Whether you’re announcing an exciting new collaboration on your latest album, or telling the world about that great festival gig you just booked, every artist’s marketing strategy needs to include a plan to spread the word to press, booking agents, promoters, club owners, music industry, and ultimately, fans. Enter the press release, the all-powerful written announcement that broadcasts the vitally important 5 Ws – who, what, where, why, and when – on your big news.
Press releases are more than just compiled facts – like much in music, they’re also about telling a story. Whether your press release is for your EPK, press kit, or blog, here are some tips from industry professionals on how to write a press release and get your music the attention it deserves.
Don’t write a press release for everything
“Sending out too many press releases can cause fatigue and foster disinterest on the part of local and national press,” says Ernie Rideout, marketing director for the Stanford Jazz Festival and former Editor in Chief of Keyboard magazine.
Veteran publicist Regina Joskow, who currently works with the Missing Piece Group, agrees. “Make sure you have something to announce, as blindingly obvious as that may be,” she says. “I’ve had executives say things like, ‘This album was the third most added record this week,’ or ‘it debuted at number 190 in the Billboard top 200. Can we do a press release?’ I have to tell them that no, that’s not press release material! Press releases are to announce actual news – tour dates, a record being certified gold, Pitchfork calling your album the coolest thing since toast, or something of that magnitude.”
According to Ariel Hyatt, founder of Ariel Publicity, other events worth writing about include touring a specific area, a location-based event, or playing a charity function. “Getting your music played on MTV’s 16 and Pregnant or posting a new video on YouTube is not press release worthy,” she affirms.
Review other music press releases
Before you sit down to draft your own press release, take a few minutes to look at what other bands have done before you. Press releases can be laid out in many different ways with creative uses of color, graphics, bold text, and other formatting devices – and can take many different editorial approaches to telling stories and sharing news – so seeing a wide variety of examples can give you an idea of what direction best suits your music.
If you personally know any writers, editors, or other music business folks, chances are they’ll be able to hook you up with more music press releases than you’ll ever want to see, whether in paper or electronic form. If not, a quick search online can give you plenty of music-related press releases to glance over.
When you’re looking over other peoples’ press releases, take note of what you like about their form and content, what’s easy to read, what draws you in, and what bores you. Knowing what you find effective and engaging as a reader can help you craft something powerful as a writer.
(Ed note: try searching “press release sample,” and “music press release” for starters. See below for samples.)
Write an engaging subject line and lead paragraph
“When you’re sending a press release out via email, make your subject line as concise, informative, and eye-catching as possible,” says Joskow. “Journalists get hundreds, if not thousands, per week, and a lot of journalists simply don’t get around to opening emails for many days unless they’ve got something in the subject line that’s so immediately eye-catching that they can’t ignore it.”
Avoid obscenities and shock tactics when writing your email headline, but do try to be creative. “Try referencing a name that people have heard of or pulling a really amazing quote that catches peoples’ attention,” continues Joskow.
Once you get someone to open an email, your opening paragraph should accomplish a similar set of tasks, says Rideout. “It should grab attention, but be authentic and exhibit a minimum of bullshit,” he says. “A lot of it boils down to a simple question – why should the reader care? That needs to come out in the first paragraph.”
Write for clarity, not coolness
This may seem like a no-brainer, but sending off a press release that’s well-crafted and grammatically correct can say a lot about the quality of your music and how seriously you take your art.
“Use complete English sentences to write focused paragraphs with topic sentences, and talk about one idea per paragraph – basic principles of good writing,” advises Rideout. “Avoid the use of any jargon whatsoever – don’t use hipster talk, street talk, or anything else that could be confusing or misinterpreted. What you’re writing has to mean the same thing to your reader as it does to you and the rest of the world.”
In other words, you never know who’s going to be seeing your press release once you send it out – so make sure that everything you write will be crystal clear to the most bleeding-edge blogger, the most old-school newspaper editor, and everyone in between.
Be careful with adjectives
Fans may describe your music in glowing terms, but think twice before including grandiose self-praise in a press release describing your music.
“Don’t use hyperbole and don’t inject adjectives to an extreme,” says Rideout. “I’ve read many poorly thought out press releases from major record labels that used descriptive adjectives loosely and incorrectly. Their intent was to drum up excitement, but nothing turns an editor off faster than obvious hype for the sake of hype.
