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What is a music publicist and what do they do?

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What is a music publicist

There have been a lot of misconceptions about, as well as a tiny bit of a mystery surrounding music publicists. Who is a music publicist? What do they do? And do independent artists need them?

In this article, we’ll give you all the information you need to understand the work of music publicists and make an informed decision as to whether you need one or not.

What is a music publicist?

A music publicist can be described as a public relations professional who works on behalf of a musician or a music group. They are the people who correspond with the media to help artists build and maintain a strong public profile, as well as promote and protect their reputation. A publicist should help you establish a voice and the image for your artist brand while working with you on creating a narrative that will further promote your work, including your releases, music videos, performing acts, etc. We can also say that a publicist is someone who builds a relationship between the artist and the media.

A good music publicist is someone who is a skilled communicator, demonstrates a deep understanding of the music industry, and has many valuable connections and relationships with media outlets within the music sphere.

What does a publicist do?

With all that being said, what does it actually mean to work as a music publicist? Generally speaking, it covers quite a wide range of tasks and duties. For example:

  • Write press releases and create press kits. A music publicist is responsible for all things media relations, including writing and sending press releases and putting together press kits. While press releases are primarily of newsworthy nature (providing information about an upcoming album, tour, or artist collaboration), a press kit is a set of digital promotional materials, such as bio, high-res images, artist page, or streaming links. A press release is also often one of the components of a press kit. The principal objective of creating a press kit is to provide media outlets with key information about a person (in our case a musician) that members of the media can use for promotional purposes.

  • Arrange interviews and secure features. Interviews present a great opportunity for artists to shine a light on their music, explain their art, and discuss their creative process, or simply make themselves more relatable to their audience. As a result, this should help them better reach their fanbase or arouse interest in people who haven’t heard of them before. Overall, publicists may use their media connections to secure features and interviews for their clients in various music-related magazines, blogs, shows, podcasts, and more.

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  • Promote releases/tours/other events. Special events, like releasing music or going on a tour are key for the career of every artist. Therefore, publicists often plan activities that raise awareness of these events and build up excitement around them.

  • Network with sponsors. The job of a publicist is very collaboration-based and involves a lot of communication with parties of all kinds, potential sponsors included. As an outcome, musicians may gain great popularity through publicity campaigns, projects, or social media influencers.

  • Manage social media presence. Speaking of social media, we all know how powerful it is. While this is not their primary duty, music publicists may also assist artists in defining the way they want to represent themselves across various platforms. They will also help musicians run and create social media accounts that are aligned with their image and messaging.

  • Hold special events/campaigns. While a great deal of a publicist’s job is focused on writing press releases and promoting events, publicists also organize events and run campaigns themselves. As professionals who tend to show a great deal of creativity, they should be able to come up with a variety of ways to attract the attention of the media and the public.

  • Monitor media coverage. Media coverage is often the fruit reaped from sending out press releases. However, sometimes, one may experience negative coverage as well. Music publicists are in charge of monitoring what is disseminated about their clients, responding to negative messages, and looking for ways and opportunities to enhance their client’s image.

  • Optimize streaming with playlist placements. Music streaming is an important part of a musician's income as well as an effective way to enlarge their fanbase and increase total listenership on streaming platforms. Thus, publicists may also be responsible for pitching their client’s songs to playlist curators and having their music listed in editorial playlists on various digital service providers, such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, etc.

The difference between PR and marketing

There might be some confusion around the difference between PR and marketing. The concepts are overall similar with both aiming to help musicians to gain recognition, create a public image and eventually generate more revenue. However, both activities have a slightly different focus.

While marketing is mostly about promoting and ‘selling’ products, services, and ideas, to increase sales, PR is more focused on increasing one’s awareness, enhancing publicity, and maintaining a positive reputation. For that reason, marketing is considered paid media (involves paid placement, including advertising) while PR is regarded as earned media (one earns media placement without paying for it).

How much does a publicist cost?

While the cost of hiring a music publicist may vary depending on several factors, such as their location, experience, and type of clients, it’s typically not cheap. Most publicists charge a monthly retainer fee for their services which will cover a particular number of work hours each month. However, it’s also possible to get a publicist for a one-off campaign or story. Overall, it’s important to always consider and select the payment structure that meets your needs as an independent artist.

According to the American worldwide employment website Indeed, the average salary of a publicist in the USA is around $57,236 per year in all industries. You can expect to pay for a publicist anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars (or euros). Well-known publicists with ‘big’ names in their portfolio may cost somewhere between $1,800-$3, 000/month. Publicists working mostly with smaller and DIY artists often cost less.

When does it make sense to hire a music publicist?

Now that you know how much it costs to hire a publicist, you may wonder: ‘Do I really need a music publicist?’ Well, that depends. If you’re just starting out, have no music out or your budget is currently tight, hiring a publicist may do more harm than good. Remember, if you have to choose between a DAW that you need to produce and then release your music, and a publicist, you should choose the DAW.

