9 Critical Things You Should Know About Music Publicity Before You Make Your First Move

image from www.google.com By Ariel Hyatt, a regular contributor to MusicThinkTank, whose Ariel Publicity is an indie music focused digital pr firm and educational experience wrapped up in one very cool package..

I just got back from teaching social media master classes throughout Finland, Norway and Iceland and many musicians asked me to help them understand what traditional publicity is and how it fits into their overall planning.  This is a past article I wrote which I have recently updated for you for navigating the world of traditional PR. So, it’s back to the basics today…

I talk to musicians all day who call looking to hire a publicist, and I’ve noticed that many artists don’t really understand what publicity is. The following list will clarify the concept of publicity for you.

1.  The Definition of Publicity.

First, we are going to start out with the very basics – some definitions of what publicity is exactly, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Publicity – “An act or device designed to attract public interest; specifically: information with news value issued as a means of gaining public attention or support. Also: The dissemination of information or promotional material.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Publicity is exactly these things.

A music publicist is hired as a member of your team to represent you to the media. Media is defined traditionally as editors and writers at newspapers, magazines, college journals, and television. Some publicists may also cover radio for interviews on tour stops. But if you want to get on the radio charts (like CMJ), you will need a radio promoter. More and more publicists also cover Internet PR, like my company. But not all traditional publicists do this, so make sure to ask before you hire.

A publicist’s job is to liaise with the press. They are not hired to get you a booking agent or gig, a label deal, a distribution deal, or any other type of marketing deal. That is what a manager is for. A well-connected publicist may be able to hook you up with all of the above-mentioned things, but it is not in her job description.

2.  You Are in the Driver’s Seat.

Remember, as the artist, you are the buyer here, and you are shopping for PR. You are in the driver’s seat. It’s your money and your music that keep publicists in business. Hiring a publicist is like hiring another guitar player for your band. Choose one you like, who fits your vision and your goals. All too many times I’ve heard that a publicist was hired in spite of the artist’s personal opinions. You should like your publicist, and she should be the right one for you.

3.  With Publicity, You Pay for Effort – Never for Results.

I have had disgruntled artists call me and say, “I hired a publicist and I only got six articles. That cost me $1,000 per article!” Sadly, this is not how you quantify a PR campaign. How you quantify a PR campaign is by how many albums were sent out and what the responses were, even if they were inconclusive or negative. You pay for the amount of effort the publicist made on your behalf. Of course, you should get some and even many results. Getting nothing is totally unacceptable. But you never know when your publicist’s efforts will show up months, and sometimes years, after your campaign is complete.

4.  A PR Campaign Needs to Be Planned Well in Advance.

For long-lead press (that means magazines with national distribution like Spin and Rolling Stone), the editors put their publications to bed three full months before they hit the newsstands. So if your CD is coming out in October, you must have it pressed with full artwork and ready with materials to mail in July. Of course not all PR campaigns focus on national press, but no publicist will take you on with zero lead-time, so you definitely need to prepare lead-time in every case.

Recommended Publicity Campaign Lead Times:

  • National Campaign – 3-4 months before the release
  • Tour Press Campaign – 4-6 weeks before the shows
  • Local Campaign – 4-6 weeks before placement
  • Online Campaign – 2-3 weeks before placement (minimum)

(Placement = article, CD review, calendar listing, TV/radio interview, etc.)

5.  The 4 Components of a Press Kit.

I see fewer and fewer actual press kits these days.  A great one sheet will suffice in today’s digital world, however a thorough press kit consists of four parts: the bio; the photo; the articles, quotes & CD reviews; the CD.

  • The Bio – Create a one-page bio that is succinct and interesting to read. I strongly advise hiring a bio writer (this should cost between $100-$400). If you are not ready to pony up the cash, enlist an outside source to help you. I find people who are great storytellers make great bio writers.  I have recently new affordable bio writing service available at http://www.ReviewYou.com if you would like to hire one of our trusted writers to help you craft your story.
  • The Photo – Arrange a photo shoot; if you take this seriously, you will benefit deeply. Create a photo that is clear, light, and attention-grabbing. Showing movement is a plus (sitting on a couch or up against a brick wall is not interesting). If you have a friend who knows how to use PhotoShop, enroll him to help you do some funky and fun editing.
  • The Articles, Quotes & CD Reviews – Getting that first article written about you can feel daunting. Two great places to start are your local hometown papers (assuming you don’t live in NYC or Los Angeles), and any music websites or blogs you like.
  • The CD – The CD artwork, like the press kit, must be well thought out. Do not bother sending out advance burns of your CD – instead send a link so the writer can download the tracks. When you do have your CD ready and it is being sent to a targeted press list, full artwork is always preferred. 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.

