Here’s a bit of bad news: musicians need to view themselves not just as tortured souls who put heart on sleeve and plectrum to guitar, but sales people. Yep, sadly (and you probably already knew this deep down anyway), as a muso, you are as much in the business of doing a cold sell as you are making that beautiful brand of neo-shoegaze-goth-dubstep-grimey-indie-post-rock.
Once you face the inevitable and embrace your role as a sales rep, invariably you will find yourself approaching managers, publishers, producers, record labels, journalists, bloggers, film directors and tea boys trying to convince them of the merits of your music; you may even end up trying to convince selective radio pluggers and PR companies, who you actually want to pay, that it is worth taking money off you. And, as any sales rep (or hapless Apprentice contestant) will tell you, how successful you are at selling will all boil down to the quality of the pitch.
Fortunately, there is some good news: we at Prescription PR are here to give you some key tips on how to sell your music to the music industry.
1. Know your audience
Research who you are approaching in depth. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to an MD of a record company, a journalist at The Guardian or a teenager who’s doing work experience at a local studio, you need to
- be sure that they actually deal with the kind of music you make and
- be able to demonstrate to that person that you are familiar with the kind of things they do, or artists they work with.
That way, you can avoid wasting people’s time (including your own) and personalise your approach. An industry contact is far more likely to deal with you if it is obvious that you know about, and more importantly, are interested in, the kinds of things they do. So mention that A&R’s roster / latest project / new haircut and how much you admire it when you are talking to them. We all have egos that need to be stroked.
2. Make it easy for people you are approaching to hear your music
As we now live in a digitised global village, yada yada, most initial pitches these days will take place over email. And people get tons of emails. And when they open an email, they don't really read it in any depth whatsoever. As such, it’s vital that you make it really quick and easy for the people you are hassling to actually hear your music. So, ensure prominent links to both a stream AND a download are present in all emails (so that people can listen to something immediately and also whack it on their iPod and jog to your dulcet tones later). Soundcloud and Dropbox respectively – two excellent free services – are good for letting you do this. (It’s even worth offering to send people a CD upon if they want one, as some people have an odd attachment to and reliance upon this antiquated format.)
3. Don’t crash anybody's Outlook
Don’t attach a 40MB surround sound version of your song to an email to anyone. (You may think the above advice is so obvious that it is not worth imparting, but you’d be surprised at the number of alarmingly huge files that get sent to Prescription PR, and how they bugger up our email. And yes, we're talking music here, not saucy pics.) Even in this day and age of uber-fast broadband, big files crash email programs and there are very few things in life more irritating than the spinning wheel / blue screen of death that invariably pops up when a musician thinks it appropriate to send ridiculously big files to a genial and sexy but unsuspecting, tired and overworked music publicist. Even if you eschew the well-known 'attachment method' of annoying industry contacts, providing links to very big WAV files that take ages to download will also probably ensure that your music never gets played by the people you’re sending it to. A link to a stream and a download of a well-produced but relatively petite MP3 file is generally the way to go.
4. Provide a good range of background information about your act – but don’t overdo it
Include a brief summary of your act’s history and music in your pitch emails. Give your contacts a good sense of who you are, what kind of noise you make and a short list of past achievements. But don’t go overboard and write an essay; if you must wax lyrical about your band, provide links in your pitch email to locations where you are doing said waxing – for example, point people in the direction of that tenderly-crafted biography on your website which says that you’re the best thing since Peter Andre. Other perhaps more helpful things to point people in the direction of include hi-res pictures, videos of you performing live and so on. Or hard cash.
5. Ensure your promotional materials look and sound good
Be selective about what you send people. If you have crappy band pics, it may be wiser to omit them from your pitch than send an A&R a boring, low-res picture your mate took of your slightly overweight band standing up up against a wall in Hackney. And, of course, make sure the music you send is produced to a good standard. Even if you’ve just written the modern day equivalent of Bohemian Rhapsody, make sure you’re not just emailing people a demo of it recorded on a dictaphone. These days, every musician has a Pro Tools setup in their lavatory and music industry contacts generally expect higher production values as a result of these now-ubiquitous studios-in-the-jacks.
6. Don’t pitch until you’re ready
It’s very tempting, upon recording that sure-fire hit, to think “God, that’s an amazing song, I’m so talented, I simply must send this demo post-haste to that A&R called Nigel that I met the other night in that interesting bar in Soho.” But wait a minute. What if Nigel actually likes the demo? Have you any other songs to follow it up with that will further pique his interest? Are there any gigs planned? Do you have 100,000 Facebook fans handy to help you fit into the ‘low-hanging fruit’ category of artist that gets signed these days? Nigel has a short attention span. He’ll listen to your song once. But even if he likes it, if you don’t have any more material, gigs or any sort of a fanbase handy, it’s likely that Nigel will stop taking your calls pretty quickly. The lesson: don't pitch until you're ready.
And finally, after reading this article, don’t send Prescription your latest album and ask us to do our usual great music PR campaign thingy for you. Oh alright then, I suppose you can. Here’s the link.
About The Prescription
'The Prescription' is written by independent musician and Head of Digital Communications and Irish PR at Prescription PR, Chris Singleton.