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Hiring a Music PR

A good music PR is vital for the marketing and promotion of new releases by solo musicians and bands. Find out how to find the right PR for you and your music, courtesy of those who’ve done it.

Last updated: 20 October 2020

It’s a scenario that will be heart-sinkingly familiar to any grassroots musician operating under their own steam. You mail out a tower of promotional CDs to every media outlet on your radar. You wait. Days become weeks. You follow up with an email and it goes unanswered. You phone for feedback and are intercepted at the switchboard. “Frustrating is one way to put it,” reflects Massive Wagons frontman Baz Mills, of the years spent before the Lancaster rockers hired music PR company Duff Press to promote their fourth album, //Full Nelson//. “It can be almost impossible to get coverage on your own, especially from the big players in the industry.”

The benefits of using a music PR

Most up-and-coming artists will look to secure the services of an expert in public relations, known variously as a PR, a press officer or a publicist, to take care of the difficult task of securing media coverage.

Fundamentally, the role of a PR or a PR company is to build a musician’s media profile, bypassing the gatekeepers and bringing their clients to the attention of relevant, receptive broadcasters and journalists for worthwhile coverage.

But as Sue Harris of Republic Media points out, a good PR can do far more: “It’s not just about acting as a messenger. A publicist can bring ideas and work with you to become the best artist you can be. It’s about experience. It’s knowing what works and doesn’t work. It’s about having someone with fresh ears who’s objective and can see what’s special about you that needs to be focused on, and the angles that journalists will pick up on. Someone who can connect you with photographers or people to help with videos. Where to spend your budget – and where not to spend it.”

“Aside from helping spread the word, whether that’s via press or radio,” adds Geraint Jones of G Promo PR, “from our own perspective, working with a lot of self-released, self-financed artists as we do, in purely logistical terms it’s often far too time-consuming for a DIY artist to cover all of the bases effectively themselves.” That’s where the PR comes in.”

Finding a publicist on a budget

For all the benefits, a common assumption is that a press officer will be beyond the budget of a working band. Not necessarily, counters Emily Barker, who in 2019 followed up her acclaimed solo album, //Sweet Kind Of Blue//, with a release alongside Marry Waterson,

//A Window To Other Ways//. “I raised money to employ somebody I met at a show who was doing press for peers of mine. We had a good rapport and her prices were great. She also worked with big artists, but she recognised that people starting out needed to have much smaller budgets and were self-funded. There are still people like that, who are flexible if they fall in love with your music.”

It’s a view echoed by Harriet Simms at Glass Ceiling PR, who has represented everyone from Dolly Parton to upcoming British folk acts. “Most people I work with don’t have lots of money. I’ve always operated a sliding scale in terms of my fee, based on what sort of set-up is involved. If an artist has the backing of a record company, distributor and manager, I’ll generally charge more than for someone who is doing everything themselves. I’m not aware of an industry standard for charges. I just try to charge what I think is fair – to the client and me. Prices start at £1,000.”

Harris believes that price-point is realistic, but also flags up the industry-wide policy of a pre-agreed fee. “PR for top-flight releases could cost thousands a month. But there’ll be other people who’ll work a project for a small amount, and that could be £1,000 for the project. Don’t be afraid to ask. Do PRs charge based on the coverage they get? No. Because there are too many unknowns. You’ve just got to have faith in your publicist and trust that they’ve been out there fighting for you.”

Researching the right PR for your music

If the costs aren’t prohibitive, then the next step is to undertake some deep research into sourcing the right music PR. With most bands sharing their publicist’s details on their social media pages, it’s not hard to find agencies, but making a shortlist takes time and care. “Recommendations are the top of the list for me,” says acclaimed folk-blues slide guitarist, Martin Harley. “You may find that a smaller PR agency better suits what you are doing – and of course going with a PR agency that has proven success in your particular genre is an advantage. The number one goal is reaching people who are going to buy your album and come to a show.”

