This site is a blog for musicians and music industry people. It is a free educational resource and it is also the way I advertise my music consulting services. I am an entertainment professional with deep roots in the music industry. Throughout my music career I have been a major label A&R representative, a music supervisor, an artist manager, a reality show producer, a bass player and the head of a digital record label.
Posts Tagged ‘Julia L. Rogers’
One of the most disturbing things I’ve learned through the process of working with artists to craft bios that, ideally, fully and compellingly capture the spirit of their music and the essence of them as unique individuals is that many of them – and I might even say most of them – have never truly asked a very important question: “Who am I?” And those that have asked that question are often coming up with an answer that is dead wrong … and then building their entire brand around the identity of an imaginary stranger they have created.
Of course, soul searching is not easy for anyone. Many people devote their entire lives pursuing philosophy and determining the reason for their existence and still come up short. And “Who am I?” is an especially bold, nerve-frazzling question for an artist, band or anyone in a creative field to ask, because the answer gets communicated through every recorded song, live performance, Facebook status message update, tweet, email, professional interaction with music industry professionals and personal interaction with fans. (No pressure!)
As an artist, you need to know what your unique brand/identity is and be able to express it in a confident, authentic and consistent voice in order to connect through your music, engage meaningfully with fans and have a successful, long-lasting career. Are you comfortable in your own artist skin? Here are five ideas to consider as you are developing a consistent artist brand, voice and identity.
Tell a story. “Storytelling” is a simultaneously over-hyped and under-utilized branding tool. In the world of business and branding, it is the way you focus the messages you send out around a central theme and create consistency. Your story gives people additional reasons beyond your music to invest in you emotionally and financially, which is why, as a musician, you need to have an interesting narrative that moves forward and grows with you as your career develops. The special story of your personal relationship to music and who you are artistically is concisely summed up by your mission statement, which you will be communicating through every aspect of your website, press pack, social media pages and other marketing pieces. (If you need a refresher course on the topic of your mission statement, revisit point #1 of the article “5 Tips about Writing Your Own Band Bio.”)
While it is certainly important that your story have a plot, even more important is that it has real conflict and tension and engages fans and potential fans emotionally. That doesn’t mean your story must be wrought with gripping drama, have a clear beginning, middle or end, or feature an arch nemesis (and if it does, you probably want to leave him/her out of your self-promotional process). But it should have a theme. For example, did you discover you wanted to become a professional musician while you were struggling through medical school/law school/clown college? Tap into that. How does your music reflect that moment of change, and how did that turning point in your story shape your journey as an artist? People make their biggest decisions with their heart (or “gut,” or whatever you’d like to call it) rather than with their head, so when you tap into others’ emotions with your story, you compel them to not only learn more about you but also spread the word to others about your music. It goes without saying that your story also needs to be authentic and credible, as people are more likely to respond to you when they feel you come from an ethical and honest place.
If the concept of telling your story terrifies you, the good news is, if you write and perform music, you are already a storyteller. Narrative is the way all of us make sense of the world around us and our experiences so we can create memories that piece together the diverse and ongoing events of our lives; so, even if you were not a “creator,” telling stories is innate to the human experience. Relax, let your story flow and you will unlock a huge opportunity to connect with your audience on a very deep level.
Keep all your media and marketing materials consistent. When putting together official websites, album covers, Facebook fan pages and press packs, many artists let their creativity take over and forget that one of the most important aspects of branding and voice is consistency. Throwing every idea you ever have and every photo you ever take out into the universe without considering how it will contribute to your career aspirations and business plan will just cause mass confusion. Sometimes consistency can feel repetitive and constrictive, especially when you’re repeating the same words, images, color schemes and ideas over and over again. But it is necessary. Business experts will tell you over and over again how in order to be perceived as professional, your Facebook fan page needs to match your website, which needs to match your Twitter account, ReverbNation or SoundCloud page or anywhere else you’re presenting yourself and your music online. And this is absolutely true.
