Expert Advice: Music editor Piotr Orlov breaks down how to build a press kit (Part III)
Guest post by Piotr Orlov*
Part 3: The Launch
If you’re reading this, you will have likely read Part 1: The Audit, and Part 2: The Build. The Audit is pre-production, the first step of creating a press kit that answers the question, “How do I want to present myself — and be perceived — as an artist?” The Build is the production of the press kit, the part where you actually make decisions about creating the assets, understanding how the choices you make in constructing your bio, choosing artist images, and picking music to send to people will reflect on you as an artist moving forward.
If you haven’t already read Parts I and II detailing the process of conducting an audit towards creating your press kit, and then building one, I highly recommend you do so first.
Read Part I → HERE
Read Part II → HERE
Now comes the part of taking what you’ve built, and figuring out how to use it out in the real world: the many ways to launch your press kit into the marketplace of creativity and ideas, with the hope and expectation that audiences and the industry engage you, your music and your vision.
A crucial first step to anything
Before we even get any further, it’s important to note there are already great advantages to now having a fully functioning press kit. It is a professional, up-to-date “musical CV,” enabling you to “apply” for any artistic situation out there. Talent shows, contests, on-spec gigs, open calls — send your press kit to each one that makes sense for you. There’s no longer an excuse to pass up any opportunity that interests you.
But that is only an immediate solution to low-hanging fruit. The real reason for creating a professional press kit is to begin implementing the right strategy for launching your full career. Whether that means using your press kit via established industry norms of creating interest (ex. hiring a publicist, producing expensive assets), through more contemporary, DIY-driven ways of getting noticed (using digital and social tools), or, most likely, a combination of the two. Having a great press kit is an essential first step.
Working the industry
Over the last decade, the rise of the Internet as a communication tool, and especially of social media as a primary channel through which to directly engage audiences, has seemed to obscure a lot of traditional music industry pathways towards stardom. Yet that established network has neither disappeared nor become invalid.
There are still armies of publicists who land artists in website and magazine features, or as musical guests on television shows, continuing to develop their media images. Marketing and promotion companies still place artists’ music into commercial opportunities, or onto the radio – or, now, into streaming playlists. Booking agents still get them bigger gigs [insert pandemic caveat here]. And major labels still mint the most “hits.”
And as previously stated, it is often the press kit that puts an artist on the radar of all these music-biz worker bees. It is also somebody’s money (always recoupable through the artist’s eventual income) that keeps all these people employed on the artist’s behalf. The question that arises for 2020 is, does it still make sense to use your press kit to solicit this industry machine, or should you be developing your career via social Internet tools and/or through the community?
Publicists and promoters and bookers, oh my
Before we answer this question of how to proceed, three important things to note when hiring someone to help you with your career:
- Hiring help does not guarantee results. (Yes, it seems obvious, but still…)
- Like many other star-making machines, the music industry is full of people who say they can help you, but are actually full of sh*t, so make sure that the person is not wasting your time and money, and really can do what they say. (Also seems obvious, but…)
- Nothing makes up for the authentic enthusiasm of real supporters — so, in my opinion always prioritize hiring somebody who gets what you are doing over somebody who is only doing business.
And if you do want to hire a publicist, a booker or a marketing/promotions person, where do you begin looking for one — especially if they do not approach you? Well, the best “place” would be by consulting artists you have an affinity for — musicians making music of high-quality, near your level of notoriety and genre. The social pages of most artists (the Bios and About tabs of Soundcloud, Facebook and Twitter, etc.) include names and contact info for their agents. And once you start engaging with some, the good ones recommend others.
But back to the original question, should you even be looking to hire someone?
Here you should refer back the questions you asked yourself in The Audit — What kind of music do you make? What kind of career do you want? — because those answers will lead you towards a comfortable strategy in engaging these parts of the industry.
For example, those looking for pop stardom are the likeliest to need as many industry connections as possible — to build a team of songwriters and producers, make a professional video and a shiny demo, etc. Those who see their career as live musicians or a touring band, will probably be best served by first hitting up individual clubs and venues in which they want to play, and then potentially looking for a booking agent. Those looking to develop their chops and craft (however that manifests in one’s creative work), may be least served by trying to hire people too early in their careers.
