I have no envy for music publicists. They're the only people in the business who get their emails ignored more often than I do.
As a freelance writer, I have a pitch response rate below 25 percent, but publicists (or musicians that work as their own publicists) likely sit around one-tenth that rate. If they're lucky, their pitches will be opened before they're unceremoniously deleted, but more often than not, they hit the bin without so much as a courtesy click.
You'd think this shared frustration would make me empathetic for the publicist's cause, but I'm just as liable to discard your press release as any thoughtless dingbat in on your distribution list. In fact, there are times when I empathize with that dingbat more than the person in the address bar.
Our own Youa Vang ran down some tips for submitting press kits to City Pages in June, but what she neglected to mention is that there are certain mistakes bands and publicists make that are unforgivable. Here's a sampling of the press release habits that will get your email blast ignored immediately.
Your band name sucks
As I've stated on this blog before, I have a bugaboo about poorly named bands. If you're working a client with a dumb name, it's really not your fault, but know that it has a profoundly negative effect on how I receive your press. Twin Peaks is an objectively good band, but I've ignored probably a dozen emails from their PR rep because of the name. Same goes for Camper van Beethoven and Chet Faker. A name is a cosmetic — and ultimately inconsequential — determinate of value, but when you've got a tiny window of time to prove to me that you're worth the column inches, your moniker weighs heavily.
Caveat: If your band name is Ass Bastards of Modor or something similarly over-the-top awful, I'll probably read your pitch. Critics are fickle.
Your press release is comically overwritten
This isn't to say that PR folks aren't good writers — in the music industry, many publicists pull double duty as writers, and they're often talented writers, too — but sometimes things get out of hand. There are a couple approaches to overwriting a press release.
First is the absurd chain of similes wherein the publicist concocts some insane scenario to describe what their client sounds like. No one sounds like Action Bronson and Chicago freebasing meth on a rusty carousel because no one knows what that would sound like. Another approach to overdoing it in your pitch is to fatten an artist's bio with extended Pitchfork-y genre tags. Terms like "doomy ghost-house" and "kaleidoscopic blue-blood funk apocalypse" aren't as seductive as they may seem.
Generally, it's impossible to come back from a groan. If you've been leading your pitches with an elongated, hyperbolic descriptor in hopes of catching someone's eye, you're accomplishing your goal. But the results are probably the opposite of what you were hoping for.
Your press release is a poorly veiled form letter
In 2015, the form letter is a necessity, and writers understand this. It should never miff you that a PR person is CCing you instead of crafting a wholly original composition to each and every contact they have, but there's a limit to the soullessness.
The illusion of personalization is a delicate one to maintain, and simple things like forgetting (or misspelling) a name or starting with generic cheeriness ("I see that you're a music fan, so am I!") can shatter your chances at coming off as someone worth collaborating with. You don't have to come off like you're writing every push just for me because I don't expect that. I expect form letters. Please don't think you can trick me with a cute salutation.
You don’t know who I write for
When I do respond to pitches (which is fairly often), I often get a reply from the person who pitched me saying something to the extent of "That's great! Where are you writing nowadays?!" That's usually where our conversations end.
I make it very available where I'm writing. It shouldn't take more than a cursory Google to figure it out. What made you decide to pitch me if you're not sure where your client will end up getting covered? Are you so desperate for headlines that you're happy to blindly offer your client to anyone you know works in media?
I still get pitches for events local to Boston, and I haven't lived there in over a year. I know writers change loyalties capriciously, but it pays to invest your time in reviewing your contact list every once in a while. Your clients will appreciate it, too.
You have no idea who I am
I understand that, by including every music writer and editor you can possibly think of on your email blast, you're upping your chances of catching on with a site, but a little research goes a long way. After all, if you don't know who you're pitching, how does my interest even help you? You should at least be aware of what I can offer your client before you hit send.
Beyond knowing who I am, it's probably worth your time to just figure out what I do. I get pitched as though I'm an editor all the time. I'm the lowest person on the totem pole at most of the places I write, so I'm probably not the best pick for securing your band's album stream. I'm not really good for much, to be honest, and deciding whether or not I'm worth an email deserves some thought.