Tag: PR

Making Connections: Helping Presenters Market Your Music

Say you’re a composer whose music is getting presented on a concert series that employs an in-house marketing team. You think, “Blessings! I finally don’t need to worry about concert promotion.” Not true! Just because a presenter has dedicated staff does not mean you’re off the hook. Administrators at traditional music institutions often struggle with promoting new music—how to convey to their audiences why this unknown piece by a composer they don’t recognize is compelling and intriguing and worth taking a risk on.

What I’ve noticed in my years of working at different music institutions is a distinct line drawn between the communications staff and the performers and composers. Generally speaking, there are a lot of middlemen in our industry: The director of an organization contacts the artist’s manager or publicist, who then get a response from the artist, and then that information (hopefully) makes its way back to the communications person.

Here’s the issue: If the communications person doesn’t have enough information to write compelling marketing copy about the new work on the program, s/he is likely going to focus on promoting another aspect of the concert instead. Suffice it to say, this is a huge missed opportunity for emerging composers.

It’s important to lean in—not step back—when you have a marketing team promoting your work. When you equip people with the right information, you empower them to use their resources to push your music out broadly to new audiences.

This is why it’s important to lean in—not step back—when you have a marketing team promoting a concert (or CD release, creative project, etc.) with your work on it. When you equip people with the right information, you empower them to use their resources to push your music out broadly to new audiences.

Bridging the Gap

The first step is simply to let the presenter know that you’re willing to work with their marketing team on promotion. I’d suggest reaching out to your contact at the organization, probably an artistic administrator, about two months before a concert (or earlier, if you’re in touch with them before). If the concert is arranged through the performer, have the performer introduce you before you jump in to offer help.

Once you’ve established contact, here’s what you can offer:

  • program notes
  • written interviews or videos in which you discuss the piece or your music in general
  • pictures related to the work
  • audio of the music
  • anything else that can be shared on the company’s website, via social media, in marketing blurbs and press releases, etc.

These materials can (and should) also be readily available on your website. The more content a marketing person can easily grab online without having to ask, the more likely s/he will push your materials out from the institution’s different platforms.

You can also offer to sit for a video interview, help with social media outreach, or answer a written Q&A interview for their blog. If marketing content is created (e.g., e-blasts, flyers, artwork), offer to send it out through your channels and suggest other networks that might be willing to give a shout out (e.g., the university you teach or studied at, ensembles you work closely with, a cultural society you’re part of).

[A word to the wise: There’s a fine line between being helpful and being overbearing. In all your interactions, remember to be respectful and let people do their jobs in the way they think is best. Writing the actual marketing copy for a marketing person or offering unsolicited feedback, for example, is ill advised. If you don’t like the marketing copy that’s written, try to let it go; if something is actually inaccurate or offensive to you in some way, then you should let someone know.]

It Begins with the Program Note

The composer’s program note is the first thing a marketing or PR person reads in order to quickly download what your piece is about. (Next, they read your bio, and then they read press to see how critics have described you.) Program notes help promoters figure out how to describe your piece, frame it in the context of the program, create fun marketing campaigns, and determine what angle to pitch to which press outlet.

Keep in mind that people are busy and don’t have a lot of time to get to know your catalog, or even listen to your work. You can make it easier for them by providing a program note that includes descriptive language they can use to write about your music.

Also, ask a friend to proof your program note to confirm it makes sense. Sometimes composers submit notes that are convoluted, vague, or overly technical—and administrators are not likely to come back with questions or suggested revisions because they don’t want to insult the composer.

What Marketing/PR Folks Want to Know

When marketers research your piece, they’re looking for details that might be compelling to audiences or journalists. Here are some things they’re keeping an eye out for, and what you can consider including in your program notes (or somewhere on your website or in an interview).

  • A narrative: Is there a story within the piece or behind how the piece came about, or is there a human interest angle involving yourself that explains why you wrote this piece?
  • Novelty factor: Are there any unusual/new techniques or instruments that you use?
  • Inspiration: Did you draw inspiration from something you saw, heard, read about, etc.?
  • Are there any themes in the music that are relevant to events happening today?
  • If you wrote the work specifically for this performer, is that somehow reflected in the music?
  • How is this piece in line with your musical identity/style [also: What is your style]? How is this piece different from other pieces you’ve written?

Here’s an example of a piece with multiple points of interest: Last fall, Sebastian Currier wrote a work called RE-FORMATION for the Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale. The Minnesota Orchestra had commissioned Sebastian to write a current-day version of Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Sebastian responded with a piece that embedded fragments from Mendelssohn’s work, but also focused its attention on current environmental issues, which Sebastian felt mirrored the corruption and excesses that Martin Luther was battling five centuries ago.

