Welcome to a special edition of “secrets behind music publicity that up-and-coming artists should know.” Later in this article, I am going to break down the six types of blogs that are relevant to musicians. But first, I want to start by talking about the audience that will read all about you when you get featured on a blog. More specifically, the two types of audiences: the in-crowd, and the out-crowd.
It’s pretty straight-forward. The term “in-crowd” refers to people working in the music industry. This will include A&R reps, managers, booking agents, other music bloggers and fellow musicians. The “out-crowd” is anyone in the general public who might be interested in listening to you, and then becoming a fan.
With every interview and feature you sit down and answer questions for, you need to know who you’re talking to. Obviously, you can’t stop a big fan from reading an interview that caters to the industry crowd, but looking at the publication and deciding who to aim for will make you come across as a lot more intelligent and interesting, leading to more impact when the article is published. So basically, if you’re being interviewed, your mission is to either build industry credibility, or turn some readers into fans.
The big picture, of course, is to look good to both groups. A lot of musicians, especially in a local scene, will tend to be best friends. It’s great that they come to your shows, and like each other’s Facebook Pages, but it’s not sustainable to grow your career if the only people who care about you and your music are other artists. While it’s cool to keep working hard and challenging yourself with new songs to keep up your street cred with equally talented buddies, your main way of making money is from bringing the general public out to your shows, even those who can’t name all the notes in the C Major scale. These are the people who will connect to your music on an emotional level, build memories with it, and support you for your art, who you are, and what you stand for. Don’t discount them. As for the industry crowd: you want to sound smart and in control in that arena too.
Now, I’ve broken down the six main types of blogs that would be relevant to you as an artist. Here are some general overviews and tips for each:
1. Mainstream Music Publications:
This is just a general grouping for any magazine, blog, or YouTube channel that only covers mainstream music. Whether they be in the position to have stars give interviews, or are relying on big name albums to get YouTube views or clicks, these places aren’t in the business of breaking unknown artists to the world on a regular basis. And let’s face it: none of the “unknown” artists they introduce have 50 Facebook likes. Some will cover a little bit of every sound, others have one specific genre – and almost all of them run with tight publication schedules (gotta get those clicks while everyone’s buzzing about this artist).
Out of all six of these categories, the Mainstream Music Publication has the largest built-in reader base of pure music fans. That is, people who will visit the website regularly to read what’s new and actively check out anyone positively portrayed with a sound they like. This is the type of publication where a feature is the most directly correlated to an increase in streams/sales.
To qualify for a feature here, you need to be on the Billboard charts or have a very well connected professional publicist, most likely a fascinating image or story, and something to promote. 10,000 engaged social media followers across platforms is usually considered a minimum. Truth: cold-emailing a huge magazine asking them to give you an interview when your buzz-less debut single was released four months ago won’t be a good use of your time, no matter how polite you are.
Best Advice: Don’t focus on them until you’re at a point in your career where you’re working with a professional PR agency who has those connections, you have a large social media following of your own, and a lot of buzz. If you are in a position to be working with them, have all your materials handy and keep checking your emails. They’re very fast-paced, and if they suddenly need a different professional photo, keeping them waiting or not answering is looked down upon. Answer questions with the out-crowd in mind, appear humble and positive, thank the interviewer after, and display the feature proudly on your creative resumé.
2. Unknown Artist Sites:
On the flip side of places that only cover the hits, there are blogs and review sites that take pride in introducing young/underground/up-and-coming acts. These can vary in size from free hobby blogs with one writer to registered businesses with a team providing daily content. Depending on your clout as an artist, you can decide for yourself which of these opportunities are worth your time.
A little something most “unknown artist” sites won’t tell you that they struggle with, is returning visitors. Especially if they’re new on the scene, they are working hard at building a brand based off their personality and taste, and a lot of people (who don’t know them in real life) don’t subscribe to their regular content yet. Because of that, most of their site readers will be there for one review or interview, and not come back consistently. That is: the small artist will share their blog feature proudly on their social media, and only them, their parents, and their followers will read it – and those people frankly don’t care about whoever the blog interviews next (obviously, that’s an extreme case, and there are many “levels” of popularity, size and clout these blogs can have). But, you’re going to have to bring some of your own readers.
