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Promotion For Musicians – Our Guide

a musician who is being promoted

Promotion is the act of telling people about either yourself or your music. While it’s certainly the case some publicity stunts are inspirational, unique and creative the majority of promotion for musicians is down to hard work, drawing on years of building contacts and utilising relationships. 

There are hundreds of blogs about music marketing that DIY or Indie Musicians should be doing. These all assume you have the time to become a music promoter, build websites and manage newsletters.

I don’t deny these suggestions are important if you want to be a DIY musician. However, my assumption is you only want to do your own promotion until you can afford to pay someone to do it for you, right?

Let’s focus on how to find the right people to help you as soon as possible.

The key to effective promotion for music isn’t to do it yourself. You should focus on promoting yourself to the experts – radio pluggers, PR, TV and online.

Promoting Music

In the music industry there are several marketing services who specialise in different media. You should be aware of their roles and the music marketing strategies used by each person to make them as effective as possible.

However, the following two guidelines about promotion for musicians are true regardless of what media you target:

Your promotions people are a vital part of your team. 

Be open & enthusiastic whenever you meet your promotion team . They will work harder for you if you’re excited about what you’re doing. Engage with them, ask how it’s going and if you can do anything to help them. 

Promotion teams need stories to tell.

Your music is the vital calling card. However, the media want to tell a story about you. If you watch an interview with an artist on TV you’ll be lucky if they play 30 seconds of your latest single. The rest of the feature will be asking you questions. You need to be open and try to connect.

Tom Jones is a superb example. His biggest hits were in the ‘60s. He is great live. Furthermore, he’s been a staple of UK television for over 50 years. Why? Because interviewers love interviewing him. And people like listening to his stories. He is always pleasant, polite and  gives truthful answers and is open about his past. 

Promotions people can be tricky to work with

Bear in mind, virtually all promotions people are charming, highly persuasive and appear to be your best friend. That’s how they get to be successful in what they do. They are adept at building close relationships. The result is sometimes it can be difficult to know what they really think of your music, appearance or performance.

Here’s a simple way of getting someone to tell you what they’re really thinking.

If you ask someone, “What do you think of {X}?”, most people, even promotions people, don’t like giving bad news, especially to the artist. They will say “It’s fine” or “Yeah, I really like it”

So your next question should be, “How do you think it could be improved?”. Now you’re asking them an open question, which gives them an opportunity to provide any negative comments in a constructive way. Use this to find out what people are really thinking!

Hiring a good music PR

Early in your career the first promotions person you hire will likely be an online press person.

To connect with more fans you must bring your music to the attention of music bloggers. These are the people who will quickly connect you to the most music enthusiasts. 

  • Do your research. PR tend to specialise in certain genres. Rock. Pop. Dance. Jazz. Folk. If in doubt, ask them to name examples of blogs where they’ve had features.
  • Call a few prospects and explain you’re a new band. Naturally, they will want to hear you first. Send them a link to your EPK. They will probably offer to re-write your biography. Ask how much.
  • Negotiate an introductory rate. This is a test – if they liked your music they’ll probably agree to lower their rate. If they didn’t feel your music they’ll probably stick to their guns. In which case, call someone else.
  • Ask tough questions – I worked in a music promotions company for 5 years. I’m slightly ashamed to say I worked with a few artists who I didn’t fully appreciate, musically. If that’s the case, and your promotions person is simply doing it for the money, you’ll never get the 110% effort you deserve. If someone doesn’t feel your music, they’re not a bad person but you should think twice about hiring them for your team.

Hiring a radio plugger

The DJ’s you hear on radio are the recognisable voices of the radio station. However, working alongside them are many other people who decide the station’s music policy. The typical radio station has a weekly music meeting where a committee will decide the songs to play on their daytime shows (evening time shows usually have a bit more freedom). The people in this meeting will include the DJ’s, the heads of music, station director and marketing. Getting your music into the hands of these people is the important part.

You can try doing it yourself. However, getting a meeting with one of them is difficult. Or, you can email the DJ’s directly but so are hundreds of other artists and the DJ would have to present it in the programming meeting. 

To introduce new music to a radio station you need a Radio Plugger. They play an essential role in promotion for musicians.

What does a radio plugger do?

A radio plugger’s role is to build relationships with the right people within a radio station. It takes many years of effort so they can present new music on a weekly basis. 

When I worked at Sony Music it felt like a standing joke whenever I went out. I’d see the label’s radio pluggers sitting outside one of the many pubs in Soho. “Working hard?”, I’d say. Thing is, yes, they were. The people sitting with them worked at radio stations. Being wined & dined, the old fashioned way.

