For a moment, just imagine that you received an email about this very article, and that the email read as follows:
Subject: New Article Just Published!
How are you? Week’s going great here, and hope yours is, too.
There’s a new article up on the site. Please consider reading it, and telling people about it. If you want to excerpt a paragraph, please use paragraph six — it’s cleared for your blog or magazine. And if you want to interview the author, excellent — let us know and we’ll set it up. The article just came out. It’s one of the best articles we have published. It builds on past articles and is written with the existing audience in mind, but it will also definitely appeal to a new audience, and that’s really exciting.
We’ve published a lot of articles, but this is one we’re really proud of.
Let us know what you think. Your feedback is always appreciated!
Seriously, after reading such an email — presuming you even did elect to read it — would you click through to the article?
Would you even make it past the database error that represented your name as a series of tech-gibberish? Or past the fake familiarity of the opening paragraph? Past the simple fact that there is, in fact, no information in the email explaining what the article is about?
Chances are you wouldn’t. Yet that is how a substantial portion of music PR emails read: blank templates filled with the barest amount of information. They may go a little further than this email and actually hit the who (band name), what (album name), where (iTunes, etc.), when (release date), and how (a wisp of anecdote intended to serve as the album’s “story”) of what they’re purportedly promoting, but in fact they express nothing of substance, let alone of interest. This is equally true of emails sent from desktops in corporate offices as from the laptops of bands self-releasing their own records.
Promoting your own music is difficult — plain and simple. In the age of online promotion, it’s downright Sisyphean trying to get someone who’s never heard of you to (1) pick your email out of the inbox haystack, (2) read something about you, and (3) then make the effort to listen to you. Email is a natural option for most people just starting to get out the word about their music. It’s next step after building a website and stapling a concert poster to a telephone pole. But it’s also an easy way to feel ignored, and to waste a lot of time, not just yours but your recipients’.
Here are some initial tips on ways you can make the most of your PR email when dealing with the press (meaning not just alternative weeklies and newspapers, but blogs, of course).
Email Isn’t Free: It may feel free, but it isn’t. In fancy business terms, wasted time is called an “opportunity cost.” For most people, it’s called a hassle. Either way, by sending out an email you are taking up someone’s time, as well as their bandwidth and their hard-drive space. And if you add over-sized attachments — MP3s, print-ready photographs — you could be eating into their data plan.
Links, Not Attachments: This is worth repeating. Don’t send out 5-megabyte MP3s or 2-megabyte JPGs. Include a URL linking to these resources.
Music PR Email “Conversion” Isn’t Measured in Clicks: The success rate in email marketing is often discussed in terms of “conversion,” shorthand for the emails that, once opened, lead to someone clicking on something. But the thing is: you aren’t selling clicks. If you’re working in music PR and dealing with the press, you are selling the idea of a band (or musician). You’re selling their music. The only true “conversion” when marketing music to the press via email is transitioning from sending out a generic email to getting a response from a recipient — either in the form of a request for additional information/material, or a review/write-up/mention of some sort.
Yes, “Marketing”: As a musician you may cringe at the term, but if you’re sending out emails about your music, you are marketing it. Deal with it. You may make anti-consumerism death metal by night, but during the day you are in fact asking people to buy it, listen to it, or write about it.
Pay Attention to Your Inbox: If someone writes back to you, reply. You only get a few chances at this — everyone is busy, so they’ll cut you some slack — but at some point you stop looking like a person and start looking like a bot.
Don’t Ask the Same Question of Someone Twice: If someone who received your email actually does write back, you’d better remember it. There’s a social contract inherent in your email: you send out a generic one, and if someone writes back, then you’ll correspond with them. If a week later you send them the same generic “Hey, have you listened to this great new album yet?” it becomes clear you are acting sloppily at best, and in bad faith at worst.
When It Feels Awkward, Quote Other People: Sure, it’s hard to summarize what your music sounds like and it may feel weird complimenting your music or even describing your own music. You don’t have to. Just quote someone else — quote a blog review, or quote a promoter who played one of your concerts, or quote the tweets of some fans.
Adjectives and Comparisons Are Your Calling Card: Whatever you do, remember to describe your music. Very few people are going to click through to listen if they don’t have some sense of what they’re likely to hear.
Garbage Out, Garbage In: If you send out a generic all-purpose email, don’t expect highly personalized responses. Just don’t.
Don’t Take It Personally: I get roughly 400 PR emails a week. And generally speaking I focus on a pretty remote and rarefied area of music, what is (very broadly) described as “ambient” music. Me? I pity the singer-songwriter reviewer, the heavy-metal reviewer, the folk-music reviewer. I can only imagine how much email they get. If you don’t hear back after sending out an email, don’t take it personally. Most email is just passed over, not actively ignored.
Don’t Treat Your Email Recipients the Same: You don’t just have fans and press. You have hardcore fans and occasional listeners. And you have general press, and genre press, and long-time-supportive press, and so on. These different audiences should be receiving different emails.
Read Your Trash: Keep track of substandard PR emails that you yourself receive (not just from bands but from anyone, about anything), and learn from those (generally negative) examples.
Don’t Be Too Consistent: If every email you send out looks exactly the same, it starts to feel like it’s a fully automated process. And if you’re promoting your own music, that reflects poorly on how personally you take your music.
Bcc Isn’t Evil: Better to Bcc a slew of recipients than to put them all in the Cc (or To) line and then have them start filling each other’s email inboxes with complaints. You will get, and deserve, the blame.
Learn Your Tools: If you do use some automated system for sending out emails, know how to use it. Few forms of communication fail as hard as an email addressed to random line of computer code.
Tend to Your Database: Keep track of where people live, so you can send them useful information, like when your band will be playing nearby. Once you start keeping track, be diligent about it. If you need to be reminded three times that so-and-so no longer lives in such-and-such a city, it becomes clear you aren’t paying attention.
People’s Attention Spans Are Short …: When composing an email, get to the point quickly, and get it over with. Summarize what you want to say, end the email, and hit send. No sprawling essay, no self-involved details.
… But Their Memories Are Long: The more substandard emails you send out (whether generically blank or overly detailed), the more likely that eventually the email recipient will, subconsciously if not consciously, pay less attention to your emails.
Email Is Just One Tool in Your Toolbox: And it isn’t even the main one. Email is a great way to follow up with someone once you’re in touch with them, but in terms of getting the message out, it’s just one option among many, and rarely is it the most effective option. A frequent and energetic blog, a pithy Twitter feed, an active Facebook page, an enjoyable YouTube/Vimeo video series, a healthy Tumblr collection — these should be where your energy is spent.
And, Sadly, Those Aren’t Even All the Mistakes You Can Hope to Avoid: This is just an initial list. No doubt there are other tips on how to be a more respectful and productive user of email to promote your music. Twitter is full of complaints from music critics about the Monday-to-Friday, dawn-to-dusk PR deluge. If you have some of your own tips, feel free to weigh in in the comments below.
Marc Weidenbaum founded Disquiet.com, which focuses on the intersection of ambient music, sound art, and emerging technology, in 1996. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, Down Beat, NewMusicBox.org, the Ukulele Occasional, and elsewhere. He lives in San Francisco and at @disquiet.