There were a lot of angles to work with here: the Reformation anniversary narrative, the Mendelssohn inspiration, and the present-day environmental theme. To help explain all this, Sebastian wrote this program note, worked with filmmaker Michele Beck to create this video, and participated in this Q&A interview. We handed all this over to the Minnesota Orchestra, which then pushed the content out across multiple channels and were able to secure some superb press.

Being able to share this type of nuanced and specific information with the communications team leads to better-informed, more powerful messaging on the whole. The more we can open up channels between the communications people and the composers and performers, the stronger we can convey what music is being created today and what’s important to us as artists, and hopefully invite more curious people into the room.

How to Promote Your Album

Welcome to The Basics of Publicity: Part 4, the gripping conclusion to my four-part series on promotion and marketing for musicians! In my previous posts, I’ve talked about how to consider your public-facing brand and the key points to hiring a publicist, the ten most important things to know about social media marketing, and the core media assets you need and how to get them on any budget. For this final post, I’m going to talk specifically about recordings and how to promote them. This will incorporate many of the practices and concepts from my earlier posts, and hopefully it’ll give you a sense for how those ideas translate into real-world action. To further drive the points home, I’ll offer some case studies from my more than ten years promoting recordings for EMI and Warner Classics.


For the purposes of this post, I’m not going to go into the actual recording process—that’s something I’ll leave to the many extraordinary producers, engineers, studio technicians, and others who specialize in translating the glorious sounds of your music into a true-to-life, impactful recording. What I’m going to focus on is how to take that lovely digital file/CD/LP/cassette tape/wax cylinder, and give it the best potential shot at being heard by the most people possible. Because there’s nothing worse than pouring your soul, time, and money into an album and then having no one hear it.


Also for the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume we’re talking about a traditional “album” that features 40-70 minutes of audio recording. The rise of high-quality digital music files, streaming outlets like Spotify, video distribution platforms, even virtual reality, all open up new and exciting possibilities when it comes to recorded sound. I could write a separate post on each of these, but for most people, the standard is still going to be a traditional recording that can be distributed online but also packaged into a physical CD. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

The moment you start thinking about the recording itself is when you need to also be thinking about how you’re going to promote it.

Many people make the mistake of waiting until the recording is finished before they begin thinking about promotion, but I cannot stress enough: the moment you start thinking about the recording itself is when you need to also be thinking about how you’re going to promote it. There are a few very important considerations you need to be thinking about the second you decide you want to make a recording:


Gone are the days when a world-class performance of a beautiful piece made for a newsworthy recording. There are simply too many new recordings being released each month, and the only way to cut through the noise is to have a story to tell about your album that will get people interested and engaged before they hear a single note.

As laid out in my first post, having a story that people can talk about and tell others is the beating heart of any kind of modern promotion. The same is true of a recording: Why is this music so important to you that you want to make a permanent record of it? If there are a variety of pieces on an album, what common theme ties them together? If it’s new music, what are the stories and ideas (both musical and non-musical) that might make it stand out in people’s minds?

If the only answer to these questions is: “Because it’s great music and a great recorded performance of it,” then you may end up with a fantastic album, but it’s one that will be very difficult to promote in a meaningful way.

An example: piano duo Christina and Michelle Naughton recorded an album entitled Visions, which featured Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen, a Kurtag arrangement of a Bach chorale, and Hallelujah Junction by John Adams (a mentor of theirs). The story of the album revolved around different musical approaches to the idea of spiritual joy – from Messaien’s ecstatic transcendence to Bach’s serene confidence to Adams’s reckless ebullience. Having that story angle in place helped to tie the program together and provide a clear, concise message about what people could expect from the recording, and how they could talk about it to others.

The story of your album should determine all extra-musical aspects of it—the title, cover design, liner notes, and any other marketing materials—and answer the question: “Why should people care about my recording?”


Once you’ve got the story of your album in place, you want to think about organizations that might be interested in that story, and in helping you to tell it. Partnerships can boost sales of an album (if your recording centers around music written in response to visual art, for example, is there a gallery of that artist’s work that might be willing to sell your CD in the gift shop?), help with social media (if you’re featuring the music of a living composer with great social media, can they post about your album?), and can help add to the publicity by further validating and adding additional angles to your story, and making the entire campaign feel like more of an event.

An example here is an upcoming album from pianist Tanya Gabrielian, featuring piano transcriptions of Bach solo cello and violin pieces. Tanya suffered a severe spine injury while doing martial arts as a teenager and spent a painful month in the hospital, where the recordings of these Bach pieces helped her maintain her sanity and get through the low points of her experience. So for the album, she’s partnered with various chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, putting on performances at their various local branches where she’ll play the album music in hopes that it will provide the same support to NAMI patients as it did for her during her time of struggle. It’s an example of a partnership that emphasizes the core story of the album (the healing power of Bach’s music), while also providing performances that can be pegs for local media outreach.


