Tuesday, March 23, 2010

He Ain't Heavy He's My Brother

The "Homeless" Man

It was a frigid Sunday morning. The parking lot to the church was filling up quickly. I noticed as I got out of my car that fellow church members were whispering with each other as they walked to the church.

As I got closer, I saw a man sitting against the wall outside the church. He was almost laying down, as if he were asleep. He had on an old crumpled coat with the hood over his head that was pulled down so you could not see his face. He had a blanket wrapped around his legs, and a much used coffee cup in front of him for anyone that would put change into it.

I assumed this man was homeless, and asleep, so I walked on by through the doors of the church. We began to fellowship and someone brought up the man laying outside. People snickered but no one put money in his cup much less bothered to ask him to come in, including me. A few moments later church began. We all waited for the minister to take his place and the service to begin.

When the doors to the church opened, in came the homeless man walking slowly down the aisle with his head down. People gasped and whispered and made faces. He made his way down the aisle. But he didn't take a seat, he kept going to the pulpit and pulled down the hood and took off his coat.

My heart sank. There stood our minister. He was the "homeless man." No one said a word. The minister took his Bible and laid it on the stand.

"Folks, I don't think I have to tell you what I am preaching about today."

~ Author Unknown ~

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Music Bloggers and The Press Release

Blogging has been somewhat of a mystery to me since the concept was initiated. In the beginning I thought it was the absolute height of narcissism people would write about themselves and post for all the world to see. "Hey, over here! Look at me. I have thoughts and you get the privilege of reading them."

Time has brought some level of professionalism to the practice, and I'm down with it...or at least to a point. Blogging is citizen journalism. JOURNALISM combined with OPINION. Yet, when it comes to music bloggers  there are two things made abundantly clear that are so infuriating, I'm truly astounded at the level of hypocracy.

The first point is an arrogance bloggers hide behind. They set conditions as if they are full-fledged journalists. Okay...if that's the case, then what is up with the absolute resistance to a press release? I mean, really!

The press release is meant as an invitation to delve further into a newsworthy topic. It doesn't tell the entire story but provides facts that should pique the reader's interest enough to inquire about "the rest of the story." True, many press releases these days are generated by over zealous writers who apparently believe hype is reality. Not a good thing. So on that point alone, bloggers win.

The second phase of my fury with bloggers is they want their work done for them! Yes...it's true! The rhetoric about the press release not being enough information truly blows my mind. If it's been good enough for educated journalists for decades, why those who think they are the next A& R reps of the music business can't handle it is really beyond me. I'm telling you, you've got to earn your stripes before you become a star of any kind. Without some level of education behind your practice, if you've got any talent at all, you have to earn my respect. It cannot be demanded.

To temper my fury, I invite anyone who wants to send a  timely press release about music to me any time. If there is a CD, tour, or event tied to the news so much the better.

That being said, if you send information, you will hear my opinion. While I don't consider myself to be a 21st century Dorothy Parker, I'm not Mother Teresa either. Let's face it. With the level of music saturation we experience today, there are some people who need to hear they are better suited for different occupations. Some need to hear more polish is required in their final product. Those of us in the business want music to survive on the merit of the art. Critiques are an important part of that process.

Send music related press releases to Scout66com@aol.com. If you have a product to go along with it I'll provide an address via email.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

How Do Icons Rise to Fame?

Each of these photos represents an icon in American pop culture. While it's true they reached the height of their careers in the 20th century before the Internet shook the entertainment industry to its core, their contributions are amazing. 

They are self-made men who followed their talents to a point their careers required the assistance of agents, publishers, publicists, radio promoters, or even just a personal assistant to organize day-to-day affairs through much slower channels of communication than we use today.


It's important to understand that at the time each of these men rose to  fame fax machines and electric typewriters were either non-existent or very new. Cell phones, personal computers and digital recording did not yet exist.

