The rise of social media and streaming has completely shifted the way you can promote your music. While musicians of decades past needed the support of record labels, artist managers and publicists to reach an audience beyond their city, making your music available to millions is now as easy as a click of a button.
That’s not to say labels, managers and publicists can’t do wonders for your music today. Once you’ve generated buzz, the right support can be the jet-fuel to your soaring rocket ship.
But that’s the key, generating buzz. Labels, managers and publicists won’t just work with anyone. They want reputable musicians on their roster. Therefore, as a budding artist, you will need to do a lot of the early legwork to promote your music.
Independent zines, blogs, podcasters, YouTubers, etc are your friends. There are thousands of content creators out there looking to help you promote your music. Having quality music, professional-looking photos and a strong EPK are a great start to doing your own publicity.
How to start doing your own publicity
Whether you are an aspiring hip-hop artist, anti-authoritarian punk band or a 12-piece avante-garde synthwave free-jazz ensemble, there is almost definitely a publication out there willing to write about your music.
It will be more effective promoting your music through smaller, independent publications in your early days. They are easy to find, much easier to get in contact with and most are keen on helping budding musicians. A rookie mistake many new artists make is aiming too high off the bat. Sorry to say, but you are not doing yourself any favors sending Rolling Stone your Spotify link via Instagram DM.
Research publications in your niche
Finding small publications is as easy as typing “your genre” + “magazine” on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter. A quick search of “metal magazine” will bring you hundreds of results from all around the world. Look at each profile, see who is still active and jot down their website link and contact email in a note or spreadsheet.
If you are a new artist, the publication size doesn’t matter - take any coverage you can get. The more press articles you can add to your EPK and band website, the more interested larger magazines will be in you in the future. Building buzz is all about getting people to talk about you. The more people talk about you, the more people become interested.
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Preparing your publicity campaign
Now that you have a list of publications you want to reach out to, you will need to prepare your press campaign.
If you don’t already know, a campaign is a series of strategies used to engage and find new fans while telling a story around particular pieces of content or upcoming events you want to promote. You can create a campaign around a new single or album, an upcoming tour, a merch drop and more. A press campaign is one strategy. Other strategies may include social media campaigns, influencer campaigns, and so on.
For this example, we’ll be preparing the assets you need for your single campaign.
1. Your story
Many artists undervalue the power of their story. Your story is what draws people in. It’s a way to connect with audiences before they even have a chance to hear you, giving them a deeper perspective on the meaning of your music.
Think of your story as more than a simple biography. It’s how your life experiences and perspective transcend into your art. It’s your whole vibe. That’s what people connect to.
Expressing your story in an authentic way is key to developing a connection to your music. If you are having trouble defining your story as an artist, you can start by focusing on the stories behind your songs. Eventually, you will figure out who exactly you are as an artist.
2. Quality music
Obviously “good music” is objective, but the recordings themselves should be listenable. Unless your niche is lo-fi music, most publications won’t take you seriously if it sounds like you recorded your track in a garage using an iPhone app.
This means you may want to invest in some solid home-recording equipment and take the time to learn how to produce, mix and/or master. There are plenty of budget options that will give you great sounding recordings at an affordable price. If this doesn’t interest you, however, you can research producers that will work at a price point that is appropriate for you while still executing your sound.
3. Promotional photos
Visuals are important when it comes to the entertainment industry. Photos are another way to give viewers an idea on who you are and what you’re about. If you can’t afford a professional photographer, most cellphones today can take passable press photos. As long as the framing is good, the shot isn’t blurry or shaky and the picture captures your vibe, there’s no reason why you can’t ask a friend to snap some quick pics.
However, as you progress, hiring professional photographers will make a huge difference to your brand identity. But they are not totally necessary early on.
4. A biography
Writing an effective musician bio will help set an impression for the reader. It will not only tell your story as an artist, but give the publication a brief history of what you’ve done. Your biography should contain background information about you as an artist, a description of your music, achievements, media quotes and more. Remember to keep it tight - publications want to know the major strokes and most likely won’t care that you found a passion for dubstep listening to Skrillex in your sibling’s car on the way to grandma’s house.
5. Social media
Your social media accounts have a huge impact on how the music industry perceives you. Content is king when it comes to promoting your music. You can use the power of social media to build your following, tell your story, engage your audience and give industry insiders a vibe on what you’re about. Photos, videos and even your captions all have a part in telling publications who you are.