There was a time when you couldn’t put out a commercially successful album if it wasn’t on a record label—physical distribution and PR/promo/marketing outlets were simply inaccessible to the common folk. Now the internet has changed all of that, and you can easily put your album on CDBaby and get your music out across all digital platforms like iTunes, Spotify, and more. So why should you even consider a label? Well there are pros and cons…

Pros of a Record Label

  • Physical Distribution: While there are fewer and fewer retail music shops with a physical building, if you want to be in them you’ll need a label—or at least label services—to get your CD shipped out and sold in those stores.
  • Grammys: Getting a Grammy Award is a long, complicated, and opaque process, and you’re VERY unlikely to have it happen unless there’s a label handling it and managing the process, not to mention advocating for your recording within the industry.
  • Recording/Packaging Support: Some labels will help defray some or all of the costs of recording (depending on your contract) and possibly the packaging design, photo shoot, video production, etc.
  • PR/Marketing: Major labels—and some of the boutique ones as well—have dedicated PR and marketing teams, with the contacts and experience to help with the work promoting your recording.
  • Prestige Factor: This one is more amorphous, but there is a certain degree of prestige in having a respected label release your album—it shows that other people believe in you, and you’re not simply doing everything on your own. This is especially true of a major label. If you self-release, realize that some of the larger media might not take you as seriously as they would if your album was on a label they knew and trusted. (Of course, if you’ve already had previous albums that they’ve covered in the past, this can be less of a concern.)

Cons of a Record Label

  • You make no money: If you release on a label, don’t expect to ever see a return on that investment. The most wildly successful niche recordings sell a few thousand copies, and even with the best record deal ever, you’ll only see a fraction of that income.
  • You lose some control: Depending on the label and the deal with them, you might lose artistic control over the presentation, title, story elements, etc. of your album.
  • All labels are not created equal: Some are better at some things, others are better at other things. You want to learn the ins and outs of each and determine what you need from them before signing on, otherwise you can get stuck in a relationship that isn’t beneficial to either side.

Photo by Jonathan Velasquez


Okay, you’ve got a story, partners, maybe even a record label. Now it’s time to start putting a promotional plan in place.

1. Assets

Since you’ve already (I’m sure) read my third post on assets, you know all about photos, videos, and more. But you should also consider these in the specific context of your album, as they can be vital when it comes to promotion and telling the story of your album. Will you create music videos (even just having a two-camera setup in the studio during the recording, which you can pair with the studio audio track)? Can you make an intro video that features some performance footage, as well as interview footage of you telling the story of the album? Are there any “bonus tracks” that won’t be on the final album, but that you could offer exclusively to media outlets in exchange for a feature on the album?

An example of this is a video we shot with violinist Ariana Kim around her self-released album Routes of Evanescence—a recording entirely of contemporary violin works by women composers. We wanted to get some exposure around International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, so we shot the video quick and dirty in her apartment, and offered the exclusive to a major violin blog, which ran this great story as a result. It was an example where an asset led directly to promotional exposure because it was tied into the story of the album.

2. Performances

This is an area where many people fall short when planning their album. I cannot stress enough: having performances of your album repertoire (even if it’s a few pieces within a larger program) is a VITAL part of a successful promotion plan. Fewer and fewer media outlets will cover an album release on its own, but if you have a live performance that features the album, then they can cover that and talk about the album in the context of the performance. Plus, performances open up the possibility of post-concert CD sales and signing sessions, which are where the majority of album sales happen these days.

At the very least, you want to have a record release performance—ideally in as established a venue as you can find, in a market where you have an existing fan base. You want it to be packed, and you should invite as many media outlets from the area to come as possible.

If people enjoy hearing it live, they’ll be far more likely to want to take it home with them.

The ideal setup is one where you have a full tour that includes as many major cities as possible, and that starts off with a record release performance. (Do NOT have the release “street date” be at the end of the tour. Please don’t do that.) If that’s not feasible, then as many performances as possible featuring as much of the album repertoire as you can fit in, is the next best thing. Contact each venue to set up CD sales/signings after each performance, and bring a stack of albums along with you so you don’t run out! Square card readers or similar allow you to process credit cards so you’re not just relying on cash.

Regardless, get the music on your album performed! If people enjoy hearing it live, they’ll be far more likely to want to take it home with them.

