So how do you get the media to pay attention to you? In a perfect world you’d have a few grand to spare for advertising and promotional costs. But things don’t work that easily, unfortunately.
The bad news is, seeing as you’re a Canadian indie artist, you’re probably not going to be able to afford a publicist. The good news is there’s a lot you can do without one.
First and foremost, make sure you have a quality press kit. This doesn’t mean spending thousands on printing costs. While all the frills might make your package look expensive, it’s what’s inside that counts. Often, experienced journalists require little more than a CD of your music, a web address and your contact information.
James Keast, Editor in Chief of Exclaim!, says, “The last thing [artists] should do is spend lots of money on press kits. A lot of bands make that mistake – sending in big glossy folders, photos, press clippings and all this information, thinking that if they send something memorable, whoever opens the package will remember you. It doesn’t work that way – it usually ends up in the garbage.”
If you’re going to include a bio, remember that your target is the press. Keep it short, as most journalists are overworked and dealing with constant deadlines, so respect their time. Keep your bio under a page, and be selective about the information you put into it. When writing a bio for media outreach purposes, you want to include basic information about the band. This would include everyone’s first and last names, their role in the band and one, or at most two, interesting tidbits that might intrigue journalists.
According to Gerry Krochak, music columnist at the Regina Leader-Post, a bio should contain a list of band members, what the band sounds like and why someone should be interested in reporting on it (for the sake of brevity, a bio in the form of a bulleted list is fine). The bio should portray the band and its music as accurately and positively as possible, but don’t get carried away – Krochak points out that “it’s important for artists not to make themselves sound like the greatest thing since the Beatles!”
Skip the newspaper clippings – in a press kit, they’re a waste of paper, and you run the risk of putting a journalist off with too much stuff to read. If you’ve reached the point where you have product to sell, or you’re about to go on tour, you should have a website ready – save the press clippings for that.
“What the press kit looks like doesn’t matter as long as the record’s good. Some of the best music I’ve heard arrived on burned CDs with a note saying ‘Hey, I made this, check it out'. Those can come from any source,” says Keast.
To make life easier for everyone in general (you, the band members, the press), designate a publicity contact. In order of preference, this person should be yourself, a band member, your manager, or a friend who (hopefully) has some experience in music promotions. When choosing someone, there are three qualities that are most important. First, the individual has to be reliable and accessible. This is the person whose contact information will be on your press kits, business cards and website. Second, the elected spokesperson has to be sociable and personable because s/he is (hopefully) going to be dealing with large numbers of people who are interested in your music. Last, whomever you choose has to be eloquent, because they’re going to be the main spokesperson on your behalf.
Your next step is to conduct some research on the media outlets available to you. This is something the entire band should be involved in, and the publicity person should handle. The easiest and most practical way of doing this is by using a database program to manage the information you collect. Include the name of the journalist, email address, phone number, which media outlet they work for, and mailing address.
Begin your research with local media. Find out who the journalists are in your area that cover music events, as well as those who do a lot of community journalism. In addition, keep track of articles on musicians who either influenced you, or whose music sounds like yours. Find out who the reporter was, and enter them into your database.
“I am always stunned when I see the SaskMusic newsletter and I see 12-14 CDs. Often, I only have one,” Krochak complains. “If there’s a Saskatchewan artist who has gotten to that stage – recorded and mixed an album, designed the packaging for a CD cover, and then they don’t tell anyone about it...that blows my mind.”
Look into specialized publications – those that cover Canadian music (Exclaim!, Canadian Musician, Access Magazine, etc.) in general, and genre publications from all over the world. Add them into your database.
Don’t ignore music websites. Because of the sheer number of them, your chances of getting an editor interested in you are higher than with traditional media (print, TV, radio). The global accessibility of a website gives you access to a much wider audience than any other type of media outlet.
Campus publications are also a great source for publicity, and can help to build relationships with future full time journalists. Campus media is also more accessible and way more indie artist-friendly than mainstream media outlets. A major perk is that their key audience includes large numbers of concert-going, CD-buying music lovers.
At this point, you have a media database and a press kit, and you want to make the former help you get the latter out. The easiest way to do this is by sending out a news release, then following up with the press kit. (Unless you’re looking for a CD review. Check with each publication for their guidelines – most prefer a copy of the release and a one-page bio).
Before you write a news release, ask yourself one thing: What do I have to say that’s newsworthy? If there’s no point in sending one out, don’t.
“One of my pet peeves is when artists call me up and tell me they have a great story. Don’t tell me you’ve got a great story – I’ll decide that,” said Krochak. “Somebody will call and say ‘I’m in a band, do you intend to do a story?’ And I’ll say, ‘About what? Is there going to be a show? Music?‘ You kind of have to have something to talk about!”
