Mastering Music PR: What Publicists Do, Radio Plugging, DJ Promo and Press Releases.

Mastering Music PR: What Publicists Do, Radio Plugging, DJ Promo and Press Releases.

Budi Voogt
February 12th, 2019

Most of the questions we receive from readers are related to marketing. Everyone is wondering about how they can reach more people with their music and build a fan base in the process.

In our latest article we covered the fundamentals of branding and how to execute a strong inbound marketing strategy. For those unfamiliar with the term, inbound refers to marketing to your existing fan base. Things such as posting on social media and email marketing.

Where inbound is the foundation of our marketing methodology, outbound marketing is what we’ll be focused on in this series. Outbound marketing is marketing to third parties in order to acquire new fans, whom through exposure to your music can be pulled into your social funnel and through effective inbound marketing can be converted into fans.

Outbound drives the acquisition of potential new fans, where inbound converts them to actual fandom.

Piece by piece, we are going to map out the outbound marketing strategy that we use at Heroic, for both our labels and management clients.

In this particular article, we’ll cover why influencer marketing is the foundation of music PR, the role of publicists, the different promotional services they offer (digital, offline, radio, DJ Promo) and the ever popular press release.

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The buy-in fallacy

Dogma in the industry is that in order to get traction as a beginning artist or record label, you’ll need money, ideally lots of it, in order to get heard.

Many artists believe in this ‘buy in’ fallacy, often leading to them being discouraged from putting out their music in the first place, as they feel they do not have a shot at getting noticed if there isn’t money allocated to marketing.

We like to challenge this fallacy. The ease of distribution of content facilitated by the internet, both on the supply and consumption end, has lowered the barrier to getting traction as an artist tremendously.

You no longer need to be played on radio to develop a fan base. All you need is a significant number of plays on social, which can a) push you to the tipping point from where you will start to benefit from the exposure that being included in charts or suggested videos on platforms like SoundCloud, YouTube and Spotify offer, and b) serve as a means to pull your fans closer into your fan funnel, where they can be converted into superfans.

The more superfans you develop, the bigger your chances of future releases getting traction, leading to more fans, and so on. It’s a reinforcing loop.

Nonetheless, having a budget to allocate to marketing can still expedite this process. You could invest in a publicist or PR agency, pay to have blogs or music promoters support your music (not something we’d recommend) and hire a radio plugger. These tactics can accelerate your growth, however we want to make it clear that establishing traction is not dependent on having a marketing budget.

The secret of effective music marketing

The hardest part of music marketing is considered the starting point.

If you’re an artist with 500 followers or less, dreaming of getting 100,000 plays on a track, or even 100,000 followers, the first steps might seem unclear. You might be asking yourself… where to begin?

Let’s sketch a hypothetical scenario for a second. Suppose you want to reach 100,000 people with your music. How would you go about it?

  • Send 100,000 private messages on SoundCloud?
  • Follow 100,000 musicians on Twitter and all send them an unsolicited mesages?

Hope not. That’s not the effective solution.

Seeing people employ these strategies makes us cringe. We all know that guy that posts an event image on Facebook and tags 50 people. Or the group Twitter add with the random YouTube video link. It just does not work.

The most effective approach to outbound music marketing is actually rather simple. It’s what we call influencer marketing.

Influencers are people or brands that have built audiences in particular niches and social platforms. Their audiences are so big and engaged that they have influence over them, hence influencers.

Influencer marketing is when instead of trying to approach all your fans individually, you target the key influencers in your niche, in order to partner with them to more effectively reach your target audience.

A whole new breed of influencers has come to life through (social) media, each powerful in their own niche and the platform they are most present on.

For music, a selection of influencers include YouTube and SoundCloud music promotional channels, radio DJs, podcast hosts, music bloggers and even artists themselves and their representatives. They can drive attention and credibility to the releases and artists that they get behind.

Your challenge is to locate the key tastemakers in each of these different verticals. Find the music promoters with a strong YouTube and SoundCloud presence, or those artists that have SoundCloud repost networks set up, or the blogger that writes for a few Hype Machine indexed publications. You get the drill.

