BY SKIP TAYLOR AND LORENA KELLY FOR SASKMUSIC
When something important is happening in your music career (be it a CD release party, upcoming tour, new video release, award nomination or something else), how do you let the world know?
It used to be you had one option: write a press release on 8½ x 11 paper and mail it out with a copy of your CD to let media, arts organizations, agents and promoters know what you were up to, and to garner reviews, articles, etc. A little over a decade ago, this was the main method of getting your message to your fans. Fortunately for the artist, things have changed drastically and there are now many options and many avenues to help you get your message out, and to let your fans and the media know about your news.
(And by media, we are going to be referring not only to journalists in the standard media such as newspaper, magazines, radio and television, but folks such as talent agents, festival bookers, associations, bloggers, online ‘zines, and so on.)
With many options at your disposal, the question now is, “What is the most effective way to reach current fans, engage new fans, and inform industry insiders?”
Many artists have become so focused on Twitter, Facebook etc. that they’re ONLY social media to promote themselves. While these are great tools, and indeed allow you to engage directly with your fans, these platforms should only form part of your overall press strategy.
The first problem is that simply posting an event or bit of news once is not enough. Many people (especially those in the music industry) will check their accounts a few times a day, but they will not often go back and review their entire timeline. The timing of your posts is critical to their being seen; at the same time, if you post too often, you might cross the line from ‘informing’ to ‘annoying’.
The second problem is that people interact with these platforms in a wide variety of ways, and consume information from these services in completely different ways. Some people are active users (regularly re-tweeting, sharing links, and “liking” posts), while others scan their feeds for interesting news with no interaction on their part at all.
The third problem is that not everyone you want to reach is even going to be on these platforms. Scandalous, I know! How can someone in the music business or someone interested in the music business not be on Facebook and Twitter? But yes, there are those out there that are not. There are those who have not connected with you (or those, such as journalists, who simply cannot keep tabs on every band in the vicinity or all those that they do know). And there are those who still prefer to read the newspaper in the morning as opposed to a Twitter feed.
Compound that with Facebook audience issues such as confusion between personal accounts and Pages, Groups, and access/privacy settings for all of the above, and you really can’t assume that your intended targets are actually seeing your message.
The reality is, if you want a specific person to know about something you have going on, you still need to reach out directly to that person. It is surprising how many people “assume” that you automatically know about something important going in their lives/careers simply because they posted it on their Facebook status once. It is far too easy for your message to get lost in the constant stream of information! And...even if you do see a post that you want to follow up on later - it can be very difficult or impossible to find again, especially if you only vaguely remember what it was about or which band posted it! The main thought in your mind should be, “How can I make it easier for these people to do their jobs?”
Most people in the music industry are overworked and underpaid. The more you can do to make their lives easier - by providing access to your music, having good-quality high-res photos, a well-put together and easy to navigate artist webpage, and great story ideas, the more success you will have with obtaining press coverage in all forms of media! (As a side note - It is truly surprising how many artists ‘forget” to provide a copy of the album, either digital or physical, to journalists and other industry personnel but expect to receive press/reviews on it...and same goes for inviting these folks to your CD release party but not offering to put them on the guest list!)
Obviously I am not suggesting you abandon Twitter and Facebook, etc! You have to interact on these platforms to engage with interested fans and industry. In fact, they are essential tools for today’s artist. What I am suggesting however, is for you to develop a communications strategy that makes sure your most important contacts get all the information they need to spread your message. Most of your daily activities are fine to post online. But when you have a big important message like an album release, video release, or a new tour, it is important that you make every effort to get your message in the hands of key contacts.
Certainly you will want to post important career milestones on all the usually online outlets, but you should also set aside time to create a traditional press release (or social media press release) and service it to local and/or national/international media. If you are unsure of how to do this, there are some great resources online, you can book a consult with SaskMusic, or you could hire a publicist. Following up by phone is required, especially with those A-level media contacts that you really want to cover you. Your local radio stations, print outlets and local music organizations should all be serviced not only with a press release, but also a telephone call and a CD to reinforce your efforts. Earlier I indicated that I felt a lot of artists are overly reliant on social media. By taking these extra steps, you actually put yourself ahead of the pack. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for media to cover you. I would strongly suggest that you do not rely on a Twitter post to grab the attention of your local entertainment writer, radio personality or arts organizations. Think about how many hundreds of artists these people are connected to or are following, and you’ll realize you need to do something more to stand out.
