Question You Must Answer When
Promoting Your Music
by Bob Baker
I'm going to use up this entire article dealing
with one subject, because I think it's vital to the success
of your music promotion efforts. Every day I see the same
mistakes being made in this area and feel I owe it to you
to drive this crucial point home.
Suppose you walked into your local record store
and one of the employees (a complete stranger to you) came
up and handed you a box filled with CDs and said, "Here,
these are extra promo copies. You can have any CD you want
out of the box."
Now let's pretend that you were not familiar
with any of these artists. As you picked up each CD to consider
whether or not you wanted it, what would be the first question
to pop into your head? In other words, what basic question
would you need to answer first before you could make an intelligent
(and quick) decision on which one you'd take?
Would it be "Who produced this CD?"
Would it be "What record label put this
How about "What are the names of the musicians
and what instruments do they play?"
Would it be "I wonder how great these
folks think their own music is?"
Hopefully, you've come to the same conclusion
that I have. The first question that anyone asks when encountering
new music is: "What kind of music is this?"
I've used this box of free CDs example to make
a point: This is exactly the same position that music editors,
radio program directors, A&R people and music publishers
are in when they receive your unsolicited recordings along
with dozens of others. Even though it's great to think that
everyone already knows who you are and what you do, the sad
truth is that most of your contacts will be clueless. That's
why giving them the first (and most important) clue up front
Human beings need some way to process information
and file it away in the proper place in their heads before
proceeding to any follow-up questions, such as "Where
is this band from?" or "What unique spin do they
put on this genre?" Without creating a mental category
or comparison to something fans are already familiar with,
it's nearly impossible to get to these important follow-up
questions. And if you can't move this sorting-out process
along in a swift manner, your music marketing efforts end
up dead in the water.
Why, then, do so many people who promote music
either ignore answering this fundamental question -- "What
kind of music is this?" -- or bury the answer so deep
in their press materials that the reader gives up out of
frustration before ever uncovering it?
Unless you are (or are working with) a well-known
artist, the people receiving your promo kits will be in the
dark as to who you are and what you play. Your job, therefore,
is to answer that first all-important question right off
the bat: "What kind of music is this?" It should
be one of the first things people see when viewing your press
Here's an example I randomly pulled out of
the overflowing box of review CDs in my office not long ago
when I was a music editor. When opening the package, the
first thing I see is a cover letter. Here's how it reads
(I've changed the name of the person, label and band to protect
"My name is John Jones, vice-president
of Widget Records, here in New York. I'm writing to announce
that one of our bands, the Losers, will be playing in St.
Louis on July 24."
It's important to Jones that he announces who
he is and what he does right off the bat. I'm sure this makes
him feel good about himself. But how does this introduction
move him closer to his goal of getting media coverage for
the poor Losers? At least I know about the St. Louis date,
something that should matter to me. But since I don't know
what kind of music this is, I'm not impressed. On to the
"The Losers' music is already on national
college and commercial radio."
Excellent. His mother must be very proud of
him. But is this jazz radio? Alternative radio? Polka radio?
Ten stations? Eight hundred stations? Huh? I'm still being
kept in the dark.
"The Losers are a new band founded in
1994 in New York City. These shows are part of the year-long
tour to promote their debut album."
More senseless background details before I
even know what kind of music this band plays. But one thing
I do know is that Jones sure likes talking about his band
and its accomplishments. Now I'm starting to doze off from
"The Losers' music combines Celtic violin
with punk-influenced distorted guitars and melodic rock vocals
What? A description of the music? Say it isn't
so! And I only had to wait till the fourth paragraph to get
it. And it ends up being a pretty cool description: Celtic
violin with punk guitars. Now that's different. That's something
I'd like to pop in the CD player and check out. What a great
media hook for the band.
Unfortunately, the label's vice-president has
done the group a disservice by burying this vital piece of
information in a dreary cover letter. Most media people would
have given up on it long before they got to the intriguing
But this never occurred to Jones. It was much
more important for him to pound his chest and proclaim his
name, title, city and the fact that his as-yet-undefined
band was getting radio airplay. What a missed opportunity!
Don't make this same error.
How much better it would have been if his letter
went something like this:
When we first told people we had signed a band that combined Celtic violins
with distorted punk guitars and melodic rock vocals, they told us we were
crazy. But we proved them all wrong with the Losers, a band that is now
on a major roll. Last month alone, over 325 college stations around the
country were playing cuts off the band's new self-titled CD. And now you
can experience the Losers for yourself when they come to St. Louis on July
24. I think your readers would get a kick out of hearing about this unusual
Celtic/violin/ punk/melodic mixture ..."
This version (though it could probably be reshaped
and made even stronger) pulls you in and lets you know what
you're dealing with quickly and interestingly -- as opposed
to Jones's dry resume listings.
Now take a look at some of the promotional
tools you're using right now. What's the first thing you
see? Your address? The band members' names? The record label
name? Some vague reference to how impressive your music is
without a specific definition of it?
Stop beating around the bush and start getting
to the heart of the matter. Media and industry people are
partly overworked and partly lazy. Don't shroud your message
in mystery, hoping it will tease people and make them read
further. Remember this important rule: No one will ever be
as interested in reading your press materials as you will.
So give them what they need up front, fast and simple.
And answer the most important question first: "What
kind of music is this?"
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