Among the many struggles facing musicians who’d like some measure of recognition and compensation for their work, the untold hours and years spent learning, practicing, introspecting about, and further honing the craft are kind of the easy part. Getting someone to give a crap beyond petty praise on social media is what’s really hard.
And while I can’t really offer a whole lot of help in terms of ideas for a bold, innovative, genius-level plan of attack, I can offer a few thoughts on what not to do from the perspective of someone who’s received hundreds of thousands of albums and press releases over the last 20 years.
It used to be that one of your best shots at scoring some kind of media action was by getting a physical CD and band bio into the right people’s hands. These days, social media, YouTube, etc. are crucial, of course, but it’s also much easier, faster, and cheaper to email a press contact a hook-y introduction with links to streaming music.
But both avenues have their pros and cons. If you’ve got a little money to spare, send something creatively unusual via snail mail—it’ll stand out a lot more than an email stranded in an Inbox Sea.
And by “creatively unusual,” I’m not talking ’70s DJ-bribing tactics like vials of cocaine or rolls of $100 bills. Artsy fliers or cards, quirky band-logo-emblazoned paraphernalia, or even just a thoughtful, personalized handwritten note testify to a level of care and effort beyond the norm. Something unique or witty can’t help but differentiate you—or at least garner a few extra seconds of eyeball time, by sheer dint of shaking up the monotony of someone’s hectic schedule. And don’t discount that: You never know what small bit of genius might get the ball rolling for some kind of attention.
What exactly qualifies as “witty,” “quirky,” or “creative”? If I told you it wouldn’t be witty etc., now, would it? What I can tell you, however, is what NOT to do when trying to get attention with your album, bio, and press pics. We’ll start with visuals, since that’s what eyes tend to flit to first.
- Train tracks. I feel like I shouldn’t even have to say this—it’s so ridiculous and pathetically cliché. I’m not sure when or why this started. A romanticized fascination with hobos? A Stand by Me fetish? The notion that viewers will be bowled over by how daring you must be to stand on those rusting iron rails across town that haven’t seen a choo choo in decades? Pretty much everyone I’ve ever known who works in media snickers and scoffs at these pics.
- Bare feet. Again, to me this is a no-brainer. It’s a proven fact that 99 percent of humans who aren’t foot models have clompers that look misshapen and gross to pretty much everyone else. But you’d be shocked how many press packets I’ve gotten where someone thought an entirely too prominent view of their crusty callouses and yellowing, weirdly misshapen toenails would show the world what a happy-go-lucky free spirit they are. Remember: Turn heads, not stomachs.
- Brick walls. Although slightly more forgivable than train tracks and infinitely more palatable than corns, band photos in front of a generic-looking red brick wall are just that—generic.
- Rig bragging. I know it seems like an obvious point of interest—especially if you’re a guitar nut trying to get the attention of a mag/website made by guitar nuts for guitar nuts. But guess what? We see all sorts of cool gear here, and yes, we love it. But we’ve also heard plenty of players use expensive gear to create music that sounds like Sunday afternoon at Guitar Center. There’s nothing wrong with having interesting gear, of course, but—at least for me—an album whose artwork features a guitarist surrounded by boutique or vintage instruments and amps is an ill omen. I immediately make the sign to ward off the Evil Eye. Why? It makes you look insecure and shallow—or like you’re auditioning for the guitar equivalent of MTV Cribs. It gives the impression you think fancy-schmancy gear equates to interesting music. It says you’re more into guitar as a talisman of validation than a tool to create art. Same goes for pedalboard shots.
Words and Such
- Rig bragging. No, there’s not an echo in here. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten where artists and publicists breathily, and with many adverbs and exclamation points, list how many pieces of vintage gear were used on the album. If the most interesting thing about your music—or even the second- or third-most-interesting thing—is your gear, something’s horribly wrong.
- “Bleeding Cowboys” font. I think this one speaks for itself.
- GoPro videos. This is kind of next-level thinking for those with rig-brag mentality. I’m here to tell you that a wobbly, perspective-distorted, dizzyingly gonzo video of ripping fretboard antics and unwanted close-ups of your unclipped nose hairs and the sweaty depths of your muscle-T caverns is simply alienating. Your music speaks for itself. Present it with confident, genuine simplicity, or in an artful way. GoPros are a garbage gimmick.
- Putting yourself on a pedestal. It’s one thing to try to stir interest with carefully selected references that hint at your particular stylistic mélange, but once you start comparing yourself to hallowed legends—or worse, claiming to outdo them—you’re destined for derision and deletion.
At the end of the day, of course, what matters most to us here at PG is whether new music moves us—because if it does, it’s going to move many of you, too. And certainly it’s possible for cool music to be accompanied by a written or visual faux pas. But you know what they say about first impressions. Why not improve your chances by taking a lesson or two from our pain?