As an owner of an independent record label, I often get asked how to put together a great press kit. I have found that young musicians understand their music, but are often intimidated by the marketing end of the business. In this article I will help you figure out how to position yourself, whether you are a Latin female vocalist building her base, or an upstart garage band just looking for a break.
What is a Press Kit:
First of all, there is nothing magical about the term “press kit”. All we are talking about is a little background on you/your band, some basic facts, good quotes about your music, a couple of good pictures, and a sample of your music. You will use this to send to newspapers, lawyers, radio stations, A&R reps, promoters, and anyone else who is willing to spend five minutes reviewing your material. Additionally, on the internet you will hear about an electronic press kit, or EPS. An EPS is the exact same thing as a conventional press kit, except it is downloadable as an electronic file instead of a hardcopy form which must be mailed.
The main purpose of the press kit is to generate interest in the artist and their music.
What to include:
Include a limited amount of background information on yourself. It is fine to say where you are from, but no one really wants to hear about every singing performance you did during elementary school. Sometimes less is more.
Talk about your music. Who do you sound like, and who does your music remind people of. The reader needs to be able to have a good idea of what your music sounds like just from your description. Be thoughtful and feel free to be a little funny here (but stay professional). Saying something like your band sounds like a cross between “Maroon 5 and Green Day after 20 cups of coffee” helps the reader understand. Remember, if you don’t generate enough interest in the first minute, they will never listen to your demo.
Talk about what you are good at. What makes your band special and different from others? What skills and experiences do you bring to the table? Remember if you are looking for a record deal, you need to prove to your reader that you have all the right ingredients for them to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars marketing you. Launching a new artist is risky, so you need to help the record exec understand why you are a solid investment.
Include quotes and/or press clippings as you generate them. A good quote from a reputable source (not your brother-in-law) can add a lot of credibility to your press kit. It lets the reader know that you have already been reviewed and your material is worth listening to. Ninety percent of press kits unfortunately end up in the trash, some good quotes and positive reviews can create the momentum necessary to get heard, and who knows – maybe even become famous.
You can go with one page dedicated to a bio (biography), and a separate page focused on quotes about your music, or you can combine the two into what some people call a “one pager”. My personal preference is to boil everything down to a tight one pager. My desk gets cluttered and papers get separated. If you have you quotes separate from your bio, there is a possibility that I could misplace one or the other. With the advent of digital photography and high quality color printers, it is even possible to include a small picture on your one pager to make it even more complete.
Make sure the overall language and tone of the press kit is consistent with your image. If you have someone help you write your bio, make sure they have heard you music and know what you are all about before they hand you something that might sound great, but isn’t about the real you.
Include a couple of different 8×10 pictures that show off different features about you and your band. Include shots that would be appropriate in a news article, but also highlight your key assets from a visual perspective. Your press kit should look professional, but your pictures should reflect your style and music, so you pictures can be much more crazy and creative. Make sure you clearly label the picture with you name and contact information.
If you don’t have good pictures of your band, one of the best ways to get some is to go to a modeling agency and ask for a referral to a good local photographer. These photographers are often willing to do some great work for around $300 for the whole package. Make sure you get an agreement upfront that you own the copyrights after the shot and get the high resolution digital images on CD (with a copyright release you can print these photos at any major retailer). A photographer who does work with models is very different from a photographer who takes family pictures. They have a much better idea of what you want, they will encourage your creativity, and they are much more willing to give you the copyrights.
A current gig sheet can also be useful showing where you have recently played and where you are playing in the near future. This can demonstrate that the music is current and has a following in the community.
And of course, your music. Send a high quality CD demo, preferably mastered if you budget permits. Avoid burning your own CD on your home computer with a stick on label – it looks cheap. There are many new CD duplication services on the internet that will manufacture you CD with a printed color insert, and on disc printing even if you only want a few copies (CD replication is for batches over 1,000 but CD duplication is for batch sizes as small as 1). Expect to pay around $5 a retail ready disc for 1-5 CDs, with prices dropping off for larger batches. Make sure you clearly label the CD and the case with you name and contact information. The worst thing in the world that could happen is that they love your music, but they have already lost the rest of the press kit and don’t remember the name of the band.
What Not to Include:
Don’t oversell yourself. Saying that you are the greatest band that ever lived, might be true, but it probably isn’t. Be positive and promote yourself, but focus on statements that are credible. People in the music business hear hype all of the time, and for the most part are numb to it. Hype is good to use with the general public on things like posters (they often believe it), but your press kit reader is more sophisticated and will see it as cheap theatrics.
Including too much of your personal history can make you seem like an amateur with nothing meatier to talk about. Your reader wants to understand your music today, only your psychologist needs to know about every little detail of your childhood.
Don’t include anything that makes you look too desperate. You want to come across as a quality professional artist. Remember, you make great music. If your band is called the Chicken Heads, then it might be cute to include a rubber chicken in the box, but otherwise I would stick to the basics – bio, quotes, gig sheet, pictures, and music.
How to Package It:
Include a professional looking, personalized cover letter targeted at the person you are sending the press kit to. Your message needs to be different if you are sending it to an A&R rep at a label seeking a record deal, versus sending it to your local newspaper for a review in their music section. Be brief and to the point. Also, be clear and state exactly what you would like from them.
Put it all together in an organized package. Since you are most likely mailing your press kits, make sure that the CD does not bend the photos, and that your kit will arrive looking the way you intend. You may even want to test a press kit (send it across the country to a wrong address, and then it will come back to your return address) to evaluate your packaging.
Your Music Is Art, But Your Press Kit Is Business:
Remember, be professional. The person you are sending this press kit to probably gets hundreds of them, most of them are garbage (and that’s where they end up too). Your music can be crazy and wild, but your press kit needs to be more business like. You are asking someone to spend their valuable time reviewing your material. You may also be asking them to enter into a high risk expensive financial relationship with you. The person you are dealing with is in the music business, they need to make a living. The only way they can do that is to deal with real talent. By presenting a professional package you give them confidence that you are dedicated to making great music, and not just messing around.
A Word About Unsolicited Press Kits:
Avoid wasting your time and money sending a press kit to someone you have not talked with already. Always call and make contact first, ask who you should send it to and what their process is. If possible, have someone who knows the person act as an intermediate and make the initial introduction (this can work wonders). The music business is all about contacts, create and leverage your network. After sending your press kit, call in a couple of weeks and follow up to make sure they received it and got a chance to review it.