So you’ve got some music that you’re proud of. Your friends and family think you’re amazing, and you’ve even played a few gigs. But how do you take it to the next level and really get your music out there? Infiltrating the music press can be a headache for new bands – but follow these insider tips and you’ll have the hacks eating from your hand…
1. Think laterally
All new bands dream of leering from the cover of Mojo, but breaking into the print-media behemoths can be like banging your head against a drawbridge. Try your luck, by all means, but don’t discount the less-glamorous avenues: local press and radio (who reach thousands in the postcodes you’re likely to be gigging) and the endless scenesters sat blogging in their dressing gowns.
2. Do your research
Sending a metal demo to a dance music mag is a waste of stamps – so intelligent blanket-bombing is the key here. Identify the media outlets who cover bands in your genre and earmark specific writers you suspect will be sympathetic to the cause. Most will have websites and Twitter feeds, so feel out their quirks, listening tastes and sense of humour before you get in touch.
3. Keep your press pack simple
In fact, don’t bother with a ‘press pack’ at all. Nothing awakens the fury of a busy journalist like an A3 cardboard wallet spilling gig flyers, keyrings and trinkets over their already-cluttered desk. Stick to a simple A4 band bio, and if you really want to get in their good books, send something edible.
4. Burn your biography
No offence, but your press release is a checklist of cliché, hot air, typos and sixth-form pseudery. Unless an impartial third party agrees you genuinely can write, don’t even try. Instead, contact the favoured journalist from Tip 2 and pay them to do it. Not only will you end up with a killer bio, you’ll also have a contact who will potentially pitch an interview to their features editor.
5. Bad press shots kill chances
Just as Roberta Bayley’s shot of The Ramones against that brick wall is instantly intriguing, so nothing will scupper your chances faster than a blurry Polaroid of the bassist cutting his toenails. Photos aren’t essential, but if you get them done, invest the time/money to get a professional result. Think clear, well-lit and bristling with attitude.
6. Web up
AC/DC can sack off the Internet. You can’t. Set up and maintain your own website and have a presence across the major platforms, from Facebook to Twitter, so journalists can find you and hear your best tune in two seconds flat. The more needles you have in the online haystack, the better.
7. Consider a press officer
If you’ve got a healthy budget but struggle to sell yourself, a press officer will grease the wheels. These guys are paid to be your fast-talking hype machines, painting you as the next Zeppelin, ramming your album into the hands of cherry-picked journos and badgering them with the tenacity of a Terminator until they run a review. If you go this route, choose a PR who works with artists in your genre, ask about their contacts and tactics – and establish whether they’ll be paid on effort or results.
8. Nepotism rules
Unless you’re Ginger Baker, you’ve probably amassed a sprawling army of compadres during your time on Planet Earth. Give a shout-out on Facebook and you might just unearth a friend-of-a-friend who’s the reviews editor at Q. By the way, there’s no shame in this sort of brazen nepotism: success in music is roughly 50 per cent talent, 30 per cent luck and 20 per cent contacts.
9. So does networking
If you’re out on the town, there are probably music journalists in your midst every night – and buying them a pint at a venue will curry more favour than an email or cold-call ever will. Just remember to make it all seem casual, instead of cornering them in the toilets with a crazed look in your eye.
10. Make it easy for them
If you’re sending unsolicited music, any whiff of hassle will make a journalist move on. Don’t force them to laboriously register for listening posts, or crash their Mac with endless Word docs and WAV files. The tide is turning, but CD is probably still the best bet, enabling a journalist to simply throw it on while they’re doing the washing up. If nothing else, they’ll use it as a coaster.
11. Trick them!
There’s no shame in being an independent artist, but a suspicion still lingers amongst most journos that signed-equals-good. If you’re self-releasing, that’s fine, but invent a label name that sounds credible, as opposed to a bedroom operation (ie. don’t name it after your band). Most hacks will assume it’s a ‘proper’ label – and instantly take you 50% more seriously.
12. Bend over backwards
If a journalist wants to interview you, set it up immediately and don’t muck them about unless genuine emergency befalls you. Keef can cancel with three minutes’ notice and fall back on his half-century stockpile of goodwill. If you pull out, the magazine will just find another of the world’s squillion young bands to fill the ‘fresh meat’ slot, and never ask you again.
13. Be charismatic
Think back to the bands you loved, from The Smiths to Guns N’ Roses. Of course, it was about the music – but it was also the mythology. Don’t just sit there grunting. Be passionate, political, witty, sarcastic, literary, pretentious, flirtatious, outrageous. Amplify your personality, or, if you haven’t got one, get into character. Brainstorm and embellish a few war stories from the road, and be ready to explain your lyrics. There are plenty of mediocre bands out there sustaining a career because they’re good value in interviews.
14. Elect a spokesman
Yeah, we know you’re blood brothers, but having six bandmembers yakking over each other on the phone is a pet-hate of journalists. Just as the best bands have musical leaders, so you should elect the most quotable member (usually the singer) for interview duties. If that makes the rest of you feel like hired hands, rotate it so he’s accompanied by one other member each time.
15. Open up
This isn’t therapy, but nothing is more frustrating than the band that pulls the old line – “I just want to talk about the music” – then has nothing to say about it. Music isn’t just about crotchets and quavers; it’s about the person and the thought-process behind them, so bare a little soul. Yes, there’s the odd band who’s been stitched up, but for the most part, journalists are just trying to make you look exciting (which is in both your interests, actually).
16. Don’t rise to bad reviews
It stings to see your baby dragged through the dirt, but take a deep breath and consider the old Andy Warhol adage (“Don’t read your press, weigh it”). A month from now, people will remember you were in Kerrang!, not that you got one ‘K’. Posting dog turds or lurking in the car park with a nailgun will just make the magazine – and probably the industry – avoid you in the future.
17. Alternatively – do nothing!
Sometimes, in the Internet age, nothing attracts attention like mystery. If you’ve got the balls and talent, you could ignore everything we’ve just said, blank the media entirely – and, ironically, find them beating down your door. It worked for Manchester’s WU LYF (whose habit of snubbing interviews was described by The New York Observer as “carefully designed anonymity”). Just don’t blame us if you end up playing to one man and his dog…