I’ve lost count over the years of how many times a musician has approached me and said something to the effect of, “Can you write about my show this weekend? I need something for my press kit/website/etc.” Then, when something actually does appear in print and they’re not happy with it for whatever reason, they act like I’ve done something to wrong them personally.
Sorry, but they can’t have it both ways, and unless they’re paying for me to write about them they can’t have a reasonable expectation of said writing being completely to their liking. I’m not as critical or acerbic as many music ‘critics’ these days, as I tend to write mostly about stuff I like, but sometimes even in the process of covering music I enjoy there might be a phrase or description that doesn’t meet with the approval of an artist, or a friend of the artist, or a rabid fan. What they don’t seem to understand is that what I write is based not just on my opinion of the music and the musicians in question, but on the information I have at hand. Have I seen the band play live? Have I heard their latest recordings? These and other factors play into the coverage an artist receives, but most seem to just assume that if they’re playing a show in town it will magically get written about in the most glowing terms possible just because they are who they are.
Just as the best musicians don’t get that way overnight, or without effort, however, the best press coverage doesn’t happen without some work on the part of the artist wanting the coverage. Here, then, are my top ten tips for getting the kind of press you think you deserve.
- Let them know: You’d be surprised, or maybe not, about how many bands and promoters will contact the local press only a few days before an upcoming show, asking for coverage of the event. Regularly published entities such as newspapers and magazines have deadlines for the copy included that are typically at least a week in advance, sometimes longer. A good rule of thumb here is to contact your local outlets at least six weeks in advance if possible; a followup a couple weeks out is fine, but don’t bombard any individual outlet or you’ll just annoy them. Bloggers are more flexible, as they can publish any time, but a week or so heads-up at the least is polite and respectful of their time, as they are usually unpaid and doing what they do for the love/fun of it.
- Provide information that makes the case for coverage: When you make that contact, include the basics such as time, place, show lineup, etc., but also provide anything they might need to be able to write about the show. If your band is called “Smith and Jones” or something equally generic, a direct link to a website, reverbnation, etc., would be helpful since a Google search would be almost impossible. If you have music online, links to that are crucial. The idea here is to not make the person potentially writing about you have to work too hard to find out more about you and your band/event. It’s not supposed to be a mystery, and you can’t assume that every writer you contact has heard your band, or heard your newest recording, or knows what you’ve been doing the last year or two. Even a link to a Facebook event is fine, as long as that event listing includes some of the information above.
- Keep your website updated: No matter how many people you contact about your show or your music, there’s always a chance some random blogger or writer will come across your music somewhere and want to know more. If your site hasn’t been updated since you put out your last album thirteen months ago, how can you expect them to know what you are doing now? In these days of social media, constant updates on a website aren’t even all that hard—if you have a link there to your Facebook page, or your Twitter feed is embedded on the site, often that’s enough to give some indication of what’s current and new with you.
- Be active, but not annoying, on social media: Speaking of the giant time-sucking behemoth that is social media, you probably are not doing it very well. Musicians are often not their own best promoters, and you should be practicing and writing songs more than you post updates, tweet, etc., anyway. But staying connected on social media is a must these days, and it’s free publicity to anyone paying attention. Which means you have to be present—post random pictures of rehearsals and road trips on instagram, tweet about favorite bands playing in town even when you’re not on the bill (and get them to do the same for you), post a demo of a new song on Soundcloud, etc., and generally just keep your fans up to date with what’s going on. This serves not just your fans but the press folks we’re talking about in this instance; scouring a band’s Facebook Timeline or Twitter feed sometimes is just as informative as visiting their website, if they’re posting/tweeting on a regular basis. If you’re not comfortable with all this online activity in service to your music, find a close friend or fan who is and give them access to your social media accounts so they can help out. I know plenty of mid-level bands who have someone on board specifically to handle social media; done well it can be almost a full-time task. Whoever is doing it, just make sure they are striking the right balance between staying in touch and going overboard. If your posts start cluttering up someone’s feed they’re more likely to either ignore them or just hide or delete you.
- Quality counts: lousy out-of-focus pictures are fine for Instagram or Facebook, as are cell phone videos, but if you are sending something to press outlets with the intention of getting coverage, make sure it’s the best quality you can manage. High resolution photographs are a must for any outlet, so spend some money and get a real photographer to do a photo shoot; an official picture or two go a long way toward making your band look like they know what they’re doing. Recordings are another weak point, though with the low cost of good home recording these days they should never have to be less than adequate. If a garageband demo is all you can afford right now, fine, but make sure it’s listenable and only offer up your best material. If someone actually opens a link to listen to your song, you probably have about thirty seconds at the most to make an impression, so make it a good one. If you’re serious about this music thing a professionally produced recording should be one of your first goals, so find a good local studio that won’t charge you an arm and a leg (they are out there, I promise) and commit your best three or four songs to tape (or hard drive, or whatever). Even if you don’t release an official sell-able recording, having great-sounding tracks online is essential.
- Every show is not created equal: Keep in mind the number of shows on a weekly basis that are clamoring for attention from even just the local press, and scale your expectations accordingly. If you play five nights a week at various local wing joints and restaurants, don’t think you will get covered on a weekly or monthly basis. Save those pitches to the press for your big CD release show, or a multi-band festival you and your friends have arranged, or a big benefit concert. Making a show an ‘event’ helps your cause for coverage, as most local acts play way too often to get written about every time. Give them a reason to want to cover THIS particular show.
- Target your query: In dealing with local and regional press, and bloggers, most writers have a personality or a specialty that they like. They may write about more than that, but usually there is some genre they favor, for example. Read and remember what the various outlets’ contributors are most favorable towards and pitch your show/album/event directly to them as well as to their publication. If you can get a writer who’s ‘on your side’ already, there’s less chance of getting an unfavorable review in the first place.
- The press doesn’t work for you: If you get a great review and want to include it in your official press kit, great. If you don’t, try again next show. The press doesn’t exist to give you great quotes for your website, they exist to sell advertising for their publication. If you’re not generating eyeballs to their site, don’t expect them to come falling all over themselves to cover you.
- Just ask: many writers, especially ones you have a personal relationship established with, may not be able to cover your shows every time you play, or have enough space allotted in their publication to provide in depth coverage. There are other options, including soliciting testimonials or quotes not connected to a published piece or getting an official bio of you and your band written. Paying for this is always an option, in which case it becomes a work-for-hire and you have some control and say-so over its content. Freelance writers, who comprise the bulk of any paper or website’s staff, get paid to write even if it’s only a few dollars, so offering to pay them isn’t unethical or against the rules, as long as it’s not for an actual publication but for use in your own press kit materials. I have done this on occasion myself, with a couple of requirements—one, that I am not credited as the writer, and two, that they understand for ethical reasons I will not write about them in any publication for a minimum of six months after receiving payment for my services from them.
- Don’t complain: If the coverage you get isn’t quite what you wanted, or it is negative or critical, complaining will most likely get you no more than a form letter response, and might impact future relations with that outlet or writer by branding you a whiner. The press is under no obligation to write nice things about you, their purpose is to inform their readers and in the case of entertainment help them make choices and decisions; if you have done your job including all of the above steps then it’s mostly out of your hands and up to the assigned writer to make sense of it all through his or her perspective. And that’s all it is, one writer and one outlet’s perspective, so don’t take it personal and keep working on honing your own craft. I’ve been doing this writing about music thing now for 23 years, and I’m still learning, making mistakes, and getting comments and complaints as well as compliments and thank-you cards. Either way, I’m just thankful someone’s still out there reading.