Press covering music in new ways

From websites that break indie bands to gossip columnists who report on the artists, the music industry has seen a change in its media pickup.

From websites that break indie bands to gossip columnists who report on the artists, the music industry has seen a change in its media pickup.

Although many record labels continue to wring their hands about the threat of online file sharing, the internet has had a much larger impact on music journalism - some might call it a semi-revolution.

Coverage in mainstay media outlets like Rolling Stone, Spin, and MTV remains the goal for most aspiring artists. But legendary music publicist Susan Blond notes that the rise of online sites like Pitchfork have not only given bands a greater chance at exposure, but also have helped more journalists get their opinions heard.

Jessica Hopper, whose Chicago-based agency represents a mix of trend-setting indie bands, adds, "A lot of these sites are turning over a lot of content, much more so than a print publication like Spin. So they're far more willing to do a feature rather than just a blurb, and they pay attention to a lot more small, independent bands."

David Einmo, president of Seattle-based alternative label Pattern 25, says the importance of online music journalism will continue to grow as consumers eventually settle on a handful of sites for the bulk of their music information. "Well-respected sites like Pitchfork are beginning to emerge as filters that music fans can go to first to learn about bands they haven't heard before," he notes.

Mainstream coverage

Some might argue that generating coverage in either niche online sites or print magazines is very different from breaking a band in the mainstream media. But Hopper points out that mainstream music critics often look to these outlets for guidance on new music trends.

One example is Hopper client and Pattern 25 band Smoosh, made up of two sisters ages 10 and 13, who have generated mainstream coverage in outlets like CNN, The Boston Globe, and Tiger Beat. "Smoosh is an anomaly in that every time people read about them, it's like, 'Wow,'" Hopper says.

But she adds that there do seem to be more opportunities to break new bands, noting, "The fact that people can now go online and read about a band and then download or stream their song right then absolutely drives press reaction."

The mainstream pop, rock, and rap press have also changed the way they cover artists. "The traditional review has been replaced by more lifestyle coverage," says Blond. "No one will take apart a song anymore and discover how it was put together. Instead, we're dealing with a lot more gossip publications that cover the music industry."

"It's changing the way publicists break a new act because not only are we dealing with music journalists, but we're also dealing with entertainment columnists earlier in the process," adds Simone Smalls, VP at Blond's New York-based firm.

More Grammy interest

Nowhere is this change more apparent than at the Grammy Awards, which has grown into a major entertainment and celebrity event despite an increase in competition.

"Interest has soared in recent years, and a lot of that coverage has become more feature-

oriented," says Ron Roecker, communications VP for the Recording Academy, the 18,000-member organization that produces the Grammys.

Though it remains best known for its award shows, Roecker says the academy also represents musicians in other areas, including illegal file sharing. "We launched our own campaign last year, 'What's the Download,' designed to create dialogue between fans and music makers, that was picked up by outlets such as MTV and Rolling Stone," he says.

Roecker notes that one of the goals of "What's the Download" was to give journalists a way to educate consumers without alienating their audience. "It doesn't hit the audience over the head by saying, 'You're a thief,'" he says. "It's more of a discussion of what's legal and illegal, which has given reporters a clearer way to cover this."

Despite technology's growing influence on both the industry and the media, many publicists say they still use traditional PR tools, including mass mailing CDs for reviews, as well as using concerts tours to grow market-by-market awareness for emerging artists.

But Paul Armstrong, media relations specialist with Bender/ Helper Impact, which represents Yahoo Music, adds that gadgets like the iPod and the still-hot debate over online distribution is bringing different journalists into music coverage.

"I'm speaking regularly with both technology writers and music writers, so the beats are certainly changing," he says.

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Pitching... music

  • Remember to leverage new technology whenever possible. Use online press kits to get pictures to reporters faster, and set up websites so reporters can hear select songs to build an early buzz.

  • Like every other media category, blogs are changing music journalism, as well. So figure out which ones are key to your client and work to get them content regularly.

  • A CD mailing isn't enough to break a new band, so work hard to get reporters to live shows, where they can meet the artist.

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