The quick answer. It depends. (You thought I was going to say yes, didn’t you?!)
Anyway, it depends on 3 key things.
- What stage is your band at?
- What are the aspirations for your band? Do you treat your band like a business?
- Can you afford it?
Ok that was 4 things masquerading as 3 but just go with it. Maybe no one noticed.
Firstly, let’s be brutally honest here. Every band is not going to need PR. You may only be at the early stages of your band, your band may just be for fun, a hobby, playing the pub and club circuit on a Saturday night and aspiring for nothing more than to play at weekends in front of your mates and to have a good time and you know what, that’s absolutely fine. But if you pick up music magazines and hope to see your band in there one day, if you want to sell more than a handful of CDs, get booked on exciting tours as tour support and have the world hear your message, then a solid PR team behind you can help with all of these things. But before this can happen, you need to sit down together and honestly assess how good you think your music is before engaging with a publicist. Nearly every band believes they have the greatest album, or the greatest history or the greatest guitar player ever told. But only a tiny percentage actually do. PR companies cannot polish turds, no matter how shiny you might make it, the public will still be able to smell the stench a mile away.
OK BACK UP, WHAT IS A PR COMPANY?
It’s easier to start with what we’re not, and what we often get asked to do is management, distribution, label services, booking gigs or putting on gigs. We don’t do that. What we do is take you (as a band) and your product (EP/Album/Single/Video/Tour/DVD/this list is not exhaustive) to the media and shout about it. LOUDLY. We’re publicists, a well oiled propaganda machine with a network of contacts and knowledge so vast it would take you a lifetime to accrue and you don’t have time for that, do you? No, because you have a release due out shortly and you should be prepping for that. Shouldn’t you
The quickest way to get your music exposure is to get press coverage, be it print (mags), online (webzines) or radio airplay (internet and on ye olde squawky boxes), and the easiest and quickest way to this end is to work with a PR agency. Publicists are smart, fierce, creative individuals with bulging contact books who are able to get your release into the hands of the media, in the territories you are releasing it in, quicker than you could ever do yourself. Publicists, good ones, have a vast contact network and know which of their contacts will be the best ones to pitch your release to. They’ll take your product and promote it in the media, set you up with interviews, book in reviews, even buy advertising for you if you need it/want it. Going on tour? – they’ll make sure people know about it, where to get the tickets and even try to bring along some press to review your show and if you are really interesting, they may even want to interview you. The end game of the publicity engine is to ALWAYS keep the band’s supporters, asking and wanting more of the band. Bieberfever, ever heard of that? Publicists!
BUT WE’RE AN UNSIGNED BAND WITH ONE ALBUM UNDER OUR BELTS, NO ONE CARES ABOUT US, DO THEY?
No one cared about Metallica before they burst onto the scene in the 80′s. And if you think current up and coming mega bands such as Periphery (who are a perfect example of the PR machine at work) got to where they are without sound business and publicity advice, then you are wrong. Having good music is the first step, but bands burst into existence in the minds of the consumers backed by a team of experts who know how to move them from pillar to post to climb the ladder of success. There’s no magic formula, but there is a tried and tested method that most publicists, managers and record labels will adhere to in order to make their brightest stars shine brightly and grow in stature with each release. So you may be unsigned now, but if your music is good, if you believe in your band and if you are willing to work hard, there’s no reason why a reputable PR company wouldn’t work with you and take you on. Everyone has to start somewhere and PR isn’t exclusive to larger signed bands, it’s the process to get you into those bigger leagues, to battle it out in the arena with those bigger bands, kinda like Spartacus but with guitars instead of swords. (Note to self: idea for game show!)
OH NO, THIS SOUNDS EXPENSIVE. AM I GOING TO HAVE TO SELL THE DOG/BABY/CAR?
I’m not going to lie, it is going to cost you money. Nothing in this business is free, and if it is, seriously question why it’s free. Professional services cost money. Don’t let that put you off. A huge touring band, commercially successful and shifting lots of units are going to be spending vast amounts, via their record label, on publicity. You’ve got to spend money to make money – same applies here. For smaller to middle size bands, depending on the agency you book with, depending on the contract you need to take, depending on the territories you need to cover, you will have to size up the price you pay against the returns you expect to get. Only you can decide on these measurements (and it’s something we’ll come back to in another instalment of this blog). Publicity can be done inexpensively depending on requirements, it can be done smartly and it can make a huge difference to your band. Results can never be guaranteed and you generally are paying for a publicist’s time and contact book. But like any other service it needs to be paid for. The end result though, could make you the next Justin Bieber. (We’ll leave you with that thought and yes, we know it’s the second time we’ve mentioned him in one blog!)
