How I Became a Successful Music Publicist — and Why I Quit.
By Richard Flohil.
People who work in the media — newspaper writers, magazine editors, radio and television producers, photographers professional bloggers, “influencers” and anyone else whose work reaches thousands or hundreds of other people — always profess they don’t like publicists.
They’ll never admit that they need them — for information, story ideas, fact checking, access, and a beer in the pub after work.
And media people who become publicists, as I did, are always told that they’ve gone over to the “dark side.”
I’d spent seven years as a newspaper reporter and five years editing trade magazines — and freelanced articles to anyone who’d pay me a little bit of extra cash.
In all these fields I became used to the contributions of publicists — whether they were sending me press releases about industrial carpeting or drill bits (in my trade magazine days) or entertainment and music events and people, in my capacity as a freelancer.
Most of the material was wordy, full of superlatives (“the greatest singer since Sinatra”), and full of irrelevant enthusiasm (“we’re excited to announce…”), jargon and self-promotion, at least half the press releases were irrelevant to the media they were sent to, and the other half needed to be rewritten before it could be used.
Because I had so many years in the media I had a pretty good idea of what media people needed: information, facts, and a hook to make me read on…
And when I became a half-assed amateur concert promoter, in the early ‘60s, I wrote my own press releases. Just the facts, ma’am, and sent to the people who would be likely to relate to the information, and pass it on to their audience.
So here’s the deal, if you’re at the early stages of a music career: hire a publicist. After all, you can’t get a manager, or an agent, because they require a percentage of what you earn. And a percentage of not very much is even less. A publicist needs a monthly fee — maybe $1,500 a month, maybe a little less.
If you find the right one, and she or he is well connected in the music world, and knows media people, and isn’t seen as a bullshit artist or someone who embellishes the truth, you’re in luck.
Often, for new artists or music companies, your publicist can wear different hats. They might help manage your career. They might find gigs for you, which is what agents do.
But the object of the game is to make you better known than you are, so that you get more work, more recognition, and climb up the ladder — with the possibilities of acquiring a larger fan base, a manager, an agent, a recording deal, or what other objectives you’ve set for yourself.
Early on in my “career” as a publicist I received an e-mail asking, in blissful innocence, what a publicist did. I stopped what I was doing and made a list. In no particular order, it included the following:
Write your basic bio
Help you create a direction for your career
Help create an electronic press kit (EPK)
Create a truthful back story that media people will find intriguing
Hold your hand
Organize your website
Constantly update website
Take you to industry events
Create promotional events to feature your talent
Introduce you to media people
Encourage you to keep your spirits up
Hold your hand
Write and distribute press releases on your accomplishments
Help you find a band
Find video people to create YouTube content
Make sure you’re conversant with social media
Maintain your presence on social media
Hold your hand
Watch for performance opportunities
Talk to managers, agents and record companies about you
Over the years, I worked with disparate artists, including k.d. lang, Loreena McKennitt, the Downchild Blues Band, Justin Rutledge, Serena Ryder, Ian Tyson, Jeff Healey, Billy Connolly, the Jerry Cans, Shakura S’Aida and dozens more…
Sometimes I worked on brief projects (a national tour, or a record release), and sometimes for much longer periods — 39 years with the Downchild band, 21with Loreena McKennitt. And I was Stony Plain Records’ in-house publicist for 35 years…
Based in Toronto, I was — for a while — one of the best (and best-known) music publicists in Canada.
Some general advice:
All written material about an artist or band must be objective and factual. The artist you are, or the ones you know, are not the next Bob Dylan, or Joni Mitchell, or Stevie Wonder…Yes, I know that I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating.
Like a good song, written material needs a hook. And, oddly enough, the quality of the music isn’t a hook — but your background could be…”Based in Canada’s Arctic, the band sings political songs in Inuktitut, a language only 20,000 people speak, features traditional Inuit throat singing, and are influenced by The Clash and the Pogues…”
Media people want to know more. How about: “Born in Brooklyn, raised in Switzerland, and a long-time resident of Toronto, this singer has performed in more than 20 countries around the world…”
Being very young, or very old, is a good hook.
If you want to blow your own trumpet, always use quotes from reputable sources — preferably ones outside Canada. Words of praise from The New York Times, for instance, have credibility…
Never, ever, lie. If you do you lose all credibility. And media people will never believe you again . (I did, once, and lived to regret it!)
Maintain friendships with as many media people as you can. But never promote yourself (or your client) to them unless you know that what you have to tell them is a story they’ll be interested in. A publicist with friends in the media is always ahead of the game.
Build an e-mail list of contacts, media people, friends and fans. When I quit two years ago my list had close to 4,000 names on it.
Two years ago, I “retired”… for all sorts of reasons. One was that I was burning out, and too many of my projects were not successful.
I was also becoming — against my best intentions — old, and music is a young person’s game. Then I lost my office space, handily situated above a Toronto music venue.
And worse than all that, one of the best associates/assistants I had ever worked with went back to Germany, confused, conflicted and exasperated by the effort it takes to become a landed immigrant in Canada. And all her skills, particularly in the digital music field, went with her.
Regrets? Not really — although like anyone in their eighties with half a brain, I could always use a side hustle.
I still write bios for artists although I hate the job.
And I still try to offer advice and counsel to young musicians — on condition they get up early and buy my breakfast.
Richard Flohil’s bio is in this article. Next month, he’s says he’s going to write about new music books — a return to the first topic he wrote for thesoundcafe.com a year ago…
Read more of Richard's Column's at The Sound Cafe Vaults