The best thing about these kind of publications is that because they take so much pride in introducing a future star, they will almost never write anything negative. Yeah, a big music critic can get away with giving the latest pop record a low rating, but any young music reviewer who drags a small band’s debut EP through the mud just looks like an internet bully. As a result, they want to make you look really good, which will then also make other artists inclined to work with them. Sure, they might point out a small flaw or two in a music review to keep the image of authenticity, but for the most part, these are fluff pieces that will build your list of positive press quotes, and give you excellent practice answering questions.
There aren’t any particular rules about how to qualify for a review or feature, because it varies so greatly. Sometimes they reach out to you, asking if you would be interested in an interview. But most often, you email them or fill out a form on a contact page of their website for reviews or feature applications; mine is here, for example. Some bigger ones get far too many emails and use a third party application website like SubmitHub. It’s extremely important to research which blogs you submit to and be strategic about it. If you’re in a viking-metal band, for example, it’s just awkward to receive a rejection email from a pop-country blog. Make sure you follow their submission guidelines, which are usually laid out plainly on their website. Oh, and please don’t message them on their personal Facebook profiles, that’s creepy and might get you blacklisted.
Best Advice: Try to aim for features/reviews on blogs either as popular as you or larger, or who have a very niche and devoted fanbase who trust the writer’s taste in music enough to check out anything they recommend. Be sure to happily promote this article to your existing fanbase, as they are the ones most likely to read it. For interviews: keep your answers upbeat and tell your fans you love them so much without being cheesy. Try to tell one life story you’ve never told before in each blog interview, that’ll keep fans reading without ever feeling like all your features are the same. For reviews: make sure to copy and paste the best compliments onto your artist website; if it’s in writing, you can quote it no problem. Thank the publication loudly, and if you had a pleasant experience, try to stay in touch – you can grow together.
3. Local Music Coverage:
Pretty straight-forward. These are places that will only talk about things happening in a distinct geographic area (may it be a city or a general region). Sometimes they’re places on the web only talking about music, other times they’re a page in the back of the local print newspaper. The main readers are the people who live in the area, which usually mixes your other musician friends in with avid concert goers and people who want to support the arts scene. In other words, the mayor is more likely to read about you than a record label exec.
Do some research and know the demographic of the readers of the local publication. As a general rule, print papers with a section titled “Arts & Culture” will appeal to seniors and families, so try to be wholesome (or at least not swear too much). Blogs tend to allow a little more creative expression, as they are frequently visited by the younger, tech-savvy crowd – but I recommend playing it safe if you’re unsure and your lyrics are generally clean anyway. Answer questions for future fans.
There are two reasons an artist would want local press: they live in the area, or they’re passing through on tour. If you don’t live or have never lived within the county lines and have no plans to play there anytime soon, don’t submit.
If you live here: Go looking through the publication to know the name and email of the writer or the editor. Then, reach out to them politely. Bigger places line up their features a while in advance, and will only write about newsworthy events such as album releases or large concerts – especially if they also cover visual art, indie films and/or theatre. Smaller blogs aren’t particularly known for their tight schedules, so you can approach them at any point in your album cycle – but don’t expect a rush order. Unless you live in a huge city or the writer is super particular, they will cover almost every genre, so you don’t need to fret if you haven’t seen an artist with your sound featured before. Since in the grand scheme of your music scene, there isn’t too much bitter competition between artists for press (hopefully), you’re probably only going to get rejected if your recordings are below standard quality. Try to meet the interviewer in person if you can; buy them coffee, take selfies that they can use to promote the article.
If you’re touring: Reach out at least three months in advance. You don’t know the how many other artists are in the queue to be featured, so don’t risk missing out because their schedule is full the week leading up to your show. Remember to clearly state the date, time, venue and age restrictions (if applicable) of your gig. Try to get a phone or Skype interview instead of answering emailed questions – writers love being able to make your personality come through in their article, which is hard to do if you two have never met.
Best Advice: Tell them you love the city. A little while ago, I came across a local blog interview with a small folk artist who straight up insulted my town, calling the musicians on the scene lazy and entitled; not a good way to make friends. If you’re from around here, namecheck your favourite venues and other local establishments. If you’re visiting, tell them what cute touristy things you’d love to do if you get some time the morning before the show. Give the writers some free stuff; sign a personalized thank you on your CD for the writer who reviewed it or a merch t-shirt. If you’re featured to talk about a big show, write off three tickets; one for the journalist as a thank you, and the two others for a giveaway contest they can organize to promote you in advance.
