If one were to ask IHN how to pitch as an artist, our advice would be “keep it short and sweet”. Apparently we’re not the only one who feel this way, as this here DIY Promo Guide put together by Andra Nikolay aka Amber attests.
***** amber’s diy promo guide*****
Disclaimer – as a music journalist and occasional event curator I do receive a lot of promos and get to read and often write quite a bit of PR copy myself. This is by no means an exhaustive guide or an attempt to undermine the work of music PR agencies but a series of observations I’ve gleaned from my experience that would hopefully help some musicians/sound artists trying to promote self-released/small label work w a small or no budget.
Why promo agencies are good — THEY DO A LOT OF WORK! From putting together press kits to writing the release copy and especially sending out countless emails to curators, journalists, editors and DJs to make sure your work gets to the right people. Building a contact network and relationships with key people in the industry can take years.
What you can diy – promo text/PR copy , emailing journalists/curators
What’s worth investing in – press kit / artwork
What’s a press kit?
A press kit is a collection of all of the materials that a journalist might need to do promotion on your release. This usually means a folder with PDFs for your artist biography and the press release, plus MP3s of the release in question (never WAVs! They take up way too much hard drive space), album art, and your artist press picture(s). AND DON’T FORGET TO TAG YOUR AUDIO FILES!
What’s an artist bio?
Your artist bio should have any relevant information that you want shared with journalists, and by extension, the public. This means you should also leave out anything you DON’T want shared! Sometimes even innocuous details can get picked up and become the main part of a write-up, so if it’s not something you want the journalist to focus on, LEAVE IT OUT!
Relevant information for your artist bio should include a brief CV — past releases, labels you’ve worked with, and places you’ve toured. Collectives you’re a part of, work you’ve done, etc. Don’t name-drop, but definitely let people know what cool labels you’ve released on, and other artists you’ve worked closely with. It should also include, in your own words, what you think your music and art is “about.” Keep this simple — nobody likes International Art English, and “exploring the liminalities of the political intersection between art, technology, and clubbing” doesn’t really mean anything. Just be sincere and say what you like, and what you’re trying to accomplish!
It’s worth having someone else write your bio just so there is a sense of distance. Plus, they can be a little bit more confident than most people are happy being when they write about themselves!
If you’re worried about the costs, this is definitely something worth investing in as you’ll be using it for at least several years and pretty much every platform requires a bio. There are also lots of people (myself included) that occasionally do sliding scale or pro-bono work, especially if they’re a fan of your music. Keep an eye out on Twitter and don’t hesitate to ask 🙂
Why should I invest in artwork?
Maybe this is my personal bias as an art school kid, but great artwork is always a plus, especially in our extremely visual culture. There are SO many talented artists online who would be happy to have their work featured that it’s definitely worth DMing some people you like about their rates or even the cost of licensing an existing piece. Don’t get too wrapped up in complex graphic design stuff, since with digital releases you can sometimes just use a striking image since all the info is on the page anyway.
What’s a press release?
The press release is all of the information about your album. This is a huge amount of responsibility: if you leave anything out, it will not be written about. And almost everything you include will be written about. This is a great opportunity to create a narrative about the record. Where it was written, why it was written, why it’s important, what kind of thoughts you were having during the creation; what kind of intention you have with the release.
Furthermore, remember to include a bit about you. WHO you are, why you’re the only one who could’ve made this record, what makes your work unique, and where this record sits in your personal history. Is it your debut? Is it your “most personal record to date”? (Don’t actually say that!) Remember that most people who read your press release probably won’t really know who you are, and even if they do, they probably won’t have been following your every move. Fill them in!
Anything you want shared with the world, this is the place to do it. It’s also where all the nuts’n’bolts information about your release is gonna be — album name, tracklist, release date, “call to action” links (such as where to purchase or pre-order the record), credits (who performed on which tracks, who mastered it, who did the album artwork, etc), and more. Remember, you’re selling yourself here! So even if it’s uncomfortable, be proud of your work. Imagine you’re talking about your best friend’s music — you’re not just going to describe it as “a quarantine project” are you?
What’s a pitch?
