The music industry can seem like a vast and scary place for those on the outside. Whether you're looking to become a backend creative (PR, management, agent,etc.), or you're an artist looking for a way to get to the next level, the whole thing can seem like an absolute clusterfuck upon first glance. Luckily for you, we've got a few cool friends with a helluva lot of knowledge that are helping us answer some of your questions in our monthly segment Phone A Friend, where we connect some of the most exciting industry up-and-comers with you and we help you answer any questions you for these mysterious music people.
This month we chatted with some of our favorite publicists in the game- Nancy Lu at Fancy PR, James Cunningham atPurple PR, and Rory Webb at Audible Treats, about what a day in the life of a publicist means, as well as sending them a chance to answer all of your burning questions about the PR game.
Nancy, James, and Rory all represent a different facet of working in PR within the industry. Nancy has started her own company, Fancy PR, and has an impressive roster that includes the likes of Brenmar, Phoebe Ryan, and Kiesza, among many others. James is based in the UK, and handles clients as on the come-up like Jodie Abacus and Bromance Records, to as established as Major Lazer and Pusha T, while Rory Webb is the senior publicist at Audible Treats, a respected PR powerhouse (notably in Hip Hop) in New York, that represents a roster like Saba, Iamsu!, and T.I..
SO WHAT EXACTLY DOES A PEEK INTO THEIR WORK LIVES LOOK LIKE?
For all of them, connecting and maintaining relationships on all levels throughout the day is quintessential to their daily work. All of them explain that there are two massive components to the job:
1) communicating with journalists and promoting their clients and
2) being there for their artists come time for meetings, interviews, and photoshoots; these two parts toggle back and forth, depending on the date/time/and who's in town.
It's a stunningly difficult combination of being present simultaneously IRL and URL that the music business relies on and where publicists need to thrive. Nancy furthermore mentions the "time sensitive" nature of her job (for example, in the music world, songs/video/generally anything have a harder time grabbing attention the longer it's out for public view), while James and Rory stress the importance of emails throughout the day and night, accommodating those in various time zones across the world, which can mean phone calls, meetings, and emails before and after the typical working hours.
Oh, and as for who they are listening to these days? We've asked our friends to send us some artists, of which we've listed below:
- Rejjie Snow
- Awesome Tapes (Label)
- Sofi Tukker
- Swim Team - it's a rapper Izy and crew of producers Color Plus, Fugitive, Kanyon, AceMo, and a few more.
At what point in a person’s career would you suggest they get a publicist? - Patrick Plank
James Cunningham: I think you should have a solid body of work to your name first. It often helps to get management before PR, but some artists need the exposure to catch industry ears before they get a manager. The most important thing is that you need to have a solid understanding of your sound and just have some great songs. Bonus points for a strong visual identity to your music or yourself, but the music comes first.
“A publicist should be one of the first steps an artist takes in expanding from local to national.
— Rory Webb, Audible Treats
Nancy Lu: I think it's important to have a publicist on board at any point in an artist's career. Having the right publicist on board when you're about to launch a project can make all of the difference. A publicist who "gets" who you are as an artist and what your music is about will be able to craft a good story for your project and help catapult your musical vision.
Rory Webb: A publicist should be one of the first steps an artist takes in expanding from local to national. A significant amount of music media businesses are based in New York, so for artists not in NYC, having a publicist/PR team on board as your feet on the ground here is helpful. There's a lot an artist and their manager can do on their own to begin building their fanbase/audience and start bringing in income - generating interest with music/videos, booking local/regional shows, developing social media presence, getting merch made. By having those things in order, you're setting yourself up to get a great value out of a publicist.
How do you retain a publicist, and what should I look for in one? - Anonymous
JC: I think often times it’s as simple as getting in touch with PR agencies with your work. Most agencies are interested in finding the next thing to be excited about, so if there’s an agency that specializes in the music you make, you should send them a casual (yet intriguing) e-mail. As far as what to look for, it’s important that the agency fits the tone and sound of your music, but also that they have previous success stories. If an agency has a reputation for breaking in new artists in your genre of music, it’s a safe bet that they’re going to know how to implement an effective strategy that’s right for you.
NL: As with all things, definitely do your research. Look up some of your favorite rising artists/artists you feel are in the same vein as your own project and who their publicists are. When reaching out, include all relevant information about your project - Soundcloud links, press photo, bio, and anything else that you feel is interesting. Make sure that the publicist you end up bringing on board who is as excited about the music as you are.
“Make sure that the publicist you end up bringing on board who is as excited about the music as you are.
— Nancy Lu, Fancy PR
RW: I can't speak for all, but at Audible Treats, we have a submissions email that artists can submit music and info about themselves to that our team will review internally. If we like the music and see potential in the artist, and if we believe it's a good fit for us, then retainers are discussed. If the artist's budget matches the rates of the publicist/PR company's services, then the parties move forward.
If you're a hip-hop artist, you'd want to find a PR company that works with a good amount of hip-hop and gets their current clients coverage on the platforms where you'd like to see your music posted - this shows that the publicist has pre-existing relationships with the writers/blogs that you're looking to be on. In many cases for new artists, it's a marathon and not a sprint. Think of hiring a publicist as adding a new member to the team. A publicist won't make an artist a star in a week, but over the span of a few months a good publicist can add structure to the rolling out of an album/EP/mixtape while strategically presenting music via a variety of writers and platforms that can reach new fans and other industry insiders (booking agents, labels, sponsors).
