projects we’re working with that we think might be of interest to them.
The main goal is to get song and video premieres, interviews, show write-ups, and other similar opportunities that will accumulate sustainably over the course of an artist’s career and help keep their name relevant, and their music in rotation on people’s phones and computers, etc.
It’s a simple concept that involves a lot of moving parts, which can add to the confusion and bring people back around to “okay, but I still don’t know what that means.” Here are a few easily digestible (hopefully) bits of info and insight that should be able to help someone who’s curious about publicity, and how to possibly go about working with a publicist for the first time effectively.
Have As Much Of Your Stuff In Order As Possible Before Reaching Out To A Publicist
If you’re in a band (just one of many examples) and are considering reaching out to a publicist to help you get more attention, it’s super important to have as much “stuff” in order as possible before doing so. If you’re looking to get some reviews and write-ups for an album, and that’s why you’re pursuing publicity, make sure that album is done, as in recorded, mastered, and in a format your publicist can share with press, such as a private but shareable Soundcloud, or MP3 zip (with songs labeled, and in order) that we’ll make into a private download.
The last thing you want to do is hire a publicist and then start getting your album, videos, bio, and band photos together because that will delay the flow of work on your publicist’s end, and this is work you are paying for, so it’s important to make the most of it. When you sign a contract with a publicist they will be ready to start working right away. You should be too.
Publicity Campaigns Primarily Happen Before An Album Comes Out
Ideally, publicity is something that happens all throughout an artist’s career and is a sustainable thing that is continuous in keeping “the buzz” going before an artist releases an album, goes on tour, and in those in-between times as they’re gearing up for the next thing. When it comes to what’s known as a publicity “campaign” though, the bulk of the work there takes place before something happens, usually in the case of a new album coming out.
A common mistake that bands make when they’re pursuing working with a publicist for the first time is doing so after their album is already out, and made public all over the internet. It’s definitely possible that a publicist can get write-ups for an album once it’s already been released, especially in the form of interviews and other more thoughtful coverage aside from that of a premiere, which no tracks from the album would be eligible for once it’s out. But you should really plan for your publicity campaign to start at least 2-3 months before your album comes out.
An average over-worked music writer can take weeks just to get around to reading an email, so you need to plan well ahead and give them time to consider, schedule, and then write and edit coverage of your project. Sure, sometimes your publicist can get lucky and catch a writer in a good mood with enough free time to post up a video premiere within a couple days, but for the most part that’s gonna be a process that takes a couple weeks, at least. Plan ahead, keep your new material off of Facebook (however tempting it might be to share) and allow for the writers you’re hoping to write about your stuff to have adequate time to do so.
A good exercise to help you prepare for your campaign is to pick a band you enjoy personally who has an album coming out, and make note of how their campaign works during their album cycle. Notice how it will usually kick off with a premiere (which often serves as the album announcement) on a national site like Pitchfork, Stereogum, NPR, or Consequence of Sound. After the premiere there will usually be shares of that same song/video on other sites, varying in size of readership, and then it will be quiet for a week or so and you’ll see a second premiere.
From there you’ll start to see interviews popping up, tour announcements, and maybe even an exclusive stream of the album itself. Reviews of the album will start appearing a week before it’s set to be released, and writers are able to do this because publicists sent them advance copies of the album months prior so they could spend time with it, and organize their thoughts about it into a review. This process is more or less exactly the same for every recording artist, and it will be the same for you, if all goes as it should.
Treat Your Publicist Like A Member Of Your Team, Because They Are
Okay, so you tracked down a publicist you’re interested in working with, they listened to your upcoming album and returned the sentiment. A fee has been quoted. A contract has been signed. A timeline for the publicity campaign has been established. Now what?
This is the point where you establish and maintain near constant communication with your publicist and keep them up to date with everything you’re doing. Keep in mind, at all times, that you hired this person to tell Press about what you’re doing. How can they effectively do that if they don’t know what you’re doing?
There’s nothing worse for a publicist than finding out about a new show you booked, or a collaboration you’ve planned, via Facebook or Twitter. The minute you schedule anything, you should tell your publicist first. Tell them right away. The more they know, and the sooner they know, the better equipped they are to brag you up to that publication you’ve been dying to see yourself covered by.
Establish a friendly and direct way of communicating with the person you hired to work with you, treat them with respect, and remember that they’re a part of your team.
A little insider tip: Treating someone like shit will NEVER make them work harder for you. Quite the contrary.
The Sperm Bank Analogy
A common question that publicists get asked by the bands they’re working with is something along the lines of “how can I make sure that I’ll get results from this?” And that’s a very fair and valid question. Most publicity campaign contracts contain text to the effect of “results are not guaranteed,” and that’s in there for a reason.
While, hopefully, the publicist you hire will make a concentrated, calculated, diligent and even passionate attempt to get your music written about, it won’t always yield the fantastic results you’re looking for. But, keep in mind that something is always better than nothing. Chances are that prior to hiring a publicist only your friends and family knew about your band. A publicity campaign, even one that appears to have not been successful, broadened your audience exponentially. Think of a publicity campaign like going to a sperm bank with the hope of having a child. Getting that sperm doesn’t guarantee you’ll end up with a baby, but it’s a pretty damn good first step.
It’s important to have realistic expectations but to remain confident and positive about any results you get. Here’s another exercise: Make a mental list of five national publications, either in print or solely online, that you’d like to see your band covered by. Got it? Okay, now know that every other band in the world, and we’re talking Fleetwood Mac, Chelsea Wolfe, Dolly Parton, Marilyn Manson, and every other band in between, is fighting for coverage in those very same publications.
On one hand, this levels the playing field in an exciting way that the music industry hasn’t experienced in past years, but it also makes it extremely difficult for new bands to rise to the top. Stick with it, be nice to your publicist, and if all goes well you’ll work together as a happy team to slowly chip away your own sustainable section of the music industry hive mind.
-There are some good music publicists out there and Kelly McClure from WolfieVibes Publicity is definitely one of them. Feel free to get in touch with her for the help you need.