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Fan Landers: Should My Band Hire a Publicist?

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Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her; confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

Hi, Fan, I'm in a psychedelic punk band (think a Flaming Lips/Minutemen/Cake combo) and wrapping up work on a new self-released EP. I have this feeling that nobody is going to hear it outside of our small circle of friends. Our main goal is to have the EP reviewed in music magazines/websites/blogs in hopes that they would spread our music to at least a few other people and maybe get some attention from small festival promoters. We're on a pretty tight budget, but I've thought about contacting publicists who work for more prominent bands we dig, but I'm sure they wouldn't be interested in working with a mostly unknown band with such weird music. I figure we're going to need a publicist with connections to the right music reviewers to make this happen, but I don't know how to find a good one. Help! Thanks a bunch, Echos Myron

Dear E.M., It's good you're facing your fear now because your hunch is correct: Your record is probably going to languish among your friends and existing fans. Even if you are totally awesome, which maybe you are, that is just kind of how it goes. You are a small local band still.

Also, your music is not that weird. Some of your reference points are bands that have had hits now and again. "Weird" is Keiji Haino doing a side of thumb piano and washing machine; weird is relative and makes you sound hyperbolic. Purge this idea that you are too out there to be fully understood; it's tripping you up needlessly. It's the sort of idea that lodges in your artist brain and will make you bitter over time. You'll end up sounding like Jim O'Rourke in that interview he did with The Wire about how he was expatriating because no one in Chicago knew about super-obscure British folk music; how no one gets you is a sad trope.

The other thing that's tripping you up? This idea that if you do x, then you will automatically get a particular fixed result. That's one of the myths of being in a band. And also of just being alive in general. You could hire a really fancy publicist that knows all the right people and get you some really good reviews in secondary market weeklies and a two-line review in Men's Health and a Brooklyn Vegan post. And then you are out $6,000 -- give or take a grand -- and nothing has changed or gotten easier. The main difference is now you have a press kit.

Another problem is that it's an EP. A lot of writers don't often care about or cover EPs; I myself am one of those people. For a recent example of a famous musician issuing an EP and people barely giving a shit, see Lana Del Rey. How many EPs are in your iPod at this very moment? Be honest. How many times this years did someone say to you "Oh, my god, I loved their EP!" and they weren't talking about Angel Haze? I understand that sometimes doing an EP instead of an album is a matter of money, but its 2012, you can find a way to do it for free or very cheap. I think the nature of how we consume music means you need to either make it a single or make it an LP. An EP can read as a lack of commitment or that you are a band with only three good songs. Exception to that rule being that it's all covers, or it's a tribute or themed around a holiday like Arbor Day or Lincoln's Birthday. If you are wondering when I am going to answer your question about how to hire a publicist, I'm not, because you shouldn't. I say that as someone who did PR for bands like yours for a decade. Focus on getting local press through making personal contact with those folks, or maybe rope in an ambitious young person in your scene who is interested in getting into "the music industry" and see if they want to help you out with promoting your release. It is a fantasy that the right publicist can just "make it happen."

Your time is going to be best spent promoting your release in town and regionally. Being written up in the Eau Claire Daily Pinecone is certainly not as exciting as being Best New Music'd out of obscurity by Pitchfork -- but build locally and work up. Sure, e-mail a little pitch and Soundcloud link to every music blog and website that matters to you and cross your fingers, but do not spend money on a publicist until you have something good going locally. By that I mean consistently drawing 150-200 people every time you play, supporting national bands at bigger venues in your city, have buzz and tangible audience in nearby cities.

Once you have all that and have an album to promote and are planning on touring to support it, then we can talk about hiring a publicist. Peace, Fan

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