Got You Covered

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The scoop on getting exposure in the print media.

Press coverage is one of the keys to success for any independent artist or composer. A review about your CD or a feature article about your music will spread your name around and help you build credibility and momentum. It's more than just a feather in your cap; it's something that you can put on the Press or Reviews page of your Web site and in the press packages that you send out when trying get coverage. It can build on itself.

Although getting journalists to pay attention to your music isn't as difficult as getting noticed by major-label A&R people, it's still a daunting task. As someone who has been on both sides of the fence (as a musician looking for attention and as a journalist), my goal here is to offer insights that will help you better understand what you are up against when trying to get an editor or a writer to notice your music. I'm assuming, for the sake of this article, that you're taking the DIY approach to getting press coverage, and that you don't want to spend the money on a publicist.

Do the Research If you are unknown and unsigned, you shouldn't expect to appear in Blender or Rolling Stone. A good place to start your quest for press coverage, however, is a local or regional music publication, or an entertainment publication in your market. You should also consider any national, local, or regional publications that have columns that cover unsigned acts.

Find out which publications might realistically give your music coverage, and obtain as many details about them as possible. It's important to get the name of the person who writes or edits the section in which you want to appear. That way, you'll have a specific person you can submit your CD and press package to. If you send the package without addressing it to an individual, it's much more likely to end up languishing in a pile of never-to-be-listened-to CDs, eventually destined for the circular file.

Sometimes reviews and features won't be written by staffers; rather, they are written by freelance writers. There's likely to be a staff editor, however, who coordinates the section. If you can get that person interested in your music, you have a shot for coverage. If you're not sure who edits the particular section, call the editorial department and ask. A secretary or an administrative assistant can likely provide you with that information, as well as the editor's name and email address.

Get Their Attention Once you've researched a list of target publications and names, the tricky part begins—getting somebody to listen. Based on my own experience and what I've heard from other editors, I recommend that you try to establish yourself in the journalist's mind by opening up a line of communication before sending your music. People often feel more inclined to listen to a CD from somebody with whom they have had prior contact.

After you determine who to contact, send people an email that introduces yourself, briefly describes your music, and explains that you'd like to submit your CD and press kit. (Among other benefits, that shows the editor that you've done your homework regarding his or her section, and that effort is likely to be appreciated.) Email is better than a phone call, because editors tend to be harried and are not likely to respond well to a cold solicitation call. Email, on the other hand, can be answered at their leisure.

If an editor responds to your initial email, follow up by sending your package. If you don't get a response, email again a week later. If another week passes and you still don't hear back, don't give up. While the editor might not have had a chance to respond, he or she is probably now aware of your presence. At that point, you could try either emailing again or sending your CD and press package, hoping that you've established enough name recognition so that when the package arrives, it will be recognized.

Impress the Press When you send a package to the editor, it's important that it looks professional in every way. Don't send a CD with a handwritten label—it will look amateurish in comparison to a printed CD cover, and it will invite immediate rejection (see Fig. 1). The editor isn't likely to have a lot of time to listen, so don't give him or her any excuse not to.

It's crucial that one of your strongest songs—if not your best—plays first (if song 1 is weak, the editor will never get to song 2). The old adage about not getting a second chance to make a first impression definitely applies. I recommend starting with something up-tempo that will grab the listener quickly. If your initial song is slow or has a meandering intro, it's likely to be turned off and discarded before it makes it to the hook.

If for some reason the songs that you want to emphasize are not at the beginning of the disc, put a printed sticker on the CD's jewel case that says something along the lines of "Reviewers: please listen to tracks 3, 7, and 9."

Be sure to include a cover letter with your package that gives a clear and concise synopsis of your music, especially the genre. The cover letter should also state why your music would be a good fit for the specific section that you're shooting for in the publication.

If you're looking for feature coverage, you'll have to give the media person a compelling angle to write about. Perhaps it's the release of your CD or a charity show that you're doing, or some kind of unusual synthesis of genres (for example, "We play heavy-metal versions of bluegrass songs").

If you've had previous press coverage, make sure to mention it and include press clippings on separate pages. You should also provide a bio (again, on a separate page) and a professional-quality photo. Make sure that you have your contact information (phone, email, and Web URL) on everything that you send.

Consider sending some sort of merchandise item (like a band T-shirt or a cap) with your package to make it stand out from the others (not all editors, however, will respond to that). A band called Punchy once sent me a package that included a pair of miniature boxing gloves. As silly as that might sound, it got my attention—I listened to and liked the CD and subsequently wrote about the band.

Make It Easy Another important consideration is to make it as easy as possible for the editor to listen to your music. Some people advocate taking the shrink-wrap off of the CD before sending it. The theory is that the reviewer might not want to hassle with removing the shrink-wrap if he or she has another CD in the pile that's already unwrapped and ready to pop into the CD player.

Once your package has been in the journalist's hands for ten or so days, follow up with another email. If you still haven't heard anything, wait a couple of days and send another email. Remember, though, that you have to walk a fine line between being persistent and being annoying.

One way to avoid the whole dance of trying to get the journalist to listen to your CD is to not send a CD at all; instead, send your initial email with a link in it that will immediately play a streaming song file from your Web site. The one-click ease of that approach can be very appealing. The email with the link should have a similar content to the cover letter discussed previously, and the link should read "Click here to listen." Make sure that when the link is clicked on, it either automatically starts a streaming download of the file in a format that most browsers can handle (such as Windows Media, Real, or QuickTime) or it leads to a page with a choice of formats from which the editor can select. Remember, the easier you make it for the editor to hear your music, the more likely you are to get his or her attention.

Stand Out from the Crowd I realize that all this probably sounds daunting. Just remember that if your music is strong, fits the criteria for the section of the magazine or newspaper (or Web site) in which you're looking for coverage, and is presented in a professional-looking press package, you stand a good shot of capturing the journalist's attention.

· Do spend the time to research the media outlets that you're targeting to make sure that they cover acts of your type.
· Do try to establish email communication with the editor before sending your package.
· Don't send a CD/press package unless it's addressed to a specific editor or writer.
· Do make sure that your CD/press package includes a cover letter that clearly states the musical style of your act, the type of coverage you're looking for, and any other press coverage that you've had.
· Don't forget to include contact information about every item that you send.
· Do make sure that the first song on the CD you send is one of your strongest and gets to the hook quickly.
· Do follow up about ten days after sending your package.
· Don't give up. Getting press coverage isn't easy, but it's possible.

Mike Levine is a senior editor at EM.