|The Truth Behind Press Kits, Bios, and Controlling Your Image
A lot of what you have been told about creating your image is false. This article is meant to be a simple list of things that might surprise you as a musician. Some of you have had “managers” misguide you. You know the drill. Your guitar player's girlfriend has a connection at some local club so now she thinks she is fit to orchestrate your entire career. Maybe you have a know-it-all singer who spent 5 minutes glossing over some music industry website and now he is writing your bio chalk full of transparent lies and over-exaggerated descriptions of your rock fury. No matter what the case may be, I can guarantee you that you have at least a few misconceptions about how to properly present your image. This article will briefly outline some of the major issues on writing better bios, press kits, and press releases.
YOU HAVE MORE CONTROL THAN YOU THINK
The most important thing I can tell you is you have more control than you think. If you really get the hang of image presentation and playing this game we call the music biz you can virtually create any image you want of yourself or your band. First and foremost I want to talk about the press.
Ever surf the net doing some research of some new band your friend told you about? Ever notice how multiple music sites will have the exact same description of the band? Of course, you aren't an idiot; you realize these sites simply rip what the band wrote in their bio on the band homepage. But do you realize the POWER of this? Basically, you have the power to syndicate your image in a way. These websites simply don't have the time, or intimate knowledge of your band, to create some pseudo-bio for you. They rely on you, and what you have to say about yourself. This is power. Use it wisely.
But you already knew that. What I'm about to tell you is something you may not know, but could drastically affect your bands promotional campaign. PRINT MAGAZINES DO THIS TOO. Yep, a lot of those long write-ups you see in your favorite magazines about your favorite band, have content ripped straight from the bands' bio. The trick is that this only applies to well written bios. If you do in fact have such a bio, this can be the most powerful weapon in your promotional arsenal.
THE SECRET BIO SAUCE RECIPE
Ok. So let's recap real quickly. You know that your bio can help control your image on the net. And now you know you can even control how the print media presents you. But how do you write such a bio? First, let's go over what NOT to do.
INFLATE: Do not inflate your image beyond the reality of your band. Don't be all flash and no smash. In other words, don't talk about what you can't back up. This is the most common mistake in bio writing. I call it “inflation”. This is pretty much adjective abuse. Avoid phrases like “intense live show” or “super sonic blast from the future”. This is stock. This is not creative. If you aren't the biggest drawing band in your own market, don't say “this band is taking the nation by storm”. The press and online community have been reading bios with such inflations since the beginning, they see past this very well.
QUOTE FANS: If you can't get someone credible to say something nice about your band DO NOT resort to using a fan comment. Ever…for any reason.
LIST SONG DESCRIPTIONS: If you are already an “inflator” then talking about your own songs will only cause pain and tragedy.
SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME ON PREVIOUS BANDS: If your last band didn't have a record deal or tour, don't bother. If you have some leverage with your “former member of…” status use it tastefully and only in brief.
Now that we have got those cardinal sins out of the way you are probably thinking “jeeze, what else is there to write about”. This is where we start digging. Time to put on your thinking cap. You have to think like a reporter looking for a refreshing angle. You have to find the one thing that can create an image that will stick. You have to find THE STORY.
By this time I have lost some of you. You either don't know what I mean by “the story” or you have a bio that breaks every rule I just outlined and you can't admit it. The best bios read like a good music rag write-up. If your bio is written correctly it should make a staff writer's job easy. It should be easy for him to “rip” or “cop”. It's no co-incidence that many pro bands use these kinds of writers to pen their own bios!
Perhaps you have an interesting story about how you came together. Perhaps you have some gimmick, like Siamese twins or 3 bearded lady bassists. But hopefully you have something that connects your band to something going on in the world of music. You need something that will get people's attention. Maybe your band is the only Death Metal band for 100 miles in the Bible belt. You get the picture.
I am going to list some things that can make great stories (and double as press releases).
