Tech Tip:Effective Band Promotion
Note: Some of the information in this article was referenced from Guerilla P.R. by Michael Levine. The purpose of this article is to explain basic public relations techniques (some of which are outlined in Levine's book) and use them to successfully market your band. Concepts from The Leader In You: How to Win Friends, Influence People and Succeed in a Changing World by Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc. were also referenced.
The music business has come a long way since getting discovered was as easy as humming a tune while serving a Big Mac® to the head of a major record label. Bands these days are now being forced into becoming mini-corporations--- responsible for their own marketing, supplies, and finances. Even though musicians are encouraged to be as outrageous as possible onstage, offstage you must behave as cunningly as a corporate CEO--where you'll find that being good at what you do is not enough; you have to make sure that the whole world knows it, which means a lot of planning, determination, and creativity. If you're ready to move your band out of the garage than it's time to start thinking like a business person and treat your band like a corporation with a list of assets that include a loyal fan base and strong contacts at record labels, clubs, and radio stations. Beginning to build a strong public relations policy within your band will help you to be able to enjoy the limelight once it hits you but, if you don't, then the reality of what being a rock star actually entails (i.e. maintaining a public image and charming the media) may make your success feel more like a slap in the face.
CEO's usually hire a public relations manager to handle media relations and public image but, chances are, you don't have the kind of cash it takes to get an expert in the entertainment industry worth your time or money. Public Relations experts usually help to formulate ideas to keep your image fresh in the public mind, write the press releases and schmooze with the media to get them printed and distributed and, most importantly, become the main contact between the company and the media. To make effective P.R. work for you, imagine your band as the 'company' and the 'media' can be A&R reps, fans, club owners, radio programmers, or actual media personalities. Your success in how you deal with these individuals will determine your success in the music business overall, regardless of what kind of music you play or what your goals as a band are because the 'media' are the people who spread the word about your band, and how you deal with the 'media' determines whether that "word" will make or break your career.
Your first step as a publicist is to organize your inventory and supplies so that you may begin planning your marketing strategy (in other words, get your life together so that you can start a serious 'buzz' about your band). The inventory you're trying to sell is the band, it's image, and the music, and your supplies (assuming you don't have a "Build Your Own Band" kit) are anything that you use to promote the band such as CDs and t-shirts. Before you start to formulate a plan, sit down with your band members and make sure that you all have similar goals about where you want the band to be in five days, five months, and five years. This may sound silly, especially if you've been together for a long time, but you may be surprised to find out that someone may have a different vision for where they want to go as a musician than you do. Make your goals clear whether it includes a tour, recording, getting signed to a label, or playing in your parent's basement and then you can begin to organize your supplies. What type of goals you have doesn't matter as long as you all agree that it is what you all want to do and then you can put into play whatever public relations agenda you need to see it happen. If you want to go on tour than you'll need a press packet, a demo tape, and merchandise to sell at gigs; and if you want to get signed then you'll want to appoint a spokesperson, organize adequate communications (fax, pager, etc.), and prepare a professional looking press packet; while the goal of recording a new CD will take money, a studio, and new material. The important thing, no matter what the goal, is that the band is working together for something that everyone wants to accomplish and all of you understand how to go about getting the tools to create your buzz (or convince your mom to let you play really loud on a weeknight).
Your second step is to choose a band spokesperson to be the initial contact for the media, club owners, A&R reps, and any other professional organization that wants to contact the band. It's great if everyone in the band feels comfortable in business situations and would like to participate in the paperwork, but one person should be the initial contact for anyone interested in contacting the band because, generally, people don't like to feel as if they are being juggled from person to person and they don't want to take the time to figure out who they should be talking to...that's your job! Once your P.R. campaign starts rolling the phones will start ringing, so make sure your spokesperson has the time and resources to return phone calls and if the right person isn't popping into mind immediately then ask each other a few questions: Who is the motivator in your band? Who is the decision-maker? Who walks up to total strangers and asks them for a quarter for the phone? Who's the one with a pager, cellular phone, and a fax machine? And, most importantly, Who's the one who has his sock drawer organized by colors? If one person fits all of these characteristics, then you're lucky to have a natural spokesperson, but if you're even luckier you will have several people to choose from in and around your band who fit the bill. There will be plenty of responsibilities to hand out including having someone in charge of design and artwork, someone to keep your office running efficiently, and someone who can take care of details after a deal has been made. Your main spokesperson will be the one who has all, or as many as possible, of the following characteristics: quick thinking, creative, a firm decision-maker (everyone should trust his/her judgement), a good speaker, organized, and energetic. This is the person who will create the first impression for your band, which is the one that lasts the longest, so make sure you take the time to really decide your individual strengths and weaknesses in order to make the band as strong a P.R. force as possible.