Claire Horton, whose independent PR agency represents Americana and country stars from Willie Nelson to Bonnie Raitt, agrees on the importance of hiring a specialist. “Choose a publicist who has knowledge and experience in your genre and a good track record. If you hope to target genre-specific and mainstream media, check that they cover both. Look at the artists they represent; this will help you see if there’s a fit with the area of music in which you see yourself.”

Look for a PR with passion

Just as important for Lauren Tate, singer with garage-rockers Hands Off Gretel, was entrusting new album //I Want The World// to a publicist with the personal touch. “We looked for someone who was passionate about our music and wanted to meet in person to chat through our campaign and what we were about. You have to spend a decent amount on PR, so making sure it’s someone you feel comfortable with was really important for us. Another factor for us was making sure they have a personal relationship with journalists and reviewers.”

Making a polite and professional approach to a publicist – which should include a summary of your career to date – may lead to an initial meeting. But before making a commitment, there are key questions to be tabled. “You should be asking how long they’ve been working in PR,” says Zoe Nichol, whose indie-folk duo Worry Dolls released their much-anticipated EP //The River// in Autumn 2019. “What kind of artists do they represent? List any specific people at radio, magazines, print or online blogs and ask if they have connections. How long would the campaign be? When are they available to start? What would be their suggested time frame? How many singles for radio? Obviously, finance is a part of it and you have to find someone that can work within the budget you have.”

Plan ahead with your PR and marketing

Be aware that recruiting a PR is not an afterthought. “You’ve got to give PRs time to do a proper job on your behalf,” points out Simms. “That means a minimum of three months’ notice and that’s assuming you already have product available and ideally a tour in place. I still work with actual albums – and vinyl – but you obviously also need to provide music via Soundcloud or WAV files, so make sure you’ve got that set up.

Do you have a website and accounts for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? If you’re interested in getting your singles playlisted, this needs to be factored into the equation – with a video, too. You need great photos, preferably colour, hi-res, portrait and landscape. You need a biog or press release that is well-presented and literate, plus striking album artwork that looks good in big or small print. None of this costs a fortune – but does require planning ahead.”

Music promotion: the importance of having a story

Once you have engaged a publicist or public relations firm, rather than sit back and wait for column inches, artists should actively help their PR in the campaign. “The more content – videos, images and audio – you can supply the better, as it means there’s more that the PR company can be working with to get your release featured,” says Hannah Trigwell, whose debut album //Red//, won acclaim for its sharp blend of folk and electronica.

“It helps if you have a ‘story’, too, something about who you are. There are a lot of artists out there trying to get press coverage, so making yourself stand out is a way to draw the interest of your target newspapers and websites.”

“It makes your PR’s job a lot easier if you have a clear narrative about your album and can tell them about the themes,” agrees Barker. “Things they can then share and journalists will go, ‘Oh yeah, I get it’. It also helps to have some live dates when they’ll be sharing your link details. So if journalists were interested in coming to see you live, that might be a way of consolidating a write-up or a feature.”

Helping your publicist to promote you

Beyond that, says Harley, it’s a case of being communicative, accessible and ready to amplify the efforts of your publicist. “Repost and share articles of coverage your publicist gets,” he advises. “Always reply to emails in a timely manner, as most announcements are time-sensitive. Make yourself available for opportunities without compromising your time and efforts for what you are creating. Remain contactable and courteous. You may be misquoted and perhaps misrepresented. Oftentimes, your story will be cut and pasted from your biography so always make sure it’s well-written and representative. Be sure to manage the integrity of your story or narrative that you’ve chosen to share – and are paying a professional to help you share.”

Finally, as the old media adage has it: don’t read your press, but weigh it. “Neither you nor your publicist can control the output,” explains Nicol. “You might get bad reviews or articles that don’t paint you in the best light. You’re paying to have things written about you – but not necessarily to have nice things written. Every feature, article or review will get forwarded to you, but a PR might choose to omit the odd bad review – so sometimes it pays not to go searching!”