When I started as a freelance writer, I nearly gave up. I even took a job writing résumés because it had the word "writing" in it. I had talent, energy, drive-anyone who printed words needed me.
Well, no, they didn't. Or at least they didn't yet know they did.
Same goes for musicians. Every week in San Diego, there are probably 100 bands-local and touring-who are worthy of press. Sadly, counting radio, print, TV and internet, there are only about 50 "slots" where media would cover these bands. And figuring great bands will take up to five or six of these slots (say, the Union-Tribune and CityBeat covering the same band), your chances of getting prime media space grow pretty slim.
I don't claim to know how it all works. But I have spent seven years or so in print and TV covering music, and I've learned some things that every band should know.
First and foremost, your band must not suck. After you have that down, here are a few other tips to getting media to pay attention. Some of this will sound superficial as hell, but hey, that shouldn't surprise you-you're in the music biz.
For convenience, I'll mention "MediaMan" in this article as a catch-all for journalists, producers, DJs, webmasters, club owners, etc.
SEND YOUR MUSIC. Sounds obvious, but I get it all the time. "How come you haven't covered my band?" "You sent music?" "Uh, no." Jesus, man. Links to websites with music are OK, but reduce your chances (more effort for lazy-ass MediaMan, can't play in car and stereo, etc.).
PRESS KIT. Keep it simple. I've been sent a full-on Trapper Keeper with four-color pages in plastic dividers with everything the band's ever done. Total waste. All you need is a CD with a photocopied one-page bio. Be sure to include contact info, the website and any upcoming show info. The bio should be witty, have attitude and a sense of humility. Don't claim you're the best band in the world. The hard-sell is a put-off. The music will either speak for itself or it won't. Be chill, calm, casual, like you're talking over a beer. The best band bio I ever got was made like a job résumé that included real and fake qualifications like "Played on 91X" and "Drink Pabst because it makes us cool." Self-aware irony I could relate to.
You do not need to include a photo. It's the digital age. Just make sure to put on the bio, "High-res press photos available at www.mybandissorad.com." Web photos are easier, anyway-they save the graphic designer from having to scan the photos and tire his pretty little arms.
A personal note in the margins of your bio is always a good touch. Like, "Hey, Al Guerra, heard you play Iron & Wine on the radio the other night and thought you'd dig this. We're playing Sunday at The Lion's Club. Thanks." It makes Guerra feel like you're interested in his world, not just what he can do for you. He just might feel obligated to return the courtesy.
TAKE A PHOTO. Don't be cheap. Hire a real, art-friendly photographer to take a few black and whites. Sad as it is, popular music is almost as much about image as it is the songs. Your band photo is often the only aesthetic representation a person reading a paper or website will have of you. Make sure it gives off the vibe you want to give off. And never send a photocopied photo or a photo on cheap paper. Print media can't use them because they look like crap. Check out the band photos at www.sdmusicmatters.com for examples of good work. In fact, SDMM is a great place to get yours shot. If you have absolutely no cash, find a friend with a good eye and snap a thousand shots. You're bound to look good once.
SET UP A WEBSITE. It doesn't need to be super high-tech. I hate Flash movies-push "skip" every time. But that said, it should look fucking cool. This is often your first impression to a lot of people. Just as you wouldn't have cheesy cover art for your CD, don't have a cheesy website. Get a simple but cutting-edge graphic look. Check out www.pinback.com to see a very cool site done with very little.
MUST. HAVE. ON. WEBSITE.
* A high-resolution (300 DPI) JPEG of your band photo. This is absolutely essential. I can't tell you how many times I've covered one band over another because they had a photo on their website. Sad, yes, but true. Print, web and TV are visual mediums, after all.
* Contact info. E-mail is best, but also give yo' digits.
GOOD TO HAVE ON WEBSITE.
* Music. This is almost an essential. Only reason it isn't is because you've already sent the person your CD. Plus if someone's checking out your site, they've probably already heard the music and are looking for info. Still, it's great to have a few tracks on there.
* Your bio.
* Upcoming show dates.
* Press clippings. If anyone's written a story about you, put a link or a scanned article on there. If not, try to get a MediaMan who likes your music to give you a quote about your music that you can put on the website.
DON'T GET MAD. I get about 300 CDs across my desk a month. I'm sure Tim Mays at the Casbah gets more. Follow-up with the occasional call and e-mail, but be patient. In fact, expect them to be too busy for you. When I'm trying to get the attention of a new editor, I always write something like, "Hey Sue. Know you're busy, just wanted to drop a quick line... hit me back if you get a minute." Whatever you do, don't get pissy. It only decreases your chances of getting covered, and burns the bridge for your next album. I usually get to local albums within a week or two, but honestly, it can take up to three months. That's because I know you'll still be here in three months. When a touring indie band from New Jersey sends me a CD and is playing Scolari's Office in two weeks, I feel obligated to push theirs to the front of the pile.
FINALLY, A WORD ABOUT YOUR ALBUM. Do it right, do it cheap, or don't do it at all. I know there's an urge to simply photocopy a picture and slip it into a jewel case. Don't do it. As trite as it sounds, I can't tell you how important visuals are to your band. Just ask Rocket From the Crypt. Or the Sub Pop Singles Club. The best thing to do is to save up and do it right-a killer-looking CD package goes a long, long way. I've heard it so many times from music media types: "Oh man, I haven't listened to that album because the artwork was so horrible I figured the album would be the same." If you don't have the cash or don't want to wait until you do, send a blank CD-R and make it obvious that this is not the finished product. Write on the CD something akin to, "Unreleased demo for Anya Marina." If you do that, make sure to include a listing of song titles. Remember, this is the first impression your band is giving off. "Raw and in-progress" is more impressive than "half-assed." A few bands I know simply cut colorful construction paper, had their own ink-stamp made, and stapled their own hand-made CD case together. Better than a two-color Kinko's print of your first Photoshop experiment.
There are a thousand other things, I'm sure, but that should give you a good, basic starting point to getting your band covered in local media. If you do all this and still don't get any response, the MediaMan is either too swamped, doesn't care about his job so much, or your band sounds like Creed.