If you want to get publicity, it only stands to reason that you first need something to publicize, that is, something that is good that will interest someone like me enough that I'll want to write about it. Of course, it's not really quite that simple. As a writer, I have to have someone interested enough in what I'm interested in writing about to pay me to write about it-- but that's another story! All you need to know about people like me is that we're paid to write about music-- just like you (hopefully) are paid to make it-- and that there are so many of us that if one of us doesn't go for you, there are still all those of us for you to hit on!
One other thing: We're all-- in theory, at least-- looking for something fresh and new, that's news, so to speak. In other words, you want to have something that not only sounds good, but original enough to stand apart from the billions of other bands you are up against. That's what makes you a good story, and when it comes down to it, stories are what people like me actually write.
That said, when it comes to actually getting press exposure, you can start at the top (a doubtful but not impossible proposition), or start at the bottom and work your way up-- the same way that most bands do at the club level and indie record route. It's highly unlikely that a writer from Rolling Stone, say, will happen upon you at a club and give you the cover story-- which, stupidly, is what most bands aspire to and think they can get, let alone deserve. Nope, I'm afraid that like just about everything else in this business-- and life, for that matter-- you gotta pay your dues, unless, that is, you're incredibly lucky.
So, what do you do? Again, have something good, or at least different! Note, here, that if you can't be good or different musically, looks can help (Bush), so can costumes (Kiss), and stage act (The Who). But be forewarned; Being pretty, painting faces, and smashing guitars can only get you so far without having good music to back them up, and besides, they've all been done before! Facing reality, you probably want to know first what publications that cover music exist in your area, and second, who the writers are who are most likely to cover your type of music. Again, your best bets are to start small and build up, and when I say small, I mean small! Hit up the local freebie rags first, college papers next and up on to the dailies. You can send announcements or postcards to the writers and editors, and if you have guts you can even call them, though you should know that we writers are a busy bunch who aren't always nice on the phone (let alone in person!), and if we're on a deadline or talking to someone more important than you, well, you're the last person we'll want to talk to. But being the lowest in the music business food chain, we do appreciate people who are persistent, work hard, and are polite about it-- so keep all this in mind, send us whatever clips and tapes you do have (This shows us that other people like you, indicating that maybe we should, too!) and never forget that we like being the first on our block to discover something new, so if you can deliver the goods, you're doing us a favor.
Here are all three personal case studies, but understand first that I'm very visible and well known, and since I write for Billboard, people perceive that it's in their best interest to approach me and introduce themselves and try to interest me in their music. One such girl who had seen me at clubs and didn't know who I was but figured I had to be somebody, came up to me at a club and gave me a card with the name of her band and the date of her next gig, and since she was both nice and pretty I said I'd try to go and that she should call me to remind me because being disorganized, I was sure to lose the card! She called, I was busy, she called again, I went. She was good, the band was okay-- not good enough for me to push it anywhere, but I did like her enough to introduce her to Billboard's editor, who then assigned another writer to write a substantial blurb in the magazine's column for unsigned acts. Since then her band broke up, but she's kept at it , working hard and getting better and still sending out her cards and meeting helpful people in the music business, in other words, doing all the right things.
I met another pretty girl at another club who also sensed opportunity and asked me to come to her showcase after first sending me her demo tape, which sounded promising. Unfortunately, she was too eager and went to the top without having a sufficient bottom! What I mean is she put together a showcase and invited record company people and agents and other music business types without first getting her live act together. Her show, at least to me, was premature; what she should have done was at least six months of clubbing beforehand, so that when she brought down all the big guys she would have knocked them out. But she learned her lesson and is now out honing a stage act to go with her music's potential.
The third girl is also pretty, and no, don't think that I'm a dirty old man-- but I also ain't gonna lie and say that there's no such thing as good old chemistry! But this one I can name, because Kami Lyle, whom I discovered by chance as an opening act at a music industry showcase in Nashville, has signed to MCA Records-- though she already had the main ingredient for great success (originality) when I first saw her two years ago. But to her great credit, Kami was in no hurry. She was also unknown, but she had a mailing list, and was such an excellent musician and songwriter (she plays trumpet and writes pop-jazz music) that she knew all the best musicians in town and regularly collaborated with them. And while the local press was slow to pick up on her, she had a big national ally in myself; I got her in that Billboard column for unsigned acts, and sure enough, she got excellent management and then a record deal. But everything else she did herself, from sending out cards and booking gigs to doing local radio shows, and in one brilliant stroke, taking out an ad in a local rag that had previously ignored her (she didn't fit into the hip alternative scene which most writers tend to favor), merely to thank those who happened to attend her opening set for a major act for making her gig so special. Since signing with MCA, everyone in town knows who Kami is, and she's already been on one mag cover-- without having to make any concessions to who she is or what she does in order to get the exposure.
Now, of course, Kami has a major label publicist and is being coached how to deal with the national media. But that's a whole different ballgame-- and a whole lot riskier. Big time writers don't like to take big-time chances with new acts: You'll find that it's the ones that took you to the top that did so because they liked you for who you were, and hopefully still are. They're also the ones you'll want to remember most when you're at the top, because it will be nice to still have them there to catch you when us new ones drop you, and you'll find that we drop you pretty quick-- just as soon as the next good act with a good story comes along.Back to magazine