How to make your band famous

So, you’ve started a band (or a solo project, or even a non-musical artistic project). You want people to know about your sweet new band. You want to spread the word far and wide.

That’s where I come in. It’s what I do for a living. I am the press.

Not all of it, naturally. I am but one tiny part, but I have been doing it for a minute now (or how ever many minutes there are in five years), so I have a pretty good handle on it. And I get asked, from time to time, what a band can do to get coverage. I’ve talked to a few folks one-on-one, and participated in a conference or two on the topic, but hey, seems like maybe it would be easier to just throw it out there and let people in on the Big Secret.

You ready for it? The Big Secret is there is no secret to getting press coverage. No magic bullets, beans, or schemes will guarantee you get the attention you so richly deserve (or at least believe you deserve). Doesn’t work like that. But there are a lot of things you can do to make it more likely, and those things I can at least outline for you. I don’t claim these are absolutely universal, but I also think most of them are true enough across the board that none of them will actively hurt you, and every place I have written for, they will definitely help.

First off, being good is a good start. If you suck ass, then even if you get press coverage it will just say, “Avoid these dudes. They suck ass.” And while people are always saying “There’s no such thing as bad press,” they sure do complain a lot when I write a review that says basically that. Besides, we’d almost all rather write about stuff we like and are excited about than stuff we hate. So yeah, be good. Can’t help with how to do that, but I thought it was worth pointing out anyway.

Okay, the real stuff.

  1. Have at least two hi-res press photos: one vertical, and one horizontal. Hi-res means print quality (300 DPI or at least ginormous 72 DPI images that look okay when shrunk down). Make them regular dimensions, meaning no “artistic” bullshit that’s 3000 pixels wide and 100 pixels high. WTF is that? Is my site or paper or magazine going to be able to work with that? If you want to have the “artistic” shot that’s all weirdly proportioned, fine. But make goddamn sure you also have a horizontal and vertical in regular dimensions , and don’t be surprised if no one ever uses your arty stuff and chooses your nice, normal, 16×9 widescreen shot for their profile on your band. Our systems and page layouts are designed to work with that stuff, so that is what we need. When you become bigger than U2, you can do whatever the fuck you want. Until then, keep it simple.
  2. A nice, short, up to date bio that gives us basic info (band members; some idea of what you sound like; if anyone in the band is already famous for being in another band or porn or something). Keep it current, and keep it in line with your other press materials, meaning if your bio lists six members, and I see four in your band pic, you better explain that. Keep it simple. Keep it simple, again. Fun fact: we get together and make fun of your ridiculous, overblown, hyperbole-driven bios. Sometimes we do it on Facebook or Twitter, where anyone can see it. And yes, it does tend to prejudice us against your band. If you are trying so hard to convince me you are a “post renegade collective of artists and musicians who invert the pop paradigm to create dissonant blooms of beauty in sound” all I hear is this: “We are pretentious twits. Please ignore our sure-to-overblown bullshit.” How can I argue with that?
  3. Some music. Like, at least two songs. Current ones. If you’re a DJ, I need an up to date promo mix (seriously, dance music changes so fast your mix from summer ’09 doesn’t mean shit right now). High quality, too, or don’t bitch when I miss the intricacies of your sound because all I can hear is fucking shitty 128k mp3 compression on your cymbals and snares. Obviously, put your best foot forward here. Don’t send me your shitty demo recording of your single, or its jokey b-side, send me the fucking single itself. More is better, but don’t overwhelm me (we get a LOT of music sent to us; more than you can imagine). An album is enough. Four songs (your four best!) are probably better. I’ll go find the album if I dig the songs.
  4. Reach out and touch someone! Sure, we’d all like to “be discovered” but you have to hustle. Make sure that the people that should be hearing your shit hear your shit. E-mail me, tell me what you got going on and why the fuck I should care, and include all this stuff above (well, include one small, web-sized photo, a text bio, and links to all the rest; too many attachments are annoying). Again, e-mail (or maybe Twitter/Facebook). Do not call me. DO NOT CALL ME. DO NOT FUCKING CALL ME. If you do, all I am going to want to know is how the fuck you got my number. It is never a good time, even if I pretend it is. This goes for your publicist, too. It’s not any less disruptive to my work day to have a publicist begging for coverage on the phone.
  5. Know your audience, or Don’t spam me, bro. Read my site and have an idea of the kind of music we cover. If that is not what you do, then move along to a site who does. Don’t ask me to cover your four-day blues and jam fest in a muddy field if you can see that every band on my site is made up of three hipsters and at least one keytar (or vice versa). You’re just wasting both of our time.
  6. Make your shit easy to find. MySpace pages don’t cut it anymore, if they ever did. Facebook is marginally better, if only because everyone and their mother is on Facebook. Bandcamp is pretty good, but really, you want a website. And on that website, you want a press section. And in that press section, you want all the stuff I mentioned (two press pics; short bio; 2-4 songs), ideally as both one zip file press kit I can download with a click AND as individual links, so if all I need is a pic, I don’t have to mess with the rest. Make it very clear which photos on your site are for press use and which, if any, are not. Some of our outlets are real picky about that shit, and no one likes getting yelled at—by either our editors or your publicist or the original photographer who owns the rights—for using a photo we weren’t supposed to use. Your bio should also be on the press page in text form. Links to hear or download the songs are fine, but make them visible. And don’t fucking have some stupid shitty autoplay song on your site. That shit is straight 1998. Don’t worry about whether non-press people can get that stuff, because the line between press and not-press is blurrier every day, and what does it hurt if someone downloads your press kit and makes a wallpaper out of your press photo? That’s just attention for you!
  7. Be available. As much as possible, be available. Have a designated contact that can get back to me in minutes to answer any questions about your existing press materials, verify a rumor I just heard (or even say “no comment”), verify the tour dates I just found on another site, whatever. We work fast in this online world, and sometimes being available instantly or not is the difference between getting a write up for your band and not getting one.
  8. Don’t be a baby if we pass on coverage. We probably have a good reason, and it may have nothing to do with how we feel about your band. Shit talking us isn’t going to change our mind, but it may convince us we don’t ever want to deal with you in the future.

