Should you spend your budget on a music PR or focus on what you can do yourself?

If you’ve got a release coming up you’re probably thinking about how to get it out there with reviews on your favourite blogs, radio play and playlisting – you might even have set aside money to get a music PR or plugger to help you do this or you might have decided against a cash spend but are going to put in your own time to try and get the results.

Whether it’s doing it DIY and investing your time, or finding the right person to join your team and work for you to a budget, it’s worth considering where you put your effort: into PR and plugging, into direct digital marketing, or a combination of both.

Music PR and pluggers

Paying a music PR or plugger to help you promote your release can start from a couple of hundred pounds and run into thousands depending on who you choose and who you’re targeting for coverage. The benefit of putting some money behind a music PR or plugger (who specialise in pitching your music to radio stations) is they already have the relationships in place.

But in a time where technology makes it possible to reach fans directly is music PR and radio plugging still important? Most certainly. By helping you get covered in music publications, played on air and playlisted it can help in ways beyond critiquing your work including:

  • it helps you reach new audiences and build credibility – not only listeners but promoters and festival bookers are all interested in what bloggers, broadcasters and journalists think of you
  • it may help you achieve more streams on platforms like Spotify – curators on the platform look at buzz from blogs and smaller playlisters to see what emerging bands might do well on their editorial playlists. At Reckless Yes getting Fightmilk included on a particular playlist boosted their initial streams and has continued to keep them rolling in and generating an income six months after release. 
  • it may connect you to new opportunities – bloggers are generally passionate music fans connected into their local or other scenes and may informally suggest you for other opportunities or intro you to those they might also be into you. LIINES, who are signed to Reckless Yes for label and management, were put onto my radar by another journalist when I was editor at Louder Than War – our coverage led to radio play and live opportunities, as well as the record deal
  • and it does give you feedback on your release – even if you go the DIY route and approach places directly without paying a PR some bloggers will send you feedback, especially if you use a system like SubmitHub. Not all bloggers will have the time or the inclination to come back to you, and their feedback may not be welcomed if they do (after all, they have just one opinion and your art is your art) but those who do may help you shape things in a way which leads to greater success.

It’s not good to only think of PR and plugging when you have a release anymore. We’re beyond the days of mass media where everyone was reliant on the weekly music press, a few radio shows, and even fewer TV stations to tell them what they should be listening to. Discovery is dispersed these days and so while music PR and plugging is still an essential part of the mix you need to also think about more direct ways to get your music heard.

Direct to Fan and digital marketing

Technology means musicians are more able than ever to do directly things they would have had to pay someone else to do, or wait for a record deal to provide, in the past. And while ‘marketing’ may feel like a dirty word to you if you’re interested in even a handful of people hearing your music it’s something you’ll need to do – as we say, discovery is dispersed and so being where your potential listeners (or fans if you prefer) are is vital.

Direct to Fan marketing is exactly what it sounds like; ways of reaching those who may like your music directly. Social media, email marketing, and playlisting all help musicians to do this digitally and just like PR it means you can choose whether to invest your budget in someone who already knows the ropes and can do this for or with you, or you can invest your time and pick up skills so you can do it yourself.

Facebook posts are the tip of the iceberg here – whether you’re trying to do it for free or you’re putting some money behind sponsored posts – and a good direct to fan or digital marketer will look at your whole online presence from a website and mailing list, to how you appear in search, to helping you really understand the places your audience hangs out to, yes, your social media channels.

But digital marketing may not feel comfortable for every artist. Not everyone wants to spend their time online and you may have well-founded reservations about being on certain platforms or promoting your music through networks you don’t ethically agree with. Social media and streaming aren’t the only way – you can still build a community around a Bandcamp or website presence, and an email list should be in your arsenal whether you are tweeting or Instagramming your band. Reaching your audience while staying true to an artist identity which doesn’t include social media is difficult but not impossible and if you’re looking for someone to work with you on this make sure they’re thinking beyond Facebook posts and video content to what works with your approach.

What if I haven’t got a budget to promote my release?

And what do you do if you haven’t got any money to spend promoting your release? Well, while it’s advisable to budget something toward this not having cash to hand shouldn’t be a barrier – there’s plenty you can do yourself without spending a penny on both PR and direct to fan marketing.

For music PR you can build your relationships with bloggers and broadcasters whether you have a release or not. Most will list their preferred method of contact on their website or details page and you should take the time to dig out those who are covering things in your genre – there’s no point contacting a blog specialising in death metal if you are an electro-pop band. Do your research; the only cost to you here is time.

If you’re not sure where to start take a look at the Unsigned Guide and SubmitHub for help in getting to the right people, but make sure you’re not an unwanted ‘cold caller’ and you’re personable in your contact.

If you want to take matters into your own hands social media has made it easier to publish your message, even if it is slightly trickier to be heard among everyone else shouting online. Again, time is your spend here. Make sure you’re not missing really important places to speak to people – if anyone has purchased your music on Bandcamp you will have an email address you may be able to use to contact them again. This is likely to get a better result for you than suddenly tweeting a couple of times after being silent for months.

And consistency is a key part of doing this yourself. It’s no good only being active when you have something to push, you need to be joining conversations and nurturing your relationship with fans all the time so they are really ready when you have a release. That takes time too but if you want to make promotion work it’s an investment you need to consider.

DIY or grow your team?

When thinking about promoting your releases you can choose between doing it yourself or growing you team, putting in the time and learning the skills yourself, or putting some budget behind an expert in the area.

There’s no universal answer or formula to guarantee your success but knowing what the options are and thinking through what’s right or what’s possible for you as an artist is a great place to start.

Need some help with your next release?

Whether you think spending your budget on reaching your fans directly or you want to gain coverage and airplay through a music PR book in for a free, no obligation, 15-minute phone call with Sarah Lay to discuss your next release. Want to find out more about those we’ve worked with – head over here.

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Sarah Lay

I'm the founder of We Are Noble and Wild, co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an artist manager, music journalist, PR and author.
I'm a fan of black coffee, the west coast of Scotland, crows, conversations and connections. I'm in love with possibilities.
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