“In many cases for new artists, it’s a marathon and not a sprint.
— Rory Webb, Audible Treats
If/when I get a publicist, how do I know that I’m paying a fair price? - Tony Williams
NL: I think this again goes to doing your research and doing price comparisons. Also when being quoted a rate, definitely ask what all is included.
JC: This is a hard one to answer. For an unsigned artist, any PR budget can be expensive, but if you’ve got a great publicist, it will be invaluable.
RW: First, you should explore your options - reach out to a few publicity companies, have a couple conversations. Finding a person/team that is enthusiastic about you and your music is priceless. The cost for publicity can vary greatly - in some instances, the $500/month publicist will get better results than the $5,000/month publicist. It's really about finding the right person for what you're trying to accomplish both in the immediate weeks/months and long-term months/years.
If I’m not at the point where I can get a publicist, what are some effective ways I can work on building an audience? –Anonymous
“Short, sweet, casual and interesting is best, and make sure to follow up a few times over the course of a few weeks. Other than that, there’s nothing you can do. Just never take it personally, because it generally never is.
— - James Cunningham, Purrple PR
RW: Network with local artists, visit local clothing stores, attend open mics and shows at local venues, try to meet the hosts and program directors at local college radio stations - be humble and make friends. Don't be afraid to hop on a bus or drive to neighboring cities - take a bus to NYC for the next Pigeons & Planespresents No Ceilings showcase and introduce yourself to people. Also, be active on social media and use it develop relationships.
If you're a fan of Allan Kingdom and he releases a new song, be genuine and personable, send him a tweet and say "@AllanKingdom hey man, I like the way you did that with your vocals on the second verse, sending props from Pittsburgh." Maybe he'll respond, maybe he won't - either way, it's putting out positive energy and it's being proactive about developing relationships. Developing your presence on SoundCloud, releasing music there, and interacting with your peers on there can be beneficial too.
JC: I’d recommend checking blogs and editorial sites that you’re interested in and just e-mailing them. A lot of them, especially blogs, are often receptive to new band, and if you offer them premieres of your tracks it might catch their attention. Check Hype Machine for a great starting point for a directory of blogs.
“If you’re a fan of Allan Kingdom and he releases a new song, be genuine and personable, send him a tweet and say “@AllanKingdom hey man, I like the way you did that with your vocals on the second verse, sending props from Pittsburgh.” Maybe he’ll respond, maybe he won’t - either way, it’s putting out positive energy and it’s being proactive about developing relationships.
— Rory Webb, Audible Treats
What are your thoughts on paying for promotion on social media? What are the pros and cons of paying for an audience? -Anonymous
JC: I don’t think unsigned artists should do this. It’s more of something that’s used once an artist has a bit more profile/label behind them and an actual audience to engage with. Better to look for management or try and retain a booking agent/publicist first.
RW: There are times when paying for promo on social media may make sense, but I'm generally opposed to it. You'd be paying for views/visibility more than an actual audience. Paying for an ad around a single or album release on iTunes could make sense, but I don't have any data showing how effective it is. I've personally never paid for an advertisement, so to quote Pharrell, "I'm not comfortable" speaking on it.
I'm an artist from Milwaukee. As my own manager I often have to reach out directly to various writers and bloggers. I come across as genuine as possible. I compliment them on their work and try to mention something about them that makes the conversation relatable. Once that’s established I give a very brief pitch and thank him or her for their time. What I'm noticing is just a pure lack of engagement. Am I wrong in my approach? I'm pretty confident in my content. - Anonymous
JC: This is a difficult question to answer. To be frank, the sheer amount of emails that bloggers and writers get every day is astounding, and what we forget is that they tend to have lives too. Instead of asking “why are they not coming back to me”, ask instead “why should they”? Long, lengthy and relatable pitches usually aren’t effective as most writers will never meet you, and probably not looking for friends. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a great relationship with them, but that comes with time.
Instead, you’re better off checking out what they like and are interested in and trying to cater your pitch around that. Luckily, you have tons of their writing online for reference to brush up on! Then think about “how can I concisely capture this person’s attention enough to at least click on my link”, which is all you want them to do. Short, sweet, casual and interesting is best, and make sure to follow up a few times over the course of a few weeks. Other than that, there’s nothing you can do. Just never take it personally, because it generally never is.
“Instead of asking “why are they not coming back to me”, ask instead “why should they”?
— -James Cunningham, Purple PR
RW: Patience and persistence would be my key words of advice. Also, if you're leading off the pitch by being too complimentary or conversational then people may not even realize you're sending your music. Make sure you're clearly stating the result that you're looking for. Give the writer 48 hours to respond. If they don't, then try following up - go to the email you already sent.
Again, maybe you'll get a response, maybe not - at that point, try sending to another blog/writer. And when you have the next single ready, then try reaching out to that person again and do the same thing, explaining a bit of the story/creative process specific to that single. Be patient, be persistent, and be realistic - Rolling Stone isn't going to post a single from a new artist that, for the most part, no one has heard of. There are sites that specialize is posting music from new artists, and even there it may take weeks-months to catch a writer's attention.