Most musicians dream of one day being on the cover of Rolling Stone, or having Pitchfork dub their album "Best New Music." It's a prestigious salute to your hard work, and it helps with album sales and promotion. However, doing your own press often means facing a big learning curve (unless you're one of those musicians who majored in PR), hearing no after no, and potentially placing money in bad investments.
We spoke with Lauren Marsh, an award-winning, indie singer-songwriter from New Jersey, about her experience with DIY PR versus hiring a professional. Lauren led a strong campaign herself on her debut EP, but with her most recent release, she put the work in the hands of a pro. Artists are always wondering if they should hire a publicist, so we dug into Lauren's results to get some insight.
Before the release of your latest EP, had you previously done all of your PR and promotion yourself? If so, what did you learn?
The release of my latest EP, Veracity, was the first experience I’ve had working with a professional publicist. I have always been a DIY artist running and creating my own website, graphic design, advertising, social media, and marketing, along with promotions. It’s a full-time job, and I really enjoy every aspect of it.
Running promotion for my previous records was a bit of a learning process. I think as an independent artist releasing a new record, there’s always this determination to blast it everywhere. Not that doing that is a bad idea, but I found that figuring out how to spend time, energy, and money wisely has been critical to the success of a record.
When getting organized on the promotional side of releasing records, I’ve always just tried to be as prepared as possible, researching, setting targets, and making backup plans, but you never really know what will hit and what random opportunities are out there for you. I think loving what I do and believing in my work as an artist has been one of the most important aspects of successful promotion.
What were the biggest struggles of handling your own PR?
There’s no doubt that there are big hurdles when it comes to doing your own PR. I think some of the biggest struggles are timing, available opportunities, and being the right fit for the publication. There are certain times of the year that lend themselves to being better for record/single releases. For example, August is well known for being festival season. Most publications and blogs are going to be giving a fair amount of attention to this, making record coverage a smaller percentage.
If the timing is on point, it can still come down to available opportunities and your brand, story, and music being a good fit for what they’re currently looking to cover. It is a combination of things that a particular publication feels directly relates to and connects with the interest of their readers. All of these factors vary per publication and there’s really no way to be 100 percent sure why something will get covered or not get covered. It can really just come down to luck as a self-represented indie artist.
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Do you feel that you sacrificed anything by putting the publicity of your new EP into someone else’s hands?
I wouldn’t say that I personally feel like I have sacrificed anything. Although I have PR representation, I made sure the PR company I chose was completely okay with me continuing to define "my story" and having control over images and messages that shape the feel of my brand. I also like to consider myself a very accessible artist; reach out to me on social media and you’ll hear back from me.
I think when considering professional PR, it’s important to find the company that is the right fit and cares a lot about the integrity of what they do. The PR company I worked with, Green Light Go, deeply cares about their work and the work they do for their artists. Although my promotion was in "someone else’s hands," I never felt like I was distanced from the process or had lost control of the campaigns.
I feel that an artist can choose how far removed they are from the process and how much of their authentic self is implemented in the campaign. I personally found it very important to be my authentic self and to tell my story as much as possible.
Now that you've had the experience of working with a big-time publicist, what's your outlook on the pros and cons of choosing to do your own PR instead?
By choosing to do your own PR, an artist has more control over how the available PR budget is spent. Most PR campaigns are based upon a standard monthly fee. This means that you know how much you’ll be spending without knowing what you’re getting (i.e., results). However, by choosing to do PR personally, an artist could end up wasting tons of money (and time) by trying things that don’t work and which a PR company would know not to do. Therefore, hiring PR can mean getting the best use out of the budget, but I believe it requires a PR company that cares a lot about you and it takes direct involvement by the artist in deciding on campaign messages.
Most indie artists just starting out have few to almost no press contacts. PR companies have established contacts at blogs and publications, which can be the one thing missing to really get an artist considered for coverage. At the same time, there’s no guarantee.
At the end of the day, PR is what PR companies do. Hiring a professional means getting professional work done right and executed efficiently. This doesn’t mean that running your own PR is a bad idea. I’ve found that the more I’ve taken on in my career, the more things have come together as a whole. But any artist who is going to run their own PR for the first time will need to go through a really big learning curve.
Also, the PR industry is constantly changing. Being up for the challenge of continual learning is more important than what an artist currently knows about PR. All campaigns have their ups and downs. Some songs are received well, and other songs don’t seem to get the attention an artist thought they would. However, there are no promises that everything will work and take off smoothly with the help of a professional PR company either. I think each artist should do whatever feels right. It’s your career. You have to be okay with what you decide to do with your music and career.
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Do you think you could've secured the same type of press, attention, and positive feedback on the EP’s release had you not worked with a publicist?
I think if I had personally done the PR for Veracity, the press and attention I attained would have been very different. There are well-known publications that gave Veracity recognition and attention that I don’t think I could have secured if I was doing it on my own. Working with a publicist also helped to keep the campaign as organized as possible. The contacts that they were able to send my music out to are not available to just anyone.
If you were talking with an independent artist who was thinking of hiring a publicist but didn't know where to start or where to look, what advice would give them?
A great thing to do is research artists that are within your genre, but are at a success level of where you hope to be in a year or two. Research artists that were just added to labels or who have just finished their first tour. Research who these artists are working with or who they used to work with. It’s quite easy to find out which publicists artists are working with, especially if they’re getting ready to release a record or announce a tour. Identifying good artists within your genre who are doing well and are up-and-coming can give you a road map of who you want to be in touch with about representation.
And then email away! Never get deterred by nos or lack of responses. It can take going through 100 nos before you get a yes. Just be ready for when a yes does come, because then it’s full steam ahead.