Expert Advice: Music editor Piotr Orlov breaks down how to build a press kit (Part II)
Guest post by Piotr Orlov*
Part 2: The Build
If you’re reading this, hopefully you’ve done your pre-production with Part I: The Audit. The Audit is the first step to help create your press kit and helps you answer the question, “How do I want to present myself — and be perceived — as an artist?”
If you haven’t already, read Part I detailing the process of conducting an audit.
Read Part I → HERE
Part I breaks down the different parts of the kit, which of them may be personally important to you, and the audience you want to reach with these materials. Now comes the part where you put the pieces together. Having figured out which assets you should expend your energy on making and for whom, you now can build a fully functioning press kit.
This will come easier to some artists than others. For many, the idea of telling one’s own story will be second-nature; performative self-expression is why they got into music in the first place. For others, having to parade themselves before potential audiences or members of the music industry may seem like a horrible chore.
Regardless of where an artist falls on the extroversion spectrum, each press kit needs a balance of:
a) A marketable story
b) Facts that lay out the story (even if the “story” is fabricated – an idea we’ll get to)
c) Media examples (images, recordings, videos) that affirm the story
A successful press-kit is one where each piece of that puzzle — your bio, your images, your music — locks in together to form your cohesive media identity.
Your bio: facts and story
The most basic artist bio (short for biography) needs to simply answer the same questions that every journalist or writer is taught on their first day of class: Who? What? Where? Why? How? That’s not only because it’s journalists who are most likely to use bios as source material. It’s also why most basic bios are still created by writers.
Fact-check your content – but make it interesting
It is crucial that the bio’s factual information is presented exactly as you want it to be: name spellings, hometown, genre of music (or lack thereof), social media handles, and all the other basic “101” material needs to be fact-checked. This bio will be the source of information that (hopefully) will be repeated over and over; so if, for example, you want to be called “Robert” not “Bobby,” or make sure that people know you’re not from Brooklyn (that you only live there), the bio needs to make it clear.
Time to tell a story
Important as those details are, the bio is not simply about them. It’s also about storytelling; the story an artist wants to tell about themselves and their music, a way to distinguish from other musicians trying to make an impression. (Your entire media kit seeks to achieve this goal, but it is the bio that should spell this out — like an extended, playful version of the “About Author” you find on the inside flap of a book jacket.)
Do you have creative superpowers, unique tools of the trade or perspective you bring to music? Is there a great anecdote everyone needs to know about your career? Or a mantra that your art lives by? This is the moment to express these. Conversely, if there is something you do NOT want to discuss ever again? This might be a time to mention unapproachable topics. Though new artists should tread wisely with such demands, because everything included in the bio — language, tone, facts, anecdotes — may, in fact, be held against you.
Consider taking risks – but be smart about it
Which brings us to bios of artists looking to impress through creative fabrications, large or small. For musicians whose work includes layers of artifice — whether as simple as a stage-name or as elaborate as a fictitious backstory — adding make-believe to their initial self-presentation should be thought-out, deeply and thoroughly. Remember: Industry professionals who receive dozens of media kits every day, have seen it all, every “unique” angle, and can spot both heavy-handed and undercooked narratives from afar. This is not meant to discourage artists who want their press kits to reflect newly crafted personality, or an extreme make-over from a prior existence. Stars such as Lady Gaga (who transformed herself from a singer-songwriter to a glam-disco-pop queen to a crooner), Rick Ross (who created for himself a drug-kingpin-as-rapper persona) or the White Stripes (whose antics combined brother-sister role-playing with color-coded aesthetics to create a garage-rock art project) are great examples of how a “fake” bio can foster a sense of character, grandeur or mischief that will hook in audiences. But it’s important that such attempts are fool-proof, that the artist knows their part inside and out.
Similarly, think twice before you consider making your bio as a piece of media (a video or audio recording) rather than text-based. A bio’s primary function — facts and story — can absolutely be served in a beautiful film, or a podcast-like interview and narration. But these pieces require additional production skill-sets (audio producer, film-maker), which means additional costs, and more points of view. They may also make it harder for the bio’s consumer to quickly glean the information they need. So while the result may create a wonderful piece of content about the artist (always useful), its strengths may still not do all that is centrally required of a bio. If, as was mentioned in The Audit, the artist has expert colleagues who can help make such a piece happen – great, create a supplemental piece for your various social channels. But it is unlikely to replace the tried and true written bio.
Lastly: Whatever you do, please do not forget to include updated contact information as part of the bio. You won’t believe how often musicians forget to add this crucial piece of information, when the whole endeavor is to create a calling card for opportunities.