4. Pay For Placement Services:
So far, I’ve only talked about media outlets that feature artists out of pure, honest enthusiasm. Whether they’re local or international, feature one genre or them all, talk to established stars or underground talent, the one thing these writers all have in common is that they love music, and want to showcase their passion and good taste to the public. I have the utmost respect for people like this.
Then, you’ve got the sharks who want to get in on the action and make a quick buck. I have zero respect for these pieces of trash. This is how it works: they go online and seek out young, inexperienced musicians who don’t know how the publicity game works; usually ones without official releases of original songs. Then, they reach out either in the DM or by Gmail (after finding them on YouTube). They flatter the artist, tell them how much they love their music and they’re going to go so far. They tell them that it just so happens they run a music blog, which is always looking for artists to feature. Maybe embellish their reader stats. End of message. All that sounds pretty legit, right? Especially if the artist has never worked with the press before. They reply all excitedly, and while waiting to book a time, go check out the blog and their social media presence, daydreaming all the way.
Okay, so the blog looks a little sloppy and amateurish, but they said they’ve got all these readers, so it’s not that important – I should never judge a book by its cover anyway. And look at their social media accounts! So many followers! Okay, so no one is interacting with them, but they’re probably all busy A&R reps and jealous musicians who wish they could get featured. See! They’re announcing their interviews in statuses, photos and tweets! Wow, they cover just about every genre, so I’ll have no problem fitting in…
At this point, the “blogger” gets back to them. Yeah, they will get a professionally written feature… for the price of $10. Or $100. Or $1,000. And they fall for it. The resulting professional article is almost always less than 500 words, and is more often than not a retread of the contents of their bio. It’s a fluff piece without passion, that this young artist then shows off proudly to their friends, family, and social media followers. They then add the piece to their resumé, believing this adds credibility for other (legitimate) bloggers to feature them next.
Here’s where its all falls apart though: real members of the media see pay for placements as a big turn off. It gives the impression that the artist is incapable of landing a legitimate feature on even the smallest unknown artist blog. Whether it be because they don’t have enough fans who would read an actual article to make it worth someone’s unpaid time, they’re not a pleasant person to talk to, or their music is so atrocious that no one reputable wants to be associated with them, most bloggers don’t care to find out. These artists are so insecure about the fact that they cannot get media coverage that instead of working on themselves, they pay money to play pretend, thinking it’ll make them look good. Yeah, that might impress their grandparents who don’t know anything about the music industry, but it won’t impress any of the in-crowd.
Best Advice: Run.
5. Trade Publications:
Veering away from blogs that solely talk about the art, up next are trade publications. These are music industry blogs where all the readers are the in-crowd; this blog is a trade publication, for example. They aren’t as commonly found or easy to set up as unknown artist sites, since they require qualified writers that their readers will take seriously, as they are essentially teaching through their experiences in the music business. It’s not as lightweight as recommending someone go stream a song; the writers are providing actionable advice that has bigger consequences if miscalculated than a wasted four minutes of someone’s day.
There are two ways to get featured in a trade publication: the first is by being interviewed. Interviews in these kind of blogs are very different than one aimed for the out-crowd. You’re going to be talking to fellow artists, and trying to make a good impression for industry big-shots, who are frequent readers and commentators. It’s alright to mention your hometown once or twice in context, but don’t go on about it unless pressed. You can mention you love your fans, but this article isn’t aimed at them. You likely won’t be asked about your love life either. Instead, this is your time to let your music geek side run loose. If asked about songwriting, you can talk about those complex chords. If asked about the studio, you won’t get blank stares by mentioning the name of the console. You are being recruited here to talk about your experience in the music industry, and impart the reader with evergreen value. Talk about your philosophies for success and give advice that worked for you to every reader. You don’t just want people to click on your interview, you want them to remember you as being cool, in control, and experienced enough for younger artists to look up to, while reputable in-crowd businesses keep an eye on you.
The second type of feature is a guest post. That’s right: you, a musician, are going to be a one-time honorary guest blogger. To do this, you’ve got to write a piece (1,250+ words is usually good) of quality content where you are an expert on one facet of the music industry. You weave the story of how you got this experience into a lesson full of actionable tips that artists who are currently in your old shoes can try. You’re not writing a passionate essay; you’re teaching something you learnt that others will find useful. The two main benefits are that you’ll gain both the trust and thought-leader status from younger artists, and by showing your expertise, you come off as really smart to other industry folk, who are more likely to offer you good deals when working with you.