Through doing so, instead of needing to market to 100,000 fans directly, you might only need to reach 20 key influencers in order to have the same reach.

Music Publicists & PR Agencies

Publicists and PR agencies are experts in influencer marketing. PR is short for public relations and the term implies exactly what publicists do: maintain relationships with third parties in order to get exposure for whatever it is that they are representing.

PR agencies are agencies that employ publicists. Managers may also act as publicists, particularly when working with early stage artists (when the budget to pay a PR agency isn’t there yet). Once acts reach worldwide touring level, you’ll find that managers employ PR agencies for different territories (USA / UK / Australia + New Zealand) in order to effectively market releases and tours.

Agencies typically offer a variety of PR services, such as radio promotion (plugging), online / digital promotion, print promotion (also called offline promotion), tour promotion, and DJ promo.

Hiring a publicist can be a good move to accelerate your growth trajectory, if budget allows. However, we don’t think it is instrumental to developing initial traction, and there is a lot of value in handling your PR independently, as it forces you to learn all the intricacies of PR yourself.

Digital promotion

Relates to all types of exposure that can be generated online. This includes blog features, reviews of new releases, interviews and guest mixes.

When soliciting digital marketing support, make sure the respective publicist has established relationships in the Hype Machine blogosphere, as this is the most effective form of blog support. We’ll expand on Hype Machine further in this article, where you will also learn how to market there yourself.

Offline promotion

Even though digital is the most important PR vertical today, there’s a degree of credibility of print press that is truly considered a true benchmark when achieved. Interviews and centerfold pieces in magazines such as Vice, Billboard or Rolling Stone can be a great look.

This is a shrinking industry though and concurrently with the demise of print publishers, publicists that offer print marketing services are disappearing.

Tour promotion

Tour promotion is the generation of exposure for an artist’s live performances.

In other words, whenever an artist travels to different places to play live, the tour publicist will involve local newspapers, radio stations and blogs, in order to both get the word out before the show, and to maximize the exposure after the show.

Publicists are often hired on a retainer basis to work the territory in which an artist is touring. For a North American tour, you would likely hire a NA based agency to do the promotion.

For smaller artists this means inviting bloggers to come to the show to write a review and/or setting up interviews. The bigger an artist gets, the easier it will be to incorporate other PR formats such as radio interviews, guest performances and interviews for print.

We’re also finding Snapchat takeovers are incredibly effective when it comes to reaching new audiences and developing the Snapchat fanbase of our management clients.

Whenever there is a key performance that we think is going to be a good look, we look for partners with solid Snapchat fan-bases and reach out to them in order to have our artist do a takeover. Sometimes this is the club or promoter of the event, other times we do this with big industry publications such as or Trap Nation.

Mastering Music PR: Publicists, Radio Plugging & DJ Promo - 2

Radio plugging

Radio plugging is the promotion of records to radio, in order to get them broadcasted, ideally in steady rotation. This is when a record is played day in and out.

Plugging is a true speciality, even more than all the other aspects of PR, as there are only a few real decision makers in radio. Show hosts and programmers decide what gets played. The performance of a plugger is thus linked to the strength of their relationships with these decision makers in their respective markets.

Pluggers are usually freelancers, hired either on a retainer basis by record labels or management agencies, or are paid to promote particular releases. One-off fees can be high, ranging from €1000 – 2000 per release, with bonus fees being incurred whenever a record is played out, put in rotation or on a playlist. They are hired to promote records in the territory they have the most relationships in, so a major label might employ multiple pluggers to push the record to the charts in different markets.

You can learn more about radio plugging from this article we wrote.

DJ Promotion

You’ve probably seen Facebook banners of artists and labels with statements like “Supported by Hardwell” or “Supported by DJ Snake”… right?

These exclamations are the result of a type of marketing called DJ Promotion.

This concept revolves around sending touring DJs and radio DJs records to play at shows on on air. They have a demand for new music to play out and ideally want to be brand new, as it allows them to be considered tastemakers when they are the first to discover a hit.

