Hello? Is this thing on? – The People Fighting Your Corner

publicRelations

It’s been a while! Too long, in fact. So it’s about time for another article, methinks

This time, I’m going to try and shine a light on the weird and wonderful world of PR (or Public Relations in layman’s terms).

For those of you who don’t know, these are the lovely people that will be sending your music out to the world to get you as much profile, and radio play as they can, as well as loads of interviews, TV spots, and features as they can, and they can be split up into these rather broad categories:

  • Print
  • Online
  • Radio
  • Club

Print

The print PR team are going to spend their time targeting magazines and newspapers, ranging from being featured in their Albums/Singles of the Week to reviews, features, Q&A’s and more. Traditionally, these guys will also be writing up your press releases (I wrote previously about these devious documents here) and even biographies on occasions. Print is where most of your press would have come from in the old days, but with blogs and online editions starting to take over, this is less true, though still massively important. If successful, and I say ‘if’, because  PR can work day and night at times to make the project big but seemingly hit a brick wall, this is also where your quotes will come from for posters, product stickers, adverts and more.

Print press is the grandfather of PR in the music industry, and is continually merging with online going forwards as more magazines and websites increase and improve their web presence, which leads quite nicely to…

Online

 …Online PR (Pretty sure I’m breaking a lot of grammar rules using an ellipsis to bridge paragraphs but hey, that’s why I work for a label and not PR!). This is now arguably as important as print, if not more in the modern game. I say that because blogs are now the heart and soul of new music and main tool for breaking it. It’s also worth bearing in mind that it costs a magazine or newspaper to print an article in its physical form. The only cost of putting a review or feature on a website is bandwidth, the writer and whoever they pay to maintain the website, so as a rule they are much more susceptible to putting things up for you, given the amount of content uploaded in a day. This isn’t a make or break type scenario, but just an opinion of mine – you take what you want from it. It’s also a damn sight easier to get people to listen to your music on a website, with a Soundcloud link for example, than an article telling them the music is available to buy. That’s not to say they won’t go and seek it out at the record shop or iTunes, but think about it – one click of a Soundcloud/Youtube embed versus trawling through iTunes to find it themselves. This is probably a good time to note that PEOPLE ARE LAZY. Shove it in their face and make it as easy as possible and you’ll find more people will engage. Don’t believe me? Think about how you surf the web/read magazines and you should be able to answer me.

Radio

Radio can make or break a campaign. If you get loads of radio play across lots of a stations, then great! It gives you something to talk about and also gets the tunes out to more ears. If you get a few plays across a few stations, that’s good. Something, at the end of the day, is better than nothing. When you end up getting little to no plays, it makes the whole campaign a lot harder. After all, where else do you expect to hear new music? Traditionally that is, don’t forget how strong online is now, with iPhones, Galaxy phones the size of a dinner tray and tablets that make you try and remember why you ever had that giant, windows ‘95 computer tower decades ago. I digress. Radio PR teams will go and talk to presenters and producers (usually producers) and harass them until either they play your tunes on air or get removed from the building. They pitch to get you into playlists.

Now, for those of you that don’t know radio stations usually have a set of playlists, from which they make up the majority of the music in their shows. It usually consists of;

  • The ‘A’ Playlist – Big stars, super popular tracks (Adele, Beyonce, 1D and the like).
  • The ‘B’ Playlist – Tracks that are popular, but not quite at A-list status yet
  • The ‘C’ Playlist – you get the idea by now, right?
  • The ‘Specialist’ Playlist – This is where the tracks that don’t quite fit the mould sit, like big tracks that aren’t ‘pop’

This applies to most commercial stations, BBC Radio 1 & 2 and more online stations too. Just switch the genre up depending on the station. Presenters usually get one or 2 free plays, which are usually tracks of their own choice they can slot in once in a while.

As well as trying to get the recorded track on the air, they’ll try and get you in to talk, co-host where possible or go on and play a track. Be prepared to sit around for a long time to then play 2 songs, say 4 lines then leave. You’re at the mercy of scheduling, remember this. Especially live.

