How to Write a Music Press Release for Your Band

You’re in a kickass band that’s playing shows or releasing an album, and you’re ready to take the next step publicity-wise. How do you get the word out about your performances to people not on your mailing list or social networks? How do you get reviewers to listen to your new album, DJs to play it and journalists to write about it? Besides resting on the pure genius of your sound (which I can’t help you with), the press release you use to promote it can make or break this coverage. Writing a press release can seem daunting, but it’s actually easy to do when you just follow a few simple guidelines.

A press release is not an ad, a bio, or a way to simply say “Look - I am cool and I am in a cool band!” A press release has two purposes: to make someone aware of something, and to get them interested in it. You can send out a press release to promote a show or a tour, announce album or merch deal announcements, inform the media of a lineup or name change, plug a new album, single, music video, etc., a new website or social media campaign, a charity performance or donation, or to communicate any other major announcements about the status or future of the band.

One function of a press release is to alert the media to possible stories — interesting ideas are hard to come by, so the more unique you can make your press release, the more likely it is that someone will respond...with free, credible publicity! Some publications even run press releases almost verbatim, so it’s important that your text is succinct and professional.

But the people you’re sending these releases to are busy, busy people who see a LOT of them, so the most effective press releases are tailored to meet the needs of each media outlet by appealing to their target audience and/or area of coverage. You will want to take a slightly different approach with your press release depending on your target: the release you send to a radio station should be different than the one you send to your local alt-weekly. And for the love of Bowie, if you are trying to get a show or event onto a calendar, turn it in by the publication’s deadline!

What To Write

Press releases are written like news stories. Because of this, they’re written in third person: that means that you should use “they” instead of “we,” i.e. “This new album is the bee’s knees,’ said guitarist Joe Smith,” instead of “I think this new album is the bee’s knees.” (Although, of course, that’s a dumb thing to say.)

Like news stories, the headline and first paragraph are by far the most important parts of a press release, and you should craft them carefully. The most vital elements that make something newsworthy are its prominence (how big a deal it is), proximity (how near it is to the target media, either physically or in terms of its audience), impact (how big an effect it will have), timeliness (if it just happened or if it’s happening soon), its novelty (how unique or unusual it is) and, of course, whether there’s any drama involved! You should try to keep those in mind while writing your press release, especially the headline and intro paragraph.

Your headline is the first impression your release makes, and if it sucks then most people won’t bother to read on. A headline like “Band Q Releases New Album” is a snore-fest: good press releases have a hook, something interesting, something to distinguish yours from all the others. The headline should summarize the information, but in an exciting, dynamic and compelling way.

Besides the headline, the first paragraph is the most important, and like the headline, if it’s bad most people will stop reading and throw your release in the trash. Your first paragraph should address the good ol’ five Ws that you learned in school - who, what, where, when, why (and how, if applicable) - and highlight the info that is most important or newsworthy. This is where you put your hook: why you’re awesome, and why somebody should give a crap. This paragraph elaborates on the headline in a succinct way, in a max of four or five sentences.

“Brevity is your friend,” says Juan Fernandez, the general manager of WRCT, a Pittsburgh college radio station. He reads a lot of press releases, both on email and paper, every week. “Tell us where you're from and what kind of music you play. Have a good website where your music (streamable) and tour dates are easily available. It makes getting a unique handle on who you are all the easier for us in radioland.”

Getting It Out There

Press releases work best when they’re targeted specifically at a particular type of media and its specific needs. For instance, you would want to emphasize different aspects of the story when sending releases to, say, a magazine about thrash metal and one about the business side of starting a band. On the flip side, who has the time to write a completely new release for every place you want to send it? One good middle-of-the-road strategy is to put together a couple of slightly different versions: maybe one to send to local publications emphasizing your homegrown status, another for national coverage, and another for radio stations (or something like that). If you’re emailing the release, you should spend a lot of time making sure your subject line is eye-catching and specific.

“Despite your desires to be have your message stand out in an inbox, caps lock is your worst enemy. There's nothing that has me not read your email more than seeing a subject line with all uppercase letters,” said Fernandez. “Additionally, some consideration to who you send the press release is great. Seeing my radio station's email by itself in the To: line means you actually know who you're promoting yourselves to. It's a sign that you care.”

How do you know who to send it to? Good old-fashioned legwork. Google a list of publications in your area, and go through them to find which ones might be interested in your topic. Most major cities have a “Book of Lists” that you can borrow at the library that lists all print publications (some of which will include event calendars, if you’re promoting a performance of some kind). In terms of websites, you can check Alexa.com to compare the various page views of different sites, but a good rule of thumb is to send releases to sites you’ve heard of before and who usually cover stories like the one you’re trying to promote. You can also use the web to find out which local radio stations or podcasts might be interested in your news.

Avoid These Common Mistakes

It may seem dumb to mention but it happens far too often: put your contact info on the press release, and spell check the damn thing! If it looks unprofessional, is riddled with typos, or doesn’t have contact info, it will immediately go in the trash. If you don’t communicate the pertinent info in the first sentence or so, it will also immediately go in the trash.

Although a press release is a great way to promote yourself, don’t go overboard with hyperbole. John Lennon may have claimed that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, but you should never claim that your band is going to be bigger than the Beatles. Many people don’t know this, but there is a bulletin board at just about every radio station, record label and newspaper where employees put up the worst press releases to laugh at — you really don’t want to end up on that board.

Format Your Press Release

A generally accepted, fairly standard format for press releases exists throughout the industry. Even if you write the best release in the world, if it doesn’t look like it should many people will pass over it. So make sure and get it right! You can find templates online, but make sure that they’re correct (try to use a reputable source) before you send them out. The goal here is to make the press release standard, and written in such a newsworthy and professional manner that it takes very little work for an editor to turn it into a news story or to convince a decision-maker that it’s worth their notice. Here’s a quick rundown on the basics of press release formatting.

Basically, It Should Look Like This

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Your Band XYZ Does Something Newsworthy and Interesting

Press Contact
Band Name

Telephone Number

Email Address

Website

Facebook/twitter/MadeLoud/whatever else you want to include (but don’t include every social networking account you’ve ever signed your band up for).

YOUR TOWN, YOUR ABBREVIATED-TO-TWO-LETTERS STATE– This is where your lead goes. The first sentence should clearly explain the point of the release in a catchy and newsworthy way. The first paragraph should be short, with no extraneous info.

Keep on writing. Second paragraph should elaborate on who you are and the reason for the press release. (This isn’t the place for a full bio though — keep it short.)

Other paragraphs should include quotes from the band, quotes from other media sources (it gives the story much more credibility, and helps a journalist turn the release into a real story).

Finish with a call to action: “You can buy album X on January 1, 2012” or “You can see Band Y at Venue on January 1, 2012.”

For Further Information Contact:
Press Contact
Your Label (if you have one)
Your Phone #

Your Email

###

(Always end with three centered pound signs: ###. This signifies the end of the release. Don’t ask why, just do it.)

Final Thoughts

To be a well-known and/or commercially successful band, you must employ publicity, and the press release is one of the most important aspects of your band’s publicity strategy. Spend some time on it; in a lot of cases, it’s what will convince that DJ to actually listen to your album or that reporter to google you. It’s what separates professionals from amateurs, and the way you write a press release says a lot about which one you are. We’re all in it for the love of music, but it is a business. Crowds don’t magically learn about bands, and reporters don’t magically know about interesting things that are going on: press releases are how you let them know.

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