Music media is in many ways, a strange and niche world. Riddled with complex aspects, heady PR and, at times, agendas (and yes, broadly, everyone does know each other, especially somewhere like Ireland). It can be hard to grab attention for your music.
Personally, I’ve worked at a local, national and international level: at various times in my career, I’ve written regularly for NME and The Sunday Business Post, Bandcamp and The Fly. One of my most regular outlets, though, and perhaps the most under-utilised, has prompted this long-form post, which you’ll find in my email signature from now on.
I write, and have done for at least five years, a full-page weekly mid-length feature interview, and a side column, for the Dublin Gazette, a Dublin region paper which is read by approximately 300,000 people weekly, or 20% of the population of the city.
Most of my features are based on interviews, and I get a hugely mixed bag: we’ve featured acts with just a couple of singles out, and huge international names: Elton John, Stereophonics, John Lydon, Fontaines D.C and Glass Animals in recent years, which means all of those acts have deemed our audience worth tapping into.
I’m not going to talk excessively about the Gazette specifically here, but go much broader, on local media. I think musicians should engage with us more. But why, and how?
Why Target Local Media
First of all, the obvious reason: you get a large audience that is far less tapped into than most other markets: many of my Dublin Gazette features start out with someone asking to feature in another publication I write for. More often than not, bands don’t bother to contact local media themselves, and stick to targetting national level publications and music-specific publications. Both of which you should do, too, of course, but especially with general subject matter national publications (like the Irish Times or Independent), you’re far, far less likely to get featured. Especially as a less established band.
There’s more, though:
- It’s stating the obvious, but if you’re looking to sell tickets in a city, local media is where to do it. You can guarantee close to 100% of the audience could hypothetically go to your gig. You don’t get that in national media.
- Local acts are far more likely to get coverage. A new breakthrough act in a small city may get attention simply as something new and local in a regional paper. Unless there’s growing hype, you can forget that in the nationals.
- Building a profile of media coverage is valuable for a band when it comes to things like booking shows and showing that people have an interest in what you’re doing. This is a good way to do that.
What Should I Send?
Let’s start with what not to send: don’t send huge files into our inboxes, don’t send unsolicited records, CDs or tickets to the office (though feel free to offer them – to be honest I quite enjoy these things, but they don’t buy you coverage, and are actually a nuisance at times, as like many in my kind of role, I don’t attend the office very often at all). Don’t send messages telling us we have to feature you because you’re local (spoiler, no we don’t, there are a lot of musicians in the city, by some distance more than we could ever cover). And show a little bit of respect: we’re not Pulitzer winners, but we also don’t earn like Pulitzer winners – I often write articles that, all things considered, earn my less than minimum wage because I love the music scene and want to support it. If you’re not being nice, I’m certainly not going to do that, and I’m not alone.
Here’s what is more likely to work:
- Email introducing your work (even if you can find a phone number, please don’t call, no one likes being given the hard sell). Try to be a little bit colourful, but also, if possible, a little bit personal. If you can link yourself or your work to the area the paper is published in, your chances go up dramatically. A tour or a local act release is appealing to some degree, an actual local story in the music, for example, will do still better.
- You don’t need to be too up front about it, but try to think about it from the point of view of a reader who has to pick to feature one of a dozen acts in next week’s paper. Why should it be you? Tell them that.
- Attach links to images, your music, and anything else of a big file size you thing is important. Links only, don’t fill our inboxes.
- Try to address the writer directly. There will generally only be one doing music in local papers, perhaps two, so it shouldn’t be too hard to work out who it is. Emailing info email addresses might land you in their inbox eventually, but it often won’t.
- It can often do no harm to contact the relevant person on social media first, too, even if only to ask for their contact information. Twitter is great for this, most music writers will engage.
- Know what you want – are you offering an interview, the chance to review your gig, music for comment, or something else? Check that the publication actually does the thing you are offering before asking, because if they don’t, it’s a dead giveaway that you don’t actually read the publication at all.
- Tell us your dates. Is this for a show, an album release, a single release, a whole tour? You want it to run at a time that matches with that. Be clear about it, but understand that it may also be a deal breaker, depending on what else is going on (see below).
