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New Frontiers Open for Paperless PR

CMA Close Up/CMA/ Nashville, TN -- by Jeff Walter
As the means for delivering and consuming music continue to grow more sophisticated (and more digital), so do the choices for promoting that music and the artists who create it. Such is the case with electronic press kits (EPKs) and video news releases (VNRs), tools that share the same basic goals of their non-digital predecessors: getting airplay, inspiring reviews and other media coverage, facilitating bookings and winning the attention of music consumers.

The overriding goal is to “create awareness for people to review the single and take a closer look at the artist,” said Carson James, Senior VP, Promotion, Broken Bow Records/Stoney Creek Records.

Veteran booking agent David Kiswiney, VP at Buddy Lee Attractions, believes that artists must stay current with technology and give their agents what they need for effective promotion. “We used to send things out: paperwork and pictures and bios, maybe a CD,” he said. “But now we just link people to whatever the artist has set up for a press page, maybe with a password if they want to download pictures and media and high-resolution things. We’re relying on the artist to make us pretty much paperless as far as their promo goes.”

EPKs are hardly new; the first one, created by online music pioneer Andre Gray, premiered live on the Web in 1995. But they are becoming increasingly indispensable. A typical artist website, in fact, is an EPK, containing a bio, live footage, interview footage, media coverage, awards, music, promotional videos and/or photos.

VNRs have a more limited aim. As the digital equivalents of a press release, they focus attention on a specific event or cause and often mimic news reports. CMA was pleased with the increased viewership it saw in response to VNRs placed on its FTP (File Transfer Protocol) site to promote the CMA Awards live broadcast in November and two broadcasts of “CMA Country Christmas” in December.

“With budgets being cut across the board at radio clusters, at television stations and in newsrooms, the easier you can make it to disseminate the news, the better your chance of getting the news placed,” said publicist Kirt Webster, head of Webster & Associates. “With superstar clients, there isn’t enough time in the day to accommodate every request. Many outlets will use a ‘canned’ interview in place of a one-on-one, as they typically are only looking for sound bites.”

It’s All About Content

Whatever the medium — website, CD, DVD, emailed link, USB flash drive — content is king. For Robert Gallagher, that means music is the key universal ingredient. As Entertainment Director at Billy Bob’s Texas, he is flooded with submissions from bands vying to play at the Fort Worth nightclub, which bills itself as “the world’s largest honky-tonk.”

If the studio demo isn’t good, Gallagher said, “There’s no reason to look any further.” As for other content, “Just keep it simple: the actual sound, the look, their experience and where they play.”

Keep it short too. “You can only make these press kits so long before you lose someone’s attention,” James advised. “So there has to be pop and sizzle to it.”

And look for new ways to use the technology. Broken Bow and Stoney Creek create lyric videos for their singles and post them on YouTube and VEVO; links can be sent to “radio or whatever medium we’re trying to impress,” James noted.

On an EPK promoting new Broken Bow artist Dustin Lynch, “We focused on him as a person, as a singer, as a songwriter — and we never interviewed him,” James said. “We just interviewed people around town to get their view. That seemed to be pretty successful. We used that on our radio tour setup, and it was probably four-and-a-half, five minutes. Before he even played, people were able to see what some of the biggest songwriters in town — Tim Nichols, Brett Beavers, Luke Wooten, who co-produced the album — thought of him.”

The format helped publicist Martha Moore, President/Founder, so much MOORE Media, present Christian music superstar Guy Penrod in a new role with his solo Country debut, Breathe Deep. Essentially, she let the pictures speak for themselves, as producer/director Marcel shot footage of Penrod and his family on their rural spread south of Nashville. “We sent it extensively to Country radio and Country media,” she said. “He’s got a pickup truck, horses and a rustic home. The EPK was the perfect vehicle to show people that Guy really is all about Country.”

Putting It All Together

Reid Long, who heads Reid Long Productions, has created EPKs for Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church and Little Big Town, among others. While some artists have plenty of content to work with, such as television appearances, that is usually not the case.

“The vast majority of artists don’t have that content, so it’s a matter of creating it and putting it together,” Long said. “One of the first steps is to shoot an interview. Live and studio footage may also be needed to provide a glimpse into the music and performance style.”

Costs can vary greatly, depending on the amount of shooting and the sophistication of the package. “They can be anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000,” James estimated.

“For something very basic, it would probably start in the $2,000 range,” Long said. “For something heavy with graphics and even a DVD menu, it could cost more than $10,000. Realistically, about $5,000 would be on the upper end, including all the shooting, editing, graphic design and even a voice-over.”

James and other Broken Bow/Stoney Creek executives, including Jon Loba, Senior VP, and Lynette Garbonola, Director of New Media, are directly involved in the content of their artists’ EPKs. “We bring in outside sources to film it, put it together and all those things,” James said. “We have two or three videographers and editors in town that have done stellar jobs for us. We feel our EPK-type product is very high quality.”

Online sites, including ReverbNation.com and Sonicbids.com, offer free or budget-priced press kits. But these sites provide only a platform for assembling the content, which the artist’s camp must provide.

Everyone Can Benefit

EPKs can be useful to artists at any level of their careers. “Certainly they can be important to artists who are breaking, just to get their names out and get their personalities across in a couple of minutes,” Long said. “And for artists who are further along in their career, it can be helpful to get them on a late-night television show or to pitch a specific album.”

James suggested that newer acts might have more to gain from an EPK than their well-known counterparts. Broken Bow’s Jason Aldean has numerous avenues to create awareness, including playing to 15,000 or 20,000 seats a night on tour and having ample opportunity for TV exposure. On the other hand, he said, “We’ve got an act in Thompson Square that had the most-played record last year. They were nominated for two Grammys, they worked with Jason last year, and they’re on tour with Lady A this year. There’s a lot of buzz about them. But we still run across people who, when we play ‘Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,’ they’re familiar with the song but not with Thompson Square.

“We probably think an act is broken a lot more than it really is,” he concluded.

How Do You Want It?

It can be useful to offer your content in multiple formats. Although electronic delivery is the general rule, DVD still has its usefulness. On a recent promotional tour with Dustin Lynch, Broken Bow used his EPK on DVD to better control the viewing environment and filter out possibilities for distraction.

Another appeal for this format is that DVDs have collectible value. “We call it a sizzle reel,” said Kiswiney of Buddy Lee Attractions. “Some live footage, a little interview, a little talk, a little history, some songs and where to contact the artist or the artist’s agent: That sizzle reel will sell it, and a lot of corporate buyers file and collect those things.”

At Billy Bob’s Texas, band submissions come in a range of formats: ReverbNation links, EPKs on DVD, old-school press kits — “even bands that cut and paste their own and make color copies,” said Gallagher. “I still probably get as many physical packages as I do EPKs.”

Even so, Gallagher, who has been booking shows for 30 years and currently books concerts and house bands for Billy Bob’s, favors links above all other formats. “Then it’s not something stacking up.”

Because having to download a press release can be a hassle and CDs can pile up, Cindy Watts, who covers Country Music for The Tennessean, prefers having easy online access to promotional material. “I would rather somebody just email me the press information,” she said. “When they put it all on a website, it’s better for me because I don’t have to keep up with it.”

The Same Message in Different Packaging

Whatever the format or medium, it’s clear that new avenues for creative promotion have been opened thanks to the advent of less expensive, more accessible tools.

© 2012 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

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