Once you've decided on a goal and have chosen a spokesperson, it's time to come up with an idea on how to really promote your band and it's important to do this without panicking--remember that some of the best ideas come when you're not even trying, so don't stress yourself out. According to Guerrilla P.R., the best ideas have four main characteristics: utility, juxtaposition, humor, and image, but let's break those down into terms we can use.
Utility simply means usefulness, so will your idea get the band recognition from the source you're seeking (club owners, A&R reps, editors, etc.) or not?
Juxtaposition means odd pairings which could mean having your band (named, for example, The Medics) playing a really weird gig at the local hospital or having the band wear tuxes while playing speed metal--all of which can get you a quick spot on the local news, guaranteed.
Humor means what it always does, but be careful using it because people's tastes are so subjective... having an unusual name that makes people chuckle, and more importantly, makes them remember you, certainly can't hurt you in the long run but just keep in mind who you want your fans to be and try not to offend them.
Image is the way you want your band to be perceived and covers everything from how you dress, to the type of music you play, to how your logo looks, to the way you speak, etc. etc...it's easier to just say that anything people can touch, taste, smell, see, or hear about your band makes up your image.
In short, coming up with a good idea involves taking all of these characteristics and fitting them into an effective P.R. campaign that gets you the attention you want from the people who matter the most to your career.
If you want to get attention from the local press, try setting up a charity concert (play one at a children's park to raise money for the renovation of a favorite playground) or whatever suits your band's image (or doesn't if you want to practice a little juxtapositioning)--or you could set up a special gig to coincide with a holiday (a combination Haunted House and concert) or coordinate a protest march for a cause close to your heart and perform a special concert. Whatever is legal and appropriate for your band's image will work as long as you take the time to accumulate the right information to get the word out about your event. If you want to get the attention of a club owner that's not booking you and you feel they should, consider gig swapping with another band that's already established there, or if it's a club out of town, send them a short performance video of your typical set. As far as garnering label attention, A&R reps generally don't go for flashy attention-getters and usually a good press packet and a quality CD should be all you need, but if you really want to send your press packet wrapped around a nice floral arrangement then go ahead and start dialing the florist now. Be creative without being obnoxious and you'll find that you can get a positive response of some kind, whether it's television coverage or that coveted gig you've been working so hard to get
The most important things to remember when you begin promoting your band is to make sure that you have a common goal that everyone is willing to work for and that you have a positive attitude about the creative possibilities of your idea-makers. Arm yourself with as many supplies as possible and never sacrifice quality for quantity...one hundred good-looking t-shirts are going to do a lot more for you than a thousand ugly ones. Remember that you are your own best promoter and that you can approach any situation with any person, no matter how powerfully connected they may be, with the calmness of a Zen master once you get yourself organized. It's all up to you!
Creating a Mailing List
Most bands already have some type of mailing list that includes their fans, friends, and family--and these people are definitely important to the life of your band. But the most important part of your mailing list, though, is your media contacts, A&R contacts, and club owners. But don't panic if you don't know anyone in the "biz" just yet because you'll find that, although you'll need to do some extensive researching, most of your contacts can be made very easily while you sit on the couch eating cheese curls (just don't crunch while you talk!).