A publicist comes in handy when your career gathers momentum. This means that you’re relatively well-established as an artist, you either have releases out or are about to release music soon, and, perhaps even, you’ve managed to generate some buzz in the local media outlets. If you now want to take your career (and notoriety) to the next level, you may certainly benefit from hiring a publicist.

However, this only applies in general. Whether hiring a publicist makes sense for you personally depends on many factors, including your ambitions (do you want music to become your full-time job?), needs, and your overall situation as a solo artist or a band. Some professionals also suggest hiring a publicist only when you have something particular to publicize. This can be a great compromise for artists that don’t know yet where they want to go with their career but also don’t want to lose their momentum.

Having that said, what is the right time (or the right scenarios) when getting a music publicist makes sense for your career?

1. You’re about to release an album or a single

Releasing an album or a single that you’re proud of is a really big moment that the world should hear about. This is especially true if you’re launching your first piece of music or a first-ever studio album. Overall, if you have a budget available for it, publicizing your release is worth it.

The British musician RAYE was on a 4-album record deal since 2014 but only released her first album My 21st Century Blues this year. After leaving the record label in 2021 and speaking up about the label preventing her from releasing her music, she celebrated the album release with a large installation built in front of Polydor’s office in London. This was a power move that attracted a great deal of media attention.

RAYE - Polydor's office - iMusician

RAYE in front of Polydor's headquarters in London

2. You have a music video coming up

Just like releasing an album, launching a new music video may attract a lot of attention and publicity, too. There are a lot of smart and creative, visually-appealing ways to run a campaign to evoke excitement around a music video (other than writing a press release).

For instance, when releasing his video for the new single Bad Habits, Ed Sheeran and his PR team launched a Snapchat filter allowing fans to create their own ‘vampire avatars’. Making your own social media filters is actually not so difficult. For example, the Spark AR Studio owned by Meta allows you to create your AR effects in just a few steps and for free.

Ed Sheeran Snapchat filter - iMusician

3. You're going on a tour

Tours tend to be very thrilling, both for fans and musicians. Artists get to finally perform their music live for their fans and the fans get to finally hear it. Tours also present a great opportunity for artists to visually express themselves, further showcasing their artistry and creativity.

This all makes tours great to promote and publicize. Using their media contacts and relationships, publicists can get the news about your tour into important and reputable media outlets (on a local, national, and international level).

4. You have a great story to tell

You may experience something sudden and interesting that would make up a good story. For instance, your band got together in a pretty mysterious way. Or you’re changing your band name and there's a crazy reason behind it. OR your TikToks have picked up and you’re experiencing a wave of unexpected success.

Whatever it is, if there’s a good story, music publicists will know perfectly how to convey it in an engaging and captivating way. Plus, if it’s a really good story, they may come up with ways to make it an important part of your public image and artist brand.

Tips on how to get a good music publicist

Ask other independent musicians for their tips

One of the best and most secure ways to find and hire a good music publicist is to ask fellow musicians. For instance, in our iMusician Community Forum, you can connect with other artists and industry experts and ask them, among other things, about their experiences with music publicists. You can also ask for recommendations and other tips.

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Search for music publicists that fit your needs/niche/music genre

In case you don’t get any tips or recommendations from other musicians, you can simply search for various publicists (or specialized music PR firms) on the internet (Google or ChatGPT can be of great help). It’s good to search and look into professionals that, according to their profile, fit your niche and music genre and seem to meet your needs, too.

Current and past clients may tell you a lot about what the agency can offer you. Doing some search before contacting prospective publicists will spare both your and their time in the long run.

Some agencies and publicists focus primarily on working with independent artists. If you’re currently looking for an agency, you can check out Pressed PR (US), Prescription PR (UK), or Better Things (DE).

Attend music industry events

There is no better way to build a connection with a publicist other than talking to them in person. This way, you can find out whether the person not only fits your niche but also matches your energy and personality. After all, working with a publicist often includes having difficult and honest conversations that may require you to be vulnerable. It’s therefore important to choose someone you feel good, comfortable, and safe around.

Various music industry events, such as conferences, fairs, festivals, and networking events are the perfect places to meet your potential publicist. You can also invite publicists to your gigs to give them a glimpse of who you are as an artist and what your music is like.

Conclusion aka the very last piece of advice from us

Building your public image and establishing and maintaining your reputation is key for any artist if they want to progress in their career. And a music publicist is the person you should turn to about it.

However, – and this is the last thing for you to learn about the topic today – it’s always important for you to manage your expectations. Hiring a publicist doesn’t automatically guarantee you an invite to a renowned TV show, becoming the brand ambassador of Dior or Adidas (or any other brand you like), or getting on the cover of Rolling Stone.

There are a lot of factors that may stand in the way of enhancing your publicity, including the lack of journalists, limited editorial space and editorial priorities, a tight budget, or just the cut-throat competition within the music industry.

Remember, that seeing some fair results from a publicist may take some time. If you feel like you can trust the guts of the publicist you work with, try to remain patient and focus on the music, while they take care of the rest.

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