6.  Publicity is a Marathon, Not a Sprint.

PR is very different in nature from a radio campaign that has a specific ad date and a chart that you are paying to try to get listed on. There is no top 40 publicity chart. With the sheer number of albums coming out into the marketplace (approx 1,000 per week), it could take months longer than your publicity campaign runs to see results.

7.  Online Publicity is Just as Important as Offline Publicity.

I would argue that online PR is more important, because today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s recycling. This of course unless the newspaper also posts the article online (which most are doing now). Online publicity goes up fast, and it can be around for months and sometimes for years.

Current sales figures show that people are reading newspapers less and less with every passing day. More people rely on the Internet as their main news source, and on recommendations from friends, so Internet placements are absolutely wonderful and totally legit, and they can help your Google rankings as well.

8.  Publicity Does Not Sell Records.

If you are hiring a publicist to see a spike in your CD sales, I have news for you: There is absolutely no correlation between getting great PR and selling CDs or downloads.

PR is designed to raise awareness of you in the press, to help build a story, and also build up critical acclaim – and, of course, a great article can lead to sales. But overall, if selling albums is your goal, PR is not the only thing you will need to reach it; you will also need to build your loyal fan base and take care of fans with sweet offers.

9.  All Publicity is Good Publicity.

I know we have all heard this, but it’s a great thing to really understand. If one of your goals in PR is to get your name out there (and this should be a goal), the truth is that the average person remembers very little of what they read. Only a tiny percentage gets retained. If you really think that readers are going to remember a tepid or a mediocre review of your album, the answer is, they won’t.

And never ever take your own PR seriously. As my favorite artist Andy Warhol once said, “Don’t read your press; weigh it.”

More @ Ariel Publicity

Share on:


  1. Though I understand Ariel’s point about “paying for effort, and not results,” this is an old-school paradigm from the days where results were harder to measure than they are today.
    I think this leaves a big opportunity for a “new kind of publicist” who is willing to at least consider a hybrid approach… ” I would be delighted to work with a publicist that says “Yes, I deserve a certain minimum fee for my efforts, but the big payoff only comes when I deliver results, and here’s how we quantify them.. and a deadline for those results to happen, say 12 months after the end of the campaign.”

  2. “How you quantify a PR campaign is by how many albums were sent out and what the responses were, even if they were inconclusive or negative.”
    All you’re doing is mailing CDs and waiting on responses?

  3. I would add a 10th “Critical Thing You Should Know”:
    Some PR companies will take anyone’s money and service CDs to press.
    Some will be very selective with the acts they choose to represent to the press/media.
    It’s important to see what other acts/recent success stories the publicist has had when choosing one to hire.
    It’s also important to find out how many other projects they’re working at the same time you’re looking to launch your campaign.

  4. @ Joe: Interesting point – looking at the Ariel Publicity client roster, I’ve only heard of 6 or 7 of the 60+ acts on their site, and aside from the ‘industry people’ giving testimonials, I’ve never heard of ANY of the acts listed who’ve had good things to say about their services.

  5. She makes some good points but Ariel is way better at getting publicity for herself than she is any of her clients. Seriously has anybody heard of any of them? This is what snake oil looks like folks.

  6. Okay, I may be as skeptical of these types of businesses, but I wouldn’t say that just because they have a lot of clients you’ve never heard of doesn’t mean they don’t provide a good service. I’d say that it’s harder today to be a successful musician because there are SO much competition. There are also so many artists that I constantly see mentioned who are supposedly successful indie/DIY acts that I’ve never heard of either, so any one of these acts could be moderately successful and many wouldn’t know it.
    What definitely gave this person some clout in my book was seeing a recommendation from Derek Sivers. That guy is just SUCH an inspiration and a force for an all around great approach to being the best anyone can be!
    Free album download at http://www.facebook.com/chancius

  7. I shouldn’t speak for her, but Ariel is a PR firm that takes artists from 100 fans to 1000 and from 1000 to 10,000.
    We also share the stories behind Lady Gaga and others.
    But Ariel serves a sector of the industry that are not superstars. I think that makes what she’s learned and writes about even more essential.

