The Localist: How to Find and Vet a Publicist
Let me start out by stating an obvious truth. You do not need a publicist or publicity or marketing in order to be a legitimate musician or artist. There are plenty of musicians that pay for publicity that the world would be better with them not doing so. There are also plenty of musicians whose output deserves publicity, where they are not able to afford publicity. It turns out having $6-20K to spend *just on a publicist* for release of a record has no correlation with whether you put out music that has integrity and value.
Nevertheless, people seem to ask me about how to navigate publicists, and so I’m putting this information out in a simple post. The thing is that everyone wants to hide the ball with publicity. Because they feel it’s a competitive edge. Or because they want to project the image that they “earned” it in a way that didn’t involve paying someone. But I feel it’s important to put some of this information out, for general egalitarian reasons. But also, people should understand the big role that money plays in how musicians fare in the music marketplace. Fortunately, the thing is there is no real secret, because the technique for navigating publicists is surprisingly simple.
Q: How do you find publicists?
A: Find artists who have publicity that you want, and Google who their publicist is.
Q: How do I evaluate a publicist?
A: Find the artists who they have represented in the last 6 months to 1 year, and Google the artists to see how well they were publicized.
This all seems a little too easy. But I guarantee you that it is in fact that easy.
It’s important to note here that publicists will generally give you a song and dance about what kind of “gets” they are able to get their musicians. And I’m telling you straight up, do not listen to what the publicist has to say about what “gets” they will typically procure for their musicians. These are usually exaggerations. And in any case, you can just take literally 30 minutes and just Google the artists that they’ve recently represented and see how well they’ve done. The reason why the research is *that easy* is because of the nature of the work. They work in publicity – you *should* be able to Google the results. After all, if their results can’t be Googled, then they apparently didn’t do a very good job publicizing their artists. See?
Q: What if the publicist doesn’t have a roster?
A: Then stay the fuck away from them.
A few caveats. Publicist firms will have a number of different people that work for the firm. So it’s good to be attentive to which clients work for which publicist at the firm. People at the same firm do not all have the same output.
Another caveat, which requires a bit of common sense. When you evaluate a publicist’s output, you should take into account the prior connections of the artist. If an artist, for instance, gets a mention in NPR where the author comes from the local affiliate where the artist resides, this probably isn’t a “get” of the publicist. Likewise, if the artist has a famous family member, or was a musician in a previously famous band, or is already famous, chances are the “gets” are not the product of the publicist themselves.
Relatedly, learn to evaluate the value of the “gets” that were got. The artist has a premiere in outlet X. You should check on Facebook – how many Likes does the outlet have? Read the premiere itself. Did the writer obviously just lift language from the artist’s publicity materials? If so, then their “gets” are probably not very useful. Sometimes an article highlighting an artist will not have a single quotable line complimenting the artist. These are garbage “gets”. They do not count if you are spending real money for services.
Another important distinction – check to see whether the artists in question secure both premieres and reviews. Getting a premiere in an outlet usually does not mean that the artist will also get a review. And there’s good reason to think that getting a review is much more important than getting a premiere. Does that difference matter to you? If so, you’ll want to pay attention to that. The staff at most outlets that run reviews are entirely different from the staff that run premieres.
Do you really need to research artists within the past 6 months to 1 year? Yes you do. This is because the publicity market tightened considerably in 2018, and changes in publicity continue to evolve year to year.
One last caveat is that publicity, even in high quality outlets, does not by itself secure visibility in the music-consuming community. It’s an open secret that after getting a premiere in even a well-known outlet, artists have to pay to advertise the premiere. Otherwise it won’t even be seen. It will be as if the premiere never happened. Which of course, adds to the costs of publicity, which we already know is prohibitively expensive for anyone who doesn’t already have a large amount of disposable cash laying around.
Say you’ve found and vetted a publicist. What then? Well, there is no guarantee that the publicist will even talk to you. And you may very well not be able to afford such a publicist in the first place. Maybe you don’t really fit into the wheelhouse of artists that they feel they can represent. Maybe they just don’t like your music. I can’t help out with any of that. So you’re on your own from here on out. Just remember, you don’t need to have a publicist to be a fantastic artist.
The Localist is a column focusing on issues relating to aspiring local musicians in New York City. In his free time, the author performs as St. Lenox. St. Lenox’s most recent record, “Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love” was placed on Best Albums lists at Pop Matters and AllMusic. AllMusic credits St. Lenox with “some of the most unique and unconventionally thrilling pop music in the late 2010s.”