If you don't do some self-promotion, odds are you won't reach your dream. Publicist Ariel Hyatt has a wealth of experience on how to be your own publicist. Scroll down to read her advice, and that of editors from around the country.
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For this article, I interviewed several entertainment writers from across the country. Their comments and advice are included throughout. Writers who will come up throughout are: Mike Roberts (The Denver Westword), Jae Kim (The Chicago Sun Times), Silke Tudor (The SF Weekly).
MYTH: A Big Fat Press Kit Will Impress a Writer.
TRUTH: Writers will only become exasperated by a press kit that is not succinct and to the point. A bio, a photo and 6-8 articles double-sided on white paper is a good sized kit. If a writer wants to read more than that he will contact you for further information. If you don't have any articles, don't worry, this will soon change.
The first step in your journey is to create a press kit, which consists of four parts - the Bio, the Photo, the Articles and the CD.
Jae Kim: "The ultimate press kit is a very basic press kit which includes: a CD, a photo with band members' names labeled on it - not a fuzzy, arty photo - a clear black and white, a bio, and press clips - 10 at most, one or two at least. 40 are way too much."
PART 1: The Bio
Write a one-page band bio that is succinct and interesting to read. I strongly advise avoiding vague clichés such as: melodic, brilliant harmonies, masterful guitar playing, tight rhythm section, etc. These are terms that can be used to describe any type of music. Try to make your description stand out. Create an introduction that sums up your sound, style and attitude in a few brief sentences. This way if a writer is pressed for time, she can simply take a sentence or two from your bio and place it directly in the newspaper. If you try to make a writer dig deeply for the gist, that writer will most likely put your press kit aside and look to one of the other 30 press kits that arrived that week.
TIP: Try to create a bio with the assumption that a vast majority of music writers may never get around to listening to your CD (500 new releases come out in the United States each week). Also, writers are usually under tight deadlines to produce copy - so many CD's fall by the wayside.
Q. Whose press materials stand out in your memory?
A. Jae Kim: "Action shots of bands. Blur has had a few great photos, and Mariah's are always very pretty. Also, Mary Cutrufello on Mercury has a great photo - enigmatic with a mysterious quality. Her picture was honest and intelligent, just like her music."
A. Silke Tudor: "The Slow Poisoners - a local SF band who are very devoted to their presentation. They have a distinct style and everything leads in to something else. Photos are dangerous. If the band looks young and they're mugging you have a pretty safe idea of what they're going to sound like."
PART 2: The Photo
It is very tough to create a great band photo. In the thousands that I have encountered only a few have had creativity and depth. I know it can seem cheesy to arrange a photo shoot but if you take this part seriously you will deeply benefit from it in the long run.
Create a photo that is clear, light, and attention grabbing. Five musicians sitting on a couch is not interesting. If you have a friend who knows how to use PhotoShop, I highly recommend you enroll him or her to help you do some funky editing. Mike Roberts tends to gravitate towards: "Any photos that are not four guys standing against a wall. Also, a jazz musician doesn't always have to be holding a horn."
MYTH: Photos Cost a Fortune to Process in 8 x10 Format.
TRUTH: Photos do not have to be expensive. There a few places to have photos printed for a great price. My personal favorite is ABC Pictures in Springfield, MO. They will print 500 photos (with layout and all shipping) for $80. Click the link to check out their web site or telephone 888.526.5336. Another great resource is a company called 1-800-POSTCARD, (www.1800postcards.com) which will print 5000 full-color, double-sided postcards for $250. Extra postcards not used in press kits can be sent to people on your mailing list, or you can sell them or give them away at gigs
PART 3: The Articles
Getting that first article written about you can be quite a challenge. Two great places to start are your local town papers (barring you don't live in Manhattan or Los Angeles), and any local fanzine, available at your favorite indie record store. Use this book as a resource for CD reviews. Find music that is similar to your band's type of music and then send your CD's to those reviewers. As your touring and effort swell, so will the amount of articles written about your band.
PART 4: The CD
The CD artwork, like the press kit, must be well thought out. You should customize your press kits so that they look in sync with your CD. This way when a writer opens up a package the press kit and the CD look like they go together. Put your phone number and contact info in the CD so if it gets separated from the press kit, the writer knows how to contact you. I asked Eric Rosen, the VP of Radical Records, how he oversees the development of product. He had a few things to say about stickering CD's (placing an extra sticker on the cover to spark the interest of a writer).
"If you are going to sticker your product, be unique in the way you present it - try to be clever about it - plain white stickers are boring." He went on to say that "Recommended Tracks" stickers are great for the press (suggesting no more than two or three selections). Eric does not think that stickers are too advantageous in CD stores, because then "You are just covering up your artwork."
TIP: Don't waste precious CD's! Keep in mind that 500 new CD's come out every week in the United States. Unless you are sure a writer actually writes CD reviews (many are not given the space to run them) don't waste your hard-earned dollars sending that writer a CD. Again, ask the promoter which writers like to receive CD's for review and which ones don't need them.
Q. What do writers like?
A. Silke Tudor: "When people personalize things and use casual words. If an envelope is hand-addressed, I will notice it right away and I always open things that people put together themselves. Hand-written stuff gets read first . . .The bands that do PR for themselves are the ones that stand out for me"
A. Mike Roberts: "Include the name, show date, time, ticket price, place, and who you are playing with. If I don't see the contact number I have 69 other kits to get to."