It’s best to have one or two main social media accounts you’re actively building before you start reaching out to publications. You don’t need thousands of followers, but industry professionals need to know you are actively engaging with your audience and they are engaging with you.
Whether it’s Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook or another platform, stick with one or two and do what you can to grow your following there.
6. Prepare your EPK
An EPK (electronic press kit) is a collection of assets you can send to publications, channels, podcasts and other professional music insiders. It’s one of the main tools used to give industry professionals an overview of who you are, before they have a chance to dive deeper into your socials, music, etc.
Your music EPK will contain your biography, high quality press photos, videos, links to music and socials and, if possible, previous press quotes. Once this is prepared, you can start reaching out to publications.
Getting in contact with publications is not as hard as it used to be. You can easily find the emails of most magazine editors and other related media people on their website or socials. Sending the email isn’t hard; it’s getting them to notice your email that’s the hard part. Most inboxes are filled with thousands of emails per day. That’s why you have to do everything you can to stand out from the sea of artists vying for their attention.
Now that you have your assets ready and compiled in a great EPK, here is how to make your emails shine:
1. Write a snappy headline
As mentioned earlier, music industry professionals receive hundreds to thousands of emails per day. Whether you’re pitching a music publication, trying to contact a label or cold email a show promoter, you have one second to grab their attention. That’s why you need to write a bulletproof headline.
Your email headline should almost tell a story of its own. Avoid simply writing things like your artist name or that your “new song is out now!”
Most publications will ignore this kind of stuff unless you are an established artist. They most likely won’t know who you are - why would they care that your song is now out?
Instead, try to pack as much info as you can about yourself or your song in a quick headline. “Vegan Hardcore-Punks Dismantle the Meat Industry” is much more interesting than “New Song - ‘Meat is Murder’ OUT NOW!”
2. Writing your pitch
Because publications receive so many emails, they only have time to scan the few emails they decide to open. So you need to make the most of that time by keeping your email brief and to the point. A good email will contain the following elements:
- A brief introduction to yourself and your project
- A description of your sound and some similar artists.
- Information about the song/album you are sending them. Include a streamable link to the track. Most publications prefer YouTube, Bandcamp or Soundcloud as they do not need an account to view the content.
- Link to your EPK and press release.
- Thank them for taking the time to listen to your track.
Below is an example of an email a publisher might receive from Nirvana if “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released today:
Hello, my name is Kurt and I am the guitar/vocalist of a punk-infused alternative rock band called Nirvana from Aberdeen, Washington.
We mix elements of punk rock and heavy metal with a twist of pop sensibilities. We are influenced by groups like the Stooges, the Wipers, the Cure, the Melvins, the Vaselines and the Pixies.
Our new song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” has been garnering lots of attention. The track is a wake-up call for this generation and we thought you might be interested in writing about it. Click here to listen to the track [Insert hyperlink to your song]
We are available for interviews and open to song reviews or any other press coverage you may offer.
Read the full press release. [Insert hyperlink to press release]
Click here to view our EPK. [Insert hyperlink to EPK]
If you need anything else please don’t hesitate to ask. Thank you for taking the time to check us out. Looking forward to hearing back. You can view our social media accounts below.
And that’s pretty much it. Use this as a template and add your own spin to make it sound like you. (And for the Nirvana die-hards out there, we know Kurt Cobain probably wouldn’t write a query letter to the press - just using him as an example.)
3. Follow up
If they don’t respond, try emailing them again a few days later. Sometimes they genuinely miss your email and a follow up will catch their attention. We’d recommend up to two follow up emails. If they don’t respond after three emails, they might not be interested and it’s best to try again with your next single.
Remember, in today’s fast-moving world someone may need to see your name multiple times before they take an action. Don’t let their lack of response bring you down, but also be aware of appearing spammy.
4. If you get coverage
Congratulations! A publication wrote about you. Make sure to give them some love. A lot of these publications will appreciate you talking about them just as much as you appreciate them talking about you. If you get covered, share the article on all your social accounts, your EPK and your website. Make sure to send them a thank you email once the article is posted and, if possible, reach out to the writer as well.
These small acts of appreciation will help build your relationship with the publication and make coverage that much easier to attain next time you need it.
Music publicity can be a very time-intensive process. It might take years to develop valuable relationships with the media. But putting in the work now to build your network and get that early buzz will pay off in a huge way as you grow your music career.
Johnny Papan is a freelance Canadian music journalist and musician.
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