But why? The way fans and others experience you needs to be consistent in order for them to understand who you are and feel comfortable in the space you’re creating for them. Whether fans are visiting your official website or holding your physical album in their hands, each page, piece of artwork and blurb needs to be clearly-identifiable as yours, with a specific look, feel and style that ties in directly to your identity and speaks to them in a way that only you can. You need to use the same fonts, colors, images, backgrounds, page layout and voice in everything you put out into the world, even newsletters, email and promotional posters for your gigs. When fans feel comfortable in the space you’ve created, they will be more likely to click through the pages of your website, listen to your music and watch your videos, without you having to pressure them.
Do you want to test out what you have? Gather up all your artist collateral – your press pack, website, album(s), Facebook page, Twitter profile, anything and everything – and ask yourself some questions: Are the visual design elements – colors, fonts, photos, images, etc. – the same across platforms and media? Is your mission statement clearly visible and the same in all places? Which messages and values is it conveying about your identity as an artist? Are these messages consistent with the type of artist you want to be? If you looked at all your artist materials, knowing nothing about yourself, would you be able to describe your fans? Does what you talk about on social media align with what you hope to communicate through your music and your own personal values?
Listen to feedback from your fans … but NEVER betray your authentic self. You have likely (at least partially) chosen a career as a performer because you want to entertain and move others through your music. Thus, it’s very hard to ask that “Who am I?” question without considering who others want you to be; a portion of your brand has to be shaped by your fans, because your growth as an artist partially depends on them.
I often hear artists say that they don’t understand or even like the type of people that like their music. While certainly we, as musicians sometimes have to embrace fans in unexpected places and follow the saying “beggars can’t be choosers” in order to make a living at our craft, we cannot abandon our core identity. If you don’t believe in what you are presenting – and if it doesn’t square with your principles and the type of music that truly inspires you – you’re not going to enjoy your job. If you don’t understand or openly dislike your fans – who are ready, willing and able to love you – your disdain will come through in your music, your marketing materials and your professional and personal interactions, and no one – not even those fans you don’t like – will want to invest energy or money in you. (And if any of what I have just said rings true to you, it’s time to take a step back and either make an effort to get to know and appreciate your fans or rethink your passion for music.)
So, certainly, listen to your fans and create music, products and experiences that speak directly to them. But always stay true to your mission statement and be the authentic “You”-brand you that you claim to be.
Silence the noise. You hear some version of this statement all the time: “You have to stand out above the noise in order to get your music heard.” But most people don’t understand what this statement really means and attempt to sing more loudly and more often than everyone else, believing that is what will get them ahead and set them apart from the hordes of talented professional musicians vying for attention in an intensely-packed market. They update their status messages 20 times per day, record a new song every week, send out lengthy newsletters, book three shows per week and indiscriminately email everyone they think might listen to them, cover their story or advance their careers.
While staying active and diligently working hard at your craft through practice, recording and live shows are certainly essential to developing as an artist, standing out and rising above the din is really more about subtraction than addition. Too much noise prevents people from hearing your true voice. We live in an environment where, thanks to the magic of technology, we are always being bombarded by information, even when we are in the comfort of our own homes. Remember that if you feel frantic and overwhelmed as you try to scream above all the other bands out there, your audience is experiencing the same – or even greater – system overload. Pare down your interactions, the language of your emails, the music and videos you release and get really selective about your communication; focus on writing and releasing the best and brightest songs and using the most succinct and meaningful language to promote yourself and communicate to fans. And remember to remove the noise from your own life as well every once in a while by seeking out some solitude, so you can hear your own thoughts, the sound of your own voice and plan your next move.
Know how and when to promote yourself. You may have an amazing band with even more amazing songs. But if no one knows about it, you are not going to have much success moving your career forward. A lot of musicians put their songs up online, sit back and wait for that glorious ‘90s-style moment of “discovery” when an A&R rep or a label head will appear out of the darkness of a tiny bar or coffee shop, tell them they are the future of music and save them from the stormy sea of promotion and business management, finally freeing up all their time to write and perform.