Which is not to say that they should not be sending their press kit, or different elements of it, to anyone interested in their work. Just that they can concentrate on creating their own milieu or buzz, developing an audience, making musical allies, and tapping into the community that is their natural destination by using the tools at their disposal.
Musical communities and scenes consistently prove that there’s greater strength in numbers, and that they can serve the purposes of the industry at the beginning of a career. The music producer/philosopher Brian Eno has even developed the term “scenius” to describe how a community of musicians creates an extraordinary energy that lone artists and musicians rarely do. Community-building can be done from behind a screen (through genre-tags, or creating social media groups), but also by contacting artists in your area and throwing shows together.
Once you’re part of that kind of community, it will inevitably make its way into your bio, maybe even into your music (via collaboration) and your self-presentation (through shared style or aesthetics). Communities that become scenes are also magnets for future industry contacts and A&R execs, like the kind you may need down the line — and you’ll not need to lobby them.
For our purposes though, communities are great for sharing resources — such as venues and gigs (opening slots), mailing lists, or marketing and press strategies and press lists — often developing its own infrastructure alongside the music. All these are perfect situations to start creating your own base, from building an audience and industry list, to finding the right persons to pitch for additional exposure, to finding like-minded creative people with whom to work.
While building a community can be a tiring pursuit and may not be second-nature to you, when creativity blossoms, communities can form naturally; and you’ll find that being part of one makes your launch not a lonesome pursuit, but rather an integral part of something bigger.
The social network
Launching one’s career by relying on social media tools requires bringing together the ideas of community, but transposing them into the messy and individualist world of the Internet. The tools to build a career are naturally there. Some of these are music-specific — in The Build, I discussed how Soundcloud’s design and interface allows artists to maximize the platform for just that purpose — while other popular social networks embolden broad communication with the community of followers you’ve built up. Yet building that group of followers, developing a relationship with them that turns them into an audience, often requires the kind of digital-environment intimacy that is not natural for all artists.
In some ways, the press-kit has all the initial pieces for launching an artist’s various social accounts:
- The bio tells the self-defining stories that Facebook and Twitter love.
- The artist images are your first Instagram post.
- The music you upload to Soundcloud and Bandcamp.
- Maybe you also have a great first TikTok in you.
Social media’s infrastructure naturally lends itself to communicating with potential audiences and enablers. But it comes with its own rules:
- Start following all the people/platforms/organizations who you want to notice you, any single one of which could go viral instantly.
- But experience says that almost no one goes viral off the bat, it too is a skill-set you develop by practicing. And that’s where comfort or discomfort with digital life works to either advantage or disadvantage.
- Launching your career through social media means constantly feeding it.
- That means one-on-one interactions with fans, tireless new creative expressions (music, images, videos).
- Such performance of your social media personality becomes part of the gig. It goes without saying that this part of the gig is not for everybody.
A great exploration of the pluses and minuses of using social media to launch or maintain your music career can be found in Nancy K. Baym’s book, Playing to the Crowd: Musicians, Audiences and the Intimate Work of Connection (New York University Press 2018), an excellent and still-underutilized resource.
A combination of strategies
Of course, almost no one can thrive in the current music environment without some sort of social media presence. Just as working without a music industry infrastructure will, at some point, hinder your ability to grow as an artist — or commercially succeed as one. The right answer is a combination of approaches, and it is the artist who is best suited to understand their own disposition, what they’re comfortable with and what they want to be. This understanding starts with the press kit, and it is that press kit that will reflect how they deliberately move into the future.
Questions to ask when you are contemplating The Launch:
- Have you identified people in the music industry that you want to work with? Do you know them? Will they take a meeting with me/us?
- Remember that the difference between “knowing” somebody and having their contact information is vast.
- Also remember: that by having somebody’s contact information, you have a way of getting them your press kit to get the whole relationship rolling.
- Are you a member of a music community? Is there a music community that exists around you that you already have an affinity for?
- If you are a member, or are looking to become one, start talking to your fellow musicians, or to the people you see at shows. What are they thinking about? How are they trying to “succeed”? Always remember: strength in numbers.
- Do you like using social media? Are you good at it? Can you improve based on the suggestions above?
- Tell the truth. It is much better to be honest when choosing the right path for your career now, than be miserable later.
Good luck. Hit me up at @RaspberryJones on all the socials (including Soundcloud), if you are looking to ask follow-up questions.
*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