Prominent Music Publicist: F*&k Press Releases

  • Save

  • Save
Michael Howard

This past Friday I moderated the How To Make It in the New Music Business panel at the ASCAP Expo.

One of the panelists was the co-founder of LaFamos PR and Branding, Hunter Scott.  He is one of the few publicists out there who won’t take your money if he doesn’t think he can help you.  If your music simply is not at a the level where PR will help, a publicist should tell you this.  Most don’t because they need the paycheck.

Most publicists charge thousands a month whether they bring you results or not.  I’ve talked to way too many musicians who have been burned by “top-notch” publicists.  I once toured with an artist who paid one of the biggest music publicists in the world $5,000/mo for a 4 month campaign to promote our shows to the local outlets in every city, get him on the national talk shows and in-studio radio interviews.  After dropping $20,000 this big-time publicist got him exactly 3 articles in local newspapers.  I got 4 on the same tour by doing the PR myself.

Mind you, this artist had millions of plays.  His lack of press was not because he sucked.  It was because the publicist took his money and did exactly nothing.

“Blasting a press release (for an unknown band) with “Band X drops new single” is stupid.  You might as well write ‘band you’ve never heard of releases music you’ll never listen to.”

— Hunter Scott, LaFamos PR and Branding

Hunter will be the first to admit, though, that nothing is guaranteed in the world of PR.  Even if the music is undeniable and the publicist truly cares, there are things outside of everyone’s control (like Radiohead is in town and all local music press is covering that, Kendrick Lamar released his record on the same day you did or all TV shows have been booked up on the days you’re passing through).  A good publicist, though, will be able to get you at least something.

But a publicist’s job is so much more than just sending out press releases.

Actually, Hunter straight up said to the packed room of musicians, managers, songwriters, producers and industry execs “Fuck press releases.”  Everyone gasped. I asked him to clarify.  “Are you saying you don’t work with press releases?  That you don’t write them?”

He clarified that his company does in fact write press releases, but they never include them in the body of their pitch email or (god forbid) attach them to the email.  They only send them if the writer requests one or they include a link to one in the email along with a link to the artist’s DPK.

“The idea here is to give the writer an opportunity to pull more information if the pitch caught their attention, rather than treating your press release as your pitch”

— Hunter Scott, LaFamos PR and Branding

Hunter explained that the reason their success rate is so high is because they take a personal approach to everyone they pitch. They don’t blast out “Hi [First Name], you’ll love this new song by SoandSo.  See press release below.”  Their initial email is personalized and includes the “hook.”  What is the hook?  Well, it’s the reason the reviewer will write the story.  What sets this artist apart from every other artist in the world?  Why this publication should write about this artist.  Because everyone is saying that their artist’s music is great.  But why should people care?

Good publicists help artists come up with their “story.”

The story is the one thing that will get everyone talking about them.  No one cares how incredible your drum tones are or that you recorded your album through a Neve console.  That’s stuff for you and your musician friends to geek out about.  The general population and music reviewers don’t care.  But they do care if your van flew off the side of the road on your last tour, every member was thrown out the window, it burst into flames shortly thereafter and your new album is a based on this experience — focusing on, specifically, the moment you saw the van go up in flames.  Now that’s a story!

Everyone has a story.  An angle.  Just because you haven’t had a near-death experience, doesn’t mean you don’t have (or can’t come up with) an incredible story that will get everyone talking about you.  Bon Iver’s story for his debut album was that he recorded his album in a cabin in the northern woods of Wisconsin in the winter time.  Everyone heard this story.  Yes, Justin Vernon had been in and out of rock bands his entire life.  That wasn’t the story.  That’s not interesting.  That’s every musician’s story.  But his bio and press release wasn’t about his many failed bands.  It was the one story that got everyone talking.

If you’re paying a publicist a jaw-dropping price, they better help you come up with a jaw-dropping story.

Let me give you a little tip.  There’s this database called Cision which includes the names and contact information of virtually anyone a publicist would ever need to contact from writers, reviewers, music bookers on TV shows and so forth.  Anyone can pay a few hundred dollars a month and get access to this database.

As a writer for Digital Music News, my name and email got included on this list and I get sent countless emails every day with (shitty) publicists pushing bands on me.  One, I don’t review music and if that publicist would have spent 2 minutes glancing at my column they would realize this and two, these emails are almost never personalized.  And oftentimes they start with “Hi [First Name]” instead of “Hi Ari” as in they didn’t format it properly in Mailchimp.  SMH.

