"There are many facets of a successful music publicity campaign, but among the most common questions I hear from newer artists are about how they can promote their music independently and get it covered on music blogs."
Guest Post by Nicholas David, Founder of Sunshine Promotion
Since many new artists often don’t have the money to embark on national tours, advertise on major music outlets, or sometimes even print physical copies of their own album, getting coverage on music blogs (both local and national) is the best way for them to spread the word about the music they’re creating.
This post was difficult to organize because of how many different ways there are to approach promoting music. I’ve done my best to explain the psychology of why music blogs write about the music they do, how to prepare your own music for publicity efforts, where to find music blogs to email, and what your emails should look like for best results.
Blog Content & Mindset
Before we can talk about how to achieve successful music blog placements for your music, we first have to have a quick conversation about the type of content that blogs like to cover.
Media is driven by advertising revenues – plain and simple. Blogs make their money and keep writers employed by generating advertisement impressions from visitors. The more visitors a blog can get, the more money they can make from advertisements. Understanding this business model will help you make better pitches when trying to get press coverage.
With advertisement-driven blog content in mind, next it’s important to know how blogs and news outlets generate more pageviews – exclusive content.
It’s only “news” once. The first blog to debut a song is most likely going to be the one that generates the most traffic for that story until the rest of the blog community catches up. Giving a new piece of content (new single, new music video, tour announcement, etc.) to one blog to debut exclusively is the best way to get coverage.
Remember, the media wants to know what you can do for THEM, not what they can do for you. Debuting a single from an artist means that that artist’s fan base is going to come to that particular blog to listen to the new song or read the new interview, not a competitor’s blog.
Exclusive content leads to more pageviews and more pageviews means more money. Simple.
As part of a national digital publicity campaign, tastemaker blogs are often the foundation a publicist will use to build the rest of their promotional efforts on.
Tastemaker blogs are characterized by their high-readership and the frequency with which they debut new content from (typically) major-label artists.
Tastemaker blogs influence the entire music-blog community when they write about new bands. Because of their professionalism and industry experience, tastemaking blogs are usually able to predict the successful growth of a band and subsequently, are able to influence the conversation across multiple blogs.. A high-profile placement on a tastemaker blog has much more influence than multiple mentions from smaller, local music blogs.
Examples of Tastemaker Blogs
Why Pitchfork Won’t Write About You
As a new band, you’re probably not going to get on Pitchfork. Criticisms of Pitchfork’s music tastes aside, Pitchfork generates traffic by covering content they know will bring pageviews both in the short term, and more importantly, the long term.
The Record Label Promise
When a record label sends an album promo-pack for a new album to Pitchfork, Pitchfork assumes an underlying promise from the record label that the band being pitched is going to be touring, advertising on social media, debuting new music videos, and generally creating more content over the lifetime of the band. By covering a band early on, Pitchfork has a leg up on the competition for future web traffic from the band when the band is Googled over the next few months.
Whether you trust their musical taste or not, Pitchfork covers bands they like who also help generate much sought after web traffic. And they’re not the only ones doing it.
Lots of music bloggers work on the same premise that it’s in their interest to debut content from label-sponsored artists as opposed to solely independent artists because labels have money to continue the promotion of a band well after their initial song or CD debut.
Copy and Paste Mentality
Billboard magazine isn’t going to do a full page spread about your brand new punk-jazz-fusion-artcore project just yet, but your local music blog thinks your music is cool enough to mention in their “Weekly Roundup.” Great!
Many music bloggers use press-releases and one-sheets to grab “copy and pastable” quotes for their mentions of newer bands. Give them what they want!
To make a blogger’s job easier, make everything on your website “copy and pastable” so that after a blogger has listened to your music and decided to write about it, it takes them no more than 60 seconds to get a post online.
On your website and on your press-release/one-sheet, you should include:
- What kind of music you make
- Band member names
- Bands you sound similar to
- Notable press quotes
- A 50 word biography
- Streaming links
- Press photos
Time for a Publicist or Manager?
