FIG. 1: To raise awareness for a client, publicist Amanda Cagan typically sends out 400 to 600 publicity packages (which include CDs, publicity materials, and sometimes DVDs) to a range of media outlets.
Credit: Jay Gilbert
The Internet has empowered today's musician like never before. Career advancement is no longer exclusively predicated on having a record deal. If you work hard at it, you can now market yourself and sell your music directly to the public. But the flip side to that is there are many more artists recording and selling CDs, competing with you for media attention. The proverbial haystack has gotten bigger, and one way for serious, career-minded artists to gain more visibility is to hire a publicist.
To find out more about what publicists do and how they can help an artist's career, I turned to Amanda Cagan (see Fig. 1), who for the past 17 years has handled publicity campaigns for acts such as the Black Crowes, Green Day, Korn, Alanis Morrisette, and many others. Cagan is now the proprietor of the independent publicity firm ABC Public Relations (www.abc-pr.com), and her current client roster includes Circus, Diablo, Journey, Night Ranger, Scum of the Earth, Shaw/Blades, Silverchair, and Tesla.
Is a publicist's main role to get press for a band or artist?
It is. It's to create awareness. For me, with my clients, it's about getting exposure in as many outlets as possible — especially for a brand-new band. If a band is willing to work, then I want to put them to work, and I want them to do as many interviews as possible. And I want them to be in every Web 'zine that I deal with and in as many magazines that are on the newsstand that have music coverage.
What's the typical process you go through to get exposure for an act?
To get things started I always do a press release, to let people know that the album is coming out and that I'm working that particular act. And then it's a matter of getting the music out. I usually send out packages to about 400 to 600 people, and that includes newspapers, TV bookers, weekly publications, monthly publications, and online outlets. Once the packages go out, it's a matter of contacting those people, getting them to listen to the album, [explaining] to them what the story is, [getting] them interested and motivated in listening to the album, and doing a story with the band — out of the box.
How does a band know whether a prospective publicist is qualified and whether they can trust that person with their reputation and their money?
Well, that's very important. A lot of it's the vibe you get from someone. You should have a phone call with this person, or maybe you can get a vibe from an email conversation or instant-message conversation. It's about the knowledge in the genre of music that the band is playing. Obviously if someone is more geared in the punk rock world, then you may not want to hire them if your music is death metal. You have to just look for someone who is knowledgeable of the particular genre you play. You want to see how long they've been in the business and see what kind of contacts they have.
How expensive is it to hire a publicist?
It could be anywhere between $1,000 and upwards of $4,000 or $5,000 per month. Some publicists might even charge more, depending on the artist. Of course, the bigger names might draw the bigger paycheck, because there's more work involved and there's a higher level of people that you work with. And it's just for the expertise and knowledge of how to deal with an artist like that. It all depends on the situation. But if you have a baby band that's just getting their feet wet and they only have $500 a month to spend, there are publicists who will take that on.
How do you know if your publicist is doing a good job?
It's all about communication. If you're a new band, once you get music out, you're not going to hear from me every single day with some news to report. It might take a couple of weeks, or it might take a month or two months to get an editor to listen to a record. And then they'll finally get back to me, and I can tell the client, “Okay, this magazine got back to me and they're going to do an album review.” That happens a lot, especially with new bands. And I copy my clients on all the clips that run, whether they're negative reviews, positive reviews, or feature stories. So they see that I'm doing the work that way, because they're always seeing clips from me as they appear. They're seeing the work when I send through interview options for them, whether they're phone interviews or in-person interviews. So I'm in constant contact with all my clients.
Many of the musicians reading this won't be in a position to hire a publicist, but many will have CDs that they're trying to publicize. Can you advise what the best way is for artists who do their own publicity to get attention?
First and foremost, you want to send out a CD. Even though the Internet is so important and everyone is on email these days, I find that it's more difficult if you email a link to listen to an album online. It's been very touch and go with me. Some editors were fine with it, and some editors were not happy with that situation — and I had to ultimately send them a CD anyway.
At what point should you follow up?
Maybe you give it a couple of weeks and you don't start bombarding people with pitches right away. You have to give editors time to receive the album and to listen to it. And then maybe just drop them an email. Say, “I just wanted to be sure you got my album.” Give them a couple of sentences about the band — particularly if you have a good story. Tell them what the story is, link to your MySpace page or official Web site, and then just give it some time for the editor to respond. If you don't hear back, maybe give it another couple of weeks and then check in again. If you don't get another response, then you just have to assume that he or she is not interested.
You find that email is a better way to go than trying to call on the phone?
Yes. These days, even though editors get so much email, I just find that there are a lot of editors out there that prefer email over phone calls.
From my standpoint as an editor, I find that if someone is making a real effort — like sending a personal email, not just sending a press release and a CD — then I often feel more inclined to listen to music that's been submitted.
Exactly. The thing is to be cool about it. You don't want to overstate your case; you don't want to be too aggressive. That way, if you just check in with an email to say, “Hey, wanted to make sure you got it. Here's a little about me. You can also check out stuff on my MySpace page,” then yeah. These days, there are plenty of editors that give bands like that the chance; you just have to give them the time to let it all soak in. And you might not hear anything right away — it might take a while.
And that first cut on your CD better be darn good.
Exactly. Because an editor is probably going to listen to less than half of each song on a CD. He or she probably won't have the time to listen to an hour's worth of your music.
Do you have any other tips?
If a band has video footage, that's always helpful — whether it's posted on [their] MySpace page, or whether the band wants to spend the money to make up a few DVDs to be included in the packages. I know for me, especially with new artists, it's great to have video footage, because it's all about the visual.
Are you talking about a live-performance video or an actual music video?
It could be a combination of both. It could be behind-the-scenes stuff of the band in rehearsal, recording the album, something that shows their personality. And if there were footage of them performing live, that would be great. But again, you should keep it to about 5 minutes. You shouldn't send them like a half-an-hour video, because people aren't going to watch it.
Mike Levine is EM's executive editor and the producer of the twice-monthly Podcast “EM Cast” (www.emusician.com/podcasts).