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Indie Musician: What Publicists Need From Musicians

December 27th, 2011

Anne Leighton handles publicity and music services for a range of master musicians including up-and-comers Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius, Mike Keneally, KJ Denhert, Emily Hurd, Jann Klose, plus classic artists Vonda Shepard, Jethro Tull, Tower of Power, and many others. She wrote this article which was posted as a guest post on Music Think Tank. I’m reposting the article here to aid our musician readers who want to further advance their careers.

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The best, savviest musicians listen to their publicist’s expertise.  Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and Tower of Power’s Emilio Castillo pay attention to what I tell them when I disagree, find a wrong fact in their bio, or if they NEED to do an interview during a vacation.  They also tell me when something needs to be fixed.  We’ve never had an argument.  Sure, we’ve all made mistakes that were based in misunderstood e-mails or my faulty research for an address. All my artists have missed interviews, but we rebound and reschedule.  We’re human.

Your publicist interfaces with you: the media, other world and industry tastemakers, or gatekeepers to get you more known in your career.

We work together.  Whether it’s you or Ian, artists have to realize the type of coverage (radio, print, TV, internet) they will receive in conjunction with where they are at the time of their album’s release.  If you’re at Lady Gaga’s level, most everyone will devote space and time to you.  If you had hits more than three to 40 years ago, selected national outlets might be interested, but chances lie more in local print and radio. If you’re still determined to wake up early in the morning, you could get some local TV coverage.

If you’ve never had a hit, you need a fireball publicist who believes in you to get media coverage.  You may get newspaper, radio, maybe even TV.  As far as national coverage, you might get whoever that publicist has contacts with, plus some new outlets, and significant web coverage.

A good publicist will help educate you on how to work with the media.  I’ve combined thoughts based on both my experiences and those of other publicists I’ve grown to know over the years.

As the artist, your responsibilities are divided up into Three Categories: Personal Responsibility, Information and Customer Service.  Technically it is all about personal responsibility, but I’ll show you what to emphasize.

PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY

For your career and the publicist.

At the independent level, you are probably underpaying your publicist, who is always responsible for getting more media people to cover you with the hopes that fans will read those articles.  Let’s say you’re paying them $2000 per month.  The standard pay for publicists is $150 to $250.00 an hour.  And yet, these folks will be working for you, probably over 20 hours in the next month.

That work will include summoning the press to your tour dates,  posting on the internet and in social media, writing a bio (unless you already have one….then it’s tweaking your bio).  It’ll include follow ups with journalists who did interviews with you, rescheduling interviews you missed, event planning. The publicist’s agenda might include mail outs.  Even journalists they know don’t respond.  It’s a challenging job to be an advocate for talented musicians, but it is rewarding.

The publicist is also taking your phonecalls, coming to your shows, then going home the rest of the night trying to catch up on e-mails.

If you ask publicists for some advice on your career, don’t be insulted by thier answers.  They are not jealous or gossiping, but giving feedback for you to be aware of, and—at least—file away in your head.

Decide that you’re going to take criticism because that publicist cares about you, wants you to grow, flourish and prosper, so he or she can work with you forever.  If you disagree, be logical not accusational.  Don’t be insulted if the publicist says, “You’d look better in tight pants.”  Discuss why you don’t want to wear tight pants.  Then, while you’re alone, look at the photos of you in the pants she hated, and assess how they really look on you.  Sneak out to the clothing store, and try on some different pants, making sure—of course—that you evaluate how your ass (the only one you’ll ever need in this business) looks. Think about the feedback you’re getting.

Accept where you really are in your career. Look, you know you’re special, but just in case you weren’t warned, neither America, the media, venues, other rock stars and their entourages agree… yet.  One or two people, yes.  Maybe a few more every month you gig, but at the end of the day, this is a country of starfuckers.  Just know that nobody in this business is going to make your way easy unless, after they listen, they decide you’re good.  And then it’s just one person; who knows if their hot shot music industry colleagues will agree or if they’ll be pushing their unknown fave.