“An editor, booking agent, or anybody else who works in music is going to know that excitement is in the music itself,” he says. “Going overboard in a description of the music in a press release can have a detrimental effect on the openness of your intended audience to actually listen to the music and consider you for coverage or opportunities.”
At the same time that you’re avoiding hyperbole, don’t shy away from digging in and describing the music in a way feels concrete and engaging. “Tell the reader what the music is like in a real, clear, way. Tell us what it’s about,” says Rideout.
Keep it concise
“People have the tendency to want to put everything but the kitchen sink into their press releases,” says Joskow. “Don’t be verbose.”
Rideout agrees, advising that you keep a press release to no more than a page – almost always. “The exception is when you’re writing about an artist who has a lot of life experience and your intended goal is to get a feature article written,” he says. “Biographical details can be very interesting or engaging, but unless it’s one of those older artists with a great history, including all the details of a person’s birth and schooling is a turnoff.”
Make the reader’s job easy
“If you’re playing at the Bowery Ballroom, list all of the details,” says Joskow. “Tell the reader who’s in the band, how long you’re playing, what repertoire you’re doing, if you’re showcasing songs from the new album, and so on.”
Remember who your audience is with press releases – writers, editors, booking agents, promoters, bloggers, and other industry people – and that such folks often have very little time, and lots of people trying to get their attention. Make their work as easy as possible by making your information thorough and easy to find from a quick glance at the page. Bulleting information can often help with readability, Joskow advises.
Know who you’re sending to
“Don’t send everything to everyone,” says Rideout. “Think about who you’re sending to and what action you want them to take – then tailor your press release to that end.”
A lot of people mistakenly take a “buckshot approach,” says Joskow. “Sending a press release about a piano trio to the editor of Guitar World is a waste of everyone’s time and it undermines your credibility. Make sure your info is current and correct and that you know what kind of music the person you’re reaching out to covers,” she says.
Targeting specific writers isn’t hard – just pick out a few other acts that occupy roughly the same genre as your own music, see who writes about them the most, and make sure that your press releases get sent to those folks. If you’re looking to target writers at a specific publication, be sure to read that publication and make sure your press releases are going to the appropriate people there.
Write to your audience
“If you’re reaching out to bloggers, do your homework and make sure that your press release is blog-friendly,” advises Joskow, who cites her work with singer Becca Stevens as an example. “Becca is thought of more as a jazz artist, but if I sent compositions more in the vein of what she typically does to blogs, they probably wouldn’t care,” she continues. Instead, Joskow sent a press release heralding Stevens’ cover of a song by The Smiths.
Why the distinction? “The fact that she’s doing that sort of cover, with an interesting arrangement and interpretation, is blog-worthy,” she continues. “I’m not going to send blogs the same press release for Becca’s album that goes out to jazz magazines – I tweak things specifically for blogs, and include the MP3 so writers can listen right away.”
Think about format
“I prefer to send and receive press releases in Microsoft Word documents, so I can easily copy and paste text from them, rather than having to export text from a PDF,” says Rideout. “If you’re posting a press release on a Flash-based website, it can be difficult to copy text and repurpose it, so it’s always good to have an easily downloadable version of the document as well.”
Sometimes, sending a PDF is preferable, though. “If you have any graphic elements that you want to present in a particular way – things like a photo or an album cover – then send both as a Word document and as a PDF,” says Rideout.
Press Kit Fundamentals – How To Write A Compelling Artist Bio (Echoes, December 2011)
Press Kit Fundamentals – More Band Bio Writing Tips (Echoes, March 2012)
Creating The Perfect Pitch (Echoes, September 2009)
Writing An Artist Press Release 101 (The DIY Musician)
Press Releases 101 (About.com)
How To Write a Music Press Release That Brings Attention (Promote Your Music)
How To Write a Press Release (IndieGuide.com)
Michael Gallant plays eclectic indie rock with Aurical and progressive jazz with the Michael Gallant Trio. He is also the founder and CEO of Gallant Music, a content and music creation firm based out of New York City. For more, visit auricalmusic.com and gallantmusic.com.