Jun 15, 2012
Dear Gracie: Take a Tour of the Music PR Industry
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I’m starting to get a few music clients. What do I need to know about PR in the music industry?
Dear Melodic Media:
Four ProfNet experts share tips in their forte:
Handling publicity for a band is like guarding a bag or fleas, or juggling flaming hamsters, says Atlanta publicist Dan Beeson. “It’s maddening, yet exhilarating.”
What Is Music PR?
PR plays its most important role in two of the key revenue streams of the music business: live performances and recorded music sales, says Paul Allen, professor at Middle Tennessee State University. Allen is also author of one of the top 10 books on the music business, “Artist Management for the Music Business,” and co-author of the music-business textbook “Record Label Marketing.”
“The third revenue stream is songwriting, but PR is seldom directly related to music publishing,” Allen adds.
An established, current artist needs PR to promote new music, says Allen. “A new album is the current payday for the label and artist, so both are always promoting the latest album.”
PR for record labels specifically is necessary to promote concert tours, he says.
“For an established artist whose star is fading, PR is necessary to promote their live appearances, continues Allen. “Artists frequently record their own new music because the label has dropped them, and it gives them an income stream at their concerts.”
“Also — and this is a little cynical perhaps — some artists in this category hire PR people to promote their appearances at charity events,” Allen admits. “Some indeed are giving back for the career opportunity they’ve had, while others are trying to resurrect their careers in the name of philanthropy.”
Additionally, all PR is on-call to help with damage control. PR pros are calm, rational, focused and can quickly assimilate the “what ifs,” he says.
For example, some artists can get away with mixing politics into their careers, like when Kanye West said “George Bush hates black people.” His PR team played it off as “Kanye being Kanye.”
On the other hand, some artists can’t get away from what they say on stage, like when the Dixie Chicks said “We’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” Their PR rep was slow to see the damage of the comment, and PR was unable to save the day for them.
Who Pays the PR Professional?
Major label recording artists get the support they need from the label: PR, money for tour support, marketing, radio promotion, manufacturing and distribution, says Allen. There are four major labels: Sony, Universal, Warner Bros and EMI.
“A major label needs an album for a new artist to sell gold (500,000 units) in order to approach the breakeven point.”
“However, there are tens of thousands of smaller, independent labels that can’t compete with the majors,” Allen continues. “If they can sell 200,000 units for the entire life of an album project, they will make enough money to make the project worth their while.”
“But, typically the only promotion they can afford is PR, and their success is highly dependent on it.” An independent artist needs PR to promote a tour stop before and after every appearance. They need it to appear in every blog and e-zine possible, and they need guidance on how to optimize social media.
Three Ways to Break Into Music PR
Competition in the music industry is fierce and abundant, says Beeson. “If you hope to break through, you’ll flop unless you take all of the necessary steps towards success.”
1. “Find someone who knows someone in music,” says Beeson. “Tap into the pros who are in the business.”
2. Read every applicable trade publication you can secure, suggests Beeson. “You can never be well-read enough in the music PR business. It’s a flat-out fact that if you don’t do your homework, you’re going to get schooled.”
Promotion is promotion, whether you’re dealing with a musical group, restaurant, fashion designer or florist, adds Dan Collins, senior director of media relations at Mercy Medical Center, and former PR manager for several music-industry clients. But the difference in music PR specifically is knowing the outlets — knowing which reporters cover what beats in the music industry.
3. Start with outreach to a hometown blogger or small online columnists, says Beeson. “Perpetually massage your pitch, customizing it to every reporter and outlook.” The extra effort will be worth your time.
Four Challenges Unique to Music PR
1. “You must remember that your music client is an artist first and an industry player second,” says Jennifer A. Maguire, founder and president of Maguire Public Relations, and PR rep for pop artist Darren Ockert’s new EP “The Rain From London.” “They are more intimately connected to the product than, say, a brand manager — they’ve given birth to it.”
