This article was written by David Renshaw who writes for The FADER
Life as a musician should be simple: write and record a collection of perfect songs and then wait for the world to fall in love with you. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Getting your music, and the stories behind the tunes, out into the world is just as important as writing them but how do you do that? Music magazines and websites are the obvious avenue. They can premiere your songs, interview you ahead of a big release or lavish praise on your music in a review. Securing this coverage is not always a straightforward path, however. While you’re unlikely to get on the cover of a magazine without having made a name for yourself, there are inroads to boosting your profile that will make high-profile coverage more of a possibility down the road. As a journalist with over a decade’s experience writing for some of the biggest music platforms in the world I have fielded thousands of pitches from artists on the lookout for an interview or review. This puts me in a good position to pass on my advice but should also be a warning as to how competitive the field is. Every musician in the world wants to be written about, that means you have to make yourself stand-out when approaching journalists who are drowning in press releases and SoundCloud links. There are many dos and don’ts to becoming a press darling, which I will walk you through below. By the end you should be in a position to best understand how to go about approaching music publications with a view to getting coverage and spreading the word about what it is you do.
DO YOUR RESEARCH AND LEARN WHO YOU’RE PITCHING TO
If you’re in a death metal band then you’re not going to get written about by a website specialising in jazz music. Similarly, it doesn’t matter if you’re the next Miles Davis, Kerrang! won’t care. It is vital to establish who you want to write about you and approach them in a way that makes it clear why you want them to write about you. Your first job is to put together a list of the magazines, newspapers, and websites you feel would realistically write about your music. If you’re making commercial-leaning music then your list will be a lot longer than those operating in more niche corners. That shouldn’t put you off, though. Niche publications are able to delve much deeper into their respective fields and, as such, increase your chances of being covered. It might be worth searching for acts you are influenced by to gain a sense of which publications write about the music you make.
Once you have established where you want coverage from you need to find out who is going to make that happen. Most websites have contact details readily available and some even go into detail as to how they like to be contacted. You can also find individual writers on social media, though the rules for approaching someone online vary from person to person. Spamming a writer with “likes” and DMs is very unlikely to get you anywhere. Politely asking for an email address, however, will work more often than not. I’d advise going through Twitter which is viewed as more of a professional platform than a personal space such as Facebook or Instagram.
HOW TO PITCH
So, now that you know who you want to approach and have their contact details, there are a number of things you need to get together. If you’re promoting a new song or album you need to make the audio available in advance of the release date. Monthly magazines can work anything up to three months in advance so, if your album is scheduled for a September release you need to be getting it out there in June. This gives editors time to put that month’s issue together, get a writer on the job and for that writer to file his or her piece. Websites are more nimble and would generally prefer to have things a month ahead of release. Alongside a private link to stream the music you will also need to include a good quality promotional picture that clearly shows the faces of the people who made the music and is reflective of them as artists. Two pictures, one landscape and one portrait, are best. It is also important all of your background information is up to date and clear; a press release can be whatever you want it to be but it must contain the name of the artist, the reason for the email, and a hyperlink to said item, as well as an image. I.E. “BAND X ANNOUNCE NEW SELF-TITLED ALBUM. STREAM NEW SONG “X” NOW” alongside a link to the song. You can re-send this on the day of release with an updated link to the audio on streaming services.
HIRING A PUBLICIST
Technically you could pay a publicist to do the second stage of this process. It’s not a bad idea as they will likely have pre-existing relationships with editors and be able to add weight to your campaign. As an editor I am far more likely to check out something new if it comes from someone whose taste I trust and who I know boasts a track record for establishing artists. However, it is not as easy as hiring a big firm and waiting. If you don’t have an upcoming campaign for a publicist to work on, and you just want to raise your profile, then it’s likely that expense can wait until further down the line. That is the time for DIY promo. Hit social media hard and build up a fanbase the old school way, by playing live shows. “Don’t be scared to go directly to the fans,” Rahim Wright, a publicist who has worked with Migos and Lil Uzi Vert told The FADER in 2017. “If you find an audience and connect with them, you’ll have a larger story to tell. Good publications will notice.”
If you have an album or a series of singles in the pipeline then that is the time to start thinking more seriously about representation. “[Let’s say] the local papers have covered you, some websites have started writing about you,” US-based publicist Monica Seide told Spotify in 2018. “Now it’s time to talk with a publicist to see what he/she thinks is possible as you try to garner more national attention.”
RECEIVE EXCLUSIVE TIPS AND ADVICE TO YOUR INBOX
The important thing to remember about press coverage for a musician is that it is cumulative. Is it better to be written about by one big website or ten smaller ones? I’d suggest the latter. Each piece of coverage, no matter how small, makes more coverage down the line more realistic. Building up a name for yourself is arguably best achieved through repeatedly crossing a writer or editor’s radar than hitting them once at the exact right time. The right time is different for everyone and it’s an impossible target to aim for. With that in mind, brace yourself for rejection. It’s a harsh side of the industry but an unavoidable one. There are simply far more musicians looking for coverage than there are websites and magazines offering it. So don’t assume anyone hates you or that you won’t get another shot further down the line. I have said no to countless features and video premieres for reasons as mundane as scheduling and time restraints. The bane of all music journalist’s lives is the fact there are not enough hours in the day to cover everything we love. But we get there, eventually.
The important thing to remember throughout all of this is that there is no easy way to guarantee coverage as a musician. You could upload a video on TikTok today and be featured on every major music publication by the end of the week or, alternatively, you could grind away for years and be able to count your press clippings on one hand. Some of the biggest acts in the world don’t even always garner that much press attention. Honestly, when was the last time you saw Imagine Dragons or The Lumineers on the cover of a magazine? It doesn’t change the fact that they are a huge success. There is no formula to this stuff.
So set yourself a realistic goal and work out the route you want to take. If you’re new and looking for that first bit of exposure then be prepared to put in the hours sending emails to your targeted publications and hitting social media until you have a presence across multiple platforms. Get yourself in the best position to do this: tidy up the music on streaming services, get at least one to two good quality pictures, and make your official channels appealing to people researching you after they have heard a song that piqued their interest. Once you have built your profile to a sufficient degree you can think about hiring a professional PR. They will help shape your story, work out a narrative that best represents your music and will appeal to the journalists they know.
All of this is advice that comes after the hard graft of writing music you believe in and that moves people. You can’t trick your way into people’s hearts with a slick presentation and interesting story. You can, however, have the music in place and still fall short of securing coverage if it is difficult to contact you or imagine how things will look when the time to write about you has come. Only once you have both elements in place then you’re putting your best foot forward in getting your name out into the world.