Club

The mystical and baffling world of club promo. Now as a rule this does not usually apply to traditional bands, it’s always been for electronic music really. House, D’n’B, Trip-Hop, Glitch Funk and Mooba-core. They’ll take your package of tracks and send it out to scores of DJ’s, both radio and live, to try and get them to play it. You often get loads of feedback from them about what they think of it but it’s incredibly difficult to track this back into sales. Get a review in a paper, have a website premier a single or have BBC 6 Music play your track, and it’s very easy to track and analyse just how effective it has been, be it new Facebook ‘Likes’ or 500 people buying your single. Club promo is almost under the radar in some ways. It puts the tracks in the hands of a select few people, nudges them to drop it into their set at XOYO or Plan B, hoping that the crowd goes wild and then goes off in search of just what the hell track it was. And there is your issue. Radio, print, online, all say what the track is, who it was by etc. In the club, you’ve either got to ask the DJ (If he/she’s not holed up in his/her booth), pray your ‘in the know’ club buddy knows the track or you can get close enough to a speaker to Shazam the track without overloading your phone’s microphone. A double-edged sword, but if you get the right DJ behind a track and they pioneer it, you’re onto a winner.

Now, I would advise all of you to read this as it is. I work with PR through a label, not for a PR company. This is just my words and thoughts and a little insight into how I see it working, as well as some generalisations and opinions I read in ‘Music Week’ from time to time. Do your own research. Approach a PR company and see what they think of your tunes. Get them to pitch you their opinion of how they could work your track and where they think is a good place for it.

This is also a work in progress. Undoubtedly I’ve missed things that I know but don’t remember that I know. Pop a question in the box below and I’ll do my best to answer it. In fact, here’s a link to my previous articles. Read them and ask me questions. I started writing these blogs to try and give an insight and some help, so help me do that by picking my brain.

By Luke Crook

Music Scenes: Time To Stop Complaining And Do Something About it!

Evening all!

Today I’m veering away from label based shenanigans (love that word) for a personal post to talk about the scene.

Now, for those of you that don’t know what I’m referring to, the scene is what people tend to call the representation of music, bands and gigs in their area. Every county, town and city has a scene, and they tend to have highs and lows. It’s a cyclic thing, music everywhere is like it.

I’m writing this article not as an educational piece (though there may be some good pointers in here), but as an observational piece. To be perfectly frank, I’m hacked off with people in the Medway Towns and surrounding areas complaining there is no scene in town anymore.

“Oh, I wish there were more bands to see”
“I remember when there used to be a gig on 4 nights a week”
“What happened to all the good music in this town?”

When I was working in the record shop I used to hear this constantly. In fact, to my knowledge people are still going in there and moaning to their mates about it, despite the array of colourful posters that adorn the entrance to the shop, informing them of regular club nights, one off gigs and album launches(!) from local bands.

It takes 3 groups of people to create, maintain and evolve a scene. Bands. Fans. Promoters. Now, I happen to exist in all 3 of these groups, so I feel I’m in a pretty good position to talk about it. There have to be bands to create a scene. That’s a no brainer. Following that, there has to be fans. You need people to go to the shows after all! Then finally you have the promoters, of which there are plenty in the towns, believe me!

The issue with Medway, I think, is that no one is ever happy with the music scene unless its uber cool, on the cusp and breaking ground. The problem here is that these things have to be built from the ground up. There are loads of bands that want to play. There are a good group of promoters covering an array of genres to book bands. Admittedly the venue situation is a bit tricky for us but we all talk to try and move forward. But where are the fans?