Things took time to create and within this reference, you can find well-crafted ideas that took time to develop from a solid framework and foundation. Fully developed products could not be produced within a day. Instant gratification was not possible, therefore creative ideas, no matter how revolutionary, aged with time.

Most finished products in the literate arts today do not come close to reaching a level of time-honored maturity these men achieved. Each of them are great writers, storytellers, and humorists. Amazing charisma is part of their individual story, and people love them for the essence of
their craft.

   Take some time to study those that have come before you. None of them had an easy road to hoe. There were significant obstacles in each career represented here and each went on to achieve an enduring historic legacy.

What would your career be like without technology? Could you achieve the level of greatness you aspire to within a solid framework on a solid foundation? Would your art form be enduring? Ask yourself these questions and see if you can enhance your career with more art and less technology.

Photos from top to bottom: Mason Williams, Truman Capote, Will Ackerman, Ken Kesey.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. The Promotional Kit Essentials/Non Essentials - Part VII

Putting together a press or promotional kit is no easy task. Sure, you can slap something together to resemble this timeless tool...but it's really in your best interest to include only essential, professionally produced documents.

To reiterate which elements are essential:
A biography
One Sheet
8 x 10 color, and black and white photos (different poses)
A professionally-written press release

Non-essential elements are quote sheets, business cards, and cover letters. While these handy little tools can serve a purpose; essential and timely quotes should have already been incorporated into a biography. The business card is not as important as including your contact info on every element already included in your press kit. A cover letter is just another boring task for the sender and the recipient.

Your goal is not to bury the intended reader with "stuff". The goal is to provide the intended reader with enough convincing information to reach your goal whether that is soliciting press or bookings.

If you've taken the time to put together professionally designed elements..... now what?

Most people start stuffing envelopes and shot gunning info to unwitting recipients, but my advice is:

If you send an unsolicited package to someone, in essence you are giving them a homework assignment with a pop quiz. We all remember pop quiz days. It isn't welcomed by anyone. The difference is, as professionals, the unwitting receiver simply blows it off and into the round file it goes.

Here's a better strategy:

1. Post all the info as an EPK on your website.

2. Prepare about a dozen hard copy press kits ready for mailing. Do not forget to include the hard copy EP/CD/DVD and as a courtesy, remove the shrink wrap. Make sure you have a nicely designed mailing label with your logo if you have one. Buy new mailing envelopes for your press kits - never use recycled materials. Another handy tip is to buy colored mailing envelopes because they stand out. If someone has been unable to locate a package you've mailed, you can tell them "it is a navy blue 10 x 13 envelope with a white label embedded with my logo." Likely it can be picked right out of the stacks within seconds.

3. Then take a day and really research who your best target audience is and don't blur the lines of "maybe this person will be interested". If they might be interested - it's a clear sign you are hopin' and wishin'. So to make things crystal clear, draw up your list and email each person to see if they are interested in receiving your materials. Politely ask them which format they prefer.

Now let's assume you've received some response. For those who want the EPK, hopefully they've already been able to find all the info they want and need. For those who want the tradtional press kit, put it in the mail the day you receive a response from them. If they want it, they want it ASAP.

The most important aspect of putting together a promotional kit is in the follow-up. If you spent the time and money to put these elements before an intended group of people, only the foolish send it out without a follow-up note, phone call, or email. It is ill-advised to simply ask if they received your materials.

Think of a more provocative way to enter a conversation with each person you contacted initially. If you do not receive a response after two attempts, drop it. The person on the receiving end will remember whether or not you made a good enough impression to fit their needs. It is important to remember the promo kit fills the bill on a two-way street, that's the way these relationships work.

If you've followed these suggestions and done so in a professional manner, you've shown industry insiders
your house is in order and doors will begin to open.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. The Promotional Kit One Sheet - Part VI

There are many misconceptions about the one sheet that should always be included in a promotional kit.
I've heard it described as a brag sheet, which is incorrect.

The main purpose for the one sheet is, and always has been, intended for retail and radio outlets artists are targeting for sales and airplay. To that end information relevant to retailers and radio programmers is essential.