Don’t pay a publicist who is just going to blast out press releases to the “Music” list on Cision.

You can do that for a hell of a lot cheaper — and do a better job at it too, because you care!

The reason you are (or should be) paying a publicist their very expensive rate is for their connections.  The good publicists don’t blast out press releases to their entire contact list.  The good publicists personalize every email for every single contact and only hit up the contacts they think will dig what they’re promoting this time.  It’s how they keep their good relationships up.

“While there are no guarantees, a good publicist can really help your career.  Just make sure you hire someone that doesn’t take the copy/paste approach.  You’re paying for someone’s connections and you’re paying for the time it takes to write personalized pitches.  You’re looking for the quality-over-quantity approach.”

— Hunter Scott, LaFamos PR and Branding

If writers get hit up by the same publicist every day with a new band and virtually the same message, you think that reviewer is ever going to give this publicist the time of day?  But if writers get a personalized email mentioning WHY they will most likely dig this artist (they follow in the footsteps of So-and-So who you wrote about last month or their story is mind blowing) that writer will not only give it a listen, they will always open emails from this publicist in the future.

It is very seldom just about the music.

Music reviewers don’t write about music.  Let me repeat, music reviewers don’t write about music.  They write about the culture of music.  They aren’t writing about your drum or guitar tones, syncopated rhythms, schizophrenic meters, or interesting mix techniques.  The things that musicians get off to, music reviewers (and the general population) couldn’t give two shits about.  That’s why your story is so important.  Something that reviewers can write about.  Because most reviewers aren’t musicians and don’t have a musical ear like you and I have a musical ear.  But most music reviewers are passionate about music.  They know if they like something or not, but their opinions are also influenced by the artist’s story, image and overall aesthetic.

We’d like to think it’s all about what’s coming out of the speakers.  But it never is.  The quicker you realize this, the quicker you will be well on your way to gaining much more press — with or without a publicist.

16 Responses

  1. Versus

    This is just so sad.
    “No one cares how incredible your drum tones are or that you recorded your album through a Neve console. That’s stuff for you and your musician friends to geek out about. The general population and music reviewers don’t care.”

    So the general public don’t actually care about the music?
    Perhaps we should be pressing for better music education instead of feeding into the inane publicity which has nothing to do with music.

    I, for one, am interested in the actual music, not the exploding van story.

    • Versus

      And this:
      “Music reviewers don’t write about music. Let me repeat, music reviewers don’t write about music. They write about the culture of music. They aren’t writing about your drum or guitar tones, syncopated rhythms, schizophrenic meters, or interesting mix techniques. ”

      Maybe then it’s the music reviewers who first need an education, so they can contribute to the musical and aesthetic education of the public.

      (Luckily the insulting generalizations above are not completely true; there are still intelligent reviewers, in some blogs and some magazines, who actually review the music, including the kind of details so disparaged in this condescending article).

      • Truth hurts

        Show some examples. Because I haven’t seen em.

      • Anonymous

        It’s a generalization, but it’s true.

        If GuitarWorld writes about you, then sure, they’ll probably talk about guitar tone, but literally 0 ‘culture’ publications are going to write about that.

    • Anonymous

      It’s the same with anything else. For instance, few people care that the junk food (or many of the “health” food products) they eat are garbage… if they like the taste, they don’t care about the sugar, the calories, the carbs etc…

    • Antinet

      I’m a musician who cares about the music, and I have to agree that story still matters. Don’t forget music is also about lyrics and message, so there’s nothing wrong or overly commercial about having and disseminating a good backstory.

  2. Indie Label Owner

    This was a great article, Ari. I am always trying to get the artists on my label to tell me their “story.” Tell me what is interesting, unique to this album, and will make people care to give it a listen. It’s hard to get that from them. I see the same problem in 90% of the bios I read. I am passing this advice along.

    • Song River

      True. Getting the artist involved by placing a little of themselves makes the connection stronger.

  3. Paul Resnikoff

    I think most of the time PR people are wasting your money. If someone from the company calls me, I usually try to engage and respond. If it’s a PR person, their interests are really narrow and typically they’re are scatter-shotting dozens of other pubs too. And what if the best partnership isn’t an editorial piece? The PR person will not guide the company towards the optimal deal, because they are paid for one type of result.

    • Hunter Scott

      Those are great points, and I jumped on the opportunity to discuss them at the ASCAP panel. It is important to remember, however, that this is the main differentiating factor between an effective publicist and one that isn’t. At my firm, for example, pitches are personalized and catered to the publication. In addition, pitching implies you’re submitting an idea to the writer/editor, rather than sending a link to the music and requesting to be featured.