As a bonus, I solicited input from a Erin Barnes, a publicist friend who also has some experience in the freelance world and runs the wonderful blog The Donnybrook Writing Academy.

As a publicist, normally it’s annoying to see writers telling bands how to pitch them, but this was not annoying, and I totally agree with it.

The reason it’s normally annoying is because most writers act like the world revolves around them, but in yours, you mention being just one part – and that’s something I always stress to bands. In order to be successful, they need magazines, dailies, weeklies, blogs, radio, and fans all talking about them AT THE SAME TIME. Which is hard to do. That’s why labels and other representation exist. All of our jobs are easy enough that most bands could do all the work – they just couldn’t do it all at once.

You’re totally right that there’s no big secret. It’s all a very unexpected game for me of getting it in front of as many people as possible, and seeing where it sticks. It never sticks in the places you’d assume – all the times where you’re like, this band is perfect for this person! It never works. There are too many variables in the world. Being a writer, I know that sometimes the reason it doesn’t stick is as simple as the writer just had a bad day and missed the email.

We make fun of ridiculous bios too. In fact, at the record label we get a lot of hilarious press kits as A & R submissions. They are so funny that we would start a blog with them (if that were ethical, but it’s probably too mean). For a time, I even started hanging peoples’ (really bad) headshots on my wall.

That’s pretty much it. It’s not rocket science, but I have seen some egregious shit from bands at every level. Do all this stuff, be great at what you do, and you will get covered. Don’t and … well, who knows? You might still become more famous than Jesus. But it couldn’t hurt to do it right, just in case, could it?

3 thoughts on “How to make your band famous

  1. I’ll have to agree and disagree with you here, Cory. As a music critic who is also in a band, I really don’t have any advice other than what you said, like, don’t suck. And what you outline here is probably exactly the way your music can lend itself to being covered.

    But my biggest, biggest biggest recommendation is this: Make music for the right reasons. Using Facebook/Twitter/etc. to bitch that your “local publication doesn’t know what’s good” because they aren’t writing about your band is fucking bullshit (which you very much address in #8).

    But is this why people make music? So some asshole like me with a laptop can write about them? I would hope not.

    As a writer, I don’t care if you don’t have a press photo or music available or even a bio. I really don’t. If you’re doing something that moves me, I’ll find a way to write about you. Sure, having those things might facilitate press coverage in some capacity, but again, you can have all of that shit in a perfect little EPK and I still won’t care. What really matters to me is if you’re a band that makes good music and doesn’t feel like they have to cater to the blogsphere. I mean, I get why bands care. I used to care. I used to think Pitchforkian coverage of my band was important. But then I realized that I don’t make music for that or them or whatever comes from that space. I remembered that We Jam Econo and Our Band Could Be Your Life were the models I really wanted to utilize when connecting people to music.

  2. Bree, if I adore a band, of course I will do whatever it takes to write about them. Even in that case these tips are going to facilitate coverage, and could mean the difference between coverage for that show you really need to get the word out about, and coverage a week later when you’ve got nothing going on.

    Those cases are the exception, too. Often, you have a deadline coming up, you have a couple of possibilities you can write about and guess which one gets a blog about their upcoming show/new video/whatever? Ding ding ding! The one who has their shit together so I can write the story, get a picture on it, and get on to the next thing I have to do. I rarely have the luxury of chasing people for the things I need to cover their band, and I shouldn’t ever have to.

    And as to your last point: for the love of all that is good, please tell me there aren’t people out there making music to get attention from blogs and magazines. That is just stupid. You make music for the passion, or you STFU. (Or you make it to meet cute girls/boys. That’s cool too.)

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