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Radio pluggers

How to choose the best music promotion team for your release

A team of people working on a music promotion project

A team of people working on a music promotion project

As is often remarked upon on these pages, a technological revolution has brought about a massive drop in the cost of access to professional recording equipment whilst at the same time furnishing musicians with an easy way to distribute music globally. This means that the number of bands in a position to make and release albums has never been higher. However, the same technological revolution has brought with it streaming, illegal downloading and the gradual death of the physical album, meaning that the rise in the number of records being released has not been accompanied by a plethora of new labels with the finances to release and promote all of them.

This has led a huge number of bands ‘going it alone’ and self-releasing their records, either with a view to getting enough of a reaction to entice one of the dwindling number of ‘proper’ labels to get involved, or generate enough of a buzz to actually turn their music-making into a viable business. Both goals are extremely difficult to achieve, but they are doable. However, generally speaking, to have any chance of meeting either, bands usually need to work with a music promo team.

What do we mean by promo team, though? Well, as a bare minimum a music promo team tends to consist of a music PR firm, who will handle print, online press and possibly some radio / TV; however, depending on budget, bands may hire a broader range of professionals, for example:

  • A music PR company
  • A national radio plugger
  • A regional radio plugger
  • A TV plugger
  • An online marketing company

Typically, the most common scenario tends to involve bands hiring a music PR firm and a national radio plugger. Regardless of the size or make-up of your team, however, it’s vital to have really good people on board; music promo services cost money and the music industry is intensely competitive – pick the wrong team and you will end up 1) throwing cash down the loo and 2) not getting anywhere. So how do you pick the right people?

1. Identify your niche, and look for people who work in that area

There are a lot of PR companies and radio pluggers out there – but some will be a better or more natural ‘match’ for your project. If you make easy-listening jazz, it stands to reason that hiring somebody who works chiefly in the area of death metal PR is not the smartest move (and vice-versa). Before you hire anyone to do anything with your music, try to define what kind of genre you are operating in and do some research into companies and individuals who specialise in that genre.

2. Be cautious of companies that say ‘yes’ to every project

Delivering a serious PR or radio campaign involves a LOT of work: identifying press angles, writing press releases, selecting the correct targets, pitching, repeated chasing and reporting on progress. There is only so much time in the day, only so many people in the office (or in the case of freelancers, just one person in the office…), so if the company you are approaching seems to be one that says ‘yes’ to every project or has a huge client roster without the team to adequately service it, tread cautiously. Always ask a few probing questions about

  • why the company particularly want to work on your project
  • what else they’ve got on at the moment
  • if they can genuinely fit your project in.

3. Beware of outlandish claims

Musicians are probably the biggest dreamers out there. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as ambition is a pre-requisite to success, but unfortunately there are a bunch of snake oil salesmen about, all too ready to guarantee fame and fortune to these dreaming musicians…for a price, of course. Success in music is attainable but it is very difficult to achieve, and you need to be working with people who understand that alongside talent, graft is the key to this success. It is far better to work with a PR or plugger who gives you a realistic set of targets and outcomes rather than one who promises stardom without giving any hint at how he or she will deliver it. As the old saying goes, if something sounds too good to be true, that’s because it usually is.

4. Shop around

It’s a good idea to approach several companies / individuals with your project and ask them to pitch for your business – by averaging out the quotes you will get a sense of how much you should be expecting to pay, and by examining the quality of the pitches and the kind of media targets each company lists in their proposals, you’ll be able to get a sense of which company or freelancer is likely to do the best job.

5. Check for rapport…

As mentioned above, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions about how a company would potentially handle your project. This will allow you to get a sense of

  • how professional an outfit is
  • how good their relationships with media contacts are
  • their understanding of how your music could fit into the media landscape.

But crucially it will help you get a sense of the kind of personality / personalities you will be dealing with at the company, because it’s crucial to be working with people that you know you can trust and whom you will have a good rapport with throughout a campaign.

6. …and check for reports

Ensure that anyone you are thinking of working with commits to regular communication and written reports outlining who’s been approached, when, and what the reaction to date is. Nail everybody down to a robust reporting schedule. If somebody seems reluctant to commit to serious reporting, that should ring alarm bells.