When newer bands are ready to make a “push” at being a nationally touring band, they usually turn to professional publicists, managers, and record labels for help. Independent artists with a publicist probably have enough money to promote themselves in other ways as well, “proving” their seriousness to the craft and their ability to pay for and create more high quality content in the future – a “scout’s honor” type badge, if you will.
The Cost of a Publicist
Entry-level publicists charge about $500-750 per month for a digital press campaign. This high price isn’t a guarantee at coverage, but rather an “entry-fee” to have access to the publicist’s contact list. Publicists can place music on high-profile tastemaker blogs because of their relationships with those bloggers.
Also, as mentioned earlier, this cost represents a willingness to commit to being a professional band.
Professional publicists for major-label artists can sometimes cost upwards of $4,000 per month for digital and print press campaigns. These campaigns help secure full-page spreads in magazines and represent top-tier commitments by labels investing in their artists.
Releasing and Promoting
You’ve recorded, mixed, and mastered your album. Now you’re ready to release it to the world, right? No!
“When Should I Release My Album?”
If you have a finished and mastered copy of your album, many publicists want to have a mastered copy of the album in their hands about 3-4 months before the official release date of the album. Why? This amount of lead time helps make securing placements in both print and digital press much easier.
Even if you plan on promoting your album yourself, you should give yourself the same amount of lead-time to secure proper placements for your songs.
Lead Time: Lead-time is the amount of time between a finished story at a magazine or newspaper and a printed copy of the magazine making its way onto store shelves. For magazines like SPIN, Under the Radar, Billboard, etc. there is about 2 months of lead time.That means that if your album is coming out in November and you want to have it covered in the November issue of a magazine, the review of your album has to be written and completed by September. And because your publicist is competing with 50 other publicists trying to get coverage for their clients, pitches for album reviews to appear in a November issue of a magazine will start rolling in to music writers around August. The 3-4 months of lead time on an album gives a publicist enough time to push a story to traditional print-press.
One Piece of Content at a Time
Before you can start promoting your music, you first have to know what it is you’re promoting exactly!
You should only ever promote one piece of content at a time. Until you’re the size of Drake, no publications are going to do “personal interest” pieces about your life as a musician. Starting out, pick one song from your new album to promote, one new music video, or one particular date on a list of tour dates. Trying to get a blog to just write about “you” without any motive is going to fall flat.
Ask opinions from friends and colleagues about the best song from your new album or which song would make a good music video.
Focusing your attention on getting coverage for a single song or single video will make the process of an entire music publicity campaign less daunting.
Now that we’ve talked about how your completed album is the most valuable thing you have until someone finally writes about it, let’s take a moment to see what kind of assets (pieces of content) you’ll need to have for a “traditional” press campaign. Having the following pieces of information available will greatly increase your likelihood of getting coverage. The reason? Simply put, it makes it look like you have your shit together.
As I’m getting ready to start reaching out to bloggers, I make a folder on my computer that has easy access to the following information. This should also be included on the band’s website.
Biography: Your biography should be no more than 200 words long. It should include the type of music you make, band member names, notable accomplishments, and quick info about your new release.
Music: Include links or embeddable Soundcloud/Bandcamp players to all of your band’s releases on this page.
Photos: At least 3 high-resolution press photos of your band-mates should be available on this page.
Videos: Have at least 1 live video and 1 music video if possible. Live-videos help tremendously when fighting for tour press.
Tour Dates: Widgets like Songkick and BandsInTown make it easy to include tour dates on your website.
Contact: I can’t stress how important a contact page is. An email address for your band is necessary at the very least, but information about your management, publicity, and booking contacts are also very helpful.
High Resolution Photos: I recommend having at least three photographs ready for press distribution on your website. All photographs should be at least 300DPI and available in CMYK color. For more information about press-ready image sizing, resolution, and colors, please visit:
- Album artwork
- 2 photographs of the band: These photographs should be well-lit and all of the band members’ faces should be visible.
