MEDIA MUSIC: Hit the right chord and the media will sing - With thousands of CDs sent out to the music media every week, Claire Atkinson looks at how music publicists persuade the press to take note of new releases

Dealing with music groups and rock critics can be heaven or hell, depending on your experience, but as always you need to ingratiate yourself with the right people if you're going to generate a significant ripple effect.

Dealing with music groups and rock critics can be heaven or hell, depending on your experience, but as always you need to ingratiate yourself with the right people if you're going to generate a significant ripple effect.

Dealing with music groups and rock critics can be heaven or hell, depending on your experience, but as always you need to ingratiate yourself with the right people if you're going to generate a significant ripple effect.

'You have to get them to trust you,' says Lane Buschel, a former PepperCom publicist and now a solo-practitioner. He says the best way to do that is to talk their language. 'You have to be descriptive and say, 'you know that break in that song, well this album is like that but over three records.' There's a lot of insider terminology.'

Todd Evans, account executive at FitzGerald Communications in Los Angeles who represents dot-com EMusic, says honesty goes a long way in the music business: 'If you're giving them a pre-release record by an up-coming band, tell them. Don't lead them on with 'These guys are the next Radiohead,' when the band is more of a bad Blink 182 knock-off. The same thing goes for news, give it to them straight.'

Evans thinks that music PR could be vastly improved by a little strategy.

'Giving the right person the right thing with the right background information goes a long way towards success,' he says.

Of course, even with the best laid plans, publicists will encounter many obstacles. Rob Hoskins of the Tennessee-based firm Dye, Van Mol & Lawrence has encountered difficulties in promoting band BR5-49, which is sponsored by liquor brand client Jack Daniels. 'One of the problems,' claims Hoskins, 'is they're not an easy band to define. They're neither country nor alternative and that makes it a hard sell, but you just have to be persistent.'

Buschel's advice: 'It's helpful to select the antecedents, rather than fit people into a specific genre. Say it's like Billie Holiday or early Metallica. Start by talking about what they already know.'

Most publicists recommend that in any correspondence with the music media, you find out as quickly as possible what their personal interests are.

Getting a hit in one of a handful of top titles can ensure thousands of follow-up stories, says Julie Doppelt, a partner at Hoopla Media & PR in Los Angeles, which represents the Bloodhound Gang. She names the top tier as Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today and the Associated Press, which coordinates record reviews through new music and dance editor Nekesa Moody in New York. AP also channels music stories through its West Coast entertainment correspondents. However, according to Doppelt, the Associated Press and Reuters will only review records by established artists.

If you're looking to build name recognition then some publicists recommend trying to get a placement on The Late Show With David Letterman by contacting the music booker, Sheryl Zelikson. Doppelt placed guitar player Derek Trucks in the legendary Letterman band one night and Trucks was introduced by Letterman. Doppelt says that once they've booked a guest for the band, the show doesn't usually have another music act on the same night. 'He's not a household name, but Trucks was written about after his appearance by the Los Angeles Times,' she says of the follow-up.

Given MTV and VH-1's status as buzz makers in the industry, it is worth contacting their music news divisions. While they are largely focused on the big name celebrities, they're a good place to find out what specials are coming up. Independent music publicist Beth Brody of Brody PR managed to get Dee Dee Ramone on an upcoming VH-1 special counting down the 100 greatest moments in Rock 'n Roll history.

If you're dealing with the alternative music scene, then most publicists recommend contacting the influential College Music Journal (CMJ). The company publishes both CMJ New Music Monthly and CMJ New Music Reports, and also runs events.

But dealing with the college market is rather hit and miss, says Asa Fish, promotions director at independent music label J-Bird. 'We found that college radio has not translated into a lot of sales. Most college kids don't listen to their college radio stations.'

Conversely, Buschel thinks the college market is huge, naming radio stations based at New York University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California as the big names to hit.

Radio is an extremely effective medium and many PR firms and publicists are involved in getting their clients onto play lists. That is a tough task given consolidation in the industry that has standardized the range of music aired. Fish has been targeting commercial morning shows for his clients which include Rockapella. 'We found WPLJ in New York and Mancow (the popular morning radio personality) in Chicago very helpful.' Fish says you need to get records heard at least a couple of times a week to get any impact. If you're looking for a greater reach, Brody suggests trying syndicators such as Westwood One and MJI Broadcasting.

If you've seen the movie Almost Famous, which includes a portrayal of legendary rock writer Lester Bangs, then you'll have some idea how influential a single writer can be on the rest of the pack. Though Bangs, who worked for the music paper Creem, has never been replaced in terms of his circle of influence, publicists are agreed about who the other veterans are.

One publicist names Robert Christgau, music editor for The Village Voice, as the number one critic in the country. Some name The New York Times' writers Neil Strauss and John Parales, who both cover popular music.

If you're working from the grass roots up, Buschel, who's repped Mad Professor and Bunny Wailer, suggests getting on the radar of certain DJs which can help you gain exposure.

As with every area of PR, timing is everything. You need to promise most music magazines a release around two to three months in advance of its official debut which makes the window of opportunity for new releases small. 'If you give Spin magazine a release three months before it hits the streets then the dailies get upset,' says Buschel.

Of course in the music trade, Billboard is the bible. Patty Cortez at Formula PR represents music retailer the Guitar Center. She scored a full-page story on her client in Billboard's 'Merchants and Marketing' section after discussing various promotions with one of the editors. Though they were initially keen, Cortez says interest waned, so she kept sending them more background on a weekly basis until they finally relented and published the piece.

Reporters always say that gimmicks don't work, but Chris Blake, an associate at San Francisco-based firm Msr.comm disagrees. 'When I used to tour the SoCal campuses, I'd send the college news room a pizza with my CD pressed in the center of the pie. Kinda stupid, but they listened while they ate, and I got the press I needed.'


Newspapers & magazines: City-based title The New Times; Tower Records' Pulse; CMJ New Music Monthly

Trade magazines: Billboard; Pulse; Jazz Times; Jazziz

Web sites:;;;

Television & radio: Comedy Central's The Man Show; CBS' The Late Show with David Letterman; NBC's The Tonight Show; MTV/VH-1 news divisions; Westwood One; MJI Broadcasting.

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