My partner in London was a music programmer for one of London’s biggest commercial radio stations. Every evening she’d come home with ‘gifts’. Band merch, tickets to shows, bottles of wine. This wasn’t payola, you understand. Simply ‘stuff’ the pluggers happened to have when they visited the station. I remember going to see Ash play a brilliant concert in Kentish Town. We were met at the door, shown to the best seats overlooking the stage, enjoyed table service, free drinks and a taxi home. Paid for by the label. Not payola, you understand. Simply the label being friendly.  

You may not agree with it but this is how most industries work. Promotion for musicians is no different.

Radio stations will monitor indicators such as the Spotify Viral 50 or the YouTube new music channels. If they notice a buzz around a track or an artist they’ll be curious. However, it’s unlikely they will play your track purely on the strength Spotify plays.

You shouldn’t employ a radio plugger before you have achieved some decent activity numbers. Downloads, plays, YouTube views, gig ticket sales etc. You need a story before you go to radio. It can work out to be expensive otherwise for little return. 

What does a radio plugger need?

Recognise that as much as a radio plugger can use their personal relationships, they can be more effective with additional tools. If you employ a radio plugger for a campaign then provide them with as much ‘ammo’ as possible.

  • Can they offer a competition, giving away merch or signed memorabilia? 
  • Offer free tickets to a gig?
  • Will you do an interview with one of the DJ’s?
  • Can you do a live session?
  • Offer the station a ‘first play’ of the track

Be proactive and offer the plugger these things before they ask you. Like any normal person, a plugger will work harder for an artist who appears motivated and enthusiastic. Building your network means keeping people enthused and getting them to fight your corner.

Radio stations want a track that is around 3 minutes 30 seconds. If your track is longer you need to cut a radio edit.

Radio still has to comply with 9pm watersheds. Any swearing on your track will need to be bleeped or edited out. You may not agree but don’t expect daytime radio play if you don’t.

Radio Promotion for Musicians: What a plugger needs

  • CD’s or a WAV of the track. Radio stations want to play the highest quality version of the track they can get. They don’t want an MP3. They don’t, to my knowledge, play streams yet.
  • An EPK
  • A meeting with you, where they will want to hear your story.

If a broadcaster plays your track they will need the P and C lines from you – that is, copyright information on master recording and publishing shares.

A plugger will typically agree to promote your music for a set period of time, say 1 to 3 months. In return they will send you a report each week telling you which stations they’ve contacted, the reaction of the station and if they’re going to play the track. Take this report with a pinch of salt.

Be aware, most pluggers will say all the right things to you before they accept your money. Successful pluggers (the ones you want to work with) are naturally charming and persuasive people. They won’t lie to you simply to get your money, although they can’t guarantee plays.

When to Hire a Radio Plugger

The ideal time to employ a plugger is when you know you have a discernible buzz building around your track. I’ve seen vast sums of money wasted on employing promotion people to build a buzz. That was the old, expensive hit-and-miss way. Now, you will know if your track triggers a response on social media or music blogs before investing your money. If the buzz isn’t happening, maybe re-cut the track or release a new one. 

Radio play is a good way of getting your track heard by the mainstream. It can propel your music from a small circle of ‘in-the-know- people to a wider audience. 

If the time isn’t right to employ a plugger, local radio stations will usually champion local bands. Aim to get spot plays during evening shows. You can usually find submission details on their website. If the station get a good audience reaction they’ll likely follow up. Invite the DJ to any local shows you do. If they attend then do your best to meet them, even if it’s just to shake their hand. Your manager should offer to buy them a drink. Remember, it’s about building your network.

TV Promotion For Musicians

Opportunities to appear live on TV have diminished in the UK. Now there are only a few shows who will book a band to play live. However, there are still a lot of daytime talk shows who will feature a band’s new single followed by an interview. The rules of engagement are similar to radio & press – be prepared and have something to say.

If you’re nervous in front of the camera don’t think this makes you unworthy of being a star. Have you considered media training? Or perhaps a course like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can help overcome nerves. 

On TV there are two important aspects for you to consider:

Your Appearance

Get ready for a harsh truth – looks matter. Looks are not the same as attractiveness. Attractiveness doesn’t matter in love or relationships. But in music your ‘look’ is your brand. Your image is a vital part of your overall appeal to an audience. If you don’t make an effort it won’t be the end of your career. No-one will hold it against you if you show up in your usual casual wear. But make an effort and it can leave a significant impression in the mind of the audience. 

If in doubt, ask your TV promotions person. This is why they’re a vital part of your team. They can advise on your appearance and appropriate wear. But bare in mind, advice is just an opinion. And like my old record company chairman used to say, “Opinions are like arseholes. Everybody’s got one”.