The best example I've seen recently of an indie produced one sheet can be found here http://brittnipaiva.com/

Follow this example to a "T"  with compelling colors, graphics, photos, etc. that truly highlight music you are promoting. Be certain the information is accurate, complete, easy to read, and understand.

Friday, March 19, 2010


There is much buzz in the air over press releases today. Do they work? If so, how do they work? Should you write one? And who should you send it to? There are lists of buzz words to keep out of press releases according to many. For example, even  in this tech-driven world, the word widget is thought to be a deal breaker.  There are even press release graders available to test your press release writing ability.


Honestly, unless you know how to write a press release, I advise against including one in a press kit. Find someone who does know how to write this specific type of document if you think you really need one. If you don't know the format and rules of the road for this PR tool it will work against you more than help in any way.

And god forbid you send a press release to a blogger! More on that subject later.

As the adage goes, when in doubt don't. Now is a very good time to follow that advice.

For Immediate Release

Media Contact: Janet Hansen
Email: Scout66com@aol.com

Ringing in 2010: Two music platforms put fans and audiences at the helm of live music

SEATTLE - Everyone agrees the most valuable commodity for touring artists’ success is a loyal fan base. There is consensus on both sides of the aisle about fan loyalty when literally every other topic is up for debate. The profile of the fan - young or old, audiophile elite - or MP3 junkie, matters less than full-frontal engagement and live performance.

Two adventurous companies have launched Internet music platforms that engage fans at the tip of the decision-making pyramid, inverting the antiquated top-to-bottom marketing model into a rigorous grassroots movement handing the reins over to ticket-buying public.

http://livemusicmachine.com/ and http://Scout66.com are online communities set up to engage music fans in some of the most critical decisions made in touring artists’ careers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. The Promotional Kit Logo Part IV

Having a logo to identify your business is amazingly important these days. Amazingly important.It is an instant icon reminding people who you are and what you represent.

If you own your own record label, spend the time to get a logo designed by a graphic designer who will put some serious thought behind the concept of what you intend to do for the long term.

I LOVE my graphic designers, Leisa and D'Lanie at Jailhousegraphics.com. Not only do they do fabulous work, but they made me sit down and go through a series of questions about who I am, what I wanted to accomplish, what the overall strategy was for the design concept, even what kind of colors I prefer over other palettes. Very smart move on their part. What happened overall was what I thought I wanted didn't work at all; and they saved all of us a bunch of headaches going through
too much time and wasted effort.

All too often, I see companies and business people changing their images when they've already trained me to look for a certain visual image. It's happening way too often these days. Changing up your branded identity
over and over again ensures people will overlook potentially important information.

One of the most brilliant things I've seen done in music was created by Will Ackerman, the founder of
Windham Hill Records. When his independent label took off, he personally oversaw the design of each
CD cover. There was a recurring them in each image that branded his label over and above the genre, which made the label instantly recognizable. Another boutique independent label that follows the same ideology is Palm Records. Each and every album they put out has the same quality feeling in the cover art regardless of the artist on the recording.  Their products are instantly recognizable and I know for certain I am getting the best quality product in the style of music they produce.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. The Press Kit Photo - Part III

An associate who is a top-notch journalist told me not long ago, "I still love to get bright sparkly 8 x 10 photos in press kits. It gives me an idea of who the person is you're asking me to write about." Photos really are worth a 1000 words and saves the journalist much time in describing who they are writing about. Each of us make instant decisions based on thousands of images we see every day. The average person is exposed to 10,000 images daily.

For your press photos you need to take some time and make your image stand out rather than blend in with the other 9,999 instantly forgettable impressions. One way to accomplish this is to look at fashion magazines. Use the experience of set designers, photographers, make-up experts, hair stylists, and other industry experts who craft memorable images every day.