- If you have an angle, tell us that, too. Some publications love to cover political issues through their entertainment coverage, or local stories. If you’ve a particular topic that’s addressed in your music, make sure you tell us. Equally, don’t be fake about it, after all, your opinions on that issue may well end up in front of a large number of people in what could be your local area.
- Keep all of the above, as far as possible, to a few paragraphs. Link to a longer information page or a longer press release if extra detail is important. If you go too long, it likely won’t be read anyway – I personally get at least 30-40 press releases a day, and I have to write between them.
- Don’t necessarily expect a reply. I will try to get back to people, but I know from asking around that broadly the volume of requests is far too high to reply to them all and still get any actual work done. Many, many emails are ignored, by me and by other writers. It’s nothing personal, but it is inevitable. You can chase us, but don’t do it too many times, after maybe the third you can consider it a no.
When Should I Send it?
This is a common mistake in contacting local media, which is often published weekly. Keep in mind that music is less timely, generally, than most other news, and that as a result it is likely to be submitted early in the week. You also have to allow for print time.
To give my own example, if you want to feature in a paper on Thursday, I need to have finished the whole interview process and written up by the Sunday. I also never, ever leave finding an artist until that Sunday, and I need the piece to be relevant for the whole week of publication.
That means your absolutely minimum lead time is about two and a half weeks ahead of when you’d like something to run. In practise, with planning and commitments already made, you’re probably talking a month, unless you’re a huge name and I might bump something else for you (in which case thanks for reading!).
For local papers, then:
- Ideally pitch at least a month ahead of the relevant date of the event, or three weeks ahead of the specific paper you’d like the story to run in. A bit longer is better. This is not web content and any later than that and your chances drop significantly.
- Reminders are fine, but don’t get excessive, if nobody has got back to you after three emails, it’s probably not going to happen (and after too many emails, you get annoying).
- Allow more time around summer festival season and Christmas, where there tend to be specific plans around events, often leading to bigger interview opportunities than usual, and writers are inundated.
- Don’t even bother requesting something is run in Thursday’s paper on Monday afternoon. Unless you’re Bono or Bruce Springsteen, it’s not going to happen.
What Should I Ask for?
Ask for what you want, but be realistic. You won’t get an album review in the Dublin Gazette, for example, because we don’t run them, so there’s no point in asking. Lots of publications will have similar restrictions. With that in mind:
- Ask for something that it looks like the publication have done before (interviews or a small side column in our case). They’re unlikely to create a specific space for you, local papers don’t see music as that high priority.
- This shouldn’t be necessary, but nonetheless: don’t demand inclusion because you’re local (unfortunately, it happens). There are 49 features a years in the Dublin Gazette and I get hundreds (probably in the low thousands) of requests a year. So does every other local music journalist who’s been involved in it all for a little while. Be polite about it and you’ve a much better chance.
- Don’t ask for the chance to see or change an article before it’s published unless you absolutely have to. Journalism edges into PR once the subjects try to get involved in what is said in print. Journalists hate it, and the article may get pulled altogether if you’re too insistent.
Should I Get Professional PR?
If you follow all of the above, you shouldn’t need it. That’s not to say it doesn’t have advantages: PR people not only know all of the above, but often also know the journalists they’re pitching to and how they work, and have established relationships. In many cases, this makes good PR people valuable (some are even something of a quality measure from a journalistic perspective, too).
That said, PR doesn’t guarantee results, and personally I’ve always valued acts that are able to speak for themselves and promote themselves, so there’s something to be said for that, too.
One More Thing…
You get through, you’re published, maybe your event goes well. Journalists make their living, at least indirectly, out of advertising associated with what we write. That means sharing our work is valuable. When we write about you, please share it as widely as you can!
I’ve Read This and I Want to Pitch to You
Sure, fire away. Email here. I’m happy to take questions on the above, too, within reason.
Please note: don’t use this email link to ask me for a list of journalistic contacts. There are countless reasons I can’t do this, from professional courtesy to GDPR regulations. If other journalists would like their email address to be public, you’ll be able to find it on Google.
This guide with thanks to the Dublin Gazette, who, while they have nothing to do with the guide itself (that’s all my rambling), have been the source of a huge amount of on-the-job education on local media for me. They’re a pleasure to work with.