My band Green Smoke Wizard is really awesome! We are working on a new album and we want the whole world to hear it. Should we hire a PR company?
Thanks for getting in touch! You'll be relieved to know that I have a definitive response to your question about hiring a PR company to work with Green Smoke Wizard. Just let me gaze into my crystal ball..... Thank you Pexels for this stock photo, I don't have dreads anymore and I have wayyyyyyy less tattoos than this chick....
The answer is......
First off, is your music something special, or is it just a pale imitation of another band imitating Mastodon? If that's the case, forget the PR idea and just play for your friends at bars -- or in Facebook livestreams these days....
But let's say that Green Smoke Wizard really is something special. Curtis Dewar of Dewar PR recommends that you prepare good photos, good artwork, and an active social media presence on Facebook and at least one other popular platform before reaching out to PR companies. Launching a campaign without those aspects already in the works will make it more difficult to get the press you're looking for.
Now let's talk about what you can expect from a non-shitty PR company that works with underground bands. Scott Alisoglu, who runs Clawhammer PR, puts it nicely:
"Reputable, established PR companies are able to provide guidance, and are in possession of a valuable asset developed over many years: an organized, continually updated database of worldwide media contacts to whom digital promos and press releases are sent. More than anything else, bands benefit from working with a company that knows the 'ins and outs' and 'dos and don'ts,' as well as being familiar with all of those nuances specific to different media outlets, which comes with years of engagement and experience."
When I put on my music journalist hat, I find what Scott says to be accurate; most of the bands I cover on my music blog are "discovered" through my ongoing relationships with certain PR companies. (Dewar PR and Clawhammer are two of them.) Plus, every "real" band that has inspired Green Smoke Wizard has PR services -- either paid for by their label or out of their own pockets. I've got ten years worth of promo emails to prove it....
With the musician hat on, I can say that working with a PR company has helped my bands get coverage in publications that I never could have reached myself, despite my experience in music journalism -- one band even got a write-up in Metal Hammer!
But at what cost? There's a wide price range for PR services -- from $400 for a three-month album release campaign to $1250 or more. What kind of money is Green Smoke Wizard willing to throw at a chance for publicity?
(On the other hand, how much money did you spend on making your album? Do you want people other than your friends to listen to it? Recording with Black Metal Dave ain't cheap!)
This is a good time to point out that PR is not a guarantee of sales. In fact, many underground bands find that while their investment in public relations is worthwhile in terms of press coverage, they don't make the cost back in subsequent sales. Mark Kitchens from Texas doom band Stone Machine Electric said of his band's recent PR campaign,
"The PR interaction and reviews we got were great, and we got lots of interviews through it too. The downside was we haven't recouped that cost. Coronavirus and our release date didn't play nice -- released the album on 3/27/20, so the pandemic was (and still is?) the bigger news. That, and lots of folks getting laid off. It was hard to push our stuff more when there are other bands out there actually making a living through music. We would do PR again, but we need to fill the budget back up."
Still, PR is a long game; connections that start small can pay off in the future. Monica Strut, frontwoman of Aussie band The Last Martyr, says, "PR is the gift that keeps on giving. Nine months after our last release, the relationships we've formed with media outlets are still strong. We're still getting features, playlist ads, and interviews because they simply just like my band. Anyone that doesn't do PR is crazy!"
It's worth noting that Monica works in social media marketing, so she is well-equipped to take any PR successes and amplify them. Scott from Clawhammer adds, "In most cases, a band's skill set is in the musical rather than the managerial/organizational realm, the latter of which is what a PR company can provide. That said, those bands with members that are organized and task-oriented contribute to the most successful campaigns. Those same bands may be able to accomplish quite a bit on their own, assuming clear-eyed recognition of the time and discipline required, not to mention an understanding that much of the work will need to take place well ahead of album release -- including building/verifying a sizeable enough database of contacts to make an impact. In those cases, it is a matter of cost/benefit, a large part of which is the value of one's time and the level of experience with the industry."
I'll caution that no matter how task-oriented you are, Geezerella, running your own PR campaign is a lot of work. I've done it... So here are my suggested "next steps" for Green Smoke Wizard:
Talk with your bandmates about your collective goals and what kind of financial commitment you are willing to make.
If public relations fits in with your goals and budget, reach out to PR companies in time to get a campaign started 2-3 months before your album's expected release. (This timetable is important! You will get much better press with a little more time on your side.)
When talking with potential PR companies, ask about prices for a full campaign vs. a la carte services like press release blasts and premiere setups. Make sure they work with other bands in your subgenre; ask them to share some recent coverage they've gotten for clients.
Once you begin your campaign, take an active role in sharing press, generating leads, and interacting with fans. It is NOT time to sit back. To get the most bang for your buck, look at yourself as a "partner" in the campaign -- rather than thinking, "Okay, I paid this guy/girl, now people will magically love my band." Keith Morash of Infecting Cells PR says, "Think of a company that launches a new product. There are PR campaigns, coupled with advertisement campaigns... I think a lot of people assume they are the same, but a band is like any other business. You are selling a product."
What if Green Smoke Wizard decides that PR isn't for them, or they just don't have the dough? Here's how you can take a stab at getting press on your own:
Cultivate an active social media presence well before your album release date. Follow and interact with publications that cover your subgenre. (Twitter is great for this, BTW.)
You will need a bio, a press release, album art, and a good photo before contacting press outlets. Figure out which of these things you can DIY based on your band members' skill sets and which you will need to hire out for.
Organize your tracks, bio, artwork, and photo into a Dropbox or Google Drive folder.
Email your press release to journalists/publications with a PERSONALIZED greeting, and include a link to the folder with all the stuff in it. Bandcamp links and download codes are also appreciated.
Gonna say it again, make sure you show that you are familiar with the publication!!!! You have no idea how many promo emails get deleted.
If you don't hear back from a publication, it's okay to send one follow-up email 2-3 weeks later -- but don't be a pain. No response means the publication does not have the time or inclination to write about your music.
Cobble together a small ad budget for Facebook as your release date approaches or shortly after. (This is a good idea if you're working with a PR company, too!) For the rest of 2020, plan your ads around Bandcamp Fridays -- my $8 ad for a recent release in the days leading up to the most recent BCF netted $75 in sales! Check out this article by Matt Bacon for some great advice about targeting your ads.
I didn't expect this response to be over 1400 words long, but there's a lot that goes into PR -- and promoting a band in general. The bottom line is that a good PR company can help your band get press that pulls you out of the basement and into the worldwide underground scene. However, it's something you have to be ready for, both in terms of your music and mindset!
You can contact me if you need writing help, and best of luck to Green Smoke Wizard, whatever you decide!