These bands' records and press material are in an overflowing box tucked out of the way at Sub Pop Records. This dreaded dead-end is labeled "unsolicited demos and other free stuff."
Similar promotional graveyards are at most entertainment publication and performance venues, where CDs and press kits pile up.
A lot of new bands and even experienced artists find themselves baffled when their music ends up in free bins and their shows are deserted. But despite the rock-star mentality that good music is all that matters, quite the opposite is true when it comes to publicizing a band's music.
Some say a lousy band with skillfully executed publicity will sell more records and sell out more shows than an incredible band with no media savvy.
"The most important thing is to have something worth talking about," said Melissa Crosby, co-founder of Entourage Public Relations, a Greensboro-based company that publicizes regional bands.
After that, she said, the best thing to do is to start small. "I would start with your city," she said. "Find one club that loves you and work with it."
But that is easier said than done in a town like Chapel Hill, where the number of fliers cluttering posts and bulletin boards is ever-increasing.
Fliers and the Basics
Zach Gresham, founder of the collection of campus musicians called MusicianRing, said a lot of local bands aren't sure where to start when it comes to publicity. "Most bands don't know what to do," he said. "The only thing people usually think about is listservs and fliers."
Matt Tarpley, a booking employee at Chapel Hill's Local 506, said there are more effective ways to use fliers other than just posting them. "If a band is playing the next night, they usually show up and and hand out fliers to people," he said.
Tarpley said mailing lists and web postings are two other basic ways to promote a band. But while listservs and fliers are common entry-level tactics, more work can yield more results for young bands.
The Press Kit
One way to get industry professionals to take your music seriously is to have a solid press kit backed up with good people skills and a solid work ethic.
The first component of a press kit is a biography, which Crosby said is the first way a band can show it means business. "With your bio, you can't waste a single word," she said. "Put really impressive facts right at the beginning. And get a real writer to write it for you."
Once the band has some press, include clippings of articles or simply compile positive quotes about the band. Press kits also contain a quality photograph and a copy of the band's current CD.
"Unwrap the CD and tell people what song you want them to listen to," Crosby said. She added that following up with people to whom you send your press kit via phone, fax, or e-mail is a good idea.
Matt Tomich, bassist for Chapel Hill's Sorry About Dresden and The Scaries, said sending CDs for review is the best way to get a record heard. "Somebody out there will be glad to hear it and people don't hear it unless you put it in their hands," he said.
While record companies and magazine writers are interested in the history and other press on a band, bear in mind not everyone needs full press kit regalia. So be selective in what you send. Regardless of the size, strive for professionalism -- Tarpley said the presentation matters. "If someone sends a CDR (a burned CD) in an envelope that's taped together, we usually just trash it," he said.
Having a professional press kit and following it up with calls or e-mails help significantly, but that is the norm -- making a band stand out from the stack of manila envelopes is the real challenge, Crosby said. Thinking of innovative ways to publicize bands and events can be a challenge for bands, but Crosby said bands should remember to reflect their music and avoid gimmickry.
Selling the Show
Once a band has gotten gigs and CD reviews, the next challenge is getting people to come to concerts.
Tomich said the best way to enlarge audience is to vary the lineup, adding that playing with bands of a similar, but not exact, genre can be effective.
Crosby said an easy way to arouse interest in a concert is to give it a title (one of her bands, Mandarico, was "featured on the 'Not on MTV' tour") or tie it to a community event.
"Take three acts and make it sound like it's something bigger than it really is," she said. "Just seeing a flier or seeing an article in the newspaper really isn't enough. You really have to hit the audience in at least two different ways."
One strategy to publicize concerts in cities outside the local area is with a street team. Many bands and labels have traded guest list spots for flier distribution and word-of-mouth publicity. Street teams feed off the idea that hearing about a band from a friend is more effective than a flier. "Word of mouth is the best way, but unfortunately it's very slow," Crosby said.
Tomich agreed. "Other people are the best and most genuine source of promotion."
Publicists and the Art of Presentation
Crosby said most bands think they need a manager and a booking agent first, but she said having a publicist should be a priority. Lack of finances usually isn't an issue with companies like Entourage, because they don't make money until the band makes money.
Publicists also can work with a band's record label to coordinate more expansive media coverage. "Some bands do hire their own publicists just to make sure they don't get lost in the shuffle," Crosby said, adding that major labels have so many bands to publicize and independent labels have so few promotional resources.
But each label and publicity company are different. Some place a high value on advertising while others deal more with the press. Most quality publicists, however, and labels realize a band's image potential impact.
Like it or not, people judge bands based on their looks, record label, media coverage and touring partners. "As soon as we start looking at a new band, we take them shopping," Crosby said. "You can control what people think of your band with the way you look. But it's a personal decision that needs to reflect the music."
For a lot of bands, getting motivated and actually acting on its ideas can be the most immediate obstacle.
Whatever a band decides to emphasize when publicizing a record or a concert, make it the best.
Only making a flier? Make it a beautiful flier. Only sending a photograph? Make it a great one. Either way, have confidence in what you are promoting.
"Try to cover all your bases," Tomich said. "But sometimes you choose what you can do and get it done.
"In the end the music will represent itself."
One label's take:
Instead of sending us a demo tape of your band, you should work on making your band better. Write more songs. Find friends who will be honest in their assessment of your songs. Practice all of your songs with your entire band at least three times a week. Play a show that is open to the public at least once a month. Throw out your bad songs and write better ones. Read the reviews of your band in the press. The press isn't reviewing your band? Do something about it. The press is saying bad things about your band? Do something about it. If your band is extremely good, then record companies will hear about it, and maybe some of their employees will ask you for demo tapes.
Source: www. subpop.com
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