Just because you’re excited to get the word out about your band, it doesn’t mean you’re ready to embark on a PR push. PR expert Ariel Hyatt gives some straight answers about what you need in place to make the most of a music PR campaign.
In part one of this interview, we discussed how dramatically PR has changed over the past 25 years and what you, as an artist, need to have in place in order to get value out of launching a PR campaign. Our conversation continues into finding the right PR specialist, setting expectations, and why a livestreaming strategy is something you should consider cultivating post-COVID quarantines.
Andre Calilhanna: Do you ever turn people down? If somebody comes to you, are there certain things that make you say, “You guys aren’t ready” or you recommend they get some things in line before they start working with you? I’m curious what those things might be.
Ariel Hyatt: We turn people down all the time. There are probably 600 music PR firms in the United States alone. There are 500 on the PR List, which is a Google group that I’m active on. And that’s all — and only — music publicists. So, I’m not for everyone, everyone is not for me. We know our limits, we know the types of music we can promote, and we’re really transparent about that. So, that’s the first thing.
The second thing is, if you have goals that are not in alignment with what my team and I are able to achieve, that would be another reason why we might not be right. And everybody should have the goals they want to have, but if someone comes to me and they don’t have any prior PR and they want to get in Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Drowned In Sound, Stereogum, Brooklyn Vegan, and NPR… I’m not your girl. I don’t know how to do that. Hire a national publicist who has a lot of experience with those publications, if that’s what you’re going for.
Another reason we might not take on a client is they don’t have the brand, the signature story (hook) we talked about earlier — we can write a bio and help create that — but if you have zero followers on social media, your website looks like crapola, and you’re not dialed up around the net, we will offer you something else, more along the lines of writing a long-term marketing plan/development plan. That should come way before you start with PR.
I think that’s a mistake I see artists make all the time with music publicity. They’re just so excited, their music is out, they want to know “what will the critics say?” and they jump to get a publicist before they’ve thought through, “who are my fans, what is my brand, what is my essence?” All of that is critical.
Andre Calilhanna: When you sit down with a client you’re going to work with and you set expectations, how specific are those expectations and how much are you managing the artist’s expectations?
Ariel Hyatt: PR, by definition, is managing artists’ expectations. It’s pretty much the gig. And it’s not anyone’s fault. You hire someone and you pay a lot of money and you have high expectations. It really helps to manage your own music PR before you ever hire a publicist just so you understand what the process is. I don’t love working for people who have zero experience because, until you know how hard it is to hit up a journalist 25 times before they finally open your email, or until you’ve gotten your heart broken on SubmitHub — more than once — you really won’t understand, or value, what your publicist is actually doing for you.
Music PR is not ordering a hamburger at McDonald’s. You don’t say “I want onions, take the lettuce off, and add extra cheese.” That’s not how it goes. It’s all about timing, it’s all about having music that fits into today’s zeitgeist, whatever’s trendy and popular on most music blogs, that’s going to get more PR than something that’s more niche-y or esoteric. And sometimes, it has nothing to do with your music and has everything to do with what most music blogs cover. When you say, “look at that — there’s an artist who’s getting reams of press, why am I not getting that?” The answer, sometimes, is in the genre of music you play.
Andre Calilhanna: I’m assuming that answering these sorts of questions is exactly why you wrote this book… but I don’t want to answer that question before I ask it. So, what brought you to write this particular book at this time?
Ariel Hyatt: The landscape has changed really dramatically… so many times in 25 years that I can’t count. But, a few years ago, music blogs were reigning supreme and getting premieres on music blogs was THE thing to do. And I think, whenever you first entered into the business or whenever you began focusing in on whatever it is you decided to learn about — like reading the Disc Makers Blog or reading any artist blogs and trying to understand the landscape — it changes so dramatically and at such a breakneck speed that, you might really have been aware of what was up four years ago, and you hire me, and I’m like, “whoa, hold up, let’s talk. Music no longer comes out on Tuesdays, it comes out on Fridays” — a lot of artists still don’t know that, for example — so getting up to speed and current is really important.
And I wanted to write this book because, I couldn’t believe it, but there was no music publicity book in the marketplace. There are a couple of books for students who are taking music industry courses, but they’re very academic, and there are a lot of books, like Ari Herstand’s great book and many others, that cover publicity as a chapter, but there was no comprehensive, soup-to-nuts, music publicity book. So, based on all of the questions I’ve been getting over the years, I really wanted to present a handbook with everything I could think of.
And the beautiful part about this book is there are a lot of amazing contributors, other music publicists, friends and colleagues, who gave very generously and provide golden nuggets of advice. We’ve also got the other side of the desk: there are bloggers, playlisters, podcasters, music journalists, who have given me advice to include. Plus, there are 11 independent artists who have done a phenomenal job at their own PR and I wanted to include their stories and their journeys to give it some context. Like, “this is what it looks like for an artist who tours, this is what it looks like for an artist who never tours, this is what it looks like for an older artist, this is what it looks like for an up-and-coming artist.” So that was my intention for putting this book together.
Andre Calilhanna: I have one last question before I let you go. The book mentions film and TV placement. Is that something you work with from a music PR standpoint? Is that something I can expect, as an artist, to get working with a publicist?
Ariel Hyatt: No, not so much. I do talk about film and TV placement as a way to map out all of the different areas artists need a separate and focused communication plan. Publicity, in the way I’m talking about it, is basically the relationship between you and the media, and “media” is very broad now, as we know. But I did also want artists to understand that film and TV is an area where you need to understand a whole other ecosystem, as is getting a sponsor, getting live gigs, dealing with people in the industry, getting booked at showcases or conferences. All of these require pretty much a whole book’s worth of understanding. So I did want to mention that as a lot of people do call me and say, “If you do my publicity, will I get placed on film and TV?” There are a couple of PR firms that do offer that. We don’t. We don’t have those relationships, being that we’re not in LA.
Andre Calilhanna: Is there anything that you’re dying to tell me that I didn’t get to?
Ariel Hyatt: There is another thing to keep in mind for your strategy overall. And even though COVID is — thank God it looks like there might be a light at the end of the tunnel — the industry has definitely shifted. And the shift that I see is people have a lot higher expectation — and tolerance, and interest — in livestreams. If you haven’t added livestreaming to your publicity mix, a livestream strategy is a great way to keep your story going. People from all over the world can see your show if you have a livestream strategy. So I highly recommend thinking through that, and the book does talk about that and how you can parlay a strong livestream strategy into your publicity.
An excerpt from Ariel’s new book, The Ultimate Guide To Music Publicity, is available as a free PDF download — get yours right now.
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