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Music Industry 101 For Artists: The Art of the Press Kit

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As a former record company weasel, I still get frequently asked by artists about how to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack when it comes to getting noticed by record companies. So this is a little Music Industry 101 for anyone out there looking to get signed.

The importance of a good press kit cannot be stressed highly enough for any aspiring artist. I am actually going to take that a step further. Not only do you need a press kit, you need one that is going to stand out.

Understand that record companies, club owners, and the like literally get hundreds of these things a week. I've personally sat in A&R (Artist and Repertoire) meetings at record labels where there were boxes and boxes of tapes to go through. So you already know what's next right? Many of them get thrown out, never to be listened to or checked out.

The first ones to go are usually the sloppily packaged, handwritten ones in a plain envelope with a cheap Wal-Mart tape inside. Next are the more standardly packaged, but bland and ordinary-looking ones.

Here is what an average press kit should contain:

  • A one-page bio: This is your chance to tell your story to the record company big wigs. Emphasize your sound, your history, accomplishments, CD releases, your website, anything that’s an essential part of who you are as an artist. But unless your name is Bruce Springsteen or Diddy, keep it to one page. Nobody wants to read War and Peace.
  • Your Artist Photo: A standard black and white or, better yet, a color glossy photo.
  • Your Music: A CD (cassette tape won't cut it anymore) that can be full length if it is a commercial release, but should be kept to your four best songs tops, if it's a demo. You will need to have attractive eye-catching cover art if you expect to avoid the trash can as well.
  • A "Fluff Sheet": This is a second page that you can basically have fun with. Make it humorous, make it interesting, but what you are essentially doing is emphasizing bullet points. Keep it short and sweet.

    To get past the trash can, you will again need to package this nicely in a folder. Most of all, you want this to stand out in a box full of hundreds of demos going to an A&R meeting.

    A personal story that I can relate here happened when I was working at Def American Recordings in the nineties. This group called Decadent Dub Team (DDT) got everybody's attention there by adding a very colorful T-shirt to their press kit (I still own the shirt today) that said "NO WEAK BEATS" on it. On the front it had a picture of Jimmy Swaggart crying. On the back it showed an artist signing a record contract with the devil. Funny shit.

    Their tape not only got listened to, but everybody from the mailroom guy to the head of A&R eventually wore one of those shirts. I also saw several L.A. record executives sporting the shirt around town, too, at places like The Troubadour and The Whisky. I don't think they ever got signed. (They weren't that good, to be honest.) But their tape did get a fair listen.

    Why? Because they did something to stand out.

    When Sir Mix-A-Lot used to come to my record store back when he was just one of many artists trying to get me to listen to his tapes or write about him in The Rocket. He also did something that stood out. He made a tape for me where he was talking to me by name in a rap. I know it sounds corny now, but the bottom line is he got my attention then and we know the rest of the story…

  • About Glen Boyd

    Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
    • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

      Thanx to Gordon for getting this published.

    • http://gohah.blogspot.com Gordon Hauptfleisch

      You’re welcome Glen–but even I, boring old fart that I am, know that P. Diddy is just plain Diddy now, not that it really matters or that anyone gives a crap for such self-aggrandizing grandstanding crap anymore.

    • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

      Doo Wah Diddy Diddy Dum Daddy Doo.

      -Glen

    • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

      Glen, Gordon…do I know you guys? You’ll remember me from milling around the X-15 and Gorilla Gardens scene, and everywhere else in between. You mention the Rocket and Stranger, so you know…

      Anyway, good advice. Keep it short and simple but clean and attractive.

      Oh, I have a killer show I am promoting this weekend in Fremont (Fremont Summer Solstice Festival). Sunday, June 18 (as the fair ends) go to the Nectar Lounge to see the Brook Lee Catastrophe (up from So. Cal playing the mainstage at the fair on Sat.), Ralph Buckley and poetry by Shannon Kringen. Killer show to end the fair. If you are in town, contact me and you are on the list.

      best,
      Douglas Mays/NewSoul Enterprises

    • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

      Doug,

      Your name sounds familiar.

      I don’t know how far back you go with Seattle’s music scene, but I used to be a contributing editor for the Rocket. I mainly covered all of the hip hop stuff for them, but also did a fair ammount of rock stuff. I also had the hip hop show on KCMU. You may remember the “Shockmaster”? That was me.

      I don’t think Gordon lives here (in Seattle) Doug. He was just the BC editor on my piece. I think Gordon may live in CA, he definitely keeps west coast hours (as do I ). But you’d have to ask him to be sure.

      Good luck with your show on Sunday. Unfortunately I’ve already got plans. But keep me in mind for anything you’ve got coming up in the future. You can locate my e-mail by going to personal blog (see URL near my name on this comment) and finding my profile.

      And thanks for the comment.

      -Glen

    • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

      So Doug, is the Goddess Kring reading with or without her clothes? LOL… (for the non-Seattleites reading, only a local would get that joke)

      -Glen

    • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

      Glen, oh yes. But actually Goddess Kring will be clothed (cabaret laws prevent that sort of thing in a bar). But actually, having promoted her many times her readings do come across well for the most part. She will be part of the nude cyclists during the parade on Saturday.

      For reference go to http://www.shannonkringen.com She is a hell of a gal. A very good soul. And more… see the website.

      best,
      Douglas

    • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

      The first time I came across her show on public access I’d come home from some bar late at night, was flipping through the channels when I happened across it.

      I was like “WTF?” Who is this painted, naked chick talking about Tori Amos and her boyfriend problems?

      I wish I’d known about her website a few days ago. I was doing a review of a Jefferson Airplane reissue album and needed a graphic of a “naked dancing hippie chick” (the story recounts my experiences at a Jefferson Airplane show in the sixties as a kid).

      I couldn’t find one to save my life. One of her pics from that site would’ve worked perfectly. I’ll definitely remember that the next time I’m looking for a photo like that…LOL

      Anyway glad to see Kring is still among us in Seattle. Shes a definitely one of Seattle’s originals.

      -Glen

    • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

      Good to hear. She has been a good friend ever since we connected via letter when I responded to this wacky naked painted girl who can talk on and on and on….

      I picked up on what she was saying and we connected. I actually produced some spoken word recordings with her words. Never did anything with it but it gets used on her show and website and stuff.

      I should let her know she has appeared on Blogcritic.org!

    • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

      Yeah by all means let her know. She can even comment here, although I’m not sure what it would have to do with the actual article I wrote…

      But comments from painted naked ladies? Bring em’ on! LOL…

      -Glen

    • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

      Glen, I sent her the link to this article. Maybe we’ll hear from her thru Blogcritics! People out there in Blogcritics land would love her.

    • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

      I got a notice in my e-mail that she posted a comment but it doesn’t show up here on the site. Kinda weird.

      -Glen

    • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

      Yes, that is what she told me also….

    • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

      Maybe she should just try posting again Doug. I’m not sure why her comment didn’t post. The comments editor here doesn’t really censor anything except personal attacks and spam so again not sure why her comment doesn’t show here…

      ?????

      -Glen

    • http://www.answers.com/topic/a-and-r Gloria Copenei

      Good info on this site regarding A&R

    • http://www.myspace.com/skyyzdalimit.com SkyZ The Limit

      Thank you for the advice… SkyZ The Limit