BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE, EDITOR
One of the industry skills that our music degrees often fail to teach us is how to approach the press about our projects.
It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. You may be a solo musician, ensemble member, or arts administrator working with a community orchestra. Either way, it is guaranteed that you will need to communicate with the media in order to gain exposure and publicity for your work.
But where do you start? And once you have a foot in the door, how do you keep it there?
Drawing on experiences from the opposite side of the coin, as a newspaper and magazine journalist, I’ve put together some information I hope you’ll find valuable when approaching the press about your music.
1. Know what you want to gain before you pitch
You may have spent months rehearsing and feel fully prepared to share your music with the world. But convincing a newspaper why they should cover your music is another story. You will see a big difference in response depending on the tone and content you choose to deliver to a publication.
When you email your pitch to an editor (we’ll get to this part, too), know your reason for sending it and what you want the outcome to be. Research the publication first and you’ll be better equipped to explain why they should cover your story. If you have an event coming up, see if that magazine has covered anything similar in the past and tell them why your show would be a great one to review. Link your pitch to the publication’s goals and aims, and you’ll have a better chance of getting this story covered.
Another good move is to let the editor know you’re open to an interview, or point to another person in your group who would be happy to take part in one. Publications look for newsworthy content; if you can find an angle that shows them your project is worth the coverage (and it most likely is), then pitch it.
2. Invest in high quality press shots
You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars hiring the best photographer in town to take a few snaps – but high quality press shots will make all the difference. A few quick photos on your mobile phone might not do you justice. However, if you only have access to an iPhone, make sure your lighting and conditions are as great as you can make them – and consider processing using a free app like VSCO® or Picasa. A bad photo can cause damage in the slither of time that you have to grab a reader’s attention. Do not underestimate the power of a good press shot.
If you’re able, look at other ensembles or musicians in your area and find out who took their snaps. Or you could invest in a camera yourself, whether it’s new or secondhand. The aim is to stand out from the crowd.
3. Put together your electronic press kit
High quality press shots will give you that professional edge – especially when worked into an EPK. The EPK will contain your (or your group’s) bio, gigs, media mentions, quotes, photos, websites and links to your music, and any other key information that says: ‘This is who I am, what I’ve done, and why you should listen’. It’s a document that binds everything into one.
Our deputy editor Lucy Rash recommends starting out with Sonicbids, an online EPK construction program.
4. Approach the right contact (at the right time)
More often than not, you’ll find the editorial staff at major publications are simply too busy to respond – especially to a last-minute pitch. And if you send your EPK to the technology editor or food editor when your story fits the music section, then you’ll be unlikely to get anywhere (even if the technology editor is the only contact you can find). Do you have a story that showcases the achievements of women in music? Research the publication and contact the women’s editor. Are you presenting music in collaboration with a light installation? Contact the arts editor. If you’re a solo pianist preparing for a recital in the concert hall, contact the music editor. If you’re reaching out to a major publication – whether it’s The Guardian or your city’s Murdoch newspaper – don’t go straight to the editor in chief, because they might not see your email buried among the hundreds they received that day. It may sound brutal, but this is what will get you ahead.
In contrast, if you’re approaching an independent or niche publication – like many of Australia’s arts publications – find out who is on the editorial team. It may be a tighter group and suitable to go straight to the editor or deputy editor, which will make contacts easier for you to find and approach. Again, make sure your pitch is shaped to the publication.
5. Be confident in your interview
My background is in classical saxophone, and I’ve always found it much easier to express my personal feelings through an instrument than by talking about them to someone I don’t know. The idea of participating in a phone or a face-to-face interview can be kind of scary. But it must be done and with practice, you’ll be rocking it.
Hopefully, the journalist will be approachable and will ease you into the interview with a few light questions before asking you about things that may be confronting, revealing, or just plain difficult to put into words. And if they’re asking you about your experiences and background, then you already know all the answers. So take your time, and be calm. Give your passion the respect it deserves by discussing it with clarity.
If you need a minute to compose yourself and gather your thoughts, no one will blame you, and the response will be all the better for it. If it’s your first time or you’re nervous, you don’t need to hide it – tell the journalist how you feel. You can even be as straightforward as to say: ‘I have to admit – I’m just so nervous. But I’m here because I care and I can’t wait to share my projects with you and your audience, so thanks for having me on!’. It’s likely they’ll show you compassion, and you’ll ease up now you have it off your chest.
6. Own your powerful story
When it comes to the content of your interview, it’s important to have a solid idea of all aspects of your project. When you read an interview with a musician, conductor, or composer, what do you enjoy reading about? It’s one thing to state the basic facts, but if you want to take things a step further and offer a truly powerful story, then you’ll need to get personal. Share your secrets, thoughts and fears. Open up about your driving force. Invite the reader or listener to learn about your project by learning about you. That way, you won’t feel like you wished you said this or that – you’ll come away with no regrets. Further, you’ll engage the interests of the journalist who may then fuel their enthusiasm into a better story for you.
7. Never be afraid to put yourself out there
Do you pick up a magazine and think: ‘Wow, this person is amazing! I would have no hope of being published next to them’, or ‘I’m so young and I don’t have too much experience – I doubt anyone will write about what I’m up to’?
To be perfectly blunt, this will get you nowhere.
No matter how small your group, how obscure your concert, or how little experience you’ve had before this project, you need to assert yourself with confidence. You must never allow yourself to feel like you aren’t good enough, or aren’t worthy of being featured. Be brave and put yourself out there. Otherwise, you’ll have no chance of getting the coverage you deserve. If you get knocked back by a publication, that’s fine – try again next time. As long as you have a career in the arts, you will always have interesting and personal stories to share.
So now it’s time to open up, and start sharing!
Would you like to learn more? We offer copywriting services to help you with your press kits, and one-on-one mentoring sessions via Skype. Have a look at what we can do for you and your career.
Main image: Catface27 via Flickr/CC2.0.