It's true the advertising industry has sold us on the idea "sex sells." This is particularly true for women. But I'd argue that allure sells more than sex. If sex is what you're promoting then by all means have at it. But I'd take a more demure approach and fashion your look within the premise of your product.

Locate and interview at least three professional photographers before a knee-jerk reaction overshadows your better judgment in hiring your boss's daughter to take your photos.

Make sure the photographer can offer you high resolution hard copies as well as formatted jpgs in color and B&W. Schedule time to take at least 100 photos indoors and out; that include full body shots as well as the ubiquitous headshot.

You shouldn't buy a new wardrobe for a photoshoot. A good photographer will always have  props and wardrobe alternatives on hand during a shoot. The object is not necessarily the outfit, but make sure you dress your part. Don't underdress or overdress for photos. Choose interesting colors for your skin tone. Choose interesting types of clothing that enhance your body type. For headshots wear interesting jackets, sweaters, or other garments that enhance your personality creating an image you are proud of.

If makeup happens to be part of your image don't overdo it! If hooker, or skank is part of your act that's okay if you want to get booked into strip joints. Yes, I know Lady Gaga does it...but she is Lady Gaga and it's likely part of her contract.

To become comfortable in front of the camera do informal practice sessions at home. Unless you are naturally photogenic it takes a bit of practice being in front of a lens. If you come up with some interesting ideas make sure to show them to your photographer.

Location, location, location is truly important. If you're a concert hall artist, a construction site for your press photos is a really bad decision. While lots of  people use that option, what highbrow music organization will reproduce a construction site photo in their series marketing materials? I truly understand the concept of artistic juxtaposition, but give considerable thought to the end user in all details of your photo shoots.

My parting shot: Always make sure the photogragher is credited on the 8 x 10 glossies. If you send formatted jpgs to the press always include that credit as well as the names of everyone in the photo from left to right.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. The Promotional Kit Biography -Part II

Writing a biography no matter how brief or long can be a very daunting task...especially if you're writing about yourself. It is the autobiography someone writes about their own life. Generally speaking, most people are either too modest or too egocentric to write about themselves. So my advice is to find someone you are comfortable talking with who has some writing ability, then offer them a reasonable fee to write about your career. It takes a great deal of talking, interviewing, and fact finding to write a credible bio piece that appeals to the intended reader.

And who is the intended reader? How much do they really need to know about you?

To that end ask your writer to write three versions of your bio. The first is a brief synopsis of your career that is no more than 250-300 words. A mid-size bio amounts to around 750-1000 words and gets to the essence of who you are and what you do. The full length bio spells out who you are, what you do, and how you got there. Depending on the length of your career, the full length bio can be up to 4000 words in length.

The bio answers all the pertinent questions an interested party would want to know about your career. That includes all the five W's: who, what, when, where and why. It also includes how. If you are really successful at what you do, the most important element in your bio is the how.

Too often people include every move they've ever made in the body of their biographies. The truth is no one really cares if you worked with your cousin's brother-in-law on a song that was in rotation on one radio station for six days. The focus of the bio is on you and the most significant accomplishments in your career.

Optimally the bio should read like an interesting short story beginning with a brief intro and description of what you do. The chronology should begin with the strongest element in your career and move either forward or backward. This grabs the reader's interest and encourages further reading.

Create visual images for the reader.What does a typical performance look, feel, and sound like? What does the audience amount to? Is it a full house of twenty-somethings moshing; or is it a well-heeled audience in a half-filled recital hall on a university campus?

Do not list every single performance you've ever been hired for. Nobody cares. List the top five venues of interest...but only if they are commonly recognized. If the venues won't catch the reader's attention then list the cities you've performed in.

If you have strong quotes from notable sources weave them throughout the bio to keep the reader interested.
Quotes are like fairy dust. Sprinkle them sparingly in the most beneficial parts of the bio and always credit the media outlet.