What happens is that artists, both upcoming and established, send new music to these tastemaking DJs in order to have a shot at getting their record exposed to thousands of listeners, whether through a live-play or radio feature. This helps build awareness for the record and can lead to a record charting in the Shazam charts, which is a big indicator for radio stations and DSPs such as Spotify that a record is viable for further playlisting.

The sending is usually done through platforms that specialize in the delivery of promos. These are unique emails that allow recipients to stream records in their browser and download both MP3s and lossless files, but only when the recipient first grades the release and writes a few words about it. Usually there is a five-star grading system and a comment box to facilitate this.

A promo campaign is typically sent out in waves to different tiers of artists, typically separated in an A and B list. The biggest artists get the release first (6 weeks before a release date is common) and B list artists receive the promo 4-3 weeks out.

The list of recipients is built by contacting the artists or their representatives for permission to send promos, as well as inquiring about whether they have a specific email address they prefer to receive them on. Most established DJs have an email in the form of [email protected], where most don’t actually review these demos themselves, but instead have their assistants do it, whom filter out the best submissions. The corollary is that when you receive feedback from a well known artist, it likely isn’t coming from them directly.

Once a promo campaign is finished, most platforms allow the exporting of a report, usually in PDF format. These display which records performed the best, the grading and any comments that may have been left. If say an artist the size of Hardwell responded favourably, this then gives you social proof to shout out across your socials, integrate in your release banners and include in your marketing broadcasts. We don’t believe the social boasting is very effective, however when pitching for feature placement inclusion to stores like Spotify or iTunes, major DJ support can be advantageous.

Reputed promo services include Fatdrop, Label Worx and Promo Cloud.

Pricing structure

The pricing structure of PR agencies is usually on a retainer basis, which is a recurring monthly fee, the height of which is dependent on the reputation of the agency and the types of PR they will be facilitating. The more services delivered, the higher the price.

Major agencies include the likes of Listen Up, Biz3 and Get In PR. Players such as these are in the highest pricing tiers and usually have offices in different continents in order to span timezones and cultivate relationships in the respective markets.

Monthly retainers of mid-high tier agencies are between €1000 – 2000 per month, often with a three month minimum term. They curate their rosters to filter out the best and most promising acts, so may be inaccessible to beginning artists both from a financial and traction perspective.

Independent publicists are more open to working with upcoming talent and their networks are usually more digitally oriented, meaning they focus mostly on getting blog and YouTube support. After you’ve learned how to market independently and are establishing traction, or if you have money to spend, this may be the perfect stepping stone for you to get involved with a publicist.

The press release

Press releases are packages or one-sheets with all the information regarding a particular release, artist or event, that is sent to publications (usually blogs or print press).

These are ingrained in media culture and music bloggers are bombarded with them. Major PR companies send press release blasts to thousands of ‘contacts’ prioritizing quantity over quality, doing little to incentivize the bloggers to even listen to the records.

It’s ineffective in comparison to personalised emails that cater to the tastes of a particular blogger, however it allows PR agencies to provide marketing services at ‘scale’ and still charge. As you can hear, we’re not big fans.

Nonetheless, press releases aren’t all bad. Instead, you should use them to effectively communicate all the information relevant to a release to a writer, after they have indicated wanting to cover it. That way they can easily incorporate the details or links into their piece or upload.

Things that should be included are:

  • A short description of the release
  • A short biography of the artist, mentioning key performances, releases and collaborations
  • Social media links of the artists
  • Purchase links to Spotify / Apple Music
  • Download link to the release (MP3 and lossless)
  • Download link to the artwork (2000×2000 JPG)

The press release is often no longer than one or two pages, delivered to bloggers in a PDF file, ideally via a download link (Dropbox / Google Drive). You can write such a document yourself using Google Docs and then exporting as PDF. Make sure the hyperlinks stay active.

Get after it

You’ve now gotten a 101 on what outbound marketing entails, what publicists can do for you and the different promotional types they offer services for.

We’re mapping this out for you to A) understand how to do these things independently, B) to better know when to involve a PR agency and C) what you should judge their performance on.

We hope you see this article as an encouragement to start employing these strategies independently, even if you do not have the funds yet to employ a publicist.

In the next piece we are going to cover how to get on music blogs, Hype Machine and the use of Submithub.