      To your second great point, being an effective publicist also means putting your client first. There have been many situations which I’ve connected a client with a record label, for example, knowing very well that if the record label picks them up, their press department will take over PR duties – but that’s not a reason to sacrifice integrity.

      On that same note, however, integrity is needed in all aspects of our industry, not just PR – I’ve witnessed managers turn down deals in the name of ego and sync agents turn down licensing opportunities because the upfront fee was only $2K the client wouldn’t give in to the agent’s demand to turn over a piece of the publishing in order for the agent to make more money through royalties over time (which wasn’t part of the initial contract.)

      My two mantras for these issues:
      1. Quality over quantity with press pitches
      2. A client’s success is my success no matter what

  4. The Death of the Editor

    I worked at a major music publication for 5 years. In that time many of LaFamos PR artists were featured in our magazine. Much of that because of the way Hunter handles business. I can’t speak highly enough about the professionalism… he catered his requests TO US, and didn’t send us general pressers, which made a much larger impact than other relationships we held. We needed to plug a hole, he would offer you the perfect peg.

  5. William

    Oh yeah! One of your best articles here Ari! Thank you!

  6. Mike Corcoran

    Totally agree with this article. I see so many artists spending precious crowdfunded dollars on a publicist so they can “get the word out”. Artists say they need “press coverage” or a “full album review”. For 99% of artists, this budget-busting plan is the wrong approach.

    Getting “press coverage” should be reserved for bands that have already established themselves, either on tour or through significant sales and/or streams. Local print publications have thousands of band to pick from and the capacity for around 50 bands a year. If you’re touring, find local bloggers and invite them to your show. Put them on the guest list, and you’re guaranteed a show review, possibly with nice photos to go along.

    “Full album reviews” are nowadays obsolete. It’s an outdated concept from the days when a music fan couldn’t simply google the band and listen to the music. Instead, the fan would read a review and decide if the album was worth the risk buying at a record store. Those days are a speck in the rearview mirror. In its place are blogposts with Soundcloud or Bandcamp players, along with a short blurb on your band, your new album or your current tour. This is what artists should be shooting for – posts in multiple music blogs, big and small, the more the better. Forget full album reviews, because they just don’t happen anymore.

    You can still get the word out on your new album. Just don’t waste your entire budget on a publicist who might make you feel special. That’s only because, as Ari stated, they need the paycheck.

    Mike Corcoran

    • Jim

      “Forget full album reviews, because they just don’t happen anymore.”

      If I was in a band that played a certain type of music, what I’d want is Pitchfork Best New Music Album.

      That’s a full album review, they all have numbers. Back in the day, and perhaps still, if you have a Pitchfork album review, no matter how good the review was, it meant that you were a noteworthy indie act, pretty much. If you were an indie act and you didn’t have a Pitchfork review, one might question exactly how noteworthy or indie you were. Not exactly the same today, as a Pitchfork review might mean a pop act these days, so the Pitchfork brand has been tarnished. Same basic thing with Stereogum. You want Pitchfork, you want Tiny Desk. There are just certain things aren’t really all that rare but signify accomplishment and full album review by Pitchfork is one of those.

  7. Michael Howard

    Great article Ari and it was a very informative panel as well. I’m glad that I was able to be there to capture the moment photographically. I’ve been my own publicist in the past and it can be tough to generate press. I’ve had plenty of success getting press in local news and reviews on music blogs and ezines. My band was never national news however (as awesome as I thought we were) so pitching a story to a larger publication never made sense.

    If you don’t have a cool story, you have a couple of options:

    1. Create a cool story. Do something crazy like tearing your clothes off onstage (keep your undies on or your story might be about you getting thrown in jail – Hey! Cool story!).

    2. Talk about your other interests. Hopefully you have something other than music that you’re passionate about. If not, turn on the news or scroll through Facebook or Twitter to see what people are ranting about. Maybe you’ve got an opinion about that issue and you can write a song about it and/or a story about your perspective and how that has influenced your life, your music, how you turned out to be you, whatever.

    If neither of those options work for you, it may be time to get off the couch and take a road trip with your band. Something will happen in some small town somewhere. If not, you’ve got a great story about how your band is the most boring band in the world.

    Breaking News: Boring Band Takes Road Trip and Nothing Happens!

    That seems worthy of The Onion for sure.

    You’re welcome.

  8. Dave UOG

    WOW! This article just reassured my newfound of approach of getting my Brand known. Personalized Relationships, Networking is so Key.