Your Final Answer?
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 is essential.
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
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, to do proper music
promotion 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 package.
Straight From the Slush Pile
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 the misguided):
"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 next paragraph.
"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 reading this.
Needle in the Haystack
Finally, I come across this
"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 description.
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
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
Guilty of a PR Felony?
Now take a look at some of
the music promotion 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 music marketing 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 music
promotion 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?"