Now that you’ve got a press kit, you need to pitch your record to journalists, editors, and reviewers. A pitch is basically reaching out and saying, “Hey, you might like this!” in an attempt to get the journalist to look at your press kit. The pitch is the appetizer, and the press kit is the main course.
Try to remember that you’re ideally involved in a mutual trade — you get coverage, and they get clicks & clout by sharing your cool music. Put it in terms of exchange and value, and keep in mind the fact that you’re doing them a favour just as much as they’re doing you a favour!
In a funny way, you can think of a pitch as doing a journalist’s job for them. You’re trying to sell them on why they should put effort into promoting your release, and why their readers will care, and why you’re worth covering! But as always, try to be empathetic, and imagine how you’d react if a total stranger emailed you and asked for you to write something about them — you’d want a little background information and context, right?
How to write
Keep it short and sweet! While it might be interesting to you, no one wants to wade through a couple pages of theory-dense worldbuilding to decide if your record is a good one to promote on their platform or not.
Talk about what kind of ideas, inspirations, and concepts inspired the record, if you want that information included. Maybe the record has to do with some struggles you’ve faced and you want people to know that — say so! Maybe the record was simply the result of being bored in lockdown for 14 months — leave this out unless that’s the story you want attached to the record 😉
Other questions to ask yourself are, is there a story behind it? Does it relate to personal, political, or historical events?
If your album doesn’t have a concept or overarching theme, consider keeping your text on the short end, and focusing on easily-digestible descriptions of the music, and why it’s special. Is it hardstyle, but made with ambient synths? Is it punk rock played on homemade instruments? If you don’t have anything cool to say about the story, remind people there’s still something cool behind the record!
Don’t write an elaborate/overly poetic description of the music – that’s the critic’s job!
Don’t name-drop a million people unless they had a direct hand in the record, or your record is in direct communication with their work. Remember, once you’ve been compared to Arca, you will always be compared to Arca.
When to start your press campaign
Every publication has different timelines, but in every case, you want to start as early as you possibly can. This means a month before the release date, at the very least! For features and interviews some publications need to be pitched at least 2-3 months in advance.
Many releases don’t get coverage simply because they arrived too late. For many platforms, it is their editorial policy to NOT cover a record if they didn’t receive a promo copy well in advance.
Remember, you can always just email editors to ask what their timeline is for being considered for a review/single premiere etc. Just be polite and considerate — they’re doing a job! And they want to make that job easier for you and for them, so they’re usually more than happy to share information about how to craft a good pitch, and when to contact them to ensure your best chance of coverage.
Who to pitch – editors + columnists
It’s good to pitch both editors and staff writers, or freelance writers. Staff and freelancers often have some leeway in what they can cover, so if something really floats their boat, they can chase it and make a little passion project out of it. On the flip side, if an editor likes what you send, they’ll assign it to a writer they think is a good fit to turn in the assignment. So, while you’re not trying to flood an organization’s inboxes, if you want to get something on the table at an outlet and also make sure it gets in front of your favourite writer, consider sending two separate pitches.
Remember, the person you’re pitching is doing a job. This means that you want to make your pitch sound as attractive as possible in terms of them doing their job well! A PR pitch is not the place to be aloof, mysterious, cagey, or anything less than friendly and helpful. Imagine if you had strangers in your inbox all day long asking you to put work into getting their releases some attention. What kind of message would you be responsive to?
It’s often best to do your research and check out a writer or editor’s previous work to get a sense of their preferences and aim for the people who you think might resonate with your release.
People are usually busy, stressed and flooded with promos. If you don’t get a response, it’s cool to check in a week after your first email. Remember to be polite, and don’t send multiple emails and DMs. People often forget to respond or simply are not in a position to offer you any coverage for the time being.
Because the demands of a platform change all the time, it would be hard to collect up-to-date information about how to pitch each platform. Your best bet is to just get in touch with the editorial team, or look through the site in question and see if they have pitching guidelines. It’s not uncommon for a site to have a document that tells you exactly how to pitch a feature to them.
Some formatting pointers + final thoughts
Try not to use attachments if you can avoid it. Many people have bandwidth or storage limits on their work inboxes so either won’t see your message, or won’t be able to download your attachments. I personally like to include A) a private streaming link to the album, and B) a Dropbox folder of the press kit.
