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Home > Arts > THE CURMUDGEON: Vol. 6 – For Musicians (and Other Artists) Trying to Get Covered in the Press

THE CURMUDGEON: Vol. 6 – For Musicians (and Other Artists) Trying to Get Covered in the Press

A close-up of Albrecht Dürer’s Melancolia (1514).

Perhaps you know me as a composer and opera director; in this case, I am writing because I’m also a classical music critic. Are you an early-career artist trying to get me (or someone like me) to see your recital? My first recommendation is to not try to get a music critic’s attention right now.

Why not aim for a classical music critic at the start? Because classical music critics are (too name a few):

  • notoriously hard to get ahold of,
  • few in number,
  • often underpaid or not paid at all, and
  • don’t usually want to write about something where they have to do extensive research or work to pull answers out of someone.

Most of these also apply to mainstream journalists, but go for the low-hanging fruit to get some coverage first, and then it will be easier to attract a critic’s attention later.

What to Do

What do I recommend doing instead? Finding something that you’re doing already, finding a journalist who has a demonstrated interest in that audience, build a press kit of related materials (biography, descriptions, high quality photos, a concert program if this is related to an event, quotes), and then pitch them a story that you think their readers would be interested in.

Just like some people go to Home Depot to be inspired about projects they could do and gardens they could plant, help writers understand what it is you do, and what’s so interesting about it.

Where to start? Here are some examples:

  • Are you doing a concert at a senior center or retirement community? Find someone who writes community/lifestyle coverage.
  • Are you doing a concert at an embassy, or in relation to some international program? Find someone who writes about politics and adjacent events.
  • Are you an alum of an international program? Find someone who writes about that.
  • Does your hometown/area or current place have a (not major) local newspaper? Find someone who writes about residents past and present.

Strategies for Success

Organizations and individuals who get regular news coverage usually go out of their way to find interesting details that catch writers’ eyes.

Consider the example of Minnesota’s very own major performing arts festival. If you produce a show at the annual Minnesota Fringe Festival, you have to fill out a standard form for publicity/PR purposes that asks some useful questions designed to help the festival producers publicize your work and interest journalists. This form asks things like:

  • What racial/ethnic/identity groups do your cast or production team belong to? We have, among other things, Hmong and Somali newspapers, which like to cover members of their communities being in shows.
  • LGBTQ+? There’s not only the monthly Lavender Magazine (a real gem of local coverage), but also KFAI’s cutely named Fresh Fruit radio show that’s interested in publicizing work by and about members of that community.
  • What schools did your cast or production team attend (or are attending)? Alumni newsletters and magazines are a great way to get some coverage.
  • What area(s) are your cast or production team from? It’s pretty easy (relatively speaking) to get a small town or community newspaper to run coverage about a resident who’s doing something exciting in a big city or foreign country.
  • Are there any special content things that make your show of special interest to specific groups?

I am by no means saying to never reach high with a new organization, or that you have to wait until your career is well-advanced to send out a press release. Instead, consider this: What are some of the most interesting and exciting things about what you do, and what will make help convey that interest and excitement to the readers of your target publication?

Don’t Lie

But don’t lie. I’ve read some pitches over the years that had fabricated information, including attributing words to a fellow critic who said that they were made-up. It helps no one and wastes people’s time.

Not convinced? Let’s try this another way: Once you have some coverage, it will be easier (relatively speaking) to attract coverage by a music critic or journalist in a larger publication because the prior body of coverage will help them conceive how they might write about you.

Keep in mind that most critics are underpaid or not paid at all, and get a much larger volume of requests than they can handle. (I get more than a hundred press releases on a slow day.) A lot of small-town journalists are severely underpaid and do not have expertise in your specialty area. With this in mind, let’s reframe the question as “What can I give a writer that will both excite their interest and empower them to easily write about me?”

Don’t know where to start with that? Put together a list, and then ask someone else to tell you what they think might be helpful to add. Sometimes, that might mean you need to produce a variety of photos that represent you well and convey something of what you want.

These days, strong photos are essential – an online piece without photos gets less than 20% of the clickthroughs, so most editors won’t even waste their time approving a piece that doesn’t have a compelling headline photo to go with it. Blurry, clearly lit, and capturing something of your personality and/or work is a good place to start.

No bathroom selfies, please – and yes, people do submit those in press kits. Just because you see them on online dating profiles… doesn’t mean you should use them for, ahem, non-dating publicity.

Help Those Who Help You

Finally: If you went to a conservatory or university music program, you may recall music history textbooks quoting some of the great music critics and journalists of the 19th century – Schumann, Berlioz, Fétis, and so forth. Each of them wrote in no small part because they thought that their colleagues’ work deserved more attention, and wrote the kind of coverage that they wanted to be reading more of. They also founded their own journals or took editing positions so that their writing would have a platform – and depended on readers to make the activity sustainable.

Readers are still important. In fact, since most reading is now online, pageviews are a stand-in for advertising sales and impressions, and somewhere behind every publication is a need to have readers at the points being measured.

So: If someone writes about you, publicize the work, in a way that drives readership to them. Please don’t screenshot a review’s text and post it on social media without a link to the original publication – if those views don’t go to the publication, they don’t get counted. At the end of the day, a lack of readers/views will kill a publication, and it’s certainly not going to make the writer or editor inclined to cover you in the future.

Don’t do these other things, too:

Basil Considine