Oh, and make sure you get to know your fans.  They already know you or think they do—pay attention to their expectations, you’ll learn something.  Never travel incognito.  If you’re waiting on line at a pitstop, talk to the people next to you, give them a flyer, ask them about their musical expectations.  Engage the whole line in conversation.

Everyone in the industry gets lots of music; the bigger media outlets (like JAY LENO, ROLLING STONE, NEW YORK TIMES, ELLEN DEGENERES) and their counterparts receive more pitches and music than you can imagine.  The talent booker or a major writer only has two ears, and they pretty much need to listen to the same thing at a given time… and there’s only so much time.  In fact, I’ve seen name publicists NOT get THE placement in ROLLING STONE, RELIX, NPR SONG OF THE DAY, PITCHFORK, and national TV over and over again, even for a seemingly-hip act with a track record.

I can’t tell you the amount of people—including best friends—who didn’t listen to some really great musicians, even some semi-famous folks over the past few years.  Busier people listen to two notes, or click a YouTube page, turn it on, walk away to get a snack, come back, and go, “nah…”  I have no idea what “Well, they’re really talented, but it’s not my kind of music” really means, but we get that line a lot from media people.  DON’T TAKE ANY OF THOSE ANSWERS PERSONALLY, EVEN IF IT’S THE OUTLET YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE IN; KEEP PLUGGING.

A west coast publicist stresses that artists need to manage their own expectations of what publicists can deliver.  Be realistic about knowing where you are in their career when a publicist starts working with you.  The general rule of thumb is if you’re not new on a major or super hit roster, where a record label is funding a full-on media outreach campaign like you saw over the last year for Florence and the Machine, it will be harder to get mass media attention.  Know that your publicist will be sending out more albums to more media people and getting less results than what a glorified major label artist receives.

Again, if you are absolutely an indie artist, consider doing a long campaign in which the publicist works your album intensively for three to five months before an album’s release, and then on a maintenance plan where he or she would follow up over the course of a year to at least18 months.  After all you’ll be touring and building your career during that time.  Records should not be left on the curb to die.  The idea is that you’ll be at a higher level with your career for the next album, and will receive some automatic placements with journalists who covered you over the last album, and—if you have a story that’s bigger than just great reviews–bigger media could be interested.

These three months get a minimal amount of placements and only start the awareness for artists (even those with the humongous push).  Hiring a publicist for just three months—well that time is pretty much prep for the releases and mail out.  Those CDs are now lying in wait along with dozens of packages.

Be grateful for the placements, especially if you go with a three month campaign.

INFORMATION

At the beginning of the campaign, the band and the publicist need to develop a collaborative working relationship when it comes to the media.  A recommended way to get everyone on the same page is to have the bio, press release, song description sheet actually originate from the band.  They should talk with the publicist, brainstorm on angles and the most important reasons their new album exists.  What’s it about?  The band will write a draft, and then the publicist builds on that.  Depending on how throrough you were, she might ask you, “Well, since we’re aiming to work what a great live act you are and how you broke the songs in live, then maybe we should talk about some of the festivals you played at.  Do you have a list of festival you played it?”

Bands should be maintaining their web sites and social media pages.  Bands should add the publicist to their fanlist.  Publicists should be posting the best articles on her social sites, and telling industry colleagues she’s working with these artists.  Create a buzz about them with everyone, including industry tastemakers.

As soon as a show is confirmed, let the publicist know via e-mail.

Communicate.  If you won an award, are collaborating with someone famous, tell your publicist.  If you’re planning a charity event, plan the event with your publicist.  How it should be named, who are the priority acts are on the bill.  Send your publicist any extra thoughts related to the event, keep the publicist up-to-date.  I worked a concert that was one of those once-in-a-lifetime events.  After the event was a critically-acclaimed success, I heard from two musicians that a special guest was not happy with how the show was billed.  All through the campaign I had sent him e-mails and also private messages through his Facebook page about the press release, but had never heard from him.  So don’t be disappointed in the marquee if you don’t communicate either in the beginning or as the work progresses.