Reasons for sending out a news release, though, are plentiful. The obvious ones: you’re releasing an album, you’re going on tour, you just received government funding for your music, or your band’s been asked to perform at an important event or on a broadcast show. Not-so-obvious reasons could include a band member’s charity work, non-band related achievements, your music being used on a television show, or you’ve managed to snag studio time with a well-known producer.
Once you have a reason, write a news release following a standard format. Keep it as short and sweet as possible and don’t go over one page. Put “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” on the top of the page. Underneath that and centrally aligned, write a catchy headline in bold that summarizes the content of your news release.
Begin with your location and the date of the news release, followed by a short paragraph that summarizes everything a journalist would need to know. For example:
Regina, SK November 1, 2005 – This Band, with the help of FACTOR’s artist touring grant, is about to embark on a cross-country tour of Canada’s largest cities. The tour kicks off on November 23, 2005 in their hometown of Regina at The Distrikt (1326 Hamilton Street).
The next paragraph should be a brief description of the band, including any information that would increase chances of news coverage (e.g. performed at the Centennial, opened for a larger band, won a Battle of the Bands or any awards). The paragraph after that may include a quote from one of the band members (relevant to the purpose of the news release) for a personal touch. This is optional and can be cut in the sake of brevity.
The last paragraph should repeat the reason for the news release. If there’s additional information such as tour dates and locations, ticket prices, or television or radio appearances, then this paragraph should reference that it’s included on a second page. End with the designated publicity person’s telephone number and email address, as well as the band’s web URL.
There are several ways to distribute a news release. Most journalists now prefer to receive them by email (as a WORD document or a .PDF). Preferably, put the news release into the body of an email.
Most, if not all, newsrooms have fax machines, and if you’re sending it by fax, make sure to direct it to a specific journalist, or you run the risk of it ending up in the recycling bin. You can also send news releases by snail mail, but bear in mind that’s an old-school method. Still, if that’s the only option, or the journalist requests it, put the recipient’s name on there.
The ideal time to send a news release depends on the media outlet. For a daily newspaper, one to two weeks in advance is fine. If it’s a weekly, send it a month before. A monthly, two months before. This time frame isn't always possible, but send the news release out as soon as you can.
After you’ve sent the news release, wait a couple of days, and then follow-up. This involves calling or emailing the journalist to confirm that they got the news release and to provide more information. Asking whether or not they’d like a copy of your album and press kit is a perfect excuse for a phone call (once again, if you’re looking for a CD review, send the press kit along with the news release). Once you’ve made contact, it’s important to maintain good relationships with members of the press. Always be polite and respectful of their time, and keep in touch regularly. You can do this by inviting them (on guest list) to any of your shows, sending them regular updates on your musical progress, and adding them to your mailing list. Get in their good books and stay there, because it increases your chances of future positive coverage.
“It all boils down to common sense, common courtesy and communication. A lot of artists don’t read the paper but expect you to jump through hoops for them,” Krochak points out.
Every once in a while, you may receive coverage that is less than favourable. Don’t let this get to you. If it’s a review of your album or a show, don’t stress over it, because at the end of the day, a review is simply one person’s opinion. It doesn’t hurt to email the journalist (email because it’s less confrontational) and ask them in a respectful manner why they thought what they did about your music. You could also flatter them by asking how they think you could improve. You're not obligated to follow-up on their advice, but it helps towards building a relationship.
Keast also takes issue with artists’ sense of entitlement when it comes to coverage: “People have this sense that we owe them. They'll say, ‘You reviewed 178 albums and not mine.’ We’re not a charity. People don’t get that it’s not an automatic.”
If a media outlet is interested in doing an interview or feature on your band, great! Ideally, have as many members of the band available for the interview as possible, and follow basic rules of etiquette. First of all, be on time. If for any reason you’re going to be late or can’t make it, call in advance to let the journalist know. Second, be polite and as charming as possible. (It’s harder for journalists to write negatively about you if you make them like you first.) After the interview, email the journalist to thank them for their time and to add anything you might have forgotten during the interview. You may also ask them to let you know when the article is due for publication so you can get a copy for your records.
You’ve put in the work to record an album and plan a tour. You’ve already done most of the work, you just have to push a little bit harder to get the recognition you know you deserve. It’s definitely worthwhile to reach out to members of the press, especially those in your area, and areas where you’re going on tour.
It’s not impossible, but it takes some work to get the media to pay attention to you. You’ve come this far – good media relations skills can mean the difference between an audience of twenty and a sold-out venue. The more media coverage you receive, the more doors will open for you in the industry. And the more media coverage you will get.