Coronavirus is an entirely new and unique challenge for the music industry. From a PR standpoint, the cancellation of tours and festivals eliminates the singular experience of seeing an artist present their work in-person (and all of the publicity and audience-building that has always come with it).
So, music PR will need to hard pivot towards digital experiences and initiatives that facilitate artists sharing their work and themselves with audiences, and those initiatives will need to acknowledge the fear, tragedy, and hardship that most are feeling. On the whole, artists tend to be good at this! They are creative problem-solvers, teeming with empathy.
So music PR must act as facilitators and help to guide artists towards the right solutions. We must work with each artist on an individual level to figure out what they're comfortable doing and what their audience needs and wants.
For some artists, that may be doing a Q&A on Twitter each day. Or it might be akin to what Ben Gibbard is doing; taking fan requests and performing them on Instagram Live each day. Ultimately, the product of these initiatives may be akin to that of live music; a fan saying "hey, that really helped me. I needed that."
Great publicists and marketers deeply understand that one of the biggest hazards in their jobs is creating a situation where their client appears to be tone-deaf to tragedy or other people's struggles. Now more than ever is the time to ask oneself "Is this helpful or not?"
On the other side of music PR, music and entertainment-focused publications need to make sure they're supporting artists' efforts. I've seen a number of good resources on this front already (journalist Cherie Hu, Pitchfork, and BrooklynVegan to name a few who are posting artists' live stream schedules).
At my company, Talkhouse — a media outlet where all writing is done by musicians, filmmakers and actors — we've been having artists like Amber Tamblyn, Tim Heidecker, David Cross, Lake Bell, and more give recommendations of books, albums and movies they think might help our readers stay positive in the coming weeks and months.
We're just about to publish a piece by musician John Colpitts of Oneida who talked to musicians around the world, including in Italy and South Korea, about what they're seeing locally and what their outlook is.
Ultimately, the role of entertainment PR is to help the creative community stay connected to one another and we're committed to making sure our editorial output hues to that mission.
Ian Wheeler (@PartisanIan) is the co-founder of Partisan Records and Talkhouse.