What You Say

A researcher or the interviewer will likely chat with you before the interview happens. They’ll discuss an outline of what the interview will be about. Maybe it’s the story behind the album. Maybe it’s an issue you feel passionately about. Be prepared.

Do not appear blasé or bored at being asked the same questions. For instance, when I worked with Jay Kay from Jamiroquai he used to get terribly wound up when anyone asked him about his hats. “I’ve got a new album out but all they want to know is about my fucking hat”, he’d moan backstage. However, on screen he’d smile and talk about his latest hat as if it was the first time he’d ever been asked. 

Press & Online

Or Public Relations / Press Relations / Communications

Amongst the first people to discover you will be music journalists and bloggers. 15 years ago the music press was so powerful a front cover on NME could break a band. Now, most of the old guard has disappeared, replaced by blogs. 

Music journalists tend to be obsessives. They eat, sleep and breathe music. They dream about music, discovering the next big thing in music and hanging out with musicians. They’re talented, enthusiastic and highly motivated.

And they can also be sarcastic, highly judgmental and opinionated. It’s part of the job!

Music bloggers are a crucial part of the promotion for musicians. They listen to music all day. If something stands out they’ll be curious. But with so much music out to be heard, it takes an exceptional track to grab their attention.

Similar to radio, a good band promotion person will have built up relationships with bloggers over years so when they call to promote a song, the blogger will listen. 

In just the same way as a radio plugger you need to give your press person something to work with. A story, some cool photos, cover artwork.

PR music promotion tactics

  • Exclusive photos, news and tour dates
  • Competitions
  • Access to the artist

In the early days at Sony Music, we’d have debates with the press team, who insisted the tour dates should be exclusive to the NME rather than the artist website. In fairness, it’s a balance. Give exclusive information to the press and in return you build a relationship. 

Never underestimate what makes a press story. Lost equipment, car won’t start, you’ve just had dental treatment, dyed your hair. It may seem trivial but to a press person these small nuggets of information can be used to call bloggers and place a story about you. 

You need a good press person on your team. Your network will gradually grow to include bloggers who may or may not be fans. Treat them with respect and politeness. Remember, they’re obsessed with music even if they’re not obsessed with you. 

Managing your social media

Many Press companies now offer ‘Social Media’ services, figuring it all comes under ‘Communications’. 

Despite having written 2 ebooks on Social Media (A Musician’s Guide To Social Media and Twitter Marketing For Musicians, both on Amazon) I find this is a difficult area for artists to exploit effectively. 

You can divide people into two groups – those who like social media and those who despise it. If you like it then it’s likely you’ll already be doing it. Posting shots of yourself, updating people on new tracks, short videos. In which case, you don’t need to be persuaded to do it.

On the other hand, if you’re in the ‘despise it’ category, then being told you MUST do social media to be taken seriously as an artist is down-heartening, demotivating and not helpful  If you don’t like social media, for whatever reason, then very little will persuade you otherwise. Furthermore, if you do it reluctantly, without enthusiasm you’ll be bad at it. Bad social media = bad promotion for musicians!

Who can do your Social Media?

This is why you need people in your network who can do social media promotion for musicians. Just because you don’t like something, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. For many people in the media and your fans, social media is the most effective way of receiving news about your music, tours or videos. It’s an essential communications tool that can reach thousands of people for virtually no cost.

If you don’t like doing it don’t ignore social media. The solution is to find someone in your network:

  1. The obvious choice is your management because they know most about your activities.
  2. Record Label: They’re motivated to do it but only in so far as it helps sell more records
  3. A fan: Can work. Both Jamiroquai and The Prodigy had input from fans on their social media since neither band liked doing it much.

Promotion is essential for musicians. Without it, your songs will gather virtual dust at the back of Spotify’s <1,000 plays folder. With a good team in place the media act as a loud-hailer who amplify your message, reaching both current and new fans alike.

Promotion for Musicians, Conclusion

  • Promotion is costly. Good people don’t come cheap. Use them when the time is right. 
  • Get the most from your investment. Keep your promotions team motivated, enthusiastic and give them content to work with.
  • The media needs stories. These don’t have to be intrusive or pry into your private life. But give interviewers something interesting, personal and is likely to connect with your audience..
  • Don’t underestimate your appearance. It doesn’t matter if you agree with it or not, people will be judgemental. Make it a positive one.
  • Getting good promotions people is vital to your success as an artist. You can’t reach every radio station or music blogger on your own. Don’t assume the media will find you simply because you’ve uploaded your latest single onto DistroKid!
  • The media needs you as much as you need them. They thrive on the new, discovering talent and sharing it with their audience. Keep on feeding their appetite!

You’re a musician. You don’t have to be a social media influencer or a digital marketing expert. But you need to know what makes good promotion for musicians so you can make it easy for the people doing it for you.

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