I had a bit of an epiphany today. Though I wax poetic on this blog about what it takes to make it in the music industry and how to establish yourself in your scene or how to kick start your career in the industry, I regularly ignored the demon right in front of us, literally at the header of this page – music promotion. Doing music PR is a sort of existential nightmare, a weird trip to a mysterious land that I don’t think enough musicians fully understand. There’s a reason that it can cost so much and yet deliver so little – it’s a bleak and unrewarding profession that bears important lessons for the rest of the music industry as they carry forward.
What I don’t think that people realize in music PR is the numbers involved. The average publicist might reach out to a thousand publications and get coverage from ten. Now obviously there are things they can do to increase this ratio, and the good ones do it, that’s why we pay them – but I think that starts to give you a sense for what exactly PR reps are facing here. Sure – the major PR people who work at labels or who have boutique agencies might be able to get a higher ratio – but for your run of the mill publicist it is an incredible dark reality, with thousands of hours of work leading to slim rewards.
Ask anyone who has dabbled in PR and they will tell you it is a veritable living nightmare. You try to send personalized emails and people accuse you of being a brown noser but if you don’t send personalized emails a lot of people don’t respond. Send emails that are to short and some people whine about not having enough details, send emails that are to long and people don’t read them. Oh – and not everyone who covers your band is going to remember to write back to you with a link showing that they provided coverage (Not counting the countless people who say they WILL provide coverage and then don’t.) So rampant googling is going to be a huge part of your job. The point being – PR sucks and most get minimal results, through no real fault of their own.
This is not of course the case with IMP. Like I said, good publicists can get more coverage, and I certainly wasn’t trying to insinuate otherwise. What I am trying to explain though, is that music journalists, especially good ones, are among the most in demand people in the world. Before working for IMP I didn’t realize the lack of good music writing the internet, because I, probably like you, only really check out a handful of major sites. Beyond that, I never really understood why it was that for every hundred people in bands there are only two or three press people – maybe that’s just how my brain is wired. The point being – there is literally no end to demand for reviews, and the number of PR agencies out there is starting to get a little ridiculous. It feels like almost every week there is a new charlatan bombarding me with records to review.
Of course this doesn’t help anybody. Most music journalists have their mental list of PR reps whom they like and trust and beyond that are often unlikely to go elsewhere. That’s the case for me, and that’s the case for many other journalists who I work with. That doesn’t mean that your band submitting on your own doesn’t have an outside chance of being included, but it is indeed a far outside chance. I think this should make it clear why it’s good to shell out for a PR company with something of a name behind them. Beyond that – I’m sure that by now that you’ve realized, there’s a lot of parallels here that reflect the music industry as a whole.
The thing is – music PR, like so many other things in the industry, was supposed to have been erased by the internet but in fact only saw it itself becoming a more important force. Now music PR is actually more important than ever, because PR, like a label, producer or a manager, serves to differentiate one band from the massive collective of content creators out there. Much like how you will check out a record if one of your favorite producers worked on it, the same goes for music journalists with PR reps. We have reached a point in the history of content, not just the music industry, where the single greatest thing that anyone can do for your content is to help differentiate it from the masses of other stuff coming out. That’s not a reflection on the artists or the industry professionals, but merely how much stuff we all have to contend with in this day and age.
So – like everything else in the music industry – is this something that you can do on your own? Yes. Is this something that you should do on your own? No. Unless you have a very good idea how to do your own PR then this is something you should trust to a professional. Even if you, or someone in your band was a professional at one point unless they have an awesome network right now it still might not be worth doing – simply because a good agency is that valuable and generates a ton of good coverage that is necessary to making people believe in the image and potentially legendary status of your band. It’s only getting worse from here on out, but with a little hard work, and a lot of luck, you can help build towards a better tomorrow for your band through hiring a PR person you can trust.