- Being produced by someone reputable
- Being managed by someone reputable
- Breaking some mark in online CD sales or downloads
- Getting a supporting slot on a festival or tour
- Having a reputable person as a quoted fan
A PHOTO SPEAKS 1,000 FLAWS
I want to get one thing out of the way: I'm not going to tell you how to dress. But I am going to tell you that it may be your biggest problem. I am not a stylist. I can not solve this problem. I can tell you this though: The camera will expose every flaw you have in your style. With that said, let's get on with at least getting a quality photo.
I am not a professional photographer. I am not going to tell you how to take a photo of yourself. I am going to tell you where to get one. Your best bet is to find a local photographer that you see at local shows. More often than not, they are either legitimate press, legitimate artist, or a legitimate student. Browse their catalog of band photography and if you think it stands up, there ya go. This may all seem like common sense, but I want to stress that this is abandoned and somehow your guitar player's girlfriend is your “photographer” because her mom has a camera. Do not let this happen to you. Find people with pro gear. Get a professional or at least a digital arts student. These are always your best bets.
If you are going for sheer impact with your 8 x 10 one good tip is to at least look like you are in the same band. I'm not saying get a gimmick or wear make-up. I'm saying that even if you think your personal look is “plain”, your band as a whole can benefit from at least being on the same page.
The miracle of Adobe Photoshop has given birth to some of the most breathtaking digital art we have seen. It has also, to the misfortune of bands mostly, created total rubbish. If your logo sucks it says many things about you.
It shows you have high tolerance for bad art.
It shows you yourself might be a bad artist and were not smart enough to hire a professional.
It shows you have a very distorted view about the genre of your band.
It shows some of you are totally unprofessional and don't care about your image.
You might be surprised how many ways there are to find good digital artists to create your logo. In my personal opinion, even paying up to $100 is worth it for a good logo. Bottom line, the sites below are the best place to find killer artists.
PRESS KIT SECRETS
One very strong tip I can offer is to try to think of your image as “dynamic”. It has to be all things to all people. You might have to add something extra to that envelope before you send it off. If you are sending your kit out to an artist rep at a prospective endorsee you ALWAYS want it to contain tour dates. This is the most important thing in your attempt to get gear for cheap and say those lovely words to all your loser musician friends playing crappy guitars… “I got an endorsement deal”.
A great add-in is a DVD. There are a lot of affordable ways to make a DVD these days. Again, this is one of those things that will expose your flaws. You don't want to put your life story on there. Live footage is great if it's done right. Fake smoke and that cheesy “page turn effect” are not. Don't make a wedding video. This will be valuable in your arsenal when try to book gigs.
Ask First. Send. Follow Up. This is your best way to make some impact and get a solid contact in the biz. Your press kit will always have more impact if the person is expecting it (send it promptly).
Make sure you are to the point when calling someone you'd like to send a press kit to. You are Jon Doe from The Doetones. You are going to be in town around this time. You want to send a press kit for a possible gig. If you are sending an email and have an EPK (Electronic Press Kit) NEVER send the press kit in first. Always try to get a response before sending the press kit. If you are sending to a possible endorsee put your upcoming dates in the initial email.
Following up is crucial. Many of the people you will be dealing with in this business are either busy or forgetful…mostly both. You must initiate contact. Be tactful and patient. Do not hound people, but make sure you give yourself a chance to make some opportunities and pick up the phone yourself.
Remember, you are in essence, trying to self yourself to a company or consumer. You have to be a salesman. Try to connect to people and have them want to talk to you. If you can do this they will always want to help you or get you involved in something that will. Or best of all, spend money on you and your product.
About the author:
Bruce Prokopets is co-founder and editor of music news blog Scenejumper.com Bruce had his first live gig at 15 and has had various jobs in the industry since. He spent years as a guitar tech, tour manager, endorsement liaison, bassist in a national act, and promoter in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.
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