That kind of help is not coming. And even when some help comes, you have to educate yourself about PR and marketing so you can be your own life raft and reach out to others about booking shows, buying your music or becoming a champion for your band. Taking control of your own voice and becoming skilful at self promotion is the only way to build a sustainable career, even if you eventually seek or get support from outside forces. Remember that everything you do to promote yourself should stem from your mission statement (which of course stems from your relationship to your music), so get clear on that first. From there, you can steadily build out the other elements of your press kit, such as your bios, testimonials and press clips.
There is a very fine line between bragging and promoting, and you have to learn how to walk along it. Just remember, it is always better to push your brand than not. You will learn – often through trial, error and the responses you get – when you have gone too far … or not far enough.
Developing your own voice and brand as an artist is an on-going process that will continue for as long as you make music. But if you are fully present in each moment and aspect of your career, it will emerge naturally and help you navigate each challenge and triumph.
Julia L. Rogers is the Editor in Chief of MusicianCoaching.com. She is a classically-trained musician, published author, journalist and a contributing music writer at Bitch magazine. She also writes about business strategy, social media and emerging technology for corporate clients, including The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur and American Express. She was previously a grant writer and development/marketing strategist for several New York City-based non-profit Arts organizations and has written business development materials and produced online media for a variety of small technology companies. As a songwriter, cellist, bassist, singer and pianist, Julia plays out regularly in New York City in various original projects. She has been working with MusicianCoaching.com since 2009.
To mark the end of the year, I wanted to put together a post highlighting some of the notable articles and interviews that have been featured on the Musician Coaching site in 2011. I chose the “Best of” listed below not only because they were some of the most shared on social media sites and the Web in general, but also because they covered some of the most important issues I feel artists and others getting into the music industry should be focusing on as they build their careers.
Are your emails to industry executives being returned? As I discussed in this article about music marketing from mid April, your attempts to reach out could be met with silence because you’re making the following common five mistakes:
- You’re writing a form letter. You may be able to get your message out to hundreds or even thousands of people. But if people feel like you are sending them a form letter about a specific need or a desired business relationship, then it’s over. No one likes to feel like they are just a name on a list. It is perfectly acceptable to cut and paste part of a letter to a certain type of executive, but at least take the time to customize the first few sentences and address them by name. Also, let the person you are contacting know specifically why you are contacting them. What makes you think you are a good fit for what they do and why?
- You’re presenting yourself poorly. This is so common it boggles the mind. I often get emails from people in which their names are not obvious from the email address and not included in the “from” field by their email program. On top of that, they don’t bother to introduce themselves or put any kind of signature indicating who they are or where they are from. Other ways people present poorly include using bad grammar and spelling and saying, “I have talent,” thinking that in and of itself is a major selling point (and the main reason the person on the other end should respond).
- You’re not doing your research. You can much more easily begin a personal relationship with someone when you have specifics about their job function and their professional history. With blogs, LinkedIn and any of the other resources available online these days there is no excuse not to have a good understanding of what people have done in the past and on which projects they have worked. Knowing these things can go a long way in adding a personal touch to the email you are sending someone.
- You have unreasonable expectations. Bluntly asking for a huge favor, a contract, a partnership, a record deal or any other lasting business relationship from a stranger in a first email is inappropriate. I can’t tell you how many emails I get without any information, background or even someone’s name that say something to the effect of “Help! I am really talented and I need you to manage me.” Take your time to get to know someone and what they do. Breaking the ice with an email never instantly leads to a partially executed contract on your doorstep. It’s supposed to lead to building a relationship and getting someone to take you seriously enough to give your material their time and attention.
- You haven’t defined your goals. Vague emails are really hard to respond to. A very common request I get (and I’m sorry, I know I reference this a great deal) is about “getting to the next level.” Do I understand in a general way what it means? Sure. Do I know specifically what people mean by that and what they need or if I am a good fit for getting these people to said next level? No, I don’t have a clue. Before asking someone else for help, make sure that you have clearly defined your goals. Many people respond with knee-jerk responses like, “I want a publishing deal,” or “I need a booking agent.” It’s important to break down these wants into what most people actually mean. What people forget is that for every brilliant partnership, there are plenty of lousy ones. And many of the lousy ones result from people not taking the time to really think through their needs and desires.