For starters, if you want to start filling your mailing list with media contacts right away, start locally. Check out your local newspaper for the name & number of their music features editor. Chances are, they will probably be interested in hearing about your band--although that's no guarantee you're going to get a full write-up and review in their paper. Watch your local news broadcasts and look for the assignment editor's name in the credits. Then add these names to your mailing list along with their complete addresses, phone numbers, and fax numbers (you'll probably have to call a television station for a fax number, newspapers usually list their numbers in the same place as the editor's names). Next, go to your local magazine shop and pick out any titles that might print the type of press releases (or demo tape reviews) you will be sending out. Music, entertainment, and even computer magazines (if you have a cool web site) are good places to start. The first few pages of any type of magazine like this will probably list editor's names, departments, and contact numbers. For radio, you should call all local stations and ask for the names of the program director and public relations coordinator. Don't forget college radio stations! College radio is known to support upcoming, interesting, and talented bands better than most big radio stations and major labels pay serious attention to what college radio is playing so don't blow off the chance to get your music played there. Call the station and ask for the name of the program or music director and send all press packets and press releases to that person's attention. Some radio stations make staff changes every semester so i'ts imperative that you keep this list as up to date as possible. (or you could go to our ever-expanding and updated list of major-market college radio stations HERE)
Compiling a mailing list for A&R reps, on the other hand, is a little trickier because A&R staffs change quicker than you can blink an eye sometimes, so regardless of what resource you use, always call first to confirm that the person you're wanting to send your tape to is still working at your label of choice. Buy a copy of the most recent Songwriter's Market published by Writer's Digest Books or try to get the Recording Industry Sourcebook (this can be expensive, but it's worth the money) and highlight which labels are currently accepting unsolicited material and who the rep is for your type of music. Be careful of sending your tape directly to Directors of A&R (they may be the only ones listed in these types of guides). They usually have a staff that listens to demos (even secretaries) so they can weed out what is and isn't appropriate before it's even forwarded to them (if at all). So don't be surprised if your response, then, comes from someone else at the record label, someone you didn't even send the tape to. Just add that person's name to your mailing list and consider them your new contact person for that label. Also, try to get email addresses and fax numbers whenever possible, too,and if you have to go through the record company switchboard, ask the operator what extension they are connecting you to so that you can dial directly the next time you call (this is a BIG tip).
Compiling a list of club owners can be a very time-consuming task so make sure you have plenty of snacks, caffeine, and nicotine near the phone (and have plenty of patience--trust me on this). Choose the cities you might be interested in playing and get a phone directory (most libraries have phone books for all the major U.S. cities) and look up the nightclubs, bars, and music theaters listed for each city. You'll have to call each club to confirm that they are still in business (most clubs close within two years), are accepting unsolicited tapes, have an in-house booking person and have an in-house sound person (very important). Ask them what kind of bands usually play there, too. It's probably not a bad idea to ask the club owner (or music booker) what the best night is, as far as crowd turn-out, for out-of-town bands. If they tell you (most will know this but may not want to tell you), be ballsy and ask to be booked that night. What's the worse thing that could happen here... they say no they won't book you on that night?
Some magazines publish annual supplements that list various live-music clubs, but you'll still want to confirm any information because you never know how old the source that they use is (for a pretty complete and updated U.S. club listing, check out the Getsigned club pages HERE.). Add any clubs that you think you might ever want to play--even if you're just starting to play out--so that you can have a complete list of at least the correct addresses to work from when you seriously begin your tour. It's better to have this information handy before you're ready to begin a tour than to have to spend hours on the phone just getting the basics at a time when you need to concentrate on other things, such as transportation, lodging, and financing.
Also, when compiling your mailing list, choose any way that is most convenient for you to keep track of it. Obviously, a computer with an address database is optimal, especially if it prints mailing labels, but if you don't have a computer then use a simple address book, index cards, or a lined notebook. Whatever you feel comfortable with using is acceptable just make sure that you keep your mailing list up-to-date by checking it on a regular basis (monthly, every other month, or at the very least every six months). If you haven't had contact with someone on your mailing list for three months, it's a good idea to call to see if they are still with the company holding the same position. Separate your list into categories: fans, newspaper, radio, television, magazines, A&R, and clubs, and alphabetize them by company or last name--it doesn't really matter as long as you can keep track of where everyone is on your list. When it comes time to send a press release, press packet, or any promotional materials, choose which categories and representatives would be best to send your information to and prepare your mailer (remember to add names to your list as often as possible and make personal contact with as many people as you can both before and after you send out your material--your networking skills will become an essential tool for maintaining your mailing list).