3. Social Media Timeline

Since I’m 100% certain you’ve read my second post about social media, and that as a result you’re now a hyper-engaged, digitally savvy social media maven, let’s talk briefly about how to promote your recording on social media. You want to put a timeline in place from start to finish, with as many different assets as you can, leading up to the release. Here are some ideas to get you started:


  • Photos of the scores you’re preparing
  • Video of you practicing for recording sessions
  • Photos and videos of you in the recording studio
  • Pre-order links when they go live
  • Release a single track to give a taste for the album
  • Unveil the cover image in a post
  • If you did a photo shoot for the album, reveal the new photos in a gallery
  • When you first get your advance CDs, share a photo of it
  • Video of you talking about the album’s story, and why you’re excited about it
  • Livestream of you answering followers questions about the album
  • Advance media coverage


  • Share all of the buy links for the album in a single post (or link to a website page where they’re all present)
  • Video of you inviting everyone to listen and pick up a copy
  • Photos/video from the release performance
  • Share any media coverage that runs at the time of release
  • Share intro video


  • Share album reviews with pullout quotes
  • Photos from your tour, CD signing sessions, etc.
  • Highlight specific tracks, tell the stories behind them, record videos of yourself performing them, etc.
  • Roll out music videos for work on the album

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Anything you can think of related to the album can be fodder for social media.

Also, as I mentioned in my social media post, you want to think if there are people you can ask to share some of your more significant posts. Obviously any partners in the album should share, but even the recording studio, related music publishers, composer societies, your conservatory…the more the merrier, and many will share if you just make the ask!

4. Promoting Your Recording

This is where the rubber hits the road—trying to get media to cover your album. Of course, you can consider hiring a publicity/promotion company to do this for you (and you know how to do that, because you read my first post which gives advice on hiring a publicist), but many don’t have the budget for that, in which case you’ll have to do it yourself. Here are some tips to get you started:


  • You should plan to start promotion eight to twelve weeks out from the release date. Any smaller of a window and you’ll risk missing opportunities.
  • You’ll want to have the finished recording in hand when you start promotion, so work backwards from there when planning a street date, performance, tour, etc.
  • In planning the recording, editing, mastering, album package design, etc., always build in a week or two extra for buffers in each step. Trust me.

Press Release

  • I know press releases have lost some of their impact in the digital age, but it’s still useful to have all of the info in one place for a promo mailout, when pitching, etc.
  • Put together a document that has the album cover image, name of the album, names of performers (or just you as the album artist), release date, label (if applicable), a paragraph or two introducing it and saying what the story is, a track listing, and links to any videos, photos. Put your contact info (or the info of whoever is promoting the album) at the bottom.

Media Targets

  • Spend some time brainstorming a list of possible media outlets—blogs, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, etc.—that might be interested in your album. If outlets have covered you in the past, add ‘em to the list. If you have a possible direct connection to any writers or producers, add ‘em. Again, read my first post for more general media strategy advice.
  • If you have a label, they should have a list of outlets they send promo CDs to. Get that list, and add your contacts to it.
  • Put the whole list into a spreadsheet with media outlet name, contact name, address, email, any notes about past history with them, or possible angles unique to the individual or outlet.

Promo Mailing

  • Six to eight weeks out from release, you’ll want to mail out copies of the CD to as many of the media outlets on your list as possible, so that they can have a chance to listen to it well ahead of street date.
  • A NOTE ABOUT UNSOLICITED MAILINGS: If you aren’t on a label and aren’t in the habit of just sending out CDs to people, then you need to be careful here. While ultimately the most efficient way to go about a promo mailing is to send out the CDs to everyone who might be interested, and then follow up with an email or phone call after the CD has arrived, just be aware that there will be the occasional person who will take umbrage at having a CD sent to them without their having asked for it. If you come across someone like this, just apologize, and then if they’re still listening go ahead with your pitch.
  • In addition to CDs, you should have a digital version of the album to distribute as well—even just a Dropbox link to a folder that contains Mp3 and WAV files of the music, a hi-resolution JPEG of the album cover, a PDF of the liner notes, and a Word document of the press release. That way, you can send that to people if they say they prefer digital versions.


Once you’ve distributed the music to each of the outlets on your list, you’ll want to email and/or call them with a pitch on how they might cover your album. Some tips on different outlets:

  • Newspapers: If it’s a newspaper that runs reviews, pitch them to review it. If they don’t run reviews but have concert reviews and are in a location where you’re giving an album tour performance, pitch them to review the concert, but also send them the album so they can include a mention in their review. You can also pitch for an interview feature to run before the performance, talking about the upcoming concert and album release.
  • Magazines: If they review albums, pitch for a review, otherwise pitch for an interview feature around the recording. See what different sections they have.
  • Websites/Blogs: You can pitch anything from an album review to a video exclusive, interview feature, guest post where you tell the story in your own words, etc. The sky’s the limit here, and many online outlets will be willing to work with you if you’ve got creative ideas and compelling content.
  • Radio Stations: Pitch for airplay if they program music similar to what’s on your album. If you’re touring to their area, you can pitch local stations for on-air interviews, pre-recorded interview segments, or in-studio performances. Some stations have websites or social media that offer possibilities for album promotion if you can’t get it on the air.
  • TV: If you’ve got a really compelling human interest story around your album, then you can pitch local TV channels around your tour markets to have you in for an interview or performance segment—particularly if they have cultural news coverage segments.