Telling a Story
Bloggers communicate with words and stories. Not only do you have to tell a story with your music, you also need a story for press to write about you. A captivating story of the difficulties encountered with writing your album, personal breakups, or crazy tour stories that influenced a particular song all make for great content. Bloggers need something to write about you, so think about what makes your album recording process different and make sure to tell bloggers about it. A good story and mediocre music makes for a better read than a flawlessly recorded album without any struggle.
Example “stories” that have accompanied successful album releases.
Bon Iver – “For Emma, Forever Ago”: After a breakup with his band and girlfriend, Justin Vernon retreated to a cabin on his parent’s land to record one of 2007’s most popular albums.
Wilco – “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”: Considered by many to be Wilco’s mainstream breakthrough album, the entire recording process was fueled by frustrations with long fights with their record label that ultimately led to the band getting dropped because their new release, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” was too weird for the label’s tastes.
Fleet Foxes – “Helplessness Blues”: After almost finishing recording their second album, “Helplessness Blues,” Fleet Foxes threw the entire record away and started writing and recording the whole album again. The process took close to 2 years to complete.
Damien Rice - “O”: Rice was fed up making albums under a major record label and recorded an independent solo album called “O” in 2001, dedicated to his friend who died of a traumatic brain injury. The barebones recording style and lack of major-label backing propelled the album to platinum status.
Finding Music Bloggers to Email
Every major metropolitan area in the world has at least someone writing about arts, music, and culture. Using Google (“music blog [CITY NAME]” is a good start), you can usually find a handful of writers who are covering new music developments. If you live in a rural area, find the nearest major city’s music writers to reach out to.
I sometimes also like to pick up a copy of the local Sunday-paper. There’s usually an “Around Town” section, or something similar, that has information about upcoming local concerts, interviews with artists, and album reviews. Find the writers for these music columns and reach out!
Music blog aggregators like Hype Machine (hypem.com) monitor prominent music blogs and compile “Top 10” lists of the most talked about music of the day or week. Most of the blogs founds on Hype Machine are considered “Tastemaker” blogs and coverage on any one of them can ultimately lead to additional coverage on similar sites.
Never doubt the power of an effective Google search. Using search terms related to your music and similar sounding bands, you can find blogs covering music similar to your style. Searching for bloggers reviewing albums that inspired your own work is a good way to get a positive response to the project you’re promoting.
Possible search term examples include:
- “arcade fire reflektor” review
- indie rock music blog
- independent hip-hop music blog
I firmly believe that a large component of a successful music-blog press campaign is organization. If you’re not organized, there’s a good chance you’ll email the same publications twice, will forget someone’s name, and may not adhere to a blog’s submission standards. Every blogger is different, so approaching each one prepared makes their job easier and increases your chances of success.
I use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my contacts at each blog, magazine, and publication that I pitch to. This makes my life easier when I’m able to quickly look up the email address or name of the editor at a local music weekly without having to go back to the magazine’s website and dig through the “Contact” page to find who I’m looking for. In my Excel spreadsheet, I collect the following information:
- Publication/Blog Name
- Blogger/Editor’s Name
- Blogger/Editor’s Contact Email Address
- Magazine/Blog’s Physical Address
- Phone Number
- Additional Submission Information
- This one is especially important if you need to know what days or weeks of the year a magazine or radio station is accepting press materials, how your press materials should be formatted, and who to address them to. Every magazine and blog has different requirements, so know exactly how to send stuff in to make it through the “first round” so someone will at least listen to your release.
Unsolicited Submissions: A quick note about “unsolicited submissions.” Some blogs are so inundated with emails from “official channels” that sending in a package in defiance of, “We don’t accept unsolicited submissions,” posted on their website is a waste of money and time that could be better spent chasing coverage elsewhere. The chances of anyone at a press outlet ignoring their own rule about opening unsolicited press packs is zero.
Sending an email to a music blogger and securing coverage has more to do with fulfilling the blogger’s needs (we talked about this earlier) than it does with writing the perfect email. Outlining major talking points, providing easy to use listening links, and making saying “yes” extremely easy are the biggest takeaways.