Last spring, I talked to Fred Pessaro, a contributing editor at the popular New York City-based music blog BrooklynVegan. Originally from Washington, D.C., Fred got his start in the music industry as a fan of hardcore and punk music and started regularly attending local shows in his hometown at an early age. His interest in freelance writing and photography and his love for music brought him to New York City, where he began to write for and contribute photos to music publications including Fuse, Time Out and Decibel. He has been working with BrooklynVegan since 2007 and also does some booking in the New York City area.
In this interview, Fred was kind enough to share some “dos” and “don’ts” for artists that want to get covered in blogs and other publications. As he said, “I think if you’re a young band today, the best thing you can do is put together a record and give it away for free. Let as many people hear it as possible. I think that’s important on the recorded front and the live front. Any time someone asks you to play a show, you should take it. If you’re a Twee band, and someone asks you to open for a metal band, play it anyway. If you’re playing first on a 12-band bill at 3 p.m., play it anyway. At the end of the day, playing the show is important, whether there are five people there or 5,000 people there. But it’s also important that your name is on a show, and your name is repeated as many times as it can be repeated. If I were a young band, I would play anywhere and everywhere as often as I could, and I would give away my music to anyone that would hear it. Also, maybe you can do something like print up t-shirts with a catchy design that someone might wear whether they liked your band or not. And sell them at cost. Basically, the more times someone sees your name, the easier it’s going to be for them to recognize it down the road. It’s the idea of conditioning. The more times you mention a name, the more the name will become a part of everyone’s consciousness as opposed to ‘just another band out there.’”
In August, I spoke with the legendary Art Munson, founder of Music Library Report, a comprehensive directory of music libraries and services for composers and songwriters designed to help them make educated decisions about choosing to which music libraries they should submit their work. With nearly five decades of playing, songwriting and producing experience, Art got his start in the music industry playing guitar with Dick Dale and the Deltones in the 1960s. He has done studio and live work with artists such as the Righteous Brothers, John Lennon, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand and Paul Williams. In the 1980s he built and ran his own home recording studio where he worked with artists such as David Sandborn and Vonda Shepard. Just since early 2001, he has written hundreds pieces of music for production music libraries which have been placed in a variety of films and television shows. He and his wife Robin also run their own small record label, publishing and production company called Munsong Records.
Art shared his own story about getting into the music industry and also outlined some best practices for songwriters trying to choose which production libraries are the best fit for their work: “Maybe the best thing I could say is, ‘Write what you really love to write.’ And there are some parameters to follow with library music. You should have editable music, so the music editor can make really clear edit points. It might be a nice, strong intro that’s no more than four-bars long so you can get right into it. And I fight with that editable point too. Because I want to write songs that are musical and have a nice flow to them. And there’s a place for that also. As I said, there are really no hard and fast rules. But I do try to pay attention to really strong edit points, so that music editor can get in and out cleanly.”
In late October, I featured a guest post by Julia L. Rogers in which she outlined 5 concrete elements that should go into a compelling artist bio. Julia helps me behind the scenes at MusicianCoaching.com and is a classically-trained musician, a published author and a contributing music writer at Bitch magazine. Julia plays out regularly in New York City in various original projects. She also writes about business strategy, social media and emerging technology for corporate clients ranging from the Huffington Post to American Express … and she can be hired to write artist and band bios through the site.
In “5 Tips about Writing Your Own Band Bio,” Julia said, “If you want to be taken seriously as an artist, you have to have promotional material. And your bio is one of the most critical components – if not the most critical component of your press kit. (Sorry, but no one cares about your music if you can’t introduce yourself properly.) Your bio represents your first opportunity to spark interest in someone who will be a champion for your music. Besides communicating essential information about you, a well-written bio portrays you as a professional that has some understanding of the business you’re in – music. And when you take some time to thoughtfully craft it, you convey to your fans, to press, media and labels that you are serious about making music your career.”
And her 5 tips for artists trying to put together an eye-catching bio were …
- Clearly define your mission statement.