This is just scratching the surface. Ask your colleagues where they’ve gotten album coverage and see if you can secure similar hits for yourself. Find albums that have a similar repertoire or story to yours and check Google News searches to see what kinds of media coverage they received. Check the social media feeds of comparable artists (or their record labels) to see if they post about media coverage that might offer leads.

Pitching is an ongoing process, and you might find out about leads months after the album is released. Don’t be afraid to still reach out and see if they’d be interested, as you never know when a big feature might be right around the corner.

In Conclusion

When it comes to album promotion, you get back what you put in. The more work you do, the more results you’ll get, and while you might not have unlimited time to spend on it, you should at least budget a solid chunk of time for planning and execution. Again, there’s nothing worse than putting out a recording and not having anyone listen to it, so I hope that this guide will at least give you some guidance on things you can do to get your music heard by as many people as possible.

Thanks for reading this post and my other ones, feel free to stop by www.unison.media and drop me a line!

The Basics of Publicity

If you’re reading NewMusicBox, chances are you’re someone in the music industry working to make a career for yourself (unless you’re someone with an actual, physical music box that’s broken, and you’re trying to replace it, in which case try here). If you fall in the former group, then at some point or another you’re going to need to think about publicity, and so I’ve written these posts on the basics of publicity as a primer to help get you started on the winding, sometimes treacherous road of self-promotion.

Before we go any deeper, however, we need to be clear about what we mean when we’re discussing publicity.


At its core, publicity is about the public face of your music making and how people perceive it. What is the story of your music? What distinguishes you from the sprawling hordes of other people out there doing the same thing? Who is telling that story, how are they telling it, and to whom are they telling it? Essentially, it boils down to trying to get someone to care about what you’re doing, and then having them tell other people that they should care, too.

In the golden days of yore, that public-facing story was told in a rather controlled way—a publicist spoke about you to the decision-makers at a handful of very powerful media outlets (newspaper/magazine/radio/TV), and those media outlets either told your story to their readers/listeners/viewers and made you a star, or they didn’t.

Then the internet happened, and there was a flood of new ways that the story of your music (and your music itself) could be exposed to the public. As a result, the ways in which people heard your story, and told it, changed dramatically. Instead of a handful of highly controlled outlets, all of sudden you had blogs popping up like rabbits in summertime, not to mention forums, podcasts, video series, a parade of social media platforms, your website…even the older media outlets began expanding into digital and social media, in addition to their traditional platforms.

What is the story of your music? Who is telling that story, how are they telling it, and to whom are they telling it?

So today more than ever, if you want to get your music to an audience that’s larger than yourself, your cat, and your mom, then you must consider the question of publicity and how the story of your music is being told. And that begins with your branding and media relations (with or without a publicist), though it also extends into your social media and digital marketing, as well as your public-facing assets (photos, videos, website, and recordings—the last of which deserves its own category). But let’s start with the first of these.


At the risk of sounding like a budget Don Draper, you need to consider your brand. Yes, “brand” is a terrible word, and yes, I do feel a little bit dirty every time I say it, but I’ve yet to find a suitable alternative (though if any of you wordsleuths have a suggestion, please share in the comments).

You should think of your brand as the best possible slice of yourself and your music. It’s about taking the gloriously messy complexity that is your life, personality, and creative process—most of which is (spoiler alert) not very interesting to anyone other than your closest friends and family—singling out the most compelling parts, and shaping them into a narrative that people will want to hear and want to talk about.

It’s the difference between saying this: “She’s a young lady who spent her childhood in rural Montana, then studied to be a hotel manager at a state university while also singing on the side, and then, on a whim, she applied to a conservatory in New York, was accepted, and then after finishing her studies, was offered (via a close friend) a chance to be a cover at the Metropolitan Opera, and when the lead fell ill suddenly, she got the chance to sing in an actual production.”

Or this: “She grew up in the middle of Nowhere, USA, until a top-level conservatory heard her, brought her to New York, and four years later she was singing on the stage of the Met.”

It’s the same story, but the second version cuts out what’s extraneous and focuses on a concise story with a few “hooks” that people can easily catch on to, remember, and repeat to others.


