Part Six: Getting Noticed

Last updated on: Sunday 2 September 2018

Once you are gaining some momentum with your music it’s time to reach out to the media. But which media? We look at the music press, music radio and the role of the streaming platforms…

So, you’ve written the songs, you’ve recorded some tracks, your socials are sorted and you’re starting to gig. Well done. So, what’s next? It’s time to further grow you fanbase and start connecting with the wider industry, and that’s where the music media – and especially those media focused on new music – can help. But which media? And how do you reach them?

There are numerous online and print music magazines published in the UK – plus some sites from abroad also enjoy a decent sized readership here – and these remain influential with both music fans and the music industry.

It’s no secret that most of the print music magazines have seen there circulations decline considerably over the last decade. Though many still sell tens of thousands of copies – which could mean they are read by 75,000-100,000 people – which is a large number in the context of record sales. And, of course, most of these magazines publish online too, and there they probably reach more people now than the print version ever did.

The online music press includes those magazines that used to exist in print but are now online-only; those which have print editions in other countries but are only available online here; and those titles that have only ever existing online. And, of course, alongside the online music press you have hundreds of music blogs.

The main task for new artists is working out which of these media to target. Sending a generic email to hundreds of magazines, websites and blogs isn’t likely to get you very far – it’s much better to send personalised emails to a small number of media. Obviously most music magazines and blogs specialise in a certain genre of music, so the starting point is working out who writes about the kind of music you make. And then look for those media who have a focus on new artists.

Once you have identified the target sites – and even better, the journalists who are most likely to be into your music – make sure you check out those magazines or blogs on a regular basis, and follow both the media and key journalists on social media (Twitter is especially good for this). When you send your personalised email, make sure it’s obvious that you know about the kinds of music the media you are contacting writes about – journalists like it when people do their research before getting in touch.

Radio has always been really important for promoting new music, and remains so even in the streaming and social media age. Most radio stations in the UK are music-focused, though many stations have similar formats in terms of programmes and music policy.

The first thing to know about mainstream radio on FM and DAB is that the DJ you hear talking between the music doesn’t usually decide what tracks get played. They are told what to play by a head of music. The head of music is pretty powerful, because they control most of the music that gets played on their station (and many heads of music actually control a whole network of stations around the country, which may use one name nationally like Capital, or may operate under different names in different cities).

However, with specialist shows and online radio stations the DJs usually decide most of the music they play. And on some more mainstream stations, the DJs might get some ‘free plays’ – a certain number of tracks per show where they get to pick what to play. Given it can be hard to get your music in front of a head of music without a label behind you, the best place to start is usually genre relevant specialist shows and online stations. Listen to the shows you are pitching to and send the DJs personalised emails with links to both your SoundCloud profile and where they can download a decent quality audio file.

One of the key things a record label offers artists it signs is access to editors, journalists, DJs and heads of music. Big record companies have specialist in-house teams who talk to all the decision makers in the music press and music radio on a regular basis. There are also numerous agencies that do music PR, and who have the media contacts, but they usually need paying, and it’s generally the labels who have the budget to do so.

Of course there is nothing to stop DIY artists from contacting media direct, and once you have some momentum going you should definitely do this. But remember that editors, journalists, DJs and heads of music get hundreds of emails every week (some every day!) and so, even if you write the perfect personalised email, there is a chance it won’t get read. Labels and PR agencies have personal relationships with their media contacts, which inevitably means their emails are more likely to be seen (though not always!).

But it is still worth sending personalised emails to the journalists and DJs you think are going to most like your music. Be persistent without being a pest – so if you don’t hear back, it is worth sending a slightly reworked email a few weeks later. Some PR agencies offer to send press releases to their mailing lists for self-releasing artists for a few hundred pounds, but arguably that’s not a good use of your money. There is still a very high chance no one will read that press release, and your targeted personalised emails will probably have more success.

At the record companies and agencies people usually specialise in the kind of media they pitch to. The big divide is between those who pitch to magazines and websites (often called ‘press’ or simply ‘PR’) and those who pitch to TV and radio (often called ‘promotions’ or ‘plugging’).

PRs and pluggers may also specialise in terms of genre, or primarily pitch to print press, or online press, or national radio, or online radio, and so on.

Whether you are doing your own PR, or you have a label or agency to handle it for you, whenever you start pitching your music to media for the first time you need to be ambitious but realistic. You are most likely to get your initial support from genre relevant blogs and online radio shows, which often take more risks in terms of what music they champion and which like to be ‘on to things’ first.

That can influence the new talent columns on the music websites and the specialist shows on FM and DAB radio stations, which in turn can influence the review sections of various media, which can influence the print magazines, which might influence the wider news and entertainment media, which can influence heads of music controlling daytime airplay and so on.

But don’t expect a sudden boost in fans, ticket sales or streams on the back of the first bit of blog coverage. Each bit of coverage can help you get the next bit of coverage, and slowly momentum builds.

With the likes of Spotify and Apple Music offering such a big catalogue of music, many users rely heavily on those services’ playlist functions – both the user’s own personal library where they organise the music they like, and the publicly accessible playlists curated by other users, media, labels and the streaming services themselves.

It is generally the services’ own playlists that enjoy by far the most subscribers and listens. In fact those playlists are now so influential that artists and labels now routinely pitch to the people at the streaming companies who run them. Meanwhile, for their part, the streaming firms are expanding their playlisting teams, often hiring ex-radio people to do the job.

As with mainstream radio, it is hard for DIY artists to get in front of the playlisters at the streaming services. Spotify now offers a website where you can submit tracks for consideration and your distributor might be able to help, especially if they see your music gaining traction.

But it is also worth trying to identify the people who are behind specific genre relevant playlists (you can often work out who they are through some Google and Twitter searching) and then sending those people occasional personalised emails, like those we described above.

Artists and labels can also set up their own playlists on the streaming platforms of course, and many do. To gain traction, these playlists generally need to feature music from other artists and labels, but if you can find an audience for your curation skills, then you have a ready made channel to promote your own releases as they go live.

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Words: Chris Cooke – Last updated Sep 2018