I, with 2 friends, run a Zing, Bang, Kapow Productions. We put on a gig every Sunday in Chatham with some great bands. We promote it hard, as do the bands, but I still hear people complaining about how there aren’t any good rock bands in town to go and listen to anymore. Admittedly, I know Sundays are tricky, but we start at 5 and were usually done by 10. What are people usually doing on a Sunday about then?! To add to that, you’ve got MotherBoy, Moogie Wonderland putting on Alt/Rock/Punk shows, as well as a few other guys (Even Bar Mojo/Command House!) putting on rock line-ups! And to address the “lack of good rock bands” quite frankly that is a load of BS. Frau Pouch, Z-Stacks, Dog Town, Houdini, Cry Baby Special & The Monsters, The Dirty Vibes, Yokozuna, Fishtank, Rageweed, Iron Iron, Wolfgang Special, and tonnes more that I’ve forgotten, apologies. And that’s just rock/alt bands. The Preservation Society have got some fantastic bands signed up to them, and if I’m thinking right, they’re part of the brains behind getting The Cribs to play in town and ME1, the Rochester Castle gig with PIL! Or have butchers at TEA, a local collective putting on some fantastic gigs in the South East. You have them to thank for Grandmaster Flash at The Casino Rooms.

A few quid isn’t a lot when you get to see 3 or 4 bands play.

I guess what I’m trying to say is GO TO YOUR LOCAL GIGS! Wherever you might be reading this. The only way to make and feed a scene is to keep turning up. Don’t complain when you know damn well there are probably 4 gigs on that week, but you just can’t be bothered to go. Venues are a premium these days. Medway lost Bar M years ago, RAFA club is a shadow of its former self and lets not even get started on what WAS the Tap’n’Tin, let alone what its become (You know INME and The Libertines played there right? NME features and all. What happened?!). We know it might be a bit of a grotty pub but you have to persevere, because once other venues see there’s a calling for places to play, they’re more likely to get involved.

Also, moan at promoters, not the bands. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt recently from being in the industry is that its not the artists fault if they don’t get that gig in your hometown. It’s the promoters. If they’re not playing there, it’s probably because a promoter didn’t think he/she’d make any money from it. So go shout at them and let them know you want to see that band on their club night or line up!

By Luke Crook

Working For An Indie Record Label – Part 4: Making Sense Of Social Media – By Luke Crook

So, one of THE most important parts of being successful either as a band, a label or even a brand is how you connect with your fan base and demographic. Despite what people say, there are pretty much 2 major ways of getting in touch with your fan base to let them know what’s happening, Facebook & Twitter. Most of the courses I end up on are either about Social Media full stop, or have a massive section dedicated to it.

It’s all about social media. You can’t get away from it, try as you might. The problem is, both the main social media platforms operate completely differently so different strategies are needed. Twitter never changes. 140 unadulterated characters of text to use and abuse as best you can, tag people in it and share that Instagram photo of your dog with your sunglasses on (don’t deny it, we’ve all thought about it). Facebook allows you to present music, videos, photos, competitions and all sorts of lovely things internally (you don’t have to leave Facebook to see them), but the buggers keep changing the format every 4 months, and by the time you’ve worked it out, they sweep the rug out from under you and change it all. Not to mention all their restrictions on advertising inside the website. Don’t put anything in your bands cover photo that tells someone where to buy a product. Facebook will take your page down without telling you. By all means say its out or available though! They do however have some insanely good (albeit slightly 1984/Orwellian) marketing devices. We’ll get to that later.

There are, of course, other ways of engaging your fans. That lovely website you spent £4k on development and that amazing feature that no-one else has done yet for example. The problem is, you’ll find it very quickly becomes a holding page for you to link to from your Facebook/Twitter account (We were actually talking about this in the office after I wrote this). However, it is an amazing way to archive your work and keep things neatly organized in a way that other places don’t. A good example is your gig list. Myspace makes it looks ugly in my opinion and that puts people off reading it. Keep it on your website, drive a bit of traffic that way and lay it out in a way you would like to see it. It’s your website after all!

Also, lets not forget the newsletter. Now this is still pretty effective, just don’t ever look at the stats, they’ll depress you. If memory serves, the average for people opening the email sits at about 9% and the average people that actually click a link in your newsletter is about 2/3%. Most good newsletter systems will give you a link to your newsletter too, so you can share it around to people to read in their browser. Some will even allow you to link up your Facebook or Twitter (Starting to see a trend here yet?) so you can spread the word further. Completely customisable from layout to content, its yours to design and make.