Despite current trends in social media, the press release remains one of the best ways to get your message out. Social media press releases do not replace traditional releases, they complement them – much in the same way that social activities and campaigns work best in conjunction with traditional PR initiatives. Social media releases are organic beasts that can evolve depending on whether people key into them and start sharing/engaging with the conversation. They are, by nature, non-targeted to begin with; you then have to watch and interact as others join in on the conversation.
Key Elements of a Social Media Press Release
- Headline: Keep it short and focused. Don’t try to be too creative - a few words should suffice.
- Subtitle (optional): If you have an extremely important bit of information to add.
- Overview: A summary paragraph of the release contents. This is where you need to grab attention, so put plenty of thought into it.
- Body: The actual news/information. Lay out the facts of your pitch without too much embellishment (who, what, where, when, why). Calling yourself the “world’s greatest rock band” in your own press release will just induce eye-rolling.
- About the Band: A short paragraph describing the band, if not included above. Links to your website, Twitter feed and Facebook fan page.
Now let’s talk specifically about a new album release. It used to be you would mail out or hand-deliver a physical CD to radio stations, media outlets etc. Now, more and more artists have embraced digital formats, and are suddenly expecting media outlets etc. to somehow “find” their music. Again, I would strongly suggest you make every effort to make it as easy as possible for media outlets to find, and listen to, your music. There are lots of options for digital delivery. DMDS (Digital Media Distribution System) seems to be the clear choice for delivery to radio, but as an independent artist, use whatever works for you, including hand delivery of a CD, USB stick, or online delivery via your website, Dropbox, or any number of available online tools. DO NOT email MP3s to media without getting permission first!
For your best chance at success it is important to define your targets and customize the way you deliver information. I am not saying you need to customize delivery for 50 different outlets, rather that you focus on the top 10 or 20 outlets you really want to get to. What are the outlets that have covered you in the past? Which outlets do you think do the best job of reaching your fans? Is there a genre-specific outlet that is important to you? It is important to maximize your efforts towards outlets that are actually going to give you the maximum exposure - or exposure that is best targeted to your existing and potential fans.
Build a list of your most-important targets and keep track of how they prefer to interact with you. How do they want their information delivered? If you don’t know, ask! Keeping track of this can save you a ton of time in the long run. A sample list might look like the table below.
Keeping track of how your most important targets access information will make your next communication with them more efficient and effective. You will spend less time chasing, and more time getting them the information they are looking for - in the format and on the service they use the most.
As an independent artist, it is important to understand what you are up against and what your opportunities are. Professional publicists, radio trackers etc. are calling and emailing these outlets every day; and in many cases, they have developed relationships over many years. Keep this in mind as you approach your target outlets. Your long-term goal should be to build a personal relationship with the important people at these outlets.
The good news is that media folks are always looking for local interest stories. There are so many places to get world news these days that it is getting increasingly hard for local media outlets to compete. This is a distinct advantage for independent artists, in that their local media outlets are looking for local stories to separate themselves and carve out their local niche. As a local artist, you can easily provide them with content by being able to appear in-person for an interview, a photo shoot, or a sound bite on short notice.
Many artists I have worked with over the years have a difficult time with the business side of their music. My advice has always been that the more organized and efficient you make the business side, the more time you will have to create your art. The strategies above may initially take some time to set up, but in the long run should actually save you time in the managing of your business, and free up more time to be creative.
Skip Taylor has been involved in the music industry for over 20 years, many of those as the Universal Music Promotion Representative for Saskatchewan, where he was responsible for promoting, marketing and securing publicity for the entire Universal Music roster in Saskatchewan. He now runs SKIP: Artist Services, a music business and career planning company, and recently joined the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils as their Performing Arts Coordinator.
Last Information Serviced
Press release sent via email, including tour dates.
Followed up by phone. Music director did not return voicemail. Sent private message via Facebook. Returned that message within 2 hours. Set up station visit and on-air interview.
Start by messaging on Facebook first.
Press release sent via email re. new album.
Followed up on phone. Entertainment editor asked for MySpace page with links to new tracks and high-res photo. Updated MySpace page and then sent the link along with an attachment new press photo JPG.
Be sure MySpace page is up to date before calling. Follow up in 5 days to see if they have listened and if they are willing to do an interview around release time.
Press release sent via email re. new album
They emailed me back right way and asked permission to include the info in the newsletter
Make note of upcoming deadlines and ask for inclusion
Phoned about CD release party and invited
They returned voicemail and RSVP’d for guest list. Also requested SoundCloud links to download album. Emailed link.
Follow up after release party by telephone to see if interested in booking us this year.