Even though the biography is about the performer, it only serves as a vehicle to reach out to an audience of consumers. Typically the bio has to pass through the capable hands of a journalist who will write about the performer, enticing the consumer to buy tickets to a performance or purchase a new release. The other type of consumer is the the person who reads your bio and books you into any number of concert performances paying you a fee to perform.

Here's an example of a long bio written about the man who created the most successful independent label of the 20th century: http://tiny.cc/XlosV

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for the Promotional Kit

An adage I live by and tell my clients often is you simply must invest time and money in your promotional materials if you expect anyone to invest their time and money in your career. Sadly, this very simple rule is often swept under the carpet.

Your goal is to show "your house is in order."

When designing the launch of national products, teams of experienced marketing people sit around conference tables for hours deciding which words and images fit their intended target audience to perfection. Creating an image and a perception of value is the primary goal behind the promotional kit. The press kit or promotional kit should look a little bit like a newstand magazine with predetermined goals behind it.

1. The intended reader should be compelled to pick it up and spend some time going through the information.

2. The content should be tailored for the intended reader. One size does not fit all.

3. The content should move the reader to take action.

I've recently seen music industrialists slap together a list of what goes into a promotional kit. And I don't use the word slap lightly.
Quote Sheets
Press Release
Business Cards
Cover Letter
One Sheet
The most omitted item: The CD/DVD/EP

If it is slapped together like a poorly made sandwich, I guarentee everything you've spent time and money on will end up in a round file sooner than later. To help you with the design of your promo kits, I'll  put out a series of short blog posts detailing the best way to craft each element in your promotional kit.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Citizen Journalism

Citizen Kane is widely considered the most successful film of all time. It has to do with a media dynasty and various levels of love, infidelity, greed, wealth, and death. Released in 1941, this movie did not reach the height of its popularity until 1956 and remains a cinamatic icon. Utimately, the premise of the film is to resolve the meaning behind the utterance of one word traced to a cherished memory.

Music emits, evokes, and elicits cherished memories more than any other creative medium. Music can transport the listener to a time and place more quickly than any other art form. 

This is the primary reason for the creation of http://scout66.com/, a unique music platform that allows the ticket buying public to talk about live concerts they pay to see. Over and above paid journalists who write for newspapers or music mags, fans really hold the most discerning opinions musicians should solicit and take under advisement. What do concert attendees really think of performances they spend time and money to see?

Over the last two years we've witnessed the demise of journalism which has descended into opinion-based reporting. Citizen journalism has  reached mass appeal, because everyone, at their core, is an armchair critic. A Google search turned up nearly one million entries on citizen journalism. Comment sections to credited journalism outlets, letters to the editor, blogs, and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook encourage people around the world to voice their opinions regardless of tenability.

Musicians who want to rise above the entry level to the performing arts need to solicit opinions about what their audience sees, feels, and hears at every performance because music - for better or for worse - is that powerful. It is the consumer or the music connoisseur  who has the power to enhance any musician's career over and above any media outlet. My dear friend, Charlie Stout, a music photographer and videographer[http://www.charliestout.com/] once commented "...music fans don't know what they like, they like what they know. On the other hand, the experienced listener has much to say about what they like and why."

Industry trade magazines were created to recommend artists to industry insiders whether it was a record label (dead and gone); a bank of influential radio stations (jurassic at best); or televised talk shows the performer might appear on (now on life support).

It is, and always has been, the collective audience that makes a musician successful. Magazines, newspapers, radio, and television have never paid for the music they feature. The fans pay for the music, the concert tickets, and any supporting memorabilia. The reaction of the fan to the concert experience is all that really matters.

Musicians, I encourage you to  put up a page at http://scout66.com/ with as much supporting information about your music and where fans might find you either online or in person.

Fans, the most gratifying and lasting tribute you can make to a favorite performer is to write a review, or a series of reviews. You have the freedom to communicate directly with any musician you choose to reach. Take the opportunity as a way to support a musician's career with a few kind words and as my old boss, Mason Williams (Classical Gas) would say, "the cream will rise to the top."