My methods of reaching out may be (and probably will be) different than other guys/gals out there doing publicity. If I’m “cold-calling,” or in this case cold-emailing, a blogger or editor I’ve never interacted with personally before, my emails look a little different than if I’m reaching out to a friend who may be able to run a piece about a new record. First impressions count.
Keep It Simple
Keep your emails to 2 or 3 sentences MAX. Packing all of the information about your release into a 3-page email that the blogger may not even have time to read is wasting even more of their time if your music still sucks. The 3 main components of a successful first email are:
Introduction: Say hello to the blogger personally and let them know that you’ve read their blog and know the kind of content they typically cover.
Information: Tell them about your project and what you’d like them to do if they enjoy your music.
Links: Don’t forget to include easy to use links.
Sample Email #1:
Subject: [BLOG NAME] Song Debut – [BAND NAME]?
In short, my name is [NAME] and I represent an indie-pop duo out of New York called “The Awesome Tigers” (theawesometigers.com). I found [BLOG NAME] because of a post you made a few weeks back about Ellie Goulding’s new album, Halcyon. I was wondering if [BLOG NAME] would be interested in debuting a new single from “The Awesome Tigers” from their upcoming LP. It’s reminiscent of [2 OTHER BANDS THE BLOGGER HAS REVIEWED].
Thanks for listening Greg, -Nick
Attached is a press-release about the upcoming LP.
Why Does Email #1 Work?
This simple email works because it accomplishes a few different things in the course of 3 sentences.
- It tells the blogger you took the time to read their blog, find their name, and figure out what kind of music they like.
- It tells the blogger exactly what kind of music the band you’re pitching makes by relating it to past content they’ve covered.
- It includes an extremely easy to use listening link.
- It directly asks the blogger what course of action you’d like them to take after reading your email (in this case, debut a new single from the band).
Sample Email #2
We’ve had a look at a “cold-calling” email from a band who is probably pretty new and doesn’t have any “street credit” to their name. If a band has been around a little while, it’s a bit easier to pitch to blogs, since there’s a good chance they have had some mentions in previous blogs, have worked with a cool producer, or have something else going for them other than just being “new music.”
My name is [NAME] and I represent an indie-pop duo out of New York called “The Awesome Tigers” (theawesometigers.com). James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) produced the band’s newest LP, “Music in My Ears 88″ and the band will be opening for LCD Soundsystem on their upcoming reunion tour for a few dates in New York. Would [BLOG NAME] would be interested in debuting the first single from “Music in My Ears 88?”. The album is due out January 22.
Thanks for listening Greg, -Nick
Attached is a press-release about the upcoming LP.
Why Does Email #2 Work?
Just like the first email listed above, the second email accomplishes many of the same goals, but is much more direct in its approach. Either “The Awesome Tigers” were a well known band already (even if only regionally), or they had enough clout to work with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. This “press fact” could be anything noteworthy like an NPR interview, a mention in the Huffington Post, etc. Since the artist has some clout, you can leverage it into getting more press coverage for the band.
Every email that you send to a music blogger should be personalized.
Editors’ personal contact information is usually readily available on their blogs, as well as information about who they are, what type of music their blog typically writes about, and what kind of submissions process they usually employ.
Mass-emailing music blogs with the CC or BCC email function is a good way to get ignored. Remember that there’s a human being on the other side of the Internet that’s going to open your emails and that their time is just as valuable as yours. Ignoring basic human courtesy is a fast track to getting your emails deleted before they’re even opened.
Soundcloud, Bandcamp, or Youtube?
You’ve got your music out there, but where should you upload your songs for a the easiest listening experience?
Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and Youtube are the most popular options, most notably because they have mobile-ready streaming platforms that bloggers and writers can use when they’re not at their computer. Also, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and Youtube are the easiest media players to embed into a blog post. If you’re close to getting coverage, don’t blow it by not having your songs already available on a popular streaming platform.
Once you’ve uploaded your music to a streaming platform, you should make full use of the “description” section of the player to make basic information about your band, links to buy songs, and links back to your website immediately available. Take a look at the descriptions of these popular artist’s Soundcloud and Youtube page descriptions for an idea of what to include.
