CROWD-SOURCING PR: AN IMPRACTICAL GUIDE
Posted on 07 May 2013 by Simon Indelicate
If you truly see your online presence as a brand for your social capital then, even if it works, Dante will have to rewrite the inferno to make a circle especially for you.
He won't need to though, because it doesn't work. People tend to be about as clever as you are and they can tell the difference between a person and a strategy - it's like the Turing test only for dicks instead of Intelligent agents.
But anyway. The thing is this:
You aren't ever going to get signed.
I know you think you are, and I know that you think you want to be - but you aren't and you should get over yourself. This thing that you want does not exist anymore. A&R men do not search for unearthed talent and 'discover' it. You are not going to be saved. The music industry has consolidated around a low expense strategy that focuses on one or two sure-thing acts a year - the days when the popstars paid for the lifestyles of the better artists are over. It's Lana Del Ray from here on in - and the money she makes will be paid to a lot of people before she funds your space rock teenage symphony.
Once, this was a grim prognosis. Now it is not. The sums are clear - you can make less money, pay fewer middlemen and end up better off, less in debt and with a far more sustainable ability to make music by yourself than you ever could by signing your music away to some wankers. It was only ever a tiny few who were lucky - but the ranks of the lucky are swelling. Stop worrying about piracy. As an actual artist, the day that you're lucky enough to be worried about that is the day that you'll be successful enough not to have to. This isn't about you - it's about the art you want to make and about doing enough that you can afford to carry on making it without being homeless and starving. If anything else really matters to you, you should quit. You should, in fact quit and be happy that you were able to. Quitting will be better for you, if you're someone who can do it. You'll be a lot happier.
If you can't quit (and you'll know it if you can't) then take heart - it's all going to be fine. You won't get signed. There will be no rescuing men, but that doesn't mean you can't do music and it doesn't mean you can't do well. It definitely doesn't mean you have to abandon it to those people who can afford to do unpaid internships at the MEDIA - you mustn't, otherwise it will all be Etonians claiming the legacy of the chain gang for themselves while newspapers praise them for being subversive. DO NOT STOP. EVER. You don't need those fuckers any more. (Apart from to get hold of a computer. You need one of those and some internet. If that's out of your reach, sorry - I have excluded you from my discourse, you should probably start a riot.)
You do, however, need to rethink the fantasy a little bit. You might think it's unfair that you have to do anything beyond strum and warble, and maybe it is, but you are competing against everyone in the world and if you don't learn to do a bit more then someone else will. Your genes want you to think of your talent as a rare and tremulous gift - if you lived in a small roving tribe you wouldn't see it very often and it would probably benefit you to be nice to it when it arose - but your genes are idiots. Talent is everywhere. Half the girls in your school had singing voices that journalists would unashamedly refer to as 'astounding'.
Every skill you don't learn in the process of making, selling and consolidating POP HITS is a skill you will have to pay someone for - even if it's only with good will. You should try and learn as much as you can and you should stop spending money. If you care about the art, then you'll do what you have to. The art matters. You don't. You don't have a right to be the one who makes it. Learn design, mastering, recording, mixing, streaming, writing, human resource management, direct sales, accounting, law and tour booking. Find out what the type of software is that facilitates each of these and type it into google with 'open source' in front of it. Learn to use it all and you'll be well on you way...
At some stage though, you're going to run into the motherfucker that is PR.
PR is expensive, you can't learn it and there is no open source package to do it for you. PR isn't about writing a good press release - there's no such thing - PR is about living the kind of life that means your press release gets trustingly recycled by people who owe you favours. PR is about only having the right kind of enemies. If you can
do proper PR at the same time as being in a band, then your band will make a lot of money by selling a nursery rhyme jollied up with ukuleles to a company selling small european cars and you don't need to worry.
The other problem is that a small amount of proper PR won't help. A small amount of PR is just competing with large amounts of PR. A lot of money and effort goes into things that don't actually translate into sales.
A few articles in print media, for example, will generate no sales for your band. You will think it is a big deal that you are in a magazine that kids cared about when you were a kid - but nothing will happen as a result. Nobody will remember that article well enough to google you later - if there's nothing to click, there will be no traffic. Print media PR is there to raise the total awareness of your band in society in general - it is necessary and helpful only if you're trying to become a ubiquitous household name within the next 3-6 months. You aren't. You're trying to not have to stop making art. So print media is a nice bauble that you should enjoy if it happens to be hung on you, but that you should ignore completely when it comes to photosynthesizing energy for yourself. Baubles have reflective surfaces and draw attention only to themselves. YOU ARE A TREE IN THIS METAPHOR. If print media journalists try to come into your gig for free, make them pay and then humiliate them from the stage.