Let me just pause for a second, since many people will read that last section and say: “I’m an artist…I don’t want some skinny-tie-wearing, hair-slicked-back hustler trying to sell me like a bar of soap. MY MUSIC WILL STAND ON ITS OWN MERITS, and if it’s good enough then I’ll succeed without any branding or publicity!”

Except it won’t. And that’s not what this is about anyways.

If you don’t promote your music then it won’t be heard, no matter how good it is. If you don’t talk about your art, no one will.

Listen, I understand that being a musician generally reflects a certain baseline level of commitment to integrity and a belief in the inherent value of art. And I also understand how people feel that any sort of promotion might somehow risk compromising that and cheapening their art, but the fact is that 999 times out of 1,000, if you don’t promote your music then it won’t be heard, no matter how good it is. If you don’t talk about your art, no one will.

The distinction—and it is a vital one—is between talking about what you have created in a way that is thoughtful, concise, and honest versus being a crass, egotistical self-promoter. We all know the latter when we see them, and while they might get some more exposure in the short term, they always lose in the long run since people get tired of having something pushed on them.

So once again—if you wish to be a public figure in any capacity and to have your music reach an ever-larger audience, then you simply must come to terms with the idea of talking about yourself and what you’re doing. The important thing, as I’ve said, is to do it well, and to always to be true to yourself.


So how do you figure out what your brand is and how best to tell your story? Well, you can hire a publicist and have them figure it out (more on that later), or you can go the DIY route. The first step is write down your story in your own words: how you’ve come to where you are now in your music career, step by step, in as much detail as you can. Then write about how you approach your music making: what you think is special about it; what you love most about making music; what you think is important (and not important); the people and experiences that have influenced you and why. Get it all out on the page, even if it’s messy and longwinded.

Next, come up with a list of close friends—people who you feel know you, and also appreciate and enjoy your music. Call them up, tell them you’re doing an exercise and were wondering if they might be willing to tell you what they find most interesting about you, what they enjoy most about your music, and how they would describe you and your music to other people. Write it all down. Yes, it’s going to feel a little bit awkward, but get over it—again, this is part of being a public figure, and if you don’t want to do this then it’s back to the basement with your mom and cat.

Once you’ve gotten some external opinions, you should start to see some patterns emerge. Compare those points to the story you originally wrote down and see how you can consolidate the two into a narrative that is true to yourself and your history, but speaks to the things that other people find engaging. Then read it back to those friends and see if it strikes a chord.

After that, you should at least have a much clearer picture of your brand and how to better tell the story of yourself and your music.


Now that you’ve got a story to tell, the next step is figuring out how to get other people to tell it—both to get the word out to new and larger audiences, and also to validate the elements of your story. So instead of you saying, “Hey, this is my story and it’s true, I swear it!” instead you can say, “My story is such-and-such, and here’s a sweet pull-out quote from a prestigious media outlet that proves it!”

This is what media relations is about: finding a way to get people in the media—journalists, critics, producers, bloggers, influencers, and anyone else who has access to a platform that reaches an audience—to talk about you and your music, to that audience.

Once again, there are two ways to do this: 1) you hire a publicist who has the media contacts you want to reach, and pay them to get your story told, or 2) you do it yourself. Let’s once again take the DIY route first.

If you want to do your own media outreach, then the most important thing you can do is actually engage with the media that you want to be featured in—read the blogs, newspapers, and magazines, listen to the radio, watch the TV shows, follow the social media accounts. See who covers what, how they talk about it, what stories, angles, music, and personalities seem to pique their interest…then start to think about how you might be able to make them interested in you. Do they write about live performances in NYC featuring avant-garde music by living composers? Don’t pitch them on your Gershwin recital in Kentucky. Do they do long-form, in-depth interviews with established stars? Don’t pitch them a listing for your upcoming house concert. When you’re reaching out to media for the first time, it’s crucial to show that you understand what they’re about and that you’re trying to present them with a story that they might actually be interested in telling, in the way that they like to tell it.

Be to-the-point and polite in your pitches—say who you are, what you’re doing, and why you think it might be of interest to them, then thank them for any consideration. That’s it.

Once you’ve identified some outlets and contacts who might be interested, you have to research your way to their contact info. Alternatively, if you’re performing with a venue or presenter that has a PR/publicity/marketing person or department, you should get in touch with them and see if they’d be willing to make the pitches, or at least give you the contacts. Or, if you have colleagues who have been featured in certain outlets, ask them if they’d be willing to give you a contact or make an introduction.

Be to-the-point and polite in your pitches—say who you are, what you’re doing, and why you think it might be of interest to them, then thank them for any consideration. That’s it. You can follow up once or twice after a week or so of no response, then let it go and try again next time. You’ll never get everyone to respond in the first go-round, and you shouldn’t take it personally if you never hear back from people.