- Skip birth and childhood.
- Highlight personal stories and anecdotes.
- Use your long-form bio sparingly.
- Plan to update all your bios often.
Prolific songwriter Jonathan Mann has been writing and recording one song per day since January 1, 2009 for his Song A Day project. For over 1,000 days, he has been posting a daily – usually humorous – song to YouTube that touches upon news and current events. A graduate of Bennington College in Vermont, Jonathan started playing guitar and writing songs when he was inspired by the music of Bob Dylan at age 12. Song A Day has earned him a great deal of press attention and brought him a number of interesting collaborative projects. He has appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show and has been commissioned to write songs for companies including Apple, TechCrunch, Dobly, ChaCha, Cisco, Microsoft, Groupon and AirBnB. Last spring, he used the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise $13,000, which funded his record Song A Day: The Album.
A couple weeks ago, Jonathan was kind enough to tell me the story of how he first started playing music and provide some insight for other artists trying to stay inspired to write new music. He also discussed how people can leverage YouTube as well as other online (and offline!) tools in order to get their music heard, find opportunities for collaboration and build personal relationships with their fans: “One of the biggest things I’ve observed regarding YouTube is that you have to collaborate. If you want to grow your audience, you find people that you like and that you respect from YouTube, and you reach out to them with a good idea, then collaborate with them and make something. That way, your audience gets to see them, and their audience gets to see you. I started making online video in 2005 right when YouTube started. And had I known that collaboration was one of the biggest tricks on that platform, maybe I would’ve done more of that.”
When asked about time management/finding the time to write, Jonathan added, “…it’s really just about commitment. You just have to commit to doing it. I would also encourage people to do a song a day … Just challenge yourself to do it for a month. Once you commit yourself to it, it just becomes part of your life … What you do when you do that is set yourself up to make great music. If you do that every day, just by sheer probability, something you make is going to be great.”
Of course, I have more interviews and articles from some incredibly talented, knowledgeable folks coming up in 2012, so stay tuned. Happy New Year!
The following article is a guest post by Julia L. Rogers. Julia helps me behind the scenes at MusicianCoaching.com. She is a classically-trained musician, a published author and a contributing music writer at Bitch magazine. Julia plays out regularly in New York City in various original projects. She also writes about business strategy, social media and emerging technology for corporate clients ranging from the Huffington Post to American Express (and writes artist and band bios!).
As an artist or band, you’re going to be repeatedly forced to explain yourself. And if you are incapable of communicating – in words – who you are, what you sound like and why someone should care, you’re not going to go very far. In short, you’re going to need to write a bio.
The most important thing to remember is that your artist bio is not a rambling autobiography or the introduction to your future memoirs: Your bio is a professional sales tool. But many new or emerging DIY artists cannot necessarily afford to pay a high-quality professional bio writer and are tasked with writing their own. When you sit down to write your bio, you need to know that it is just a small part of a much bigger picture: your marketing strategy. Your marketing strategy must communicate what you have to offer to your fans. And you need to show your value in terms your fans can understand.
If you want to be taken seriously as an artist, you have to have promotional material. And your bio is one of the most critical components – if not the most critical component of your press kit. (Sorry, but no one cares about your music if you can’t introduce yourself properly.) Your bio represents your first opportunity to spark interest in someone who will be a champion for your music. Besides communicating essential information about you, a well-written bio portrays you as a professional that has some understanding of the business you’re in – music. And when you take some time to thoughtfully craft it, you convey to your fans, to press, media and labels that you are serious about making music your career.
The following are some tips for writing a riveting bio that will make people want embrace you and your music.
