With more bands and artists going DIY since the revolution of the Internet, is the role of PR and publicity really still needed?
The Internet has had a huge impact on the music industry. Bands and artists are now able to reach their fans more easily than they ever could before. But does this mean they can also manage their own publicity?
Although the Internet has brought many benefits for bands and artists, unfortunately, it has also increased the competition.
Anyone nowadays can call themselves a band or artist, and with affordable recording software, anyone can make music and upload it onto YouTube or SoundCloud.
There are a lot of artists out there all vying for people’s attention. The real issue is how a band or artist can make their music stand out amongst a mist of noise.
Hiring a publicist is usually the solution. Serena Boyd, who used to work as Senior Vice President of Publicity at Universal Republic Records, said: “The job of a publicist is to serve as a bridge between the client/product and the media, who in turn deliver the messaging to potential consumers.
“The publicist is the person communicating a band or artist’s creative message to the masses”, she added.
Jeff Thompson, Co-founder of Un-Convention, a ‘grassroots led music conference for DIY and Independent music makers and companies’, believes: “More often than not they don’t need a publicist – until the time is right.
“I’m wary that a lot of bands waste a load of money on PR when a) they could have done it themselves and b) it’s not part of a broader strategy and they don’t really have anything to say.”
Results are never guaranteed when paying for publicity. But the job of a publicist is not to necessarily encourage music sales, but to put an artist’s music in contact with the media.
And if a band or artist is in the early stages of their career, they probably can’t afford to hire a publicist anyway.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, as some blogs and music websites prefer being sent music from the artists themselves, rather than being ‘spammed’ by publicists.
Whilst the decision of a band or artist running their own PR campaign makes it affordable, it can also be exceptionally time consuming and a drain on a band’s creativity.
“While I have met some artists that completely understand and could do the job of the publicist, if they took that on there would be very little time for them to be the creative artist”, said Boyd.
She contends: “The amount of hours it takes to secure a cover of Rolling Stone or lock a performance on The Grammys is something that an artist wouldn’t be able to do.”
One of Boyd’s successes was the implementation of a Grammy campaign for Amy Winehouse at the 50th Grammy Awards in 2008, where she was nominated six times, and had five wins.
Not only does hiring a publicist take the pressure off an artist, so they can solely focus on making music, it also shows they believe in their product. Likewise, having a publicist on board, who is willing to pitch the music to their contacts, indicates there must be something distinctive about the music. And lastly, recruiting a publicist as part of your team indicates professionalism as it conveys that the artist is interested in the business side.
One of the most important things a publicist can execute on behalf of an artist is to build a positive and recognisable brand image.
Boyd claims: “The artists that truly understood the marketing aspects of ‘their brand’ were always the easiest to work with.
“Erykah Badu was always protective of the ‘Badu’ brand of being known for having a very high head wrap. She understood how this had become something that made her recognisable to consumers. During the marketing life of her debut album she would never go out to public appearances or performances without wearing a wrap.
“With the release of her second album, Mama’s Gun, she began to incorporate wearing not only wraps, but hats and afro wigs.”
Being a ‘recognisable’ artist not only helps with press coverage, but also helps fans to remember the ‘brand’. A publicist can therefore help a band or artist reach their target fans and increase engagement.
A publicist’s speciality is also their potent way with words; they can create momentum and hype.
With a mass of record releases each week, it is easy for an artist’s release to become lost within the cloud of sound. One of the talents of a publicist is the ability to create a unique story for an artist’s release.
“Notorious B.I.G wouldn’t have been able to convince mainstream media that his debut album, Ready To Die, deserved their coverage because of his creativity – musically and lyrically – in telling the story of a gangster”, Boyd maintains.
“Wu-Tang Clan would never have been able to convince The New York Times that they should be covered in the business section for being one of the more innovative bands and true businessmen.” But Boyd, as the publicist, succeeded: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/08/arts/brash-hip-hop-entrepreneurs.html.
To be a successful publicist however, it takes some key qualities, such as creativity and patience: “It’s important to be able to think not only outside the box but come up with a brand new one.
“And without a doubt you need strong skin – you hear a lot of ‘no’ before the ‘yes’”, claims Boyd, who has worked with artists such as The Who, Prince and Damian Marley during her extensive career as a publicist.
Prominent publicists become successful because they work hard and have a lot of knowledge of the music industry. They know when is the right timing for seeking press coverage. They know not to seek it during big music events, such as Coachella, where the press will already be focused on the main breakthrough acts from the festival.
They also know planning is everything. A number of releases undergo a six-to-twelve month plan as part of a PR campaign as they know the bigger magazines, such as Rolling Stone and Spin, are planned three months in advance. Lastly, the larger publications are more likely to feature a band or artist if it comes from one of their tried and trusted PR contacts.
Boyd recommends: “Once a band/artist can afford to bring someone on board, or can work with a publicist at their label, I would encourage them to do so.
“And while I appreciate the artists who have a clear vision and understanding of how to market themselves, there are so many that don’t.”
Interestingly, a number of the bands and artists out there that are perceived as DIY probably have an extremely hard-working PR team behind them, helping them to be ‘seen’ as ‘DIY’.
With the sheer number of ‘surprise’ or ‘leaked’ releases we are subjected to nearly every other week, the publicity system can only keep on thriving.
It’s clear the role of publicity is still one of the more secure jobs within the music industry, and Boyd is confident that “there will always be the need for publicity and public relations.”
Sarah Goodyer is a graduate in Music Industries Management, and currently studies Journalism and English.
She also runs her own Manchester-based online music site called InkShaped (InkShaped.com).