Everyone has an opinion (myself included) on when an artist is "ready" to hire a publicist. The truth is, it's different from artist to artist, publicist to publicist, manager to manager, and it depends on a bunch of variables. So how the hell do you navigate this? To start, here's my personal wish list of 10 things that I hope all of Red Boot PR's future clients will do before hiring us, in order.
1. Play live shows and create a local buzz
Anyone can play alone in their living room or make a record. We want to champion for the ones who have the balls to get up onstage night after night, pour their hearts out, and try to win over a room full of people! Call me a rock 'n' roll romantic, but your live show can be your biggest asset. It's a source of income and a growing fanbase, and proof that you're awesome. For most independent artists without any past publicity, killer live shows and local buzz are great jumping-off points for a PR campaign. To your publicist, it says you're serious about your career, and to press, it says you already have fans who will read their coverage of you, share it on Facebook, and retweet it.
2. Finish at least one album
This might seem like a no-brainer, but I hear from at least three artists every week looking for PR who only have one song recorded. Your potential publicist needs to hear your music both live and recorded – even an EP's worth – to understand who you are sonically. And, this hopefully goes without saying, we need music to publicize! Additionally, it's good to keep in mind that artists' plans change and PR rosters get full. To honor everyone's time, it's ideal to discuss PR options for a specific album when it's done, or at least in the final stages of mixing and mastering.
3. Build your PR nest egg
If you're feeling great about your music, live and recorded, then now's the time to start saving money for good PR, which can be expensive. Having a budget before you talk to a publicist can save both of you a lot of time. Some will be totally out of your price range, others may negotiate, and some will be a perfect fit. If you were getting a small heart tattooed on your ass, you might choose the cheapest tattoo artist. But if you were getting an entire sleeve or back piece done, you'd (hopefully) make a solid investment. Treat PR like a giant visible tattoo – everyone will see it, they'll form opinions of you based on it, and it'll be there forever.
4. Get to know your brand
Some of us will help you with this, and there are brand developers and consultants out there to do it for you. But before you go down that road, just take some time to reflect upon your music and your overall vibe. What does it look, feel, taste, and smell like? Sometimes it helps to imagine creating a small festival of like-minded artists – who's on the bill, where is the festival, what does the event poster look like, and what is the scene like? Having an understanding of your brand will help you to shop for the right publicist, and it'll help your publicist understand your vision.
5. Keep your look pro
Sure, taste is subjective, especially when it comes to album artwork, photos and branding. But if your goal is to have somewhat of a mass appeal, whether indie or mainstream, you've gotta keep it super pro. Here's a tip: take a look at the artwork for the top 100 singles or albums on iTunes of your particular genre and the websites, press photos, and social media pages of the Top 20. How does your stuff compare? You don't need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in graphic design, but do hire professionals who can get your look consistent with your brand and on par with the key players.
6. Lock in your online presence
Unless you're trying to do some hipster avant-garde thing by insisting against Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, you'd better have a presence on all major social media platforms, like, yesterday. Update your website and social media pages, streamlining everything with the proper imaging. The experience should be similar, if not the same, when someone bounces from one to the next. When in doubt, keep it clean and simple. We are visual consumers first, so for most potential fans and press, they'll decide if they're going to press play on your music after one short online visit.
7. Educate yourself
You wouldn't buy a Porsche 996 Turbo without first knowing what the hell it is, right? So start a dialogue with a publicist when you at least have a general idea of what music PR is, why you want it, the importance of lead time, and what you can expect from a PR campaign. Simple online research, like the "Ask a Publicist" column right here on the Sonicbids blog, is a great way to go.
8. Try doing your own PR first
I'm all about hands-on learning. As an independent artist, one of the luxuries you have is to know your own art and the business of it inside and out. By taking a moment to try your hand at your own PR, even just coverage for a local show, you'll have a better understanding of what your publicist is doing during your campaign. Not only that, you'll be able to implement legit checks and balances, genuinely enjoy the coverage that comes in, and have a greater sense of appreciation and respect for your publicist (shameless request).
9. Create an arsenal of new, unreleased content
At this point you've either decided to become your own publicist for good or tap into your nest egg and hand over the job. I know you worked your ass off to make an entire album, but you're not done yet (sorry)! The more material a publicist has to work with, the greater the odds of coverage for you. Badass music videos that illustrate your brand are key, as are alternative versions of songs, upcoming tours and residencies, and anything else creative and outside the box. Allow your publicist to come up with a killer strategy for releasing everything, and you'll maximize his or her efforts and your overall campaign.
10. Have a heart-to-heart
With yourself and your band. Be honest about your goals and expectations. Talk out your concerns and fears. PR campaigns are emotional roller coasters. Expect highs and lows and everything that goes along with that. Many bands aren't used to having a light shined on them, praising certain parts and members, while exposing the flaws of others. Make sure everyone is on the same page before moving forward, and that you have each other's backs.
If you've got all of that down, get ready for a wild ride! Still somewhere between number one and seven? Put the money you just saved on consulting fees into your PR nest egg… and a round of beers for you and your bandmates. Cheers!
Laura Goldfarb is the owner (aka Big Kahuna) of music public relations firm Red Boot PR in Los Angeles and NYC, which encourages a family-like vibe for its diverse roster. For almost ten years she's also been the host, writer and producer for BreakThru Radio's "Jam Session," reporting to the Relix/Jambands Radio Chart. She recently started writing a column on the #FlyingSolo concert experience for Relix magazine. Follow Red Boot PR on Twitter at @redbootpr.