When Bad Music Publicists Happen to Good Artists

I got a call recently from a veteran musician who did his homework and avoided hiring one firm with a reputation for not delivering results – only to get all of his money taken by another publicist who never answered another email or phone call the day after the check cleared.

I’m not saying this is common behavior, but unfortunately it happens more than I’d like to see. It’s bad for artists, it’s bad for business, it’s bad for music!

Quite often, artists get taken for a ride because they don’t actually know what music publicists do, or what to expect from one. This allows scammers to take advantage, by promising the world and then disappearing. Misconceptions about music publicity can also create false expectations, and disappointments down the road when you realize that your publicist might not be able to get you that Super Bowl ad you were hoping for.

I’d like to do my part to prevent this from happening to you by presenting – and correcting – the five most common misconceptions about music publicists.


Misconception 1: A Publicist Called Me! That Means I am Ready!

This is the biggest problem I see. There are a few music publicity firms out there who hire teams of sales reps and encourage their publicists to get on the phone, work the socials and get artists to sign up! Here’s the thing: 100% of the publicists I know are way too busy to be cold calling artists.

Keep this in mind: a publicist’s job is to “sell” all day long, over email and on the telephone. They get paid to make compelling pitches. Many will naturally do a great job of selling themselves to you. So it is critical that you do your research, ask for references, and use Google to find past clients and get in touch with them! Make sure that she (or he) is not all talk, and can actually deliver results.

Now, if that publicist sees you play and goes nuts (I’ve had many fangirl moments), or you are introduced through a legitimate source – that’s another thing all together. But the cold call is something to be very suspicious of! If you do get a call and you are in the market for a publicist, MAKE SURE you reach out to a few other firms and get proposals. Remember, this is a BUYER’S market, and YOU, dear artist, are the buyer! Don’t forget this!


Misconception 2: If I Hire a Publicist, She Can Create Magical Opportunities!

Nope. She can’t work miracles, but she can introduce you to the media and help you once you have a defined strategy and a roadmap. Hiring a publicist is just the beginning of your work. You need to keep her busy with stories and angles and events to work throughout her time managing your campaign. A music publicist is only as good as whatever she is publicizing, and it is critical to give her as much to use as possible.


Misconception 3: She Works For a Huge Band; She Knows All These Writers; She Will Get Me in Pitchfork, Brooklyn Vegan, Stereogum, NPR Tiny Desk & Rolling Stone!

NO! Publicists should absolutely be hired for who they know and other clients they represent and of course their relationships at national publications are critical. But be warned: Larger bands, on labels with big followings and history (not to mention sales and tours) get placed over smaller, up-and-coming artists. If you are an emerging artist, you need to build up to the larger publications. Sadly there is no jumping to the front of the line, no matter who else your publicist represents!

It’s also about being newsworthy. Simply having a new EP, album, or shows is not grounds for national coverage. Many larger publications may pass you up the first campaign around. That’s okay; this should be considered a building block and not a rejection.

So the more appropriate journalists, blogs, and outlets your publicist reaches out to, the better.

This does not mean that the publicist won’t try to get you appropriate placements, she will! Just know that even the tightest personal relationships don’t always equal results. Of course, the publicist knows these people and can always ask, but it is absolutely not a guarantee.


Misconception 4: I’m Gonna Be On National TV!

Television shows such as Late Night, Ellen, and even The Tonight Show of course showcase independent artists from time to time. But this is rare, and not all publicists have the connections to get you on these TV shows. In order to avoid a major letdown, discuss this with your publicist before you hire her. You can ask: “Have you ever placed anyone on national TV?” And: “How many artists have played and on which shows?” She will be honest both in her ability to reach the bookers and about what chances she thinks you may have to actually end up on one of these shows.


Misconception 5: If My Music is Good Enough, I’m Going Straight to The BIG TIME!

This is a misconception we see a lot. Yes, once in a blue moon a completely unknown artist will go straight to the big time. But this is a matter of LUCK. The vast majority of artists who are labeled an “overnight success” have actually been toiling away behind the scenes for long time, and have paid their dues in smaller blogs and publications – NO MATTER how good their music is. There is no fast track to the top, apart from the extremely off chance that the CEO of Capitol Records happens to hear you at an open mic. We hope this happens to you, but in the meantime, be realistic with your expectations. Your publicist will get you the best possible press. But it’s going to take a little while to get to the front page of Rolling Stone. Your best chance to get there is to start small, and build your reputation organically, which is something a good publicist can help you do.


Final Note… 

I know this post sounded a little ominous, but I speak from experience when I say that most music publicists are hard-working, talented, trustworthy people. They will do great things for you! Just do your research first, and make sure you get the right person for the job!


If you like this post you will LOVE my ULTIMATE GUIDE TO MUSIC PUBLICITY.

New Call-to-action

Leave a Reply