Phosphorescent – “Song for Zula”
Farhot – Jakarta Records
Should you use Reverbnation?
This may sound harsh, but if you’re using Reverbnation to promote your music, bloggers aren’t going to listen to your songs. Reverbnation, although nice in premise, is horrible in execution and bands that use the service scream “I have no idea what I’m doing!” Make the switch to a more professional and mainstream streaming service if you want to be taken seriously.
Press Release, One Sheet, or Both?
Your press release or one-sheet isn’t a substitute for human interaction. Mass emailing your press release to every industry person whose email address you can get ahold of is a good way to get ignored and blocked. Press releases and one-sheets are good additional items to send over to a person in the press, but should only be an accompaniment to your original email. Press-releases are designed to provide MORE information to the person on the receiving end of your promotional emails, not replace an initial point of contact.
One-Sheet: Most folks know what a press release is, but a one-sheet is a term most often found in radio promotion campaigns. It’s exactly one piece of paper that has all of the relevant information about a band and their newest release. They are sent with CDs to radio stations so on-air DJs can have something to talk about if they need a few facts about the new album. One-sheets include release dates, track listings, mini-biographies of the band, a press photo, notable press quotes about the project, and most importantly, contact information for the publicist, promoter, manager, or band member who can answer any questions about the project. In rare cases, a radio DJ or blogger may need a last-second quote for a story they’re running, so having a phone number or email address at the bottom of a one-sheet allows them to easily contact the person in charge of the project and get the information they need.
Getting More Coverage
After you’ve started to get coverage for a single or music video from your new album, it’s time to leverage that coverage into bigger placements.
As mentioned earlier, tastemaker music blogs pay attention to what other blogs are writing about. If you manage to secure a high-profile placement on a tastemaker music blog, you can use this coverage to generate even more press for that piece of content. Using similar formatting to the sample emails included in this post, you can reach out to new bloggers and mention that your new single was just included on the Huffington Post’s “Bands to Watch” list or on a local music blog. The idea is that if someone else prominent is covering the story already, maybe they should be writing about it too…
Climbing the Press Ladder
Achieving blog press is similar to working your way up a ladder. Debuting a song on your friend’s local music blog means you could next approach the local newspaper and say:
“[Music Blog Name] here in town just debuted a single off of our new album last week and we were wondering if [Newspaper Name] would be interested in releasing the accompanying lyric video in support of our show at Cool Venue 101 on December 13?”
Similarly, getting mentioned on a small to mid-sized music blog means that you can slowly find bigger blogs to write about the same piece of content. Blogs don’t like to be left behind when there’s something worthwhile mentioning making waves elsewhere on the Internet!
Dealing With Rejection
Even the best publicists in the world face rejection. There’s a good chance that you’ll email or call 20 different blogs before you even get a “maybe” – and that’s OK!
Prominent music writers receive upwards of 150 emails a day and can only listen to so much before they find the next thing they want to write about. Persistence helps you overcome the reality of rejection and eventually pays dividends if you stick with it.
The reality of the job is that even after you’ve successfully landed a high-profile music blog cover story, there’s a good chance that no one else will care about covering you right away. It takes weeks and months of debuting new content, generating press interest, and sending hundreds, if not thousands, of emails to land one or two pieces of press that count.
In my early days, for every 15-20 emails I sent, I was lucky to hear back from 1 person. The 1 person I heard back from usually included a polite “No thanks,” but it was a start.
This is often where I see a lot of artists drop the ball on their own self-promotion efforts. Following up is as important as the first email you send!
Music blogs receive an unfathomable number of submissions each day. For them to open every single one of them would be impossible. Following up keeps your band’s name at the top of their inbox and increases the likelihood that your email will be opened and your songs will be listened to.
When Should I Follow Up?
After you’ve sent your initial email, wait 4-5 days before sending a follow-up email to ask the blogger if they’ve had a chance to listen to your songs yet and if they’d be interested in covering the story.