This 'nothing to click - no use' rule is pretty general. Proper Radio is pretty much useless to you these days unless you're going for that ubiquity thing. TV probably still works if you're on the TV yourself. Having a song on in the background of something doesn't - but will generate a small amount of PRS (if mainstream channels) money and a better amount if it's on a commercial channel without a blanket deal with the industry.
Really though, the only DIY way to compete with PROPER PR is to ignore professional journalists and traditional amplification methods entirely. Here are some good rules to start off:
1. Don't ever use the term 'go viral'.
2. Don't post things by people just because you know them, only ever share things you actually like - otherwise no one will trust your taste.
3. Don't whine about your failures and resentments on a public account. PR is about stories - you just told everyone a very compelling one.
4. Don't annoy people with self-congratulation when you haven't got an audience - no one will like you enough to help you later. Remember, everyone will resent your success, especially if it's meagre success.
5. Don't say that your free song is FREE like that's super awesome of you and people should be grateful.
Next, try to understand how different crowd source-able PR methods work. On the whole, you should LURK MOAR. Actual users and members of online communities have much more impact when they try to promote something they made than people who swoop in and expect everyone to fall in line. Don't pretend to be an active participant in these subcultures to sell stuff, actually be one or, at the very least, try to be nice to people who are.
(incidentally, while we're on this, try not to think of your audience as cattle to be milked for money and validation. Try to come to terms with the fact that what you are doing is capitalism - you are making a product and you want people to pay for it. This isn't a bad thing by definition, good transactions make all parties better off. You aren't supposed to trick people into buying things - you're supposed to provide something that will improve their lives (teh ARTZ) in exchange for something that will improve yours (teh MONIEZ). Exchange and specialisation is where economic growth comes from - it's fine. You don't need to pretend it's anything else. Every sale is a contract between you and a real person with a brain - they aren't 'fans', they aren't 'supporters' or members of the legion of rock-doom or the popjazz army - they are customers, everything else is hype. )
If you are making something odd and interesting and special, chances are that there are people who will genuinely want to help you spread the word about it. They won't do this because they are fans (they might call themselves that, but you shouldn't - it will make your soul shrivel) but because they are evangelists - they want people to experience things that they like in a way that furthers the cause of empathy and understanding between people. It's morally nice. Don't ask people to share your stuff because they owe you. Don't say: 'hey it's just five minutes of your time to register to vote for us in the battle of the radio versus battle - come on, help us make it yeah? we've worked really hard and we really deserve to be famous and rich.' - they shouldn't do it for you, they should do it for the art.
(6. don't ever enter any battles of the bands or local radio song wars or anything like that - the success of the art is not a prize for you
Ask them to help you because PR is expensive and out of your league and because, if the art is going to get out, it needs help. They are doing it for them - because evangelism is worthwhile. Don't keep this a secret. Tell everybody what you're doing all the time. A good musician selling music to lots of customers is a good thing that benefits everyone involved and benefits the art - there's no need to wrap it in hype and there's no need to trick anybody into doing it.
Here are some notes on different platforms. If you want people to help you promote your things - tell them how they can - or just link them here. That machine that the Wizard was operating behind the curtain was much more interesting and impressive than anything that the big head could do.
There was a time when twitter was a good source of traffic, it worked a bit like in The Tipping Point, you'd have people pass a link unhelpfully between themselves until it got to an influential evangelist who would alert a big time user who would then amplify the signal. A small percentage of a bigtime twitter user's base used to click on everything they posted and that would translate into a serious boost for the traffic. In 2010 a million follower twitter account gave us about 3-4,000 hits. In 2011 this effect had all but vanished.
People understand twitter better now and they tend to click far less on links they haven't been personally asked to click on. The snippy censoriousness of the expanded twitter userbase has made many of its stars more cautious, less interesting and more prone to over RTing other people's projects; more entry level users have graduated from following celebs to using twitter to talk to their friends and these changes have, in turn, made it less and less likely that a given follower will click a shared link.