- Clearly define your mission statement. Before you even think about writing a bio, you have to have a firm grasp of your story and of what your music sounds like. This concise description of your music and who you are as an artist or band should not exceed a couple sentences; in fact, some of the most effective band mission statements are phrases of about 5-10 words. Think about your mission statement the same way you’d think about an “elevator pitch” in the business world (and as a serious artist, your career isa business!) – how you would describe your band if you got into an elevator with someone who asked, “What’s your band like?” or “What kind of music do you play?” and had only a few-floors’ ride to explain yourself.If you don’t already have a mission statement, and the prospect of summing yourself up briefly terrifies you, think about what your devoted fans might say about your music. Who do you sound like? Which qualities set you apart from other bands within your genre? You can even enlist the help of your fans with a fun survey via email that asks them to describe you and what your music means to them. Because the best band bios highlight a band’s individuality in a language that speaks directly to fans and potential fans, having a mission statement that provides an unobscured view into what others say about you and the music you create – and not just into your own perception of why others should love your music – will most effectively speak to those that read your bio. If you use this statement as a powerful intro, you’ll have a better chance of captivating others and propelling them into the subsequent sentences and paragraphs.
- Skip birth and childhood. Unless you are currently a child prodigy, if the “history” / “experience” section of your bio starts with any version of “I was born …” and goes on to include, “Then I played ‘Earthquake McGoon’ in the Louis Pasteur Elementary School production of Lil’ Abner …” you must regroup. Even if you believe to your core that your music career was launched when you played a singing tomato in your first-grade class’ play about the food groups, stick to relaying experience that directly relates to your current band / solo project and the type of music you play. Additionally, if you are in the process of writing your bio and find yourself having to type some version of the sentence, “Unfortunately, the band split due to artistic differences, and she left to pursue other projects” one or more times, you should probably backtrack and edit yourself.Another major sign of an amateur-circuit band bio is that it contains a series of mini bios that relay each band member’s age, influences, years of experience, former bands, etc. Make sure your audience knows the names and key roles of each of your band members and stop there. You’re not trying to sell your band on the talents of pieces of the whole.
- Highlight personal stories and anecdotes. While your band bio does need to be professional, it also needs to tell an interesting story. If you look at a random sample of band and artist bios on Facebook, you’ll notice that most of them are dull, predictable and follow a standard formula. They will likely include the following statements in some form: “The Nantucket F**kers will rock you as you have never been rocked before;” “Candy Kandy has loved to sing from a very young age;” “The members of Bobbi Kennedy and the Politicians met in high school and have been playing together ever since.” (Fake band names have been created to protect thousands of guilty parties, and apologies to any real persons accidentally named.) Musically-inclined people meet and end up playing together all the time, so if that is the most revolutionary event in your band’s saga, you need to realize that it’s already been played out thousands of times. Most band “meet cutes” are not very interesting to anyone outside the band, and most “how he/she got started” artist stories would sound exactly the same devoid of personal, unique and potentially funny details.Start your bio with your mission statement – your opportunity to tell your audience what to expect and enrapture them enough to get them to keep reading – and then make sure all the particulars that follow about your history and playing experience could not belong to anyone but you. There are a lot of talented, hard-working musicians out there; thus, without traces of your inimitable personality, your musical aptitude and your many years of study and practice alone are not necessarily going to make for an extraordinary narrative.
- Use your long-form bio sparingly. Your long-form (long) bio is best kept to no more than 750 words. (And it really should be about 500 words.) Your short-form (short) bio should be about 250 words. As a rule of thumb, your short bio is just your long bio stripped of a detailed history, focusing heavily on your mission statement and current projects like recently-released music, collaborations, etc. When you’re determining where to use each bio on your website, social media pages, and in your press and promotional materials, keep in mind that people in general have very short attention spans. You should definitely include both your short and your long bio (in different but inter-linked places) on your official website. But most of the time, your short bio will suffice for your social media pages and even when you’re sending out music and information to the press (especially unsolicited). Those that want more from you will ask, and then you can send them the long bio. Plus, one of the purposes of your Facebook page and other social medial pages is to redirect fans to your website, where they will be able to read the finer points about you and your music, merch, etc.
- Plan to update all your bios often. When you are an active, engaged artist your story is dynamic and always unfolding. And your band bio is a way to inform others what is happening now. Thus, you need to keep your short and long bios up to date. If you experience a big milestone – if you land a big show, get management, book a tour, sign on with a label or celebrate any other major success – you need to revise your bio immediately. However, you should be revisiting your bio at least once per month, even if all that happened to you was that everyone showed up to rehearsal on time and none of you got the swine flu that was going around. A well-crafted bio is a forward-looking document that reflects where you are now and your plans for the immediate future. If you don’t update it frequently, others will think you’ve become inactive.