Now the major advantage of Facebook is the marketing aspect. No other social media does it as well, so if you’re looking to make some money and sell some product, its the place to be. Their marketing ability is spectacular, if not slightly bloody scary. The beauty of it is, is that you can spend as little as you like on it. £5, see how it does. If it does well, pump some more money in. If it doesn’t, you’ve only spent a fiver. You can tailor it to a fine point too. Target people that like similar pages. Show the punter that their friend likes that page too. The scariest aspect of it though, is the way you can target advertise through keywords. There’s a little text box in the Ad’s section where you can tap in keywords that, if people mention it in their status, relevant Adverts will start appearing in their news feed. “Oh fudge, I broke my bike chain” will soon become a little square box on the right hand ad feed saying “Cheap bike repairs in Chatham”. Incredibly clever, but a bit creepy at the same time. (It’s worth mentioning that you can turn all of this off, but it’s a bit of a ball ache (surprise surprise). It’s your privacy, think about it.)

So there’s a bit of an intro into Social Media. You might notice its heavily Facebook based, but that’s where you have to most control over what you can do. Twitter is much more to the point, so it’s fairly straightforward. Facebook is where you’ll make money from driving sales.

Oh, a few final things in this whirlwind social media ride, which were in fact my point in writing a blog on the topic.

There’s a technique that has various names but I’ll call it The Rule Of Thirds here. It’s very simple, and will prevent you losing followers and likes (although its rather difficult to mass unlike things on Facebook. Another advantage…). Don’t constantly spam your demographic with messages to buy your wares. People will quickly grow tired of this, especially Twitter followers (Twitter followers are much less forgiving than Facebook Followers. They tend to be a lot savvier and will drop you like a stone). So the trick is to make roughly every third message a marketing one. Buy the album, get my tour tickets, blah. Every third is also a minimum. I try and go for every five or six personally. Don’t forget to reward either. Free tracks or posters or a personal video of the band saying “HI WERE ON TOUR!!!!!  *cough*to support our new album*cough*” work very well, people love them, and are technically marketing without shoving it in the consumers face. Also, keep it relevant and not stream of consciousness type barrage of messages.

Which leads me into my final point. Keep it personal. If it sounds like you are directly talking to that fan, they’ll like it more. Now, for a label or a brand I can appreciate that might be a bit tricky, but for an artist its imperative. Make it first person. I can’t stress this enough. You do NOT want to make it sound like someone is writing your tweets for you. Don’t con your fans. One of them will work out that you can’t have tweeted that, because you were either onstage or being interviewed live. They are much smarter than you think. If it is someone else doing it for you/them, set up a little system that lets the fan know when its you and with its you’re assistant (E.g. Tom Cruise. His Tweets end TC, his teams end TCHQ…I think. You get the point.).

So there you go. A quick, scatterbrained take on social media. Feel free to leave any questions below and I’ll try and dig the answer out of my seminar notes! I’ll come back later with another article about social media thats a bit more targeted, but this should (hopefully) get you moving in the right direction.

By Luke Crook

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Working For An Indie Record Label – Part 3 : Pitching To A Record Label

So, we’ve covered a few bits about the thought process that goes into getting a record onto iTunes and into shops and also sourcing and producing artwork for the release.

Next up, I want to touch on Press Releases and Biographies. Record labels receive bucket loads of these together with a CD attached. Some are good. Some are ok. Some are downright awful!

Now, for those of you that don’t know, a Press Release is a piece of paper that contains a brief overview of the release you are trying to push out to media or radio or labels. Every release we do at the label has a press release to go with it, telling whoever reads it about the release, collaborators, interesting facts and angles, and also a little bit about the band too. Traditionally these are usually written up by the Print (Magazines/Newspapers) PR company you have on board to work the release. Throw a photo in if you like and you’re sorted.

A Biography is just that. A history of the band or act written by someone else. A page long should suffice, but obviously it all depends on how long the subjects of it have been going. Be honest, big yourself up and try and get someone outside of the band to write it. An impartial biography reads much better than a fan boy one.

