Every day, the various submissions inboxes that I’m privy to are filled with literally thousands of emails from bands, record labels and PR companies trying to hawk their wares… and that’s not even counting those that find their way into my own personal accounts. With such a deluge of people desperate to have their (often mediocre) music heard, and so many people prepared to shell out substantial sums of cash in the process, there are a few things you can watch out for ensure you avoid falling into the common mistakes that mean your band’s email will never be opened, let alone listened to.
It should be fairly obvious that the observations contained in this post are made through the very specific lens of someone actively seeking out new music that’s got more substance than fluff; bands that are in it for the love and not just as some sort of passing whim. If your outfit is already established and aiming to woo the NME, then this clearly won’t apply to your situation. However, given that most of us mere mortals are not in that supposedly enviable position, most of this should still apply.
If Somebody Else Is Doing your PR…
I’ve got to be brutally honest here.
When you’re faced with a mass of emails pleading for your attention, and you already hardly have time to cover the stuff that you want to for that week, the messages from random PR companies or self aggrandising ‘band managers’ very rarely make it past the first hurdle. There are many reasons why bands end up employing this tact: some don’t know where to start; they perceive having a third-party do the communications as being more ‘professional’; their label has a deal with particular organisations… blah, blah… but to the person sitting at the other end of the screen, it can all too easily feel like those who created the music don’t really give much of a shit about it in the first place, or that press coverage is an unfortunate and incidental by-product of the process. Whilst this might not be true (although I suspect it probably is a lot more often than I’m making out here), it’s definitely something you want to avoid.
Having said that, there are some very good agencies out there: people that genuinely love the bands and music that they’re working with, who throw the entire weight of their personal credibility behind in order to get them heard. Not all agencies suck, and so if you do opt to go down this route, there are particular things you should watch out for.
1. Be my pal.
When you hire an agency, you’re not simply paying for their knowledge of the industry… you’re paying for the people. The best agencies out there are the sorts of folk who instantly endear themselves to others; the kind that you want to take out and buy a drink. It’s much harder for a Review Ed. to ignore an email from somebody who’s made a genuine effort to connect with them, than it is a faceless mailshot. There have been occasions where even though I’m not a big fan of agencies in general; even though I’ve got less than zero time; and even despite not even really being behind a particular band, I’ve managed to find a way to give them coverage because I like the person who’s sending them across.
2. Don’t be my pal.
I used to think that it was cool when people started their emails with “Hey Stephen, I’m a big fan of your site and what you guys are doing…”. Until, that is, I realised that every single person used that as their opening gambit. There’s nothing more irksome than to have somebody pretend to give a shit about you simply in order to get a band whose paid them some coverage. Hell, I’m sure lots of the agencies that I get on fine with secretly hate me, but at least they’re good liars. If it’s obvious you don’t know or give a shit about the writer, then it does nothing but ensure that agency’s emails go straight to the spam folder.
3. Reply to requests.
This may seem like the most basic of tasks, but it’s incredible how many so-called ‘publicists’ don’t bother following up on requests. I’ve been on PR lists that have spammed, err… submitted… their entire roster to my personal inbox four times a day, every day, who simply never sent back a download when I’ve actually requested one. If your agency reply with “Great! We’ll send you a link to the album”, and then never actually do, they are completely worthless.
4. Don’t think the agency is more important.
There was one particular band who I personally had been banging on about in every channel available to me since near enough their inception. One publication in particular went on and on about them for ages, and got on fairly well with the independent PR agency that they were working with in their early days. Eventually they released an album, got more well known, and ended up being handled by a bigger organisation. After agreeing to do some substantial tour and album coverage initially, I was told when chasing up the practicalities that not only was it “totally out of the question for anybody except the NME.”, but that if we wanted a review copy of the album (digital, bear in mind), that we would have to buy it when it came out.
The result? We blacklisted the agency and never covered any of their acts again. This was a PR team that we routinely went out of our way to give coverage to, and despite later apologies, that one aggressively patronising email was enough to kill it stone dead.
The agency’s job is to get coverage about the bands on their roster, and whilst they have to ensure that those who are seeking to gain access to their roster are of a certain value, to dismiss publications you already work with out of hand because of delusions of grandeur is one sure fire way to ensure that the indie press and online bloggers won’t ever touch your acts with a bargepole again. There are plenty of examples of bands who have mysteriously discovered that they’ve lost some of their loyal grassroots support because of how they’ve been treated by PR agencies throwing their weight around. Don’t let it happen to you.
If You’re Doing it DIY…
Congratulations! You’re already probably a whole step ahead of those working with an agency. Not because they’re fundamentally bad, but because statistically you’re more likely to end up on a shit one than one of the few diamonds in the rough. (p.s. if you really want to know who some of the good ones are, drop us an email)
You are your biggest asset. Who cares more about the music you’ve produced more than you? Who else knows the interesting quirks that led to the point you’re at now? That time the bassist got locked in the studio overnight or woke up passed out and tied up with cable-ties might not be something you’d think to mention to an agency, but it’s something that could well hook in somebody like me. Make it obvious that there’s personality behind the email, and I’ll want to find out more.
2. READY, AIM…
Don’t fire off emails to every publication you can find. Out of an inbox of thousands, I can scan down and pick out the mass mail-outs from the personally crafted ones stupidly easily. Just as there is zero point in sending pure pop or hardore trance acts to be reviewed by a rock magazine, the same applies to anywhere else. Find out what a reviewer likes, match up those that you think suit you closest, and tailor your message accordingly.
2. Know when to stop.
Okay, I got the email, and we’ve spoken a few times on Twitter. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to end up in a glowing feature anytime soon. I appreciate the interaction (and probably feel guilty at the same time for not having time to reply straight away), but it’s wise to know when to realise when to ease off. It’s possible that the writer in question has had time to listen to your music – may even quite like it – but just doesn’t have much to say about it. It’s also possible that they thought you were really nice chaps, but that your music sucks, and it’s easier to say nothing. There’s so much mediocre music in the world that it makes more sense to hunt out the good stuff and shout about it, rather than rip apart every shit band we come across.
3. Make it as easy as possible.
It’s amazing how many bands get in touch and don’t include a link to their songs, or don’t include the names of the tracks, or any other information. If I need to chase anything like that up, 9 times out of 10 it’s easier just to move onto the next email. Opportunity missed.
4. Dismiss at your peril.
It’s easy for this to sound like the demands of some jumped up wee fud quibbling over details. It can be easy to dismiss the support of people who don’t come with the backing of a national print magazine as nobodies. That’s the usual slur thrown back at online music writers… ‘Who are you anyway?’ The truth is: you want us to feature your music, we want to feature your music, and at the end of the day we’re trying our best to do that, even in the face of all the posturing and bullshit that goes on in the industry. Whilst the mainstream musical press openly mocked Biffy Clyro, their dedicated core of fans, bloggers and indie forced them to listen, and uhh… well, we all know how that one turned out.
When somebody goes out of their way to support your band, often dedicating their own time, energy, and passion to it, make sure you don’t forget; they certainly won’t.