REASONS YOU NEED PR
1: You picked up the latest issue of Bitchin’ Beats Monthly and thought, why isn’t my band in this magazine yet?
If you want to sell your music, gain new fans and get on bigger tours, you need people to know about your band and your music. You need exposure. You need to build buzz, hype and other awesome jargony terms that publicists and record labels fling at you to make you get excited. Are you frothing yet?
The quickest and most professional way to do this, is to hire a publicist to place your release into the hands of the gatekeepers at magazines for review ahead of your album release date and to set you up with features both online and offline to raise your industry profile. Yes, you can buy advertising but this is often ignored or skimmed through on the way to more interesting content. A good feature is always going to add that extra edge of interest and authority when people read about something in a magazine, rather than simply looking at an advert which doesn’t really tell you a whole lot about the band. It is notably influential.
2: You need to get past the gatekeepers and from where you are sitting, they look pretty scary!
Journalists, DJ’s, TV moguls – they all like to promote new music, but the age old issue of being bombarded by music from every angle is always a problem for them and it’s getting worse. There are more bands around today than ever before. Making music is incredibly easy and everyone wants a slice of the pie. So how do the media folks decide what to listen to and what stays in the pile.
Dom Lawson is one of the countries most respected music journalists, he writes for magazines such as Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, Classic Rock and The Guardian newspaper says: “I’m more likely to check it out if it comes from a trusted PR contact. Bands have a necessarily unrealistic view about how good they are & often assume that I’ll like their stuff because, y’know, it’s awesome. Anyone who I’ve worked with on any meaningful basis should have a decent idea about my taste and have a vague sense of how likely I am to dig something.”
Getting past the gatekeeper is key, and publicists already have existing relationships with the media, thus having the ability to place your record in the right place, at the right time, with the minimal amount of fuss.
Maz Star is one of the amazing team of DJ’s over at Total Rock Radio, she explains the issue: “Well, when I started out at Total Rock, over ten years ago, I was much more receptive to anyone (bands and PRs that got in touch) and would listen to everything I got sent. Nowadays, I simply don’t have the time as I’m too busy and get sent so much. So I think it’s definitely important to liaise with PRs that you have a relationship with and trust to send you the right kind of music. I get sent a lot of stuff from PRs and I’m not gonna lie – I know which ones are sending me shit music, so I either delete emails without even reading them or bin promos once I get them in the post. I get so many (and I can’t even begin to tell you how many) unsigned bands that want airplay, so I definitely feel it’s best for them to get a good PR.”
3: You have no idea how to run a PR campaign, what’s involved, you haven’t time and when you get home from work, you just want to sit on the couch and watch Star Trek.
We hear you. It can be tempting to run your own PR, but trust us when we say that running a sophisticated and timely PR campaign is incredibly time consuming and at times, very frustrating. Even if you are well connected, the work intensity of servicing and pitching your release to the media is a huge drain on your creativity and your time. Instead of concentrating on writing, preparing for tour, doing the million other things that a band should and could be doing, you are having to contact media outlets, handle emails, respond to interviews and do everything yourself, leaving you with less time to focus on your music and subsequently, less time for Star Trek.
A good publicist takes this burden from you, working with their existing network of media contacts and targeting the release to the specific outlets and bases that they know will be interested in your style of music. Whilst doing it yourself might mean have to take a scattergun approach to mass email media that you’ve never spoken to before and found via an internet set, hoping that a few leads drop out, a good publicist knows exactly which publications to target and how to approach them. Very few people have the time to handle a powerful and targeted PR campaign, market their product and conduct “band business as usual” and also continue to have a life outside of music too. The time spent on learning every procedure, tactic and secret in addition to the probability of failing is not worth the money you save being your own publicist. PR is more than just press releases and reviews, it’s pitching, it’s content generation, it’s endless idea creation and a lot of hard graft.
4: Hiring a publicist generates an air of credibility around your band
Believe it or not, having a publicist on your side boosts your credibility. This is basically for two reasons. First, it shows that you are serious about your product. If you didn’t believe what you have could be the next big thing, you wouldn’t hire someone and pay them to tell the music masses about it. Secondly, if your publicist is a good one, they won’t take every client that comes their way, because they won’t pitch bad music to their contact base. Some PR companies will take every band that comes across their desks, but the good ones will listen to your release objectively and look for all the key elements that will make a record press worthy. Then and only then, when the publicist is sure they can secure press for your music, will they take you on.
Because this is such a HUGE topic and of such importance to bands to get it right, part two of this blog will cover: How to choose a PR agency and When to engage with a PR agency and What to expect from a PR agency.
If you are looking for PR for your record label, band, festival, cat or tour then get in touch with me at Hold Tight! PR: EMAIL ME