Take advantage of the publicists’ expertise.  If they specialize in sponsorships, pay them to do a campaign to reach out for sponsors.  You can negotiate up front money along with a percentage.  Supply them with information.

Give the publicist your media contacts, including phone number, e-mail, and special comments.  Who has covered you in the past?  Bands need to always be updating their contacts; be prepared for the future.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

I know stern taskmasters and I know assholes.  There’s a difference.  When my workers don’t do something right, I have to give criticism, “Let’s work on this,” and I tell them exactly what I want.  If they don’t follow up, I repeat myself.  At some point I plead, even cry but without an insult; “I’m trying to help you be better at this work, it’s pleasing the customer.”  I explain why something should be the way it is.  I listen to them.  I also get a good vibe about whether they can take criticism.

If you yell at a person, it makes criticism hard.  If someone yells at me a lot and doesn’t let me speak then I know they’re not able to have any dialog, then I’d rather talk with them at a time they’re capable of expressing themselves.  Look at criticism as something that needs to be fixed. Think “constructive criticism.” Insults are another case—people who give insults need to fix themselves.  Constant rants and rages show they’re problem clients and it’s best to stay far away from them.

These are actual lines clients have insulted their publicists:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results and I’m not going to drive myself insane” on something little.

“You’re driving me crazy,”

“Why are you so lazy?”

“You’re jealous,”

“I was being sarcastic when I said, ‘Let’s do the bloody interview.’”

“I want your report, which probably has nothing on it.” The publicist sent the report with plenty of placements and got back, “There’s nothing on the report!”

All of those are rude and nasty things and have no place in a business relationship.

Being late is another way some people feel insulted, so being prompt is good.  If you’re scheduled to do an interview at 3 PM, call the journalist at 3 PM.  (Of course the publicist has to check with you to make sure you’re available for a 3 PM interview!!!)

Sometimes you have an interview scheduled for 3 PM the next day, and something else comes up.  Whether it’s a family outing or a last minute gig, you need to notify the publicist as soon as something comes up, so we can notify the journalist and reschedule the interview.  Chances are if you tell the publicist at the last minute, the journalist will not give you a second chance.  It’s hard to build careers, and harder with a diva.

Yes, there are times where there is a family emergency. My client had to take his wife to the hospital one time when we had a slew of interviews.  He called and e-mailed me 10 minutes to the first interview.  That was a name act, and all interviews were rescheduled.

If you have apprehensions about a media interview, discuss that with the publicist.  Technically you should be doing all the interviews you can, but you might not want to be in something like a very poorly produced cable show, blog that just started, interviewer who seems scary, or an early morning TV show.  Discuss that with your publicist enough in advance so that the journalist can find a replacement if this was confirmed.  If it wasn’t confirmed,  it will be up to the publicist’s diplomatic skills to figure out what to tell the journalist.

It’s funny. I recall a diva who was really upset about doing a late night radio interview.  So the publicist said, “I want you to take a break and think about why you want to cancel the interview tomorrow night.  Then get back to me with your decision.”  And now that diva is great friends with that late night radio host.

You just don’t know where your career is going to go, what unique path you’ll be working as you become more known.  Will you be a household name or will you be the sound that music fans from 2015 and 2025 discover? If you use common courtesy, and keep the channels of good communication open with your publicist, you should be able to develop some great relationships with most media people. And at least your unique road will be happier.

Anne’s books include USING YOUR ART & THE MEDIA TO COMFORT PEOPLE (Free to Run books, US) and PAWS FOR THOUGHT: HOW TO UNDERSTAND WHAT YOUR CAT IS THINKING (Rockwell Books, UK).  Her web site is http://www.anneleighton.com .

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