Q. What do writers hate?
A. Jae Kim: "I hate those padded envelopes that get gray flaky stuff all over you - I feel like its asbestos." She also dislikes "When I get a package with glitter or confetti in it - it gets all over my desk." "I [also] don't like Q & A sheets" - She prefers to come up with questions herself rather than receive answers pre-fabricated for her and spoon-fed.
A. Silke Tudor similarly reports: "I never open anything over my computer."
A. Mike Roberts: "I don't have much interest in gimmicks like hard candy. If I tried to eat it,
it might kill me. Also you can't expect a writer to shove something in the paper at the last
minute. Please give as much lead time as possible."
Q. What do writers throw in the garbage immediately?
A. Mike Roberts: "Anything past deadline."
A. Jae Kim: "Pictures of women's butts or profanity that is degrading to women."
A. Silke Tudor: "If I already know the band and I know that I don't like it."
Getting your press materials out there
Once you have a press kit together try to start planning PR for any tour 6-8 weeks before you hit the road. As soon as a gig is booked, ask the promoter for the club's press list (most clubs have one.) Promoters are dependent on this local press to help sell tickets. Have the list faxed or e-mailed to you. Don't be shy - you are working with the promoter to make the show happen and promoters love it when the show is well publicized. Also be sure to ask the promoter who his or her favorite writers are and which ones will like your style of music. When you do call those writers, don't be afraid to say which promoter recommended them and invite them to the show.
If the local promoter has a publicist, let that publicist do his or her job. Pack everything up and mail it to the promoters. Make sure you ask the promoters how many posters they would like and send them along with the press kits. After a few days it's best to call and verify that the material was received. If you can't afford to send kits to everyone, ask the promoters in each area which three or four writers would most likely cover a band that plays your style of music. Also, ask the promoters where the clubs run strip ads (these ads will be in the papers that cover music and inform people in the area about club happenings.)
If you are servicing press yourself, and the club does not have a press list, pick up The Musician's Atlas, or The Musician's Guide To Touring. Both of these guides are packed with a wealth of information on publicity outlets across the country, as well as venues, record stores, labels, etc. I recommend sending materials 4-6 weeks prior to the gig. Beware of monthly publications - if you are not at least six weeks out, don't bother sending to them.
Call the writers
Most of the time you will be leaving messages on voice mail. Be polite, get right to the point, and be brief!! 9 times out of 10 writers will not call you back.
If you are a totally new band and you are worried because a paper did not cover you the first time around, keep sending that paper information every time you play in the area. I have never met a writer that ignores several press kits from the same band sent over and over again. It may take a few passes through in each market, but the more a writer sees over time, the more likely he will be to write about you.
Don't let all that all that voice mail discourage you
I have placed hundreds of articles, mentions, and photos without ever speaking to the writer.
Writers respond more to Email
It's free for them and does not take too long to respond to. If you are sending e-mail follow-ups, put a link to your site, or the club's site if you don't have one. You can also send a sound clip if you have the capability. IMPORTANT NOTE: Don't bother sending out materials a few days before the gig. Writers are usually way past their deadlines by then and they won't be able to place your band.
Posters are a great form of PR and they don't have to cost you a fortune. The most cost-effective way to make posters is to buy 11x17 colored paper from your local paper store (approx. $7 per ream of 500) and run off copies at the copy shop (approx. 7 cents each). Make several white copies and include these with your colored posters - this way the promoter can make extras, if needed. For higher quality posters, I recommend a copy process called docutech. These cost a penny or so more apiece, but they are computer-generated and look better than regular copies. Have whoever designed your poster also design small lay-ups to send out as fliers and ad-mats. Make sure your logo is included on them so the promoter can use them for strip or display advertising.
The first few times you play a market, you may not get any press. PR is a slow moving vehicle that can take time to get results. I have worked with some bands that have needed to go through a market 3-4 times before any results started showing up in the press. When sending materials on repeated occasions, include a refresher blurb to remind the writer of your style. Always include the following information: date, show time, ages, ticket price, club name and address, time, and who is on the bill. Don't make writers hunt around for the event info. Make their job as easy as possible by providing as much information. Also keep in mind that some writers will probably not write about you over and over again. If you hit the same markets continually, a great tactic is to change your photo every few months and write "New Band Photo" on the outside of the envelope.
Try to enroll a fan to be on your field staff in each market you visit. In exchange for a few tickets to your show, have this person put up posters, hand out fliers, and talk to the college newspaper about writing a feature or the local radio station about spinning your CD. To get a field staff started, include a sign up column on your mailing list and on your web site. If they sign up, they are the people for you! With a bit of planning and focus, you can spin your own publicity wheel. All it takes is foresight and organization. A band that plans well is a band that receives the most PR.
If you don't already have one - get on it!! Websites can be easy and inexpensive to design - you can buy software that can take you through it step by step. Better yet, have a friend or a fan help you design a site. Your site should include your upcoming tour dates, as most people will visit it to find out when you are coming through town. Another great place to post all of your dates is tourdates.com it's free, and you can also put your bio and photo up as well. More advanced sites include merch as well as CD sales. This is a great idea if you are at the point where you're selling a lot of merchandise. If you're for your own site, at least be sure to link your site to a place where fans can order your CD.
Ariel Hyatt is the President of Ariel Publicity, Artist Relations, and Cyber Promotions, in NYC. For the past five years she has worked closely publicizing a diverse family of touring and developing indie bands including Sally Taylor, Leftover Salmon, K-Floor, and The Stone Coyotes. Contact: www.arielpublicity.com