Above all, remember that your band bio needs to have a positive tone, be straightforwardly enlightening and filled with positive comments – and even second-party quotes — about you. The narrative has to be interesting enough to get the reader to not just listen to your music, but take action and a vested interest in your success.
Welcome back from the 4th of July weekend, everyone.
The following article is a guest post by Julia L. Rogers. Julia has been helping me behind the scenes at MusicianCoaching.com for quite some time now. She is a classically-trained musician, a published author and a contributing music writer at Bitch magazine. Julia plays out regularly in New York City in various original projects and writes about business strategy, social media and emerging technology for corporate clients ranging from AOL Small Business to American Express.
Part of being a DIY artist is marketing yourself like an entrepreneur or small business owner: You’re presenting the brand of “You, Inc.,” comprised of all the unique things about your music and you as an artist. And while putting some tracks up on social media platforms like Facebook and Myspace or on your own website is an important part of your larger portfolio of marketing tactics, you can’t just leave it at that and hope that someone will eventually stumble across you.
A very important part of your PR campaign as a DIY artist is presenting yourself well to blogs, podcasts, online music communities, music websites and magazines. It’s a given that if you’re at the stage where you’re ready to approach the press about your music, you should have at least two things: a professional-sounding collection of your songs – whether that is in the form of an LP or a full-length album – that represents you at your best; tangible proof that you are playing whenever and wherever possible, working hard at providing an engaging experience for your fan base – who essentially act as your paying “clients,” buying albums and coming to your shows – and to turn new people onto your music. Assuming you have both those things going for you, what comes next?
In the Digital Age, where almost everything you need to know about your brand can live conveniently online, a lot revolves around email. A well-crafted email can land you and your band more free advertising than you could ever afford (which is incredibly important, especially if you really are paving the road of your music career entirely by yourself). However, a bad one will end up in the “Deleted Items” folder, often before even one note of one song hits a single ear.
You don’t necessarily have to be a highly-trained writer or even a great natural marketer to put together an attention-getting email; neither of these skills is typically the #1 strength of most musicians. But if you’re serious about making music your career, you do have to approach the media thoughtfully and professionally and think like a business owner whenever you’re presenting yourself and your music. The following are five tips to think about before (long before!) you hit “send” on that next email.
#1: Have a clear grasp on your story. You love your music and you think people should hear it. But you have to think of yourself like any other company or brand: In order to get people to tune into you, you must have a good handle on your story and mission statement as an artist and be able to persuade potential fans with very short attention spans why they should love your music too. “I’ve been passionate about music ever since I was five and I like to write songs” or “I grew up watching MTV and know my music is better than what I’ve seen on there” isn’t going to cut it; these statements encapsulate an almost immeasurable number of artists or ”musicians’ brands” out there.
Instead, think about which unique qualities sets the story of how you came into music apart from the story of every other person that has ever played music. Perhaps you were raised by circus performers who were hip hop fans, which led you to develop an interest in learning how to play the accordion and writing clown-themed raps (though don’t worry — you probably don’t have to be quite that “different” to stand out!). Even if you are just a guitar-driven indie rock band or a traditional singer/songwriter, think about the personal experiences that have led you to pursue music and how that comes through in what you do. Then write that story out … in no more than three sentences. People with the power to write about and recommend your music to others often get hundreds of emails daily, and they will tune out if you don’t get to the point quickly. If they want to know more, they will ask. After you write down your short story – in the business/entrepreneurial world, they call it your “elevator pitch” – repeat it over and over to yourself, so you can rattle it off when someone asks you and relay it in every email you send to someone you think should be listening to your music, along with a direct link to some songs.
