Expert Advice: Music editor Piotr Orlov breaks down how to build a press kit (Part I)

Expert Advice: Music editor Piotr Orlov breaks down how to build a press kit (Part I)

Guest post by Piotr Orlov*

Part 1: The Audit

It’s a fact: the music media landscape has changed radically over the past decade. Yet it’s also true that even though the media world has become increasingly crowded — more digital, social, user-/audience-generated — and that platforms for exposure barely resemble the music magazines and radio stations of yore, most strategies and tools enabling new artists to build and strive towards success remain essentially the same. 

Foremost among these tools is the media kit, a collection of promotional materials that may seem outdated — but if approached correctly, are still absolutely on-time and useful beyond an artist’s initial expectations. 

What goes into a press kit

  1. An artist bio that describes the artist’s music and their story. 
  2. A set of license-free images that cast the artist in a flattering light, and can be used to promote the artist and their work.
  3. Examples of the artist’s music, often only for personal consumption by the media recipient — but, at times, cleared for public promotion of the artist.

These central pieces of an artist’s media kit have remained static for decades. This is what every agent, booker, record label rep, journalist, blogger, editor, brand marketing consultant and all music/media industry professional will want from absolutely every artist they are considering working with, booking, signing, covering, etc. These are the assets that you need to have when you walk through the door. 

Assets, individualized

Of course, nowadays, not all of these assets are alike. For instance, a bio could be a short video documentary you also post on Instagram TV — or it could be 500 words you compose on a Google doc. Press images could be iPhone pics taken by your friend, an expensive photo shoot with a professional portrait photographer, or pixelated images made by an art-school colleague. The music you share on SoundCloud could be a recording of a live show, demos or first mastered songs, or a DJ mix that features your own tracks. 

These may seem like simple decisions, and in many cases they are — driven by aesthetics,  cost, ease of use, degree of usefulness, not to mention the support you are receiving from people in your arts community and your budding fanbase. 

Doing the research

Let’s call this first part of building a press kit, The Audit. It requires taking a look all around you, then seeing who is already excited and interested in what you are doing, and how their skill-set may be of direct help to your initial creative ambitions. This is where wholeheartedly engaging with the idea of “community,” of “scene,” of “it [taking] a village” to grow something of note becomes not simply a cliche, but a smart first step of your musical career.

Maybe more importantly, a great Audit will also require looking at your own skill-set and asking questions about the kind of music you make, and the kind of artist you are hoping to become.

Recognizing your public persona

For example, an electronic music artist/DJ is a lot more likely to post a meticulously compiled mix than just any old DJ set, whereas a band of instrumentalists that’s already played live to great responses, is willing to just let their concert recordings speak for them. The piece of music you choose to make public says something about who you are — and who you want to be.

So does what your bio reads or looks like — or what your artist images are like. And even where some of these assets are likely to be found. This is an especially important choice regarding visual assets and platforms, which are inherently full of aesthetic biases, and which attract different kinds of audiences. 

Questions to ask when conducting an audit

  • What kind of an artist are you — and are aspiring to be? 
  • Who’s doing it right and where?
    • Look for artists you admire, and see who is engaging them and where. Don’t only check for the superstars that you want to become — they’ll have many followers on lots of platforms, and get coverage from many editorial outlets because of their notoriety — but look for local or up-and-coming artists you think your music has an affinity with. Use their example, build on their successes, learn from their missteps. 
    • On social platforms, where are they getting traction? How are they getting traction? What is their level of engagement with fans and followers? Are they posting a lot of content as they go along, or minimal content that’s been perfected? Are they staying quiet when confronting issues and conversations, or getting out into the community.
    • On editorial platforms, who are the bloggers, writers, photographers and curators engaging these artists? Make a list and contact them when you feel you are ready to share your media kit, and your music – or to invite them to come to your performances.     
  • What are the assets you need to create?
    • Again, look for artists you admire and whose music you feel yours has an affinity with, maybe even an audience overlap, and see what assets they’re using that make sense for you. Or pivot off what they’re doing that doesn’t make sense for you and personalize your approach.
    • Look at how these artists use the assets (posts of photos, videos, music, or even a logo) to engage with audiences, or with outlets. See if there are learnings from the way they interact with audiences, or from the audience’s questions or comments on the assets. (The artists’ public experiences on these platforms are full of lessons for how you should or shouldn’t engage your potential fans, and how to draw them out.)
  • What elements of the media kit are most important to YOU as an artist?
    • Is it the images, the story of you as an artist, the presentation of your music? —  and what is the most authentic way for you to create those elements? 
  • Who’s in your network that can help you create those elements?
    • Today, there are infinite ways to tell your story, to present your image and to showcase your music. Some of those choices are driven by strong artistic vision, some by practicality, some by expense. Making allies to help you with creation of your story builds and expands an artist’s community, and can always serve a greater purpose than just the creation of assets.
    • Think strategically: For example, friends who are professional photographers / visual artists can potentially make great press images, a writer who loves your music could author your bio, a budding filmmaker can make a short video biography.  Allies can help you build.
    • For the DIY-minded, the digital age offers a plethora of tools and resources to craft your own assets. All things we will get into shortly.   

Part II: The Build

Once you’ve answered The Audit questions for yourself, you’ll have a clearer direction of what you’re trying to do with your press kit. In “Part II: The Build,” we get into the general aesthetics of putting together the press kit, both the broader vision and the pesky details that save you time, money and hassle, and make it easier to ingratiate you to the person whose eye or ear you are trying to catch.   

*Piotr Orlov was born in Leningrad and is based in Brooklyn. He has worked in and around music for over 25 years, mostly as a writer/editor, but also as a producer of events and digital content, as a music curator for museums and arts spaces, and as a marketing and management consultant for labels and artists. He is also an adjunct professor at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. PS: Feel free to call him “Peter” and follow him @RaspberryJones

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