  8. Ariel, what do you think about charging for reviews and bands ‘spitting on’ you with the only excuse kind of “if you like their music you should be reviewing for free”? I came across that issue so many times that I am sick of explaining musicians that I’m not going to spend 3h on listening, writing, editing etc. for free to give them a good rating (if music is good too), recommend their music, promote the review which all finally may result in letting them make money based on my work, not guaranteed of course. Reviewing is one of PR services. There are so many disrespecting bands and labels which refuse to understand it. I do not understand where their problems come from.
    Also I’d like to give a warning to bands in terms of searching for articles, and reviews to include in their presskits. PR is done to give you exposure. By getting exposure you are most likely to make money on selling whatever products you offer. If you include reviews, interviews or any other articles in your presskits by stealing from blogs or magazines without written approval of their authors it means intellectual copyright infringement. I wish Ariel underlined that issue since reviewers should be paid a fee at least for ‘borrowing’ their work for commercial purposes, if a band doesn’t specifically order it for a press kit purposes. It’s not a problem if a blogger or magazine don’t care or allow for such a use but a fair play would be just professional. Thoughts?

  9. Because cockstars refuse to pay for any services and unknown bands are those willing to pay. They may be known locally and branching out.

  10. And why should he/she even spend his time on working for you if you decide there were no results in the end because your expectations were different to demand for your offer/music? Who do you think covers the costs of using power (computer, light), Internet connection? You can’t bring professional results with a notebook and pen only. It’s XXI.

  11. You all want to become famous and memorable, get an exposure, international recognition, make money but you’re not willing to pay for your success and you are not prepared to work with professionals. I don’t mean you personally, but a general group of artists who follow that negative way of thinking and keep disrespecting somebody else time and work.
    There’s very little competition if a band provides original music far from covers, remixes, tributes to and all the same melodies heard all around. I can hear if a band is potent or just copying others after 1 listening only. Either you focus on making / performing music and hire professionals to do the rest for you or you’re wasting time on making music, doing promo, PR, sale, mastering, production, distribution, legal stuff (licensing) etc. and end up exhausted with mere results.

  12. No, you are an idiot. Who are you to think you can waste a professional persons time listening to your garbage and expecting them to do hours worth of work so you get to promote your crap music? I’ve been in this industry 22 years asswipe. You are an amateur, because amateurs expect to get something for nothing. Quit flapping your mouth and practice up before you start thinking your some authority. Loser.

  13. In his comment, he suggests the PR lays out what the goal results are in advance, so the artist couldn’t “decide” there were no results. The minimum target would be agreed upon in advance.

  14. @NIn : it’s a joke, right ? You actually bill people for the electricity and the light bulbs used while using your computer ?

  15. I would never hire you, and hopefully nobody does. You are too cynical and your writing skill based on your comment is crap. You can listen 1 time and know your position on a tune? You must be a better musician than John Williams. You are the worst kind of publicist for musicians. You are the promoter that thinks he/she knows everything about music, and in being that you will pass up plenty of opportunities to be sure.

  16. Fran, you might be “delighted” to work with such a publicist, but you’ll be waiting a while.
    You see, there’s a 10th critical thing you need to know about working with publicists that Ariel hasn’t mentioned here: The ratio of truly competent music publicists to talented musicians willing to pay them is HEAVILY weighted in favour of the publicist.
    In other words, good publicists pretty well pick and choose who they want to work with and they have ZERO incentive to work with someone who doesn’t want to compensate them fairly for their work.
    The entertainment business is chalk full of scammers who will happily sell you a bill of goods and take your money. But if you actually do your research and find out who the successful independent artists recommend, you’ll notice that the path starts to lead back to the same collection of names.
    MOST of the time, if you’re working with one of those truly competent publicists, you’ll come away feeling like you got your money’s worth — provided you had expectations that were in line with your actual status in the market.
    However, publicists don’t control all the factors that impact your coverage and that’s why good ones will never charge based on results. A publicist can have a great working relationship with a high profile journalist, but the journalist might hate your music. A publicist might be able to persuade a journalist to write about you but then the story gets cut for space. If a major story breaks, pages of entertainment coverage can be wiped out to make room for it.
    Publicists can bust their butts pitching three or four writers at a single publication trying to interest someone in your work…but sometimes, no matter how hard they work…fate just isn’t on their side on this one.
    But you know what? At the end of the day, those journalists still heard about you from someone they respected. Some of them listened to your album. Some of them maybe even liked it. And when you play that town again, you’re that much closer to hitting the jackpot PR wise.
    If you don’t want to pay for that, fair enough. But ever since the internet shifted the music business to a more entrepreneurial system, where we no longer have big corporations serving as training grounds for junior professionals like publicists, we’ve had less and less solid new talent entering the field to provide competition. So if you’re hoping to find competent publicists who will put their income on the line to guarantee you results that are beyond their control to deliver, well, you might be waiting a while.