7. Work with people who actually like your music

Music promotion is a business; profits need to be made and bills need to be paid. This inevitably leads to people taking on music projects even though they don’t actually like the music in question. If you’re working with a professional outfit whom you are certain will do their utmost on a project regardless of their opinion on it, then that’s okay; but in an ideal world, you want to be working with people who love your project and want to work on it because of that love for it. Passion breeds good results.

Good luck with your quest to find decent people for your project – and of course, don’t forget to put us on your list of music PR companies to check out. We look forward to all the probing questions…

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Leather pants, rock gods, groupies and er, project planning?

Project planning - essential for a music release

OK, so you’ve spent 4 years recording your opus. And you’re getting ready to whack it up on iTunes and Spotify, thereby putting it within reach of a global audience of music lovers, who will, if there is any justice in this world, buy it in their droves and propel your act into the league of leather-panted rock gods.

The problem is that you are in the same boat as Lord-knows-how-many thousands of musicians all across the world, who, just like you, all aspire to wear the leather rock pants (or lycra hot pants; take your pick). The digital revolution has made it ridiculously easy to distribute your music to a global audience, but the flipside of this is that quite frankly, everybody else is doing it. You are competing with an enormous pool of ruthless, fame-hungry musicians who would sell their granny’s false teeth, or even the granny in question herself, if it meant a whiff of success.

So how can you put yourself ahead of this pack of mean, granny-selling musos? One option, of course, is to find yourself a nice sugar daddy or mommy with a shedload of cash that they are willing to plough into your career; but even then, you will probably not be home and dry. 

Although it helps enormously, cash on its own will not buy you success. It’s quite likely that your talent won’t help much either; record companies get sent fantastic music all the time – which could chart easily if given the right push – that remains completely unheard by the masses (often because the lead singer has a bad haircut, but that's another blog post).

In a nutshell – and you probably know this already – rock and roll success is one of the most difficult things to achieve, and if cash or talent alone can’t secure it, then what will? Well, it’s our view that one of the most single important things that can help give artists an edge in the quest for success, but gets repeatedly overlooked, is this: a plan.

Here’s a classic example of what we mean: a band spends thousands of pounds on an album; hires a designer to create a beautiful album cover; manufactures digipacks made of gold; hires dwarves to serve cocaine at gigs…and then sets a release date for the record that completely ignores the fact that the music press generally demand to receive an album three months in advance of its release (the ‘long lead time’). Cue no press hype, no interest from radio as a result of great reviews and finally, no sales and no leather pants and screaming teenage groupies.

There are a multitude of other examples of this kind of thing – for example, bands manufacturing CDs without ISRC codes (making it significantly harder to generate royalty income from airplay); press releases being issued without release dates; the radio plugger not being made aware of a four star Q review before talking to the head of Radio 1; barcodes not being added to CDs; artist websites not being updated with new material in time for the release and so on. All of these basic mistakes make that elusive rock success even more elusive, and generally they all stem from poor planning. Although “project management” may seem like a boring term when you put it in the same sentence as “rock stardom”, the two go hand in hand; and regardless of your budget or the quality of your material, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

So, here are 4 key tips which we think can help independent or unsigned artists plan for an effective promotional campaign.

1. Assign roles and responsibilities clearly: most serious album release projects will require a music PR company, a radio plugger, a website designer, a print designer, a distributor (and perhaps a publisher or TV plugger too). Ensure everybody is clear who is doing what, even if you are taking a DIY approach and doing a lot of the legwork yourself.

2. If at all possible, try to get one competent, organised individual to oversee the release – to act as the project manager. This person should liaise constantly with all the above stakeholders and ensure that each key project task is completed on time.

3. Get all your stakeholders in the same room and draw up a release timeline that works for everybody. Discuss press lead times, manufacturing turnaround, distribution deadlines, barcodes, ISRC codes and so on. Come out of that meeting with a project plan that contains key tasks and realistic milestones for the project.

4. Don’t ignore that project plan that you spent hours creating! Your project manager should now use it as his/her reference point throughout the entire release and tick off each task as they are completed.

Obviously, these four tips won’t guarantee rock stardom; a few little things like a serious marketing spend, a lot of good luck and that good haircut come in handy too, but hopefully having a clear, simple plan will take you a step closer to the land of the rock pants, or at least give you the best chance possible of getting there, regardless of your budget or musical prowess.

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