Just wanted to follow up with you to see if you’d had a chance to listen to [BAND NAME] yet and if [BLOG NAME] would be interested in debuting the single from our new album?
Following up is probably more important to getting noticed than the initial contact emails. Why? As I’ve mentioned already, bloggers are inundated with (sometimes) hundreds of emails every single day. Following up bumps you back to the top of their inbox and shows that a little persistence means you’re not sending mass emails.
Album Release Schedule
Alright, so we’ve talked about why music blogs write about what they do, why you shouldn’t be eager to put your music out there without some planning, why exclusivity matters, what kinds of stories you should be telling, how your emails should be structured, where your music should be hosted, and how to follow up with bloggers to make sure your music gets heard. PHEW!
What’s next? I’ve put together an album release schedule of sorts that will help you organize your thoughts and plans to successfully release your music. I like to take things slowly to not get overwhelmed by the size of a full campaign.
Week 1: Decide on the singles, videos, and tour dates you’ll be promoting and focus on one at a time. Taking on too much at once can be overwhelming and could mean you drop the ball on one or more facets of the overall campaign. The first week should also be used to prepare all of the assets we talked about earlier (biography, press photos, streaming links,
Week 2: If it’s your first time promoting your own music, I suggest finding 100-15o music blogs and magazines that you’d be interested in having cover your story. Obviously, you won’t get on all of them, but if 5-10% of them respond, you’ll be on a good start for your next release.
Week 3: Design a release schedule for the next 3 months. Your release schedule should have something coming out every 2-3 weeks (traditionally). That means having a new single or video ready for release at regular intervals so you can always be chasing new press opportunities from the 100-150 press outlets you chose in the previous week. Sending emails to the same publications for multiple debut opportunities increases your name recognition and could eventually lead to a placement.
Week 4: It’s almost time to start emailing, but before you get the ball moving you should mail out any physical copies of your album for review by magazines (see above) and “get your ducks in a row.” This involves double checking that all of your band’s press materials are ready on your band website, all of your streaming music and video links are still active, and that your contact information for bloggers is accurate.
Week 5-8: Now the fun begins. You can use week 5 to email 10-15 blogs every few days to ask if they’d like to debut the first single from your new album or your new music video, etc. Don’t email more than 10-15 at a time. What if you hear back from a major publication like Pitchfork on that Wednesday with a “Yes, we’d love to debut the song!”? It would suck to email 150 music blogs, get 20 “Yes” replies to your debut request and have to tell 19 of them that you’re backing out of your offer. In week 6-8 you’ll continue emailing publications of varying sizes to try and land an elusive debut-placement. Remember, this may just be in your local fan-zine!
Week 9-12: Leverage the success you got in the last step to tell all of the 100-150 music bloggers in your target list about the successful coverage you got and ask if they’d also be interested in covering that same song! If Pitchfork likes it, they might as well, right? After you’ve gotten your first debut and told all of the other bloggers about your success to see if they’d also like to listen to your song and feature it on their own music blog, start using song #2 or video #2 for another debut. At this point, you’ll probably start to hear back from some of the blogs that ignored your first request. You may start seeing “No thanks” or “Maybe,” but nothing definitive. Remember to followup!
Week 13-16: The last 4 weeks of your promotional campaign will help you tie off any loose ends. You’ve now debuted (hopefully) 2 pieces of content for your new album or project and are working on landing some final press. Follow up with everyone you can to squeeze all of the promotional life you can out of the last 2 pieces of content and use a final song, video, or big show announcement to drum up final coverage. Leverage all of the previous mentions you’ve gotten into doing everything just short of begging for a major press outlet to cover your band. If you’ve gotten your local newspaper and a big-ish music blog to write about you, make a push for the publications you thought may be out of your reach!
I hope this has been helpful. I really do. This is the longest post I’ve ever written, so I hope you’re able to successfully promote your own music a little bit better because of it!
Nicholas David is the founder of Sunshine Promotion, a boutique music marketing and public relations firm based in Orlando, FL. He has helped place songs on MTV, FOX, NBC, and various national music publications.