Your images: specs and aesthetics
Because we live in an increasingly visuals-based landscape, it is the images of an artist’s press kit that provide the best opportunity to create an unexpected impact. A great image can make an impression simply by getting printed, posted or repurposed. It can also affirm a storyline in the artist’s bio, or be instrumental in defining a new aesthetic. An image that is worth a thousand words can do the so-called heavy lifting that words can not.
That said, there are technical specs to press-kit images — and if you do not follow them, it doesn’t matter how good, weird or unique your picture is, it will not serve you well, or at all. When sourcing images for your press kit, remember:
- Make all images high res (4000px, @300dpi), which will allow for them to be used in any context. Any professional photographer or designer will be able to fulfill those specs, but if you are creating them yourself, check the settings on your camera, and create the highest quality images possible.
- Include a minimum of three images (more if possible), so that the people using the images have a choice of images. This can be important for a variety of reasons — some technical (the way an image needs to crop for a publication, a site or a flyer), some aesthetic (one image may make more sense for the audience, another for the brand identity of the publisher).
- Images should be horizontal (primary) and panorama (secondary), to give editors and designers options for scaling. (Vertical images are the least flexible.)
- A square crop should be possible out of several images for social media.
- Images should not be cropped too tightly to give editors and designers more flexibility. While classic headshots serve their purpose in many circumstances, here the body of the artist(s) should be surrounded by room for editors to play with.
- Include the photographer/image-maker’s credit in the press material or the metadata of the digital images.
Make the images interesting
Whereas such image specs should be uniform, the content of the images is more open to interpretation and adhering to the aesthetic choices of a musician’s ouvre or to the visual artist. Conservative artist images will follow an Instagram aesthetic, full of light, and clear features, like a fashion photo shoot. Use of props such as instruments or turntables can reinforce genres the musicians represent, as can styled costumes or locations. They can also overpower an image with cliche, or muddy the story of the bio.
An artsy approach to creating press kit images — part photo, part illustration; a digital avatar or design; a murky likeness that makes the artist’s appearance mysterious — may fall in the same category as a made-up bio. Yet it may have a much bigger upside (working with established visual-artist friends/colleagues brings the opportunity to create unique work that builds on the reputation of both creative energies), and a much smaller downside. Those making non-mainstream creative music, looking to build a left-of-center career and a community following (i.e. not pop stardom) will probably be better served by creating something odd to represent their likeness. Those looking for a major-label contract and/or agency representation, might just wanna splurge for a professional shooter.
Your music: sounds and information
One great aspect of music listening in the digital age is that there are many different ways to discover and hear tracks by new artists. A great quality of sharing one’s new music nowadays is that artists are not limited by physical copies as to who gets to hear it — and who those initial listeners may pass it onto. Internet virality is a contemporary key to fame.
Thus it’s important for a press kit’s music link to feature the best and newest example of an artist’s work, and to lead the listener not only to the music, but to a site/page which includes easy access to all the other basic information that is part of the press kit. Sharing music in a press kit is about quality, not quantity — show off your best moment and have the listener ask for more.
Choose your music platform wisely
But it is also about presenting this great music surrounded by the basic facts — contact information, social handles, images, maybe even a bio — which will allow the listener to easily find out about you as an artist.
One reason why SoundCloud is a great platform for new artists to feature their music is that its individual pages are the types of self-contained universes that make it easier for a listener who is looking for additional information about the artist, to discover it. (In fact, you can set up an SC page to perfectly reflect your press-kit, with all of your contact info, lead image, a bio extract, promoting latest works and upcoming. An SC Pro Unlimited account gives you even more useful options.) In the long run, it isn’t simply the quality of music artists are sharing in their press kit that is important, but the platform that they share it on. The link to music in the press kit should in fact be a gateway to discovering the artist’s world. Which both the bio and the press kit images should, in some way, embody as well.
Questions to ask when you are conducting The Build:
- Is the artist story you want your press kit to tell clear? Is it clear to you?
- Do your bio, your images and your music all tell the same story?
- Are you considering unconventional creative strategies to execute as part of your press kit? Do you have a trusted advisor whose counsel you trust to see if it’s a good idea?
- Can you pull it off?
Part III: The Launch
After completing Parts I and II, you’ll have a plan of what kind of press kit you want to build and for whom. You found somebody to tell your artistic narrative in a way that reflects the music you’re making. The images are perfect, and the recordings turned out great too. Now what? How do you get your press kit into as many hands as possible? Should you get a publicist? Should you focus on social media? Who has time for all this? Check back next week for “Part III: The Launch,” where we’ll walk you through the potential first steps of using your press kit efficiently.
*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