[Editor’s Note: This guide was written by Amit Gurbaxani.]
1. Get the essentials of your bio right. It’s shocking how many acts get them wrong. This means making sure to include your full name or names (and in case you have an alias, your real name unless you’re anonymous), the city or cities you’re from or based out of, a complete list of releases so far, important dates of milestones in your career such as major festivals you’ve played, working smart links to songs and videos, contact information, and social media pages. Prepare a checklist and use it every time you send something out to the press.
2. While this doesn’t always work, try and save yourself from being asked the same boring questions in interviews by including in your bio such standard information as how you got into the music scene or if you’re band, the history of your formation; the meaning behind your band or performance name, and a brief list of your influences and inspirations.
3. Sometimes, your music may not be radically different from what’s already out there but your story or inspiration behind your song might stand out. Highlight what makes you unique because that’s what will grab the reader’s attention. Journalists, especially at non-music publications, often have to convince their editors that an artist is worth covering. If you can make a compelling argument for yourself, then it’s far easier for them to sell the idea of writing about you.
4. Be honest. Don’t say you’ve been “covered” by a website if all they’ve done is added you to a playlist, or that you’re a “Grammy-nominated” act when all you’ve done is submitted your track for consideration and your entry has been accepted because you’ve met the eligibility criteria. These are both real-life examples and all they tell the journalist is that you’re hyping yourself up to be bigger than you are. Sure, some lazy hacks may just take you for your word but don’t risk being categorised as one of “those” artists.
5. Write about your song, EP or album the same you would write to Spotify while pitching for your song to be added to playlists. You want whoever is reading to be so intrigued by what they read that they want to drop everything and listen to your music.
6. It’s great to include links to previous published pieces but not every profile is worth adding to your press kit. Only include those articles that say something about you that isn’t already in your bio and of course, say something nice about your music.
7. If you’re just starting out, then you’re likely not to have a bunch of articles from which to excerpt lines from to include in your press kit. An alternative is to ask collaborators such as the producers, illustrators and sound engineers you worked with on the release or tour, especially they’re better known than you are, for a quote. Remember to request them to be specific rather than generic when talking about what makes your music different or their experience of working with you.
8. Keep it short. Just like a CV, your press biography shouldn’t be longer than a page of a Word document – around 500 words – so it doesn’t fall victim to TLDR.
9. Run a spelling and grammar check. On an almost daily basis, I’m surprised by how many people don’t know the difference between “its” and “it’s” and write “your” when they mean to write “you’re”. The more careless errors there are in your press note, the less serious you’re likely to be taken.
10. Try and personalise the opening lines of your email. This might seem like a time-consuming exercise when you’re writing to dozens of journalists but you don’t want to give the impression that you’ve done a copy-paste job. If you’ve been in touch with a writer before and they’ve covered you, given you a shoutout on social media or even just replied to your previous emails, then don’t start your email by introducing yourself again. Instead, you can tweak these lines to thank them or simply acknowledge that you have connected in the past. You don’t need to rewrite each opening line but have a set of alternatives depending on who you’re writing to, and how long you’ve known them.
Sights and Sounds
11. Include photographs. Save journalists the trouble of having to email or text you and avoid the risk of them just taking something off the internet when they need an image of yours. If you’re in a group, then ensure that the photo has the complete line-up and be sure to take fresh one every time there’s been a line-up change or you’ve changed your look substantially – like if you’re now clean-shaven after years of sporting a beard. This way, the press will have the most accurate and current visual depiction of your act. Ideally, aim to take a new press pic every six months. It keeps things fresh and you’ll stop seeing the same photo being used over and over again.
12. Give credit where credit is due. You don’t have to hire a photographer for a professional shoot, which you can save for special occasions like album launches and tour announcements. With entire movies being filmed on iPhones these days, a good phone camera pic can also suffice. But it should look professional so clean up, dress up and smile or sneer as you please. If you do hire a professional photographer, then make sure to include the photographer’s name whenever you use their images in your press kit. It doesn’t matter if you’ve paid them for their services and are not obligated to name them; it’s just good form. Plus it’s part of some publications’ editorial policies to always credit photos.
13. Send links instead of attachments. There are few things as annoying as heavy files that clog up one’s mailbox.
14. When sharing your music, provide a smart link over a link to a specific DSP. You don’t know who uses which service. Wherever relevant, include links to your YouTube channel and Bandcamp or SoundCloud pages as these don’t require listeners to sign up to hear the music. Don’t include links to downloadable mp3 files, even though it might seem like you’re making it convenient for the recipient to have everything in one place. You want to make the process as quick and easy, so instead of having them download the files, send links to streaming services. Remember every stream counts and this way, you’ll also get a few additional plays along the way.
15. If you’ve made them, then include links to a couple of your most striking music videos and if you have access to it, a clip of one of your landmark live performances. A visual of you performing in front of hundreds of happy fans will have more impact than just a list of events.
Spreading the Word
16. Look at a range of publications. If you only reach out to national newspapers, a lot of people might read about you but few might check out your music. That works if your main aim is to build awareness and also helps optics in the sense that the names might look good on the list of publications to have covered you. But if you want to get bums on seats, then you’re better off focusing on music-centric publications, even smaller blogs, to find your target audience. Know what you want – a check mark or more streams and ticket sales – and plan your press campaign accordingly.
17. Don’t limit yourself to the English language or even national press. If you specialise in a niche genre like electronic music or metal, then you could also target international music blogs, websites and magazines that specifically cover those genres. Use the data you get from streaming services to help you decide your media plan. For example, you can examine the list of cities and countries in which people are listening to your music the most, and write to publications in those places you have a substantial following.
18. Broaden your horizons. If you’ve run an innovative marketing campaign or devised a successful way of crowdfunding, for instance, then you should ask non-music publications that cover the business side of the music industry if they’ll write about you.
19. Share your music as widely as possible through friends and family. Sometimes it can be endorsed by the most unexpected sources. For instance, a celebrity might chance upon your music, love it and share it on their social media platforms.
20. One of the most powerful tools a musician has is their mailing list that keeps fans updated on what they’re up to on a regular basis, ideally monthly. You won’t be sending out press releases as often so ask journalists if you can sign them up. They might just find a peg to write about you even during a non-album/tour cycle. These missives can do a great job of keeping recipients informed about new releases, upcoming gigs, social initiatives you support and press mentions. You can also include shoutouts to fans to thank them for their support.
21. Be professional in your approach. For example, email rather than DM. Every week, I have musicians sending me messages on Instagram even though I’ve made it relatively easy for anybody to find my email address. It’s not that I particularly mind artists taking this route, it’s just that I check my message requests quite erratically.
22. Set reasonable expectations. If you enlist a publicist or PR company, know that you’re mainly hiring them for their networks. They have access to press that you don’t but that doesn’t mean they have control over whether and what those journalists will write about you. So while they can try and help shape your bio better than you, ultimately it’s the music that does the talking. Discuss the list of publications they’ll be contacting and what you’re aiming to get from each of them.
About the Author
Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who specialises in writing about business trends in the Indian music industry and the workings of its independent scene. His work can be read in Indian and international publications such as Billboard, FirstPost,India Today and MusicAlly.
FB and IG – @amitgurbaxani
Twitter – @thegroovebox