If you want people to help your band on twitter, it will be most effective if they explain to their followers what they'll get for clicking - a couple of tweets is better than one. They should make it clear what the link is. Lots of people regularly post music either directly or via last.fm and similar and people react to links like this the same way the do to advertising - they tune them out before they even see them. If you want people to evangelise, they need to be specific.
You should think about when you post. If people follow lots of accounts, a tweet will be buried after an hour or two and they are unlikely to scroll down far enough to see it. Try to hit lunch breaks or last checks of the internet before bed - don't forget about other timezones.
Twitter will let you get a feel for how the word is spreading with it's search function. Make sure your band has a twitter username that is as close as possible to its name. You want people to be able to refer to you with an automatic link. It is not really etiquette to have a strop at people who mention your band but don't @reply you in the tweet - that's like overhearing them in a pub and barging in demanding that they tell you your synth lacks bass punch one more mothefucking time. If they do
@reply you - it is acceptable to get 18th century on their asses.
FACEBOOK (and presumably Google+ as well)
Liking pages is fine, but everybody knows how much effort it takes and they afford a 'like' the appropriate respect. Sharing is better. Sharing with a sentence or two to explain why you're sharing is best.
When it comes to posts by other people sharing something you want to help with: like and comment. It doesn't particularly matter what you say - but the more comments and likes, the more important the post will appear to facebook and the more likely it is to appear in other people's newsfeeds.
If you are putting up websites, try to pay attention to the meta tags in your html. Make sure there is a title tag, otherwise the facebook preview won't have a title. Include images on all pages you want shared - and if you are sharing, make sure that an image appears in the fb preview. Google 'facebook open graph meta tags' for more tricks you can use. All this will help with search engine placement too. Sometimes, you might accidentally share a page before your meta tags are in order - facebook will then cache the title, description and image (or lack of) and prevent you and others from posting properly previewed links to the page in future. If this happens go here:
fix everything and paste the link into the box. This will force facebook to refresh its cache
As ever, you shouldn't over spam anything - try to think of creative reasons to share the main content you want shared. For example - you want people to watch your video? share the video, then write an interesting blogpost that adds value to watching the video, embed the video in it and share that. The point isn't to trick people into clicks, the point is to reach the people who missed it the first time without pissing off the people who didn't. Remember, good transactions benefit everyone.
On that subject - a LOT of people will miss it the first time. Way more than you think. It's like when 'Everything I Do (I Do It For You) was at number 1 for 16 weeks. Who the fuck were those thousands of people who hand't bought a copy in week 15 but decided to in week 16? Seriously, you can spam facebook, twitter and everywhere about your month long tour of German cities and when you get back, someone in Berlin will have left a message on your facebook saying 'I ♥ u! You should come to Germany!' (true story). The balancing act between reaching all the people who want to hear about your release and spamming the people who never want to hear about it again is extremely difficult to get right. You probably won't manage it, but you DO get points for trying.
No one is on the internet at the weekend. Releasing on a monday is only a good idea if you expect it to chart on sunday. Otherwise, people have too much to do on a monday and are too depressed at having to work to be intrested. Wait until Wednesday.
Midnight releases are only a good idea if people are actually anticipating the release, otherwise, pick a time when more people will be online.
One last point - facebook and twitter have loads of people on them, but they don't have everybody. Just using facebook means that lots of people won't ever see your links. There are people who hide different things from their walls, preferring not to be bothered by spammed links; people who never 'like' anything because of security and privacy issues and won't, therefore, see updates posted to your band's page; people who just find the idea of sharing their lives online weird and want nothing to do with it. They might want to know about your record too, so don't neglect them.
...is really helpful. Make it easy for people to post pictures and link to you. Encourage people to link to somewhere where you are actually asking for money. If you are selling on iTunes, Corporate Records, on Amazon or on your own site - work out which gives you the best return and tell people which link you most want them to share. Evenagelists and customers would prefer the money went to you.
Make it easy to embed your music. Loads of sites have players that can be embedded (including corporate records) but often the best service to use is youtube. You don't need a video - just use windows movie maker or the apple equivalent and make a static video with your artwork displayed and the song playing. Most people know how youtube embedding works and it makes everything easy. (it's also the case that lost of people use youtube almost exclusively to listen to songs - if you want your music discoverable, make sure it's there and make sure that links to buy and share and learn more are prominent in the description.