Of course, if you’re signed to a label or management, then you don’t really need to worry about this, as someone else will be writing all these up for you. However, if like most of the examples I receive you’re unsigned and doing it yourselves, here are a few pointers for you, from what I’ve seen.

Press Releases/Biog

  • Keep them to the point. By all means, shout to the heavens about your achievements; you’ve got every right. Just don’t waffle. Lots of indie labels run small crews, so a 4 page copy about your band is not a smart move. Keep the meat of your text somewhere on your website or Facebook page where someone can find it, and make your press release interesting so people want to find out more.
  • Appearance and presentation. Humans make first impressions on another person in under a second or something ridiculous like that. Same theory applies when you submit your info to a label. I have received a press release written in crayon (by what appeared to be a 4 year old) on lined Winnie The Pooh paper (I think) with cut outs of the bands photos thrown in for good measure. Arty, yes. Easy to read, No. By all means be inventive and creative. You want to stand out. Just don’t make it difficult to read. The best one I have seen had a brief hand written hello, press release, a biography and upcoming gig dates with a sticker, a CD and some badges.
  • If you can afford to or you think it might help, throw in a few gig tickets. Personally, I will always try to at least make it to the show if someone sends some tickets through the post to us about their band. I’m a musician, and tickets are income. So if they’re prepared to lose £12 and send a few tickets through, I personally am more likely to go and watch. It’s a nice gesture.
  • Emails. We live in a digital age. However, here are a few tips for you guys sending links about over email…
    • DON’T ATTACH YOUR MUSIC FILES TO THE EMAIL! Trying to download 45.3MB of attachments is not only annoying; it slows down receiving the rest of your emails. Link to your Soundcloud/Band Camp/Myspace.
    • Write a bit more than “Hey, listen to my band. Thanks, J. Bloggs”. Throw a bit of your bio in, leave a few links to music and gigs and videos. Don’t drown the email with words, but give us some assets.
    • This is an important one. Don’t, for love of all that is good and tasty in the world, paste 300 email addresses into your “To:” or “CC:” section. Use BCC, A.K.A. Blind Copy. It sends the email to everyone, but the recipients don’t see the 299 other labels you’ve sent your band to. Personalization is key here. Talk to us directly, not a blanket “Hi guys…”.

I hope this helps you guys out when it comes to trying to pimp your band out to labels or management. I will leave you with one, final piece of advice.

Know what label you are sending music to. Sunday Best are traditionally Leftfield, Hip-Hop, Dance, and Indie with bands like Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, Dub Pistols, Max Sedgley, and Beardyman. For example, the death metal band who sent me a CD of music for our consideration, I enjoyed. Next time though, send it to Earache or Nuclear Blast, you might get a better response. KNOW YOUR TARGET!

By Luke Crook

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Working For An Indie Record Label – Part 2 – By Luke Crook

Hello again!

So, the last article was a bit of a ramble aimed at some of the tech/admin steps you go through at a label to take a release from X tracks on a CD-R or Pendrive and getting it out to digital and physical retailers worldwide.

This time, lets talk about something that’s a little more…well, creative!

Artwork.

Next to the music itself, artwork is in my opinion the next more important part of a release. Before streaming music became so incredibly popular, all you had to go on was if you’d heard it on the radio and how awesome the front cover looked!

So, where do you start?

Well, first things first, you need an idea. Whilst it might sound stupid, you can waste a lot of time if you don’t have some direction, because more often than not, the music is more or less done before the artwork starts, and no-one wants to rush. Following that, you need a designer to put it all together. This can take some time too, so make sure you’re looking out for one. Check out other CD designs you like, artwork, even book covers. Students are good, as they are cheap! Friends are even better! Discussions about whether you can gloss finish, matte finish, pantones/fluros (neon colours), metallic effects, how many pages you want in your booklet/inlay, how you want your digipack to fold and open will follow that. Lots of fun!

Then, once you’ve got a designer working on your great idea, you need to work out formats. CD/Limited Edition CD/LP/Digital/Magical Unicorn Edition.