For example, a bad review for a widget can be softened with great customer service communications, Maguire explains. “Artists aren’t widgets. They have feelings and a creative process to consider.”
2. “Representing an emerging vs. recognized artist is no different than representing a well-known company vs. a startup,” Maguire continues. It might actually be harder to represent an emerging artist because music is so subjective. “If the artist doesn’t jazz a writer or booker’s personal taste, you can forget it.”
3. “Nearly every artist believes they have the greatest song, or the greatest story never told. But only a select few actually do,” adds Beeson. “From a media relations perspective, find out what differentiates your client from the masses, and roll with it.”
For example, one musician that Collins used to work with was having difficulty getting radio stations interested in his music, as he had so many styles (e.g., pop, rock, new age, etc.). “I encouraged him to turn this around, to note that his diversity was his strength,” says Collins.
Collins also used to work with a classic-rock band called Shrink the Deficit, named after the band’s three founding members: two psychiatrists and an account. (Haha!) The musicians worried that the name didn’t send out a “class rock” vibe, but Collins encouraged them to keep the name since it was “so unusual, and given the backstory, a great story for the media.”
4. It can be challenging to match agendas of the band’s management, the particular goals of individuals band members, and journalists, says Beeson. “It’s not easy identifying a marriage of interests.” Don’t forget to manage expectations every step of the way.
New Media vs. Traditional Media
The Internet, YouTube, music sharing and iPods have undoubtedly changed how musicians market themselves, says Collins.
“Artists no longer need to rely on traditional labels to pick them up in order to distribute their music,” explains Maguire. “There is no limit to the amount of indie artists producing their own music, so there are more artists than ever vying for the same music outlet press coverage.”
“The Web is a double-edged sword,” she says. On one hand, it allows anyone with ambition to make their music available, which increases the competitive field. But on the other hand, it provides publicists with new platforms to generate buzz.
But Beeson notes: “Online hits are great, but I maintain a few clients who want to open Fortune or Black Enterprise or The New York Times and see, hold and share their photos and stories.” Don’t ignore traditional networking, he stresses.
For example, Beeson manages publicity for Chuck Leavell, the longtime keyboardist and musical director for the Rolling Stones, and a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band. “[He is] the ultimate pro, and though I occasionally troll for a specific media opportunity for him, I routinely turn down media scenarios that don’t quite fit.” Be selective.
Why the Music Industry Needs PR
“Even if an artist is well connected, the work intensity of servicing and pitching the story is a huge drain on their creativity,” Maguire says. Working on the review process and managing attributed messages never goes as well for artists who handle PR themselves.
“I’ve worked with [the American rock band] Widespread Panic for more than a decade, and my sweet spot has been securing press for them they never dreamed of landing,” says Beeson. “Long-form stories in Esquire Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, and fabulous features on ‘Good Morning America’ and CNBC are not where you’d expect a touring jam band to appear.”
If you see a random band show up on a late-night talk show and scratch your head and ask: “Where did they come from and how’d they get on this show?” — the answer is a PR person is responsible, says Allen. “It has to do with a manner of horse trading.”
For example, if a late-night talk show wants Bono or Taylor Swift, the label PR rep might say, “OK. We’ll give you our top acts during your sweeps months, but you’ll need to use some of our baby acts at other times.” (“Sweeps months” refers to the ratings cycle that sets ad rates for TV shows.)
To the PR pro, this process requires establishing important and ongoing relationships with talent bookers at these shows, explains Allen.
Beeson has been lucky enough to attend some Rolling Stones concerts and private parties.
Maguire says that she has received free CDs and attended listening parties.
Despite the perks, Beeson says: “In this line of business, the axiom is and perhaps always will be: you’re only as good as your last placement. That keeps you grounded.”
Elvis has left the building! Until next week…
Written by Grace Lavigne, senior editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. Dear Gracie is published weekly on ProfNet Connect, a free social networking site for communicators. To read more from Grace, check out her blog on ProfNet Connect.