October 14, 2010

Week 4: Publicity

Week 4:
If Your Band Is A “Best Kept Secret” 
You’re Not Doing It Right.
Josh Homme interviewed by 101x's Toby Ryan on at 2007's ACL Music Festival
Step 1 – Repeat this out loud “Publicity is not the same as promotion.”
Step 2 – Go back to Step 1 until you truly believe this line.
Step 3 – Proceed with this article.

This week, we’re going to touch on something that you should be doing, many bands do, but few bands do well. Publicity.

Press Release
The key to a press release is information and content. You must move the “give a crap” needle a little bit.

- If you released a new single to iTunes… nobody cares.
- If you’ve been around for 3 months and you’ve got a new guitarist… who cares (unless that guitarist is someone like… I don’t know… Kirk Hammett).
- If you’re releasing your debut album with a CD Release show, that may be worth mentioning in a press release.

Also, think about having a trusted friend (who has some writing knowledge) read over what you’ve written before you send it out. Stupid mistakes will get you every time (wrong date for the show / misspelling the magazine’s name / not including contact information).

I’ll likely have an entire article on writing a press release at some point… but for now, that’ll do.

Invites to Shows
Collect a list of e-mail contacts of all the newspaper / magazine / television / radio / music blog / promoter / booking agent / media folks you can find. Send them monthly updates. Not weekly. Not daily. Not yearly… monthly. That way you don’t become a bother, but you are remembered. Include in the e-mail the fact that you’d love for them to come out to a show. Mention you’d be happy to put them on the guest list (most clubs will OK media folks for free, but even if you must pay for them being on the list… do it. You’re laying the groundwork for what could be a good move for your band – a media contact.
Mike "Truth" Boudreau of Red Eyed Fly invites me to shows. Do you?

If they DO make one of your shows, make sure you thank them and don’t let them walk away without a CD, sticker, t-shirt or at least a drink you bought them in their hand. You want them to remember you. Reach out to them within the next week and thank them for coming out. Don’t pitch anything to them at that point. Wait. It’s always best if the media person thinks the story is their idea. Then if you don’t hear from them in about a month… reach out again. THEN make your pitch.

CD Reviews
Always mail your CDs out to any publication that may review it. Use your Google to find contact names and addresses. Find like-sounding bands and see who’ve reviewed their disc and reach out to that reviewer by name. Make sure you include a bio and list of upcoming shows. If you REALLY want to impress (at least it impresses me) hand write a little note to the reviewer thanking them in advance for taking a listen to the CD.

If you’re doing an electronic-only release… you can e-mail them the link to the download and paste the bio in the body of the message. The last thing any reviewer needs is a 436-megabyte attachment of music clogging up their inbox. That’s an instant invitation to be trashed. I personally don’t open anything (that I didn’t ask for) over 1 megabyte that comes to my e-mail.

Getting the CD to a reviewer is half the job... but this is where 90% of the bands out there stop. You need to follow up and make sure they got the CD. Call them and if you get an answering machine leave a message then send e-mail. Be nice. They don’t have to listen to anything you send them… they are doing you a HUGE favor if they do.

If someone reviews your CD, be sure to send him or her an e-mail or letter of thanks. Even if they compare it to the smell of the garbage can at the 2010 ACL Festival where they tossed their half-eaten fish and chips they get from the Bess Bistro vendor. Thank them for giving you a listen long enough to form an opinion they believed enough to publish. The fact is… people read reviewers opinions as opinions, and the big deal is you have a review. Very few indie bands get reviewed. Heck, my last yearlong blogging journey was “52 Austin CD Reviews in 52 Weeks” and I was left with a stack of about 20-30 CDs I didn’t get to (and a stack of about 40-50 I didn’t like and, unlike many critics, I only do positive reviews). So... count yourself lucky if yours is picked from the stack.

Interview Opportunities
Do you have something interesting to talk about? Did a member of your band do something exciting? Did you win an award? Do you have a former child star playing guitar for you? Were you the kid in the Twisted SisterWe’re Not Gonna Take It” video (Dax Callner from the former Austin band Dax was)? Do you regularly perform “takeovers” in the parking lots of big shows (I’m talking about Full Service here)?
A Full Service "takeover" in the parking lot of the Austin Music Hall in June 2009 before a Matisyahu show

Find an angle. Something interesting. Write up a letter to a magazine, newspaper, television station, and radio station. Make your case as to why people would WANT to know about you and your band. In this case, the music may be secondary. That’s OK. As long as you get to perform / get on camera / get your name out there. That’s the point.