Now, on the surface, a pack shot (Album Cover) is a pack shot, but format changes everything. CD’s are fairly straight forward and versatile. If it’s a jewel case, your inlay/booklet doubles up as your pack shot! Yaaay! All you need after that is your artwork for under the tray (where the CD slots) and artwork for the back of the case, which more often than not has the track listing. Digipacks are slightly different, because it’s all printed onto one piece of card and then folded. It can be gatefold, 2 fold, 3 fold (Rammsteins latest release opened out 5 ways if memory serves!). You need to remember where the slot for your inlay (if you have one) is going if you have one too!

Now, before I go any further, I’ve forgotten to mention one of the most important aspects of artwork. Label Copy. Label copy is essential the bible for the release. It’s a document containing everything about the album/single. Catalogue number, artist, title, track listing, publishers, copyright and publishing rights, collaborators, thank yous, websites and loads more. Most of this will go into your booklet and back cover for legal and information reasons.

Great, that’s the CD covered. Oh…what about the LP? No booklet there (Unless you’re feeling fancy!). So, you’ve not got to go back and ask your designer very nicely if he/she can do you a whole new template. Front and back sleeve (And center if it’s a gatefold) and stickers for the vinyl. This leads me back to my point about making sure you know all your formats before you go to design, otherwise you’ll: A. Irritate your designer or B. End up having to pay more for another format design. LP’s tend to have a far more stripped down label copy on them, purely for the sake of space.

Digitally, its pretty simple. Just a packshot. Bliss. Through iTunes you can also get a digital booklet to go with it if you want, as an added extra.

All of that, when all most people will ever see is the pack shot, when they walk past it in the shops or scroll past online. That’s your one chance to catch their attention and get them interested. The rest, that’s their reward for picking it up.

Always run it past your artist for approval. They don’t need to see it at every stage, just when there is a significant change or update.

Oh, and don’t forget to proof read it. Lots!

by Luke Crook

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Working For An Indie Record Label – Part 1 – By Luke Crook

As some of you may know, I work for an Indie Record Label. It’s a blast, but not what everyone thinks it is. So, I thought it would be interesting to do a little blog about what the day to day is like working for an Indie Record Label because as much as I make it sound like gigs galore and nights out in reality, it’s really not!

Paperwork. Data entry. There’s lots of it.

 Before this job I thought getting a record made meant going to the studio, getting the tracks done and then sending them off for mass production. If only.

So, we’ve got the music. Great. Then you need to get it Mastered. Which is fine. So long as you remember to deliver the relevant ISRC codes (Unique, trackable numbers for each track) with it. Oh, and the correct track listing for the Redbook/DDP (final format for delivery to manufacture). Forgot to write “feat. Blah blah blah”? That’ll be an extra £40 to get it amended.

Then, you enter the lovely world of Metadata, or the spreadsheet of doom as I like to call it. You enter ALL the track/album info into a spreadsheet. Title, artist, feature artist, release data, catalogue number, publisher, composer, producer. Everything. 10 track album? Not to bad. 5 formats? Not so easy. CD, LP, Digital, iTunes Exclusive, German Exclusive? Yup, need to write a separate one for each. And make sure you get a new barcode for each. And the right catalogue number. Did you know Scandinavia can’t take iTunes videos? So an exclusive with video means a separate entry all together.

 Oh, and the price. Easy you think? “We’ll sell it for £xx”. But then you have to talk to separate countries about their price, and if you don’t, it wont show up on their system. And they don’t tell you till the last minute. Handy.

And between all that, you’ve got the Label Copy. Label Copy is a document that holds all the information about the release. Contributors, publishers, copyright holders. 9 guest artists? Better get all the separate publishing information for them, ASAP!

Whilst all this is going on, you’ve got artwork. Pricing for artwork. Working out the unit cost of each product. Did you know you can’t release a CD in Europe if it’s not shrink-wrapped?

 *Breathe*

That’ll do for now I think. For me, its fascinating to see what goes into actually getting a CD released to the public, and how it works. Above is just a teeny part of what goes on. There’s also marketing, sales notes, picking singles and remixes, track ordering and much more. I will be back with more about what it is like working for an indie record label soon.

By Luke Crook

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