If they do respond, and you end up getting some form of coverage, then keep a list or spreadsheet of that, and whenever you have other things going on that might be of interest, reach out to them again. It’ll be much, much easier the second time around.

I could write another ten pages on media relations, but those are the core basics if you want to handle it yourself. Alternatively, you can hire a publicist—which leads to our final area of discussion.


I can’t tell you how many people have asked me the question: “so, what do publicists actually do?” There’s a lot of confusion—not to mention smoke and mirrors—around the work of publicity, when it’s needed, and how to tell if it’s being done right. Let me try to clear the air a bit.


First and foremost, there are two types of publicity: campaign-based publicity and ongoing (or “retainer”) publicity. Campaign-based publicity is when you hire a publicist or publicity firm for a specific time period around a specific event or series of events, like a major performance, tour, album release, announcement, etc. Here, the goal is for the publicist to determine the best way to tell the story of your event, and to try to secure as much media coverage as possible for it, in order to achieve both general exposure for yourself and your event, and also to help achieve whatever the concrete goals of the campaign are (selling tickets or albums, for example).

Ongoing publicity (also referred to as PR or public relations), is when you hire someone to be your constant advocate and mouthpiece to the public, to shape the longer arcs of your story and career, and to also pitch and coordinate media placements around your important events. If you’re a top-level established artist, then this becomes more about controlling the flow of communications, deciding which outlets can run which stories when, and so on. For the rest of us, it’s about building a sense of momentum for your career and making sure more and more media outlets cover you in increasingly visible, impactful ways. It can also be about forging brand partnerships, collaborations, putting on showcase events or performances, and managing your social media and digital marketing, depending on the publicist and your own career goals.


Here is the cardinal rule: only hire a publicist when there is something truly of note to publicize.

Here is the cardinal rule: only hire a publicist when there is something truly of note to publicize. If what your trying to promote simply isn’t a good story, or doesn’t have the necessary elements in place for media to want to cover it, then you can pay A LOT of money (see next section) and get very little in return—and believe me, there are plenty of people out there who will gladly take your hard-earned cash if you’ll give it to them.

For campaign-based publicity, if you’re not playing a thoughtfully programmed concert at a relatively noteworthy (or a wildly unusual) venue, or releasing a professionally recorded album with a compelling theme on a respected label, or receiving a significant award that media have covered before, then you will most likely not get your money’s worth from a publicist.

For ongoing publicity, if you don’t have a relatively full schedule, ideas about interesting projects you want to do, a willingness to do interviews and promo performances, and at least a baseline of industry bona fides (top conservatory training, competition wins, awards, successful recordings, social media traction, etc.), then you most likely will not get your money’s worth from a publicist.

There are a lot of people who hire a publicist just because it makes them feel like they have arrived at a certain career milestone. This is not a good reason. Let’s briefly look at how you can tell if a publicist is actually getting results for you.


There are a few ways to tell if a publicist is actually making things happen or just taking your money and laughing all the way to the bank:

  • Media Placements: Listings, previews, interviews, reviews—are media covering you and your events? Also make sure to distinguish actual media placements with smoke and mirrors media placements (i.e. places that simply re-post a press release, tiny blogs whose readership is literally you, your publicist, and the person who wrote the piece, or pay-to-play websites where your publicist pays them to review you so they can say, “Look, I got you some coverage!!”).
  • Traffic to your website and social media: You should see a gradual but steady increase in online traffic and engagement around you (which, by the way, you should know how to read and monitor—more on that in another post). This might not happen overnight, but if you’re paying someone to increase your public profile, that should be reflected in the numbers.
  • More people should know your name: Even if you’re not getting covered immediately (and it can take a moment for the rubber to hit the road), then at the very least your publicist should be talking about you to people and trying to get them interested in you. And eventually that should somehow filter back to you via the trickles of communication that make up any niche industry. If after a few months of publicity, someone doesn’t say, “I heard about what you were doing from so-and-so!” then you should ask what’s being done for you.
  • A sense of momentum: This is a bit more difficult to quantify, but if you’re paying someone to promote you, you should feel a sense of excitement and an upward trajectory to your career—that you’re headed in a positive direction and taking significant steps to get there. This is crucial, but it’s also an area where many publicists can talk a great game to their clients, and sell them on the belief that they’re becoming stars, without actually delivering on any of the first three points…so while this is important, if it’s all you’re getting then you need to be wary.