Benefits Benefit YOU
Here’s a way you can garner some publicity AND make a difference in people’s life. Play benefit shows to raise money for Diabetes Research or Breast Cancer Research or something that is near and dear to your heart. Create your own non-profit to raise money and awareness for something that you believe in. You don’t even have to have a great story. I recall an Austin strip club manager has hosted charity events to raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness just because… well… think about his business and you tell ME why.

You don’t have to be the originator of the idea either. Contact a radio station or television station who is doing a canned food drive for Thanksgiving, coat drive for Christmas, or any of a long list of charity drives they put on and offer to play at one of the drop-off points where there’s going to be a live broadcast. Many times you can jump on as the “entertainment” of a charity event someone else is doing all the work to put together. There's also charities that benefit music or musicians. In Austin, two that directly raise money to help fellow musicians are the SIMS Foundation and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. Both have annual benefit shows and/or CD compilations.
Austin's Dave Madden plays during H.A.A.M Benefit Day in Sept. 2010

Here’s my suggestion. Please believe in the event and have good reason. Don’t do it “just for publicity” because that would be really sad. If you’re doing a show to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research please make it because someone in the band has a relative or someone close to them who has/had this Disease. You need to be compassionate, understanding, and know what you’re talking about… because the people who put on these events are celebrating/remembering/suffering. They all have a story. You should too.

Radio Shows
There are many radio stations out there and many DJ’s who do their best to promote DIY bands. Find out who the ones are in your area, and try and get on their show. Find them at shows and introduce yourself. Drop your CD by the station personally just before or after they get off the air and ask to talk to them. E-mail them and invite them to a show. Contact them 2-3 times before you pitch being on the show… so they’re familiar with you.

When you pitch being on the show, make sure you’ve got an event to tie-in because this type of publicity is one that will drive people to your show. Make sure you give away a guest spot for the show, bring a couple of CDs to give away, and be ready to play as little as one or as many as 5 songs.

In Austin there are several television stations that know and embrace music within their broadcasts. Some have it daily in the mornings (for the early birds) some do concert series on the roof of their station, and some just sporadically. Of course, Austin is also home to a music television station called ME Television. Check them all out. Reach out to them at least a month before your event you’d like to promote and do your best to get on the show a day or two before. Warning, some shows make you get there at 5:00a to play… make sure you’ve got your stuff together (I’m talking to you vocalists) because you WON’T be invited back if you don’t sound good or interview well.

PAYOLA? No.. not here. (insert sarcasm here)
Publicity is an odd thing. You’re approaching people who are on the “information” side of a business that also has an “advertising” side to it. Will it help get your music played if you place an ad on the station / magazine / newspaper you are trying to get publicity from? It shouldn’t… but many times it does. There should be a division between content and advertising (and if you’ve ever worked at one of these places you’ll know that reporters and sales reps are like oil and water) but the sad thing is money talks a lot of the time.

I have been on both sides. I am not a salesperson, but I have done sales for INsite since I am the owner. I’ll share a little story. I was in front of a group giving an advertising pitch presentation a few years ago. There’s a really neat Austincentric gift place located in downtown Austin and the owner was in the audience. She point blank posed the question “Will you write a story about me if I buy an ad?” It took me about 10 seconds to say “I’m in charge of editorial for INsite. I’d write a story about you because you’ve got a really neat and unique business. It has nothing to do with you purchasing an ad.” To which my former business partner jumped in and tried to salvage the ad (he being one of the best salespersons I’ve ever known). She never bought an ad. I mentioned the business in a few stories throughout the years, but I always had a sour taste in my mouth because of that conversation.

I share that story because here’s the deal Had I not been there as “Owner/Editor” and she posed that question to a sales rep… the sales rep MAY have the ability to pitch the story in a non-abrasive way. “Hey, I went to this place and she’s considering advertising. You know… there could be a really neat story about it.”

BUT… that’s just me. I can’t comment on the practices of “other” places. I would suggest you don’t cross the line though… if you are advertising ask the ad rep if there’s a good person to contact about getting some press. Don't tie it directly to the ad… but you can use them for information.

In marketing terms this would be called having an "inside champion." Someone who knows who you are and likes you… who works for the place you’d like to be booked.

Sometimes it’s a bit shady… but it’s all under this grand umbrella called publicity. Remember… treat your band like a business or you have no business promoting your band.

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. For an introduction to his "52 Weeks of DIY Music Advice" visit this link - http://www.tinyurl.com/Claes52DIY. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here - http://www.seanclaes.com/.


Sarah Vasquez said...

this is great.

Ian Morales said...

Good read here Sean. I would like to add that most editors and popular writers even get swamped with stuff all the time. The best way, I think anyway, is for bands to keep the red carpet rolling for any media and be patient. Even if a CD doesn't get reviewed right away, that doesn't mean they aren't keeping it as a reference for something later. I do it all the time, usually for interviews later.