Be concise and personal, but not ingratiating. Be professional, but fun and friendly. Always, always, always remember to be polite and never bitter, because this is an extremely small world and word gets around! And also, good relationships tend to turn into good coverage. Almost all of the coverage I’ve ever gotten started several years earlier as a failed pitch for a different record.
Try to never, ever take rejection personally — there are a million reasons why someone might ignore you or not review your record, and “your music is bad” is around the 994,129th spot on the list. In fact, a good way to build your “rejection muscles” is to aim for 50 rejections a year — grants, pitches, features, show opportunities, residencies, etc. If you get rejected 50 times in a year, it’s a pretty high likelihood that you’re gonna get accepted for a sliver of those, which is still more opportunities than you’ll get just waiting around!
Possible email template (this is something I made for someone else, personalize as needed!)
This is the type of tone I like to strike when reaching out for press opportunities.
Hi [journalist], my name is [real first name] and I release music as [artist name]. I just put out a record called [album title] that I thought you might enjoy 🙂
It’s my own type of Finnish hyperpop, RIYL if you like PC Music, Drain Gang, year0001, Caroline Polachek, and so on! I did all of the production and vocals myself.
I know [journalist’s affiliate site] might not be interested in covering it since it’s already out, but I was just trying to get it onto your radar so we can maybe talk about coverage for my next release. And of course if there’s any coverage you do feel compelled to put together I’d love that too haha! Big fan of your site so I appreciate your time.
Here’s the link to the record: [link]
And here’s a press kit: [dropbox link containing press release, press pic, album cover]
Thanks so much again!
Who to email?
Besides the obvious DJs and artists you appreciate and you think would relate to your work, the best way to get your voice heard is learning to navigate the editorial world as well. Most publications have a masthead that states everyone’s roles. Remember – EDITORS are the ones who approve all coverage, assign work to other writers and make the big decisions. CONTRIBUTORS might pitch ideas/topics but don’t have final say. At Bandcamp Daily for example, editors approve all coverage + write the weekly/monthly roundups and choose album of the day. They also might be overwhelmed w promos so it’s best to send your stuff to individual writers as well.
Not all music pubs have the same profile – for example Bandcamp Daily doesn’t do track reviews or premieres but is more focused on long form articles like lists and features. The short review format only appears in the weekly editorial write ups and specific columns who do monthly roundups. ALWAYS check a publication’s profile before sending stuff to them!
If a person’s role is not listed on the site Google and Twitter are your best friends both for getting informed and getting people’s contact info. Some writers have their roles/emails in their bios or open DMs.
The goal is not to send mass emails to huge PR lists but sending stuff to a few key people whose taste is similar to the sound you’re going for.
VERY IMPORTANT – try to be considerate in your communication, don’t make assumptions about somebody’s gender and always make sure to check a person’s pronouns in your correspondence and ask if they don’t have them listed. Maybe start with sharing yours first 🙂
FINALLY: ACTIVE UNGATEKEEPING
This is basically the idea of always exposing opportunities to your friends, colleagues, allies, and so on. For press, this means sharing that valuable list of contacts that you build up, or (even better!) introducing a journalist to your friend with a CC’d email. This could also be something as simple as submitting other musicians you know for inclusion to lists and features that you’re not eligible for, and so on.
This applies to all interactions you have with the music industry — if you get asked for a radio mix, but can’t fit it into your schedule, recommend someone else who you think is cool! If you run a small net label and get a demo you don’t have time for, introduce that artist to your other label-running friend! The music industry is viciously gatekept but what keeps it together is the relationships behind the scenes. The sooner that you start developing your own network of relationships, based on mutually uplifting and supporting each other, the sooner the gatekeepers cease to matter to your career.
Mazel and break a leg everyone!
** created by andra amber nikolayi. big thanks to will/city music for your contribution and editing! **
[unformatted — some publication info]
Bandcamp Daily editorial
- Edward Keyes
Marcus J. Moore
Here are some columns relevant to electronic music
Ambient column – arielle gordon
Electronic column – joe muggs
Club music column – gabe meier
Acid test (electronic+oddities) – miles bowe
Other platforms (WIP)