Every week, we receive a digital boatload of e-mail from indie artists who want to know if they should invest in a publicist and digital marekting to help push their new song or album to the masses. Some artists ask us for recommendations and connections, many others simply don't even know what a publicist really does and what they can potentially really do for their career.
After having the same conversations over and over for years now, it's abundantly clear that there are some very sizable misconceptions about the role of PR and digital marketing in the music business. Never fear, we got you.
In an effort to help clear up some of the confusion and to better educate the unknowing portion of the indie music populus, we reached out to seven trusted digital marketers and publicists we've worked with, many for almost a decade now. Together, we discussed the true benefits of digital marketing, the difference between publicity and digital marketing, what an artist’s expectations should be for a paid marketing campaign, and what the future holds for digital marketing.
Digital marketing can be beneficial to an up-and-coming artist if they understand that... ?
“Digital marketing does not work in a vacuum. You need to engage with your fans online but also work on creating a buzz in your local area in whatever means possible, ranging from concerts that are your own and opening for other artists along with being seen at shows and in the scene even if you're not performing. Then take this local traction and spread it out as far as you can to a regional then national level.” - Chris Herche
“All artists, no matter where they are on the spectrum, need to understand that this is a highly-competitive environment. Editors and staffers of media properties are inundated with e-mails and social media pitches on an hourly and daily basis and there are a plethora of options for them to choose from, so you need to separate yourself from that pack.”- Matthew Conaway
“Having good music or a name feature is not necessarily enough to get posts on a major music site. A big name feature or producer on your track/project can only start a relationship to get a posting on a major website, which will help start a domino effect of expanding your fanbase and coverage.” - Dan Green
What is the difference between digital marketing and publicity? How much do they overlap?
“Ask 10 people in the industry and you’ll get 11 answers. These terms have morphed over the years but I’d define digital marketing as everything EXCLUDING publicity - ad buys, website maintenance and design, graphic design, social media strategy, partnerships, etc. Publicity means pitching for audio/video premieres, news stories, reviews, and interviews. At the heart of publicity, which a lot of people don’t realize, is creating 'angles' for these interviews and news stories that speaks to each outlet. It’s not just about 'Hey, this dude just released a tight project, please post about it.' It’s more like, 'Hey LA Weekly, this dude released a project he created while during a time when he was dabbling heavily in equal parts drugs and Henry Miller novels while couch-surfing in the grungy, downtrodden area of East Hollywood following not only a bad break-up with his GF but also with his band. I’d love for him to tell you why he’s calling his project The East Hollywood EP - can we set up an interview?' You’ve got to anticipate why that outlet’s readers would want to read up on someone.” - Michelle McDevitt
“Digital marketing refers more to the specific content that's being promoted from an artist, and quarterbacking the success of its reach, from online support and blog exposure, to play counts and promotion via social networks. Publicity, in my opinion, refers more to the branding and exposure of the artist. Opportunities that allow them to reveal information about themselves, and show face, beyond their music. The two often overlap, especially during an album campaign where content (digital marketing) merges with artist interviews, features, etc. (publicity) to flesh out the overall picture. In the current state of rap on the internet, publicity opportunities for burgeoning artists can be very challenging. It's not always realistic to expect a music editor to sacrifice their time and energy to feature a new artist, knowing that it might not yield much interest, or generate enough page views and shares to keep the lights on. However, a good publicist will be able to pinpoint specific editors that may be open to the idea of featuring a new artist in a capacity beyond their content.” - Matt Diamond
What is the biggest misconception among artists as it pertains to the job responsibilities of a digital marketer?
“Getting on blogs/sites doesn't mean you've "made it" and that the coverage will result in an instant fan base.” - Chris Herche
“The fact is that new artists must focus on growing their social media audience. The key that a lot of people overlook is that their goal should be reaching the right people who are genuinely interested in their music and tastemakers who can help you expand your real fanbase rather than just accumulating ghost numbers. Although big numbers may seem impressive at first, it is the real fans that watch your videos, buy your songs, go to your shows and support your cause. The new street teams can help artists build their online portfolio and help nurture this audience. It's a much longer process, rarely ever overnight, but definitely worth it for a successful long term career.” - Greg Miller
“Artists presume that a publicist can guarantee that their music appears on all the websites they want it to appear on. This is not the case, and not something that you would want, either. Publicity should be a natural process, in order to be effective. Anything forced will be transparent. A digital publicist has the role of introducing your music to their contacts, at websites which are complementary to a musicians sound. This, in my opinion, is both effective and affective PR.” - Joss Meek
When an artist is spending a portion of their budget on digital marketing help, what should they expect to receive in return?
“They should expect a detailed and thorough proposal, which outlines the online targets that the publicist expects to introduce their music to. They should expect an indication of the length of the campaign, and the number of assets (audios, visuals, etc) that will be serviced. They should expect to be listened to in regards to where they see their own music online; as well as being advised as to where their music would best sit (should this be different).” - Joss Meek
“With digital marketing, results are happening in real time, so you can gauge and track the effectiveness and/or where improvements need to be made on the fly. It enables you to have the ability to quickly make adjustments and to gauge whether what you are doing is effective, or if a shift needs to me made; and if something is not working, you should expect whoever it is you hired to relay that information.” - Matthew Conaway
As the industry changes rapidly, forecast the future of digital marketing for music.
“Budgets will shrink even further so people will have to make do with less, the number of brand partnerships will rise, the importance of having a great live show will increase, and social media will continue to play a big role. I expect “experiential” marketing to have a bigger role too - it’s the only thing that can’t be downloaded or streamed.” - Michelle McDevitt
“I think we're in a new era of digital marketing, where artists aren't as dependent on online publications to be successful. With the ability for an artist to achieve a fan base through the use of their own channels, and have access at their fingertips to connect directly with their fans, coupled with the fact that the viewership of most sites have dwindled in recent years, we're phasing into a time where you don't necessarily need web support, to be supported. I've executed campaigns in the past that were featured on several top ranking sites, but translated to a modest amount of plays, and I've also carried out campaigns that received very little online support, but have clocked streams into the six digits. It's not entirely a rhetorical question to ask what's preferred; for some, the validation of knowing that their work has been supported by industry tastemakers and looks impressive in a Google search is satisfying, while to others, the notion that they've had their song or video viewed organically by thousands upon thousands of potential fans, offers a sense of promise, and optimism to stay the course. However, even if the online publications are a day late, but eventually come around, it will only magnify what you've already started, and there's certainly no harm in that” - Matt Diamond
Not mentioned by the seven professionals that we interviewed for this feature is the importance of finding a publicist or digital marketer who truly believes in you and the music that you're making. Especially for artists who are at an early stage in their career, the key to building a strong team is finding professionals who are great at what they do and who will are willing to go above and beyond on your behalf.
And, don't forget, none of this really matters if the music isn't good. It all begins and ends with quality material.
[By DJ Z, aka @DJBooth.]