Those are a few pointers in terms of deliverables. Now let’s talk money…


This is the question I get most often—how much do publicists charge? Obviously it depends on the publicist, how established they are, what other artists they represent, etc., but there’s one hard and fast rule: good publicity is expensive. If a major market publicist is charging less than $1000 a month, then chances are they don’t have the contacts or influence (or confidence in their abilities) to really deliver for you. Good publicity takes a certain level of expertise and experience, as well as contacts and relationships that are established over a long period of time, and you will pay a premium for access to both of those things.

Generally speaking, campaign-based PR is more expensive since it’s a shorter time-period, and has more concrete and high-pressure deliverables for the publicist. You should expect to pay at least $1000-1500 per month on the low end, to $5,000 and up (though for niche genres, unless you’re a superstar you will quite frankly almost never see a financial return on that kind of an investment). Ongoing publicity rates can depend on the length of the relationship and how much you have to actually publicize, but you should still be prepared to pay north of $1000 a month. Think of it as hiring a part-time employee to work with you on your career.

There can be countless add-on costs as well, such as press release writing, social media and website management, event management, and so on.


Hopefully that gives you an understanding about the core concepts of branding, media relations, and when to hire a publicist. Next up, we’ll look into some other ways that you can tell your story and present your public-facing brand: your website, social media and digital marketing, and the various audio/visual/written assets that represent you and your music.

Andrew Ousley

With more than a decade of experience in the music industry, Andrew Ousley has worked with artists and organizations such as Lawrence Brownlee, Conrad Tao, Kevin Puts, Warner Music, On Site Opera, and more. He has overseen the marketing, promotion, publicity, and project management of fourteen #1 albums, from core classical to crossover. He is the founder and president of Unison Media, an integrated music company that handles publicity, marketing, social media, websites, and more. He is also the creator, curator, and presenter of The Crypt Sessions, a concert series in a crypt in Harlem, and runs Burger Club.

Perceptions of Success

Several months ago I wrote a post entitled “Perceptions of Opportunity” that looked at how important it was to ensure that opportunities for composers to further their craft and have their voices heard were neither limited nor perceived to be limited. In a similar vein, perception seems to be a driving force today in how composers, performers, ensembles, and the media understand “success” within the new music community. In order to get a sense of what that perception is and how it works, one first has to agree on a definition of success. How does one actually become successful in our field? And what does that even mean?
From my humble vantage point out here in western New York, the answer to those questions depends on what kind of success we’re talking about. If we’re discussing personal satisfaction (having the opportunity to create, perform, and disseminate one’s art), that’s one thing; if we’re discussing financial stability (whether directly through one’s own creative work or through other means), that’s another. Both of those either affect or are affected by the content of one’s own work (and, of course, they’re not mutually exclusive).

Where the situation can become more troublesome seems to be found with the type of success that is based on exposure and notoriety. That notoriety can take obvious forms, such as the winning of a major award, a particularly positive review or article in a newspaper or magazine, or a significant commission by a respected ensemble or performer. But notoriety can grow subtly as well, through a gradual inclusion into the national discussion in print or online media, social networks, or by word of mouth.
Gradual notoriety and exposure can happen organically over period of years and come from a variety of sources or with consistent repetition from a few, high-profile individuals. This is, of course, not a new idea by any stretch; most of the composers that we would today label as “masters” were championed by others in print, in the classroom, and on the podium. What separates today’s composers from those in the past are the numbers; just as the number of composers have risen, so too have the conduits through which audiences can discover and explore new music. This expansion in numbers has created a growing need–or at least an opportunity–for guidance and, for lack of a better term, taste-making.

Over the past several years, there have been a number of composers, performers, and ensembles that have caught the attention of those in the media whose influence can have a sizable impact on the artists’ reputation within the greater musical community. It would be very easy to infer that if those artists are able to garner continued attention from the media, then their music must not only be of high quality but of superior quality when compared with the work of those who are not being noticed…and therein lies the rub.

Considering the small number of individuals whose judgements, opinions, or programming decisions can truly alter or affect public tastes, it’s very easy to come up with false inferences in both directions. If a particular style or musical sensibility becomes prevalent in the media–be that print, online, or radio–or on the concert stage, some observers may infer that that style or concept is “the one to pay attention to,” while other observers may fairly or unfairly assume that if that style has been embraced by the media, then it is automatically suspect and possibly invalid.

Public exposure and notoriety–what some might call a “surface level” success–is neither harmful nor beneficial in and of itself. If nurtured wisely and not taken too seriously, then it can be used to improve current projects and provide opportunities for new ones. If taken too seriously (from either the vantage point of the artist or the audience/onlookers), it can twist expectations, alter interpretations, and breed unhealthy reactions. It is hoped that with realistic expectations from artists and audiences and a wide-open, broad-based, and truly investigative media, the new music community can de-emphasize the surface-level successes and emphasize those successes that emanate from the content itself.