All of this applies to tumblr, but tagging is also really important. If your music is in a highly specific genre or appeals to a specific niche - find which tags your audience is using and tag your stuff accordingly. People browse tags as well as blog and tumblr has an incredibly powerful mechanism for spreading things far and wide as a result. As ever, only tag with appropriate words - people who like norwegian cyber crochet metal will not be impressed with your norwegian cyber tatting metal however much you spam them.
REDDIT, 4CHAN, LJ ETC...
There are communities on the internet that can break an act - in both senses of the term. Don't expect any internet community to be your personal army - there is always the risk that they will destroy your life. But if your stuff suits the community and if they will get something out of hearing it as well as you - then there's nothing wrong with trying to get their attention. Don't spam. Lurk Moar - and if you're scared ask anyone who wants to evangelise for you and who is a member of a community to do it for you. You should treat these the same as you do local scenes - they're there to join, live with and participate in, not to exploit. This goes for b3ta, 9gag, and any other place like that.
Let people know that you'd love it if they were happy to share your stuff with these communities if they wouldn't mind, thank you.
LAST.FM & SIMILAR
Streaming services like Last.fm can really really work, Make sure you upload current songs to their radio services and allow them to be streamed. It's not PR so much, and you have to do the work yourself - but sign up as a label and play around with your settings - it can help.
Having a Wikipedia entry does not help you continue to make art, it only helps you feel good about yourself. It is also a noble and heroic endeavour that speaks to the best of the human spirit so don't fucking write self-aggrandising entries for yourself and then get all butthurt when they get removed. Leave it alone.
Use them sparingly. Unlike social networks, people will see the first email you send. No need to repeat yourself and keep news to news that will benefit subscribers - releases, live shows announced, decent merch - it's of no benefit to anybody to know that some DJ played you on the radio.#
There are good free mailing list packages online. Mailchimp is one. Search for others.
Remember about print being a bauble. It shouldn't be your focus. Also, don't maintain a distinction in your head between proper journalists and other internet people.Having a prominent site give you a good review will give you a good quote - but these are only really useful for getting other things that don't generate sales. No one will ever buy anything based on a quote from a famous blog. Obviously, you should try to be featured on famous sites, but readerships come and go and it is better to treat everyone on the internet as an equally qualified critic.
Most people don't listen to the opinions of anyone except their friends and their online circle. Often, critics are the least qualified people to review things - their experience of art is fundamentally and irreconcilably different to that of their readership.
Think of the release of the last Harry Potter movie. Pretty much everyone who wanted to see that film had a personal investment in the story, knew how it was going to end, wanted to see their favourite bits well realised and wanted to know in advance how successful it was going to be at meeting their needs. A Critic, on their third screening of the day, bored, probably not into the books and not having rewatched the series had nothing to say abou the film to anyone who was likely to see it; The guys from mugglent or the Leaky Cauldron or the friends of friends who posted early reviews on forums were infinitely better qualified to pass judgement on the product. People knew that and made decisions based on that. Professional criticism doesn't have much to offer you. You should try to be as nice to real people as you are to them: it is real people whose recommendations will be listened to.
So keep a list of journalists, writers, celebs and any influential person who writes, is read and who you know doesn't actually hate you. Read Shut up, Bands
and don't do anything on there. Just make sure that the information you want people to have is available to them. Ask people who want to help to make that information available to people who fall into this category too.
PR IS ABOUT STORIES
People respond to stories and they like them. The story can be very simple: this band makes good art honestly and I want to help them make more of it by paying them money and by sharing it as widely and as successfully as I can. People want to know what story they're in. This can be applied in numerous thought provoking and intelligent ways to many real world scenarios, but I'm not wasting my time doing all that thinking without a book deal. People still get book deals, don't they? Maybe an LITERADY AGENT will read this and come and save me. OH GOD. please save us, we can't afford to make the fucking album ohgodjesusbuddhaerisdiscordia.
er... all this stuff is hard. It's way harder than Cory Doctorow makes out. But I refuse to believe it's impossible. And so should you.
Focus, yeah? The aim of everything is to get people to listen to enough of your music to want you to succeed enough that they will pay you to keep making it. Make this easy.
Don't treat selling to people like you're tricking them. Sell them something that is worth the money. This is beneficial to everyone.
It's not about you. It's about the art. You are not the only person who can make it.
Tell the truth.
Be excellent to each other.