A lot of artists have asked me if I think they need a publicist. I should probably always just say yes,
but I don’t. There are a lot of factors to consider – money, number of
performances, and story potential being the big three. If the timing’s
not right for the publicist, current media climate and artist, no good
will come of the relationship.
The money, of course, is
complicated: I get paid a monthly retainer whether I’m able to get
press for my artists or not, unlike a manager or booking agent, who
would only get paid when the artist gets paid. Unfortunately, press is
never a guarantee: a publicist and artist could think they have a
perfect storm concert, album release or story angle, and it could just
not be right for the media outlet at that time. [Side note, if you ever
meet with a potential publicist and he/she promises to get you press,
stay away!] All the performing artists out there with unlimited
financial resources notwithstanding, extra cash is hard to come by, so
spend wisely. Do you have a website, for example? I personally think
that is a more important first step in profile-building than hiring a
publicist; what good is all the press you’re going to get if there’s no
where to send new fans to learn more about you? The state of the
recording industry being what it is, another option for funds is a
self-recorded, self-produced, digitally-distributed album or EP. Again,
if a publicist and/or manager don’t have high quality audio or video
examples of your work to pitch, how effective can they be? Good
photography is another important first step, again, to provide a
strong marketing tool for a manger or publicist in the future.
performances. Having a publicist will not directly result in more
concert offers. Rather, having a publicist results in profile-building,
which will, more often than not, give a manager or booking agent
reasons to approach potential venues and orchestras, thus resulting
in more performances. Beware of cart-before-the-horse land: do you have
enough concerts, recordings, general happenings for a publicist to
promote? If not, both the publicist and the client will be totally
frustrated by the relationship. Naturally, the million dollar question
(or like, $2000 question in classical music speak) becomes, will I get
more concerts if someone raises my profile, or will my profile be
raised when I get more concerts? A dilemma, no doubt, but at the end of
the day, if a publicist doesn’t have dates to promote, no one’s profile is getting raised.
With classical critics droppin’ like flies and newspapers folding all
around us, artists rarely get press for just coming to town anymore. Or releasing
an album, for that matter. You may be an excellent musician, but if
there’s not a story, there are major limitations to what a publicist
can do for you. This does not mean you should ever be something or
someone that you’re not: journalists will be able to see through that,
and then no one wins. It does mean that you should think about whether
or not you need a personal publicist to promote your career above and beyond what the systems already in place can do. That is, if the story is that
you’re playing with X orchestra on X day, can’t the in-house publicists
I suppose, in the interest of paying my rent, I should say a few good
things about publicists. The first and most important, I think, is
employing someone to have a bird’s-eye view of your image and career.
You’re playing at the 92 Street Y this month, but in two years you’ll
make your Philharmonic debut; a publicist knows to hold back on major
NYC press for two years, rather than pursuing or accepting press
opportunities for a smaller performance. Additionally, management,
record labels, and presenters can all have vastly different agendas
(ironically enough) when it comes to an artist’s press presence. An
independent publicist can weigh all these factors in selecting press
for their artist. Of almost (if not) equal importance is an independent
publicist’s ability to provide a barrier between an artist and press.
If I’m following up on a WNYC Soundcheck opportunity for a
client, for example, I
can ask the necessary questions to get the ball rolling (or not), but if my clients e mailed WNYC and said, “Soooo,
are you interested in having us on the show or…?” it would be a
disaster! Even if the media opportunity occurred, the interviewer would
have such a bad taste about the artist in his or her mouth that the
resulting piece couldn’t possibly be good for anyone.
On the most basic level, some artists get to the point in their careers of simply not having enough time to deal with their own materials
and press pitches. I cooked dinner for the first time on Sunday night
in, oh, let’s say a month and a half; restaurants and my beloved
Vinegar Hill down the street do it better and quicker than I.
Artists are busy, and it’s difficult to switch gears from practicing
and performing to…writing press releases.
Having a publicist is a crazy thing, though, if you really think about
it (which I do, obviously). Would I let someone be my public face? Probably…not? Maybe?
Depends on the person, I suppose. There’s a lot of trust involved on
both ends, but when you find the right fit at the right time, the
results can be great.