#2: Keep it local. When you’re deciding which media outlets to contact about your music, start with those that write about musicians and events that are located near you. If you’re at the beginning of your career – and especially if you’re at a point where you’re just starting to see a few more people than your four closest friends and your mom regularly at your shows – you need to focus on getting attention in your home city/local area. In the beginning, reaching out to people that can actually come out to see you play, understand where you come from and interact with you personally is an important part of establishing personal relationships with current and future fans. And the closer they feel to you, the more likely they will be to recommend you to friends and the more often all of them will want to download/buy your music, buy your t-shirts or come to see you perform.
#3: Do focused research. As a DIY artist, there’s nothing that can waste your precious PR time – or suck more time away from your top priority, which is writing and playing great music – more than blindly sending out “listen to my music” emails to every person on the planet who listens to music. Still, a lot of bands do just that, thinking that indiscriminately casting a wide net will increase the odds that someone will respond. Think of it this way – if you didn’t own a house, would you like to get repeated, unsolicited emails about homeowners’ insurance? If you front a country band and you randomly email bloggers that write exclusively about heavy metal bands or someone that runs a steampunk zine begging them to listen to your music, you’re essentially committing the same crime of irrelevancy, and you could even be building a bad reputation for yourself as a thoughtless spammer.
Thanks to Google, it’s quick and painless to search for the media outlets that regularly talk about the exact type of music you play and to find the people that might even actually be excited to hear from you, which can up the rate of positive response to your emails significantly. Along those same lines, know which type of outlet you’re emailing before you send so you can set realistic expectations about the response you might get. A blog, a newspaper and a magazine all take very different approaches when it comes to writing about and talking to artists. Also, before you start to send emails, make a list of sources. You can add to and subtract from that list as you go along.
#4: Send personalized emails. Once you’ve made a list of media outlets to email – even if that list is long – resist the temptation to send a form letter. Take the time to craft each email separately and include a few personalized details you’ve learned through your research about the person/publication/source in question. If you are sticking to the “short and sweet” rule of emailing, this level of detail shouldn’t take too long to add, and it will show the person on the other end that you’re legitimately interested in their feedback and are serious about your career.
Secondly, the community of journalists and bloggers that write about music tend to know each other, especially if they write for the same publication or about the same types of music. This means they talk to each other about the music – and any communication – they receive from artists. If you send the exact email to ten different people, you risk, at best, depersonalizing the professional relationship you could have had with a journalist or blogger that could’ve potentially helped you connect with a huge number of new fans. At worst, the people you email will spread a negative word about you to those in their network, which will likely decrease your chances of getting written up elsewhere.
#5: Don’t send more than two emails. Along the same lines as “keep it short and sweet,” when you’re trying to get people to write and talk about your music, limit yourself to two emails: an email with links and a follow-up email, sent at a later date. That’s it. Period. As previously mentioned, people writing about music hear from a lot of artists on a daily basis. And the best journalists and bloggers – those that truly care about what they do and have a legitimate love of music – are going to actually take the time to thoughtfully read and listen to almost every email and music link they get. You’re not going to get a “yes” or “no” right away, so you need to be patient. At best you can expect to get a quick “Thanks for sending this! I’ll listen to it within [insert specific time frame here] and get back to you.” If that happens, wait the amount of time the person specified and then send a quick follow-up a few days after that time has expired. If you get no response to your initial email – which, frankly, quite often happens – wait at least a week and then send a follow up. In either case, if you don’t hear back after your second email, end it there and move on.
As you think about the process of sending emails to the press about your unique artist brand, think about the last time you heard a music journalist say, “I love this new band I’ve never heard of. All they had to do was send me a link to a free download of their album, and I was sold!” Likely, you can’t, because that’s probably never happened. The truth is, most bloggers and music journalists have little to no direct interest in helping you and your band reach the next level; they’re looking for good music that their loyal readers will like. In order to get the attention of music journalists and get the word out about your music, you need to provide compelling reasons for music lovers to listen and fall in love with you. And if you can create that magnetic pull to your “creative products” (your music!) through all your marketing tactics, you will continue to add to your roster of “loyal customers” (your fans!).
To learn more about Julia Rogers, you can also follow her on Twitter.