Artists who qualify for a feature in a trade publication are usually more experienced. That makes sense, though – what sage advice could a twelve-year-old YouTube cover singer with three subscribers offer? That doesn’t mean they’re all old and retired. Trade publications want experts with a finger on the pulse of the industry, not just those who talk about the good old days of their prime 40 years ago, and refuse to adapt. The first artist guest post on Pop of Colour was from a jazz duo; they just talked about everything they had learnt working with a publicist – and it was a huge success for both of us. If you’ve got something useful to say, type it together nicely and start pitching. Yes, you will need to pitch. Unless you know the editors personally, they won’t email you asking for your insights in a guest post (interviews, maybe). So send a nice email or fill out their contact form. Highlight your experiences in the industry, what you’d love to talk about, and subtly make it sound like it won’t be a lot of work for them.
Best Advice: A lot trade publications are corporate-run. This means that they are a marketing tool for artist service companies to both have quality content to share on their social media platforms, and show up in the search engine results of potential clients trying to navigate the music industry on their own. They employ a team of accomplished industry professionals, which makes it harder for artists who haven’t been in trade publications before to get noticed. Others (such as this blog), are solo projects where it’s easier and faster to get ahold of the person behind it. If you want to get into the trade publication scene, I would start with smaller blogs while you’re also gaining experience in art, and build both your music career and your industry credibility at the same time.
6. Outside Passion Blogs:
Last, but certainly not least, I would like to make a case for outside passion blogs. These are blogs that have absolutely nothing to do with music, and yes they can still be relevant.
Do you remember me saying at the beginning of this article that to grow as a musician, you’re going to have to bring regular people from the out-crowd into your circle of fans? Well, there are going to be people who love your music and will support you forever, they just need to discover you first; and because they don’t work in the music industry, they might not discover you if you only appear on music blogs, because they don’t regularly read music blogs.
Many of them are multi-faceted human beings who love and support a lot of things. They have jobs in other industries, juggle several hobbies, support causes close to their hearts. They have families and experiences and life stories that connect to your music on an emotional level, even if they can’t fully appreciate your technical skill.
What do they do online instead? They read other blogs! They read about mental wellbeing, vintage fashion, healthy lifestyles, avocado toast recipes, and much, much more! This is the kind of daily content they choose to receive in their inbox, “like” on Facebook and subscribe to on YouTube. They see their lives as a better place and being improved when they learn something new and take action after reading a blog post. Oh, and they also listen to music from their smartphones, and go to shows with their friends on the weekends. Artists, don’t limit your fanbase by only being within reach of hardcore music nerds! There is a lot of untapped potential with regular people who will buy your stuff, go to your concerts and follow you online.
So how do you get in front of them? You are going to write a guest post. What about? Anything you’re knowledgeable about and confident to give advice on, that’s not music-related. You’ll work the fact that you’re a professional musician into the article, but the main focus is to highlight another part of who you are, in your lifestyle. Maybe you’re a talented artist who happens to have an anxiety disorder, but you’ve got an arsenal of coping strategies that help you with stage fright and networking events. Maybe you’re celiac, and you’ve got some tips for road trips that you compiled on your last tour. Maybe you just have an awesome recipe for avocado toast. Write a helpful and charismatic article about it. Then, go pitch to outside passion blogs.
Best Advice: You’ll want to be strategic about the geographic location, as a lot of lifestyle blogs have big regional followings. So look up one in your area, one in a city that you’re planning on stopping by on tour, or one based where your music is trending (maybe you’re inexplicably cool in Brazil). Aim for a large blog and/or one with a devoted audience. The number of comments below articles on lifestyle blogs is usually a pretty good metric for how well they’re doing. Then, send a polite pitch email in which you tell them what you wrote about and why you think it would be a good fit for their blog (don’t send them the entire piece you wrote until they ask). Make sure you get a little bio and links to your social media at the end. It’s not much different than pitching to anyone in the music industry, really.
There you have it. I broke down the six types of blogs relevant to musicians in this post. I hope you found this guide useful! Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you did. Good luck on your features!