  17. is it appropriate to ask your PR company to provide you with a list of places they’bve contacted on behalf of your release? Not specific contact info-but just the names of places/blogs/mags they’ve reached out to?

  18. Yes but if you can not get results as a publicist, does that not make you a crappy publicist?
    Even in the dictionary definition, it says generate and manage publicity for their clients
    Technically if you can not get publicity for people, you can’t really call yourself a good publicist
    It’s like saying you are a great free throw shooter and your shooting percentage is worse than Shaq’s
    It says “generate” publicity
    to use your definition, it’s like calling yourself a doctor but you can not heal any terminal illness or disease
    It’s not that people do not appreciate the work put in, however, you should probably lower your prices if you can’t get results for your clients

  19. Nobody in any profession has a perfect batting average, Anonymous. By your analogy, Mike Trout is a crappy baseball player because his Inside Edge rating is only 99.5, so obviously he’s underperformed somewhere along the line or it would be 100. Sure. Whatever.
    You can score 95% of the time for you clients, but there’s always going to be one here and there where the external circumstances all go against you and you try everything you can until there’s nothing more you can do about it.
    If that makes me a terrible publicist, so be it. But I’m booked solid through April and am turning away would-be clients every couple of days or so, so I’m still getting by sufficiently on my incompetence to not have to lower my rates. But rest assured, if I suddenly find myself without work in the middle of next year, I’ll think about maybe dropping them a bit.

  20. Yes. Absolutely. And follow-up notes on the responses from the outlets. That’s standard practice with any PR company worth its salt.

  21. Well 95% is a good batting average
    & I never said any of those things you stated
    A publicist is supposed to be able to generate publicity for their clients
    If you can not do that, my point is, you can’t call yourself a publicist
    By what you are claiming, utilizing your example, that would mean you are claiming a 95% batting average, which means, you should be able to generate publicity for your client
    say you have 1000 media connections, that would mean 950 of them will pick it up, using the 95% you are claiming to hold
    and you are not using my analogy correctly
    if you can get publicity a high percentage of the time for your clients and you have a lot of contacts, then that makes you a good publicist, especially if you also as well help build a interested fan base to check out the client’s material
    By your earlier post, you made it seem like you had a terrible batting average and you were making excuses
    Well anyways, there ya go, that is how any business owner measures whether or not to use any service for marketing
    and yes you may be booked now, but if you are not batting at a high percentage for your clients, you are not a good publicist

  22. When I talk about a 95% batting average, I mean that a competent publicist will leave a client walking away satisfied with the amount of press they got 95% of the time. Essentially, they maximize their effectiveness on all of the variables they can control, and that’s enough to come out a winner most of the time…but there are things you can’t control. Case in point, remember when Michael Jackson died? Do you know how many articles on emerging artists were pulled from newspapers that day so that newspapers could devote 2-page spreads to Michael? That’s the kind of “beyond-my-control” stuff I’m talking about. Publicity is not based on a “you have 1000 contacts so 950 should bite” formula. If you think your odds are that good, you really have no realistic sense of how media work and how competitive the field is. Kelly Clarkson doesn’t even score 950 out of 1000, never mind someone working with an emerging artist. Every media outlet has different criteria for what they cover. The strength of working with a competent publicist is that they know exactly how to make you fit the criteria of as many news outlets as possible and how to get your music into the hands of the people there that are most likely to go to bat for you. And if you’re a brand new artist that nobody’s ever heard of and you’re publicizing a tour for the first time, you’ve got a reasonable shot of coming away with a few major newspaper articles, some public radio, maybe a touch of local TV, campus radio and some on-line media. But occasionally, no matter who your publicist is, it’s much less. If that’s not enough and you want a guarantee, buy advertising. When you realize how much THAT costs, you might appreciate the value of a publicists’ fee.

Comments are closed.