When it comes to coverage, "lead time," or the amount of advance notice a publication needs to assign an article before its run date, is an essential consideration for artists. While it may not seem necessary for a baby band to employ the same lead time strategies as record labels and more established artists, remember that everyone is competing for the same resources as everyone else.
There are reasons why, for example, records are released months after they are pressed rather than that same day. Translated editorially, that same type of lead time helps editors listen to and absorb new music while planning a balanced content calendar. It gives writers story angles and a chance to adequately research and produce well-written work. Most importantly, perhaps, lead time can help bands by creating interest around release dates and tours, and, therefore, create opportunities to gain new listeners and make money through record and concert ticket sales.
Here are five ways to use lead time to your ultimate advantage.
1. Consider your subject
Different newsworthy music items often have different expected lead times. A full-length record can warrant two to three months of lead time prior to its release date, four to six weeks for a tour launch, and, sometimes, a few days to mere hours for a new video or remix announcement, based on the length of time needed to process each type of writing. Music criticism (in any meaningful way) and in-depth pieces take the longest from assignment to completion, while plugging a tour or uploading a new track usually require less investment from the side of the writer or editor.
Some stories aren’t particularly time-sensitive and deviate from “standardized” lead times for new albums and tours. Examples for independent artists could be articles on your ongoing involvement with an art space or charitable organization (although, I hope an unusual press angle wouldn’t be the only reason you decide to get involved in your community!), or a tour diary that could be written and published once you’re home from the road.
2. Pressed for print
Print publications often have considerably longer lead times than digital outlets because, well, it takes longer to produce a physical magazine than update a website. For print, lead times will vary based on publishing schedules; a college paper that prints music content daily will have a different deadline than a quarterly music journal. On top of that, similar types of titles may differ in number of staffers or how long it takes to get the publication through printers and distributors and, finally, delivered to customers.
3. Submit to subsections
The same rules outlined above apply double (or more) with outlets that have multiple sections that cover music. For example, features editors at your local newspaper may be on a completely different cycle than the paper’s concert listing editors, based on the time and resources needed to turn around an interview versus a concert announcement.
4. Get organized
Although it hardly sounds rock ‘n’ roll, organizing your contacts in advance will save you a ton of time, stress, and missed submission dates in the long run. If you do your own PR, make like a pro and create a master list of press outlets, noting lead times for each title. Publicists often use professional contact management software to stay organized, but even a basic spreadsheet, divided by type (national, regional, college) and medium (print, digital, TV, etc.) can be a huge help for most independent artists.
5. Wild cards
Sometimes things just happen how they happen. Articles can get pushed back or fall through entirely, and it’s the editor’s job to circumvent lead time to fulfill content needs how he or she sees fit.
The rise of digital media has also given way to a surge of music coverage outside of traditional reviews, previews, and think-pieces. In the new editorial landscape, newsworthy – or at least blog-worthy – things happen to artists all the time, like a video of something crazy at a concert, or a hit TV show licensing an up-and-coming band's songs. If that's your band, why not send out a press release or reach out to a few writers on your list and see what happens? As long as an item isn’t exploitive towards anyone or against your personal ethos, there's no reason to rule out an opportunity to turn a fun anecdote into a potential and unique way to introduce your band to new listeners.
Jamie Ludwig is a veteran music writer and editor who has worked in various facets of the music industry. She is currently the editorial director of ChicagoMusic.org, a not-for-profit website focused on regional and touring music of all genres; a contributor to Noisey (Vice) and Wondering Sound, among other titles; and has spoken on a number of industry panels.