The Eternal Struggle*
Press Kits: A Meal Plan. Where did this one come from? Well, at some stage in the cacophonic din of this new begrudging normal, where to say time is meaningless has become as commonplace as a civil greeting, I was asked to knock up some advice on press kits by and for a friend in the DIY Punk scene. Truthfully, until this very morning in which I am writing this, I had forgotten all about it. A short while ago – although who really knows these days – I wrote what is best described as a tome. One begging the question of “why?” when it comes to online zines, webzines and blogs throwing their literary oars into the earnest proliferation of the DIY music scene, it had a focus on Punk, but its mantras and reasoning were easily carried over to other grassroots, DIY affairs. Since then, I have been meaning to write more alternative content to reviews and such and so, here we are.
You can find An Argument For Online Zines – Here. For now, however, after drifting into consciousness earlier thinking about press kits and the aforementioned guide from whenever-it-was, for whatever reason, in its break from the battleground of words it is wrangled within possible perpetuity, my brain has yielded said guide all typed up proper. Nice.
Just as a disclaimer, this is essentially a collection of observations and points of advice that I have collated in the many years I’ve been doing this. It comes from no assumed place of lordship and any interest in my own zine is always appreciated. As is, I can confidently say, the same with others in this game.
Titles and Clear Subject Headings
- This may sound silly but doing this creates a good impression even before the writer or whoever opens it has started reading and it just makes the whole experience easier. Length is important. Context.
- Make sure it’s simple. Too often are email subjects garbled messes of capital letters that make craniums ache and instantly leave people irritable ahead of even opening the email and that is not a good time for anyone. Going too hard too early or giving too much to soon can be off-putting. Context, but again.
- That said, a few words in all caps designed to capture attention is fine provided it’s relevant and still of reasonable length – ‘THE TOASTERS RELEASE GRINDCORE ALBUM’ or ‘PROPAGANDHI EMBRACE SKA’ – would be good, albeit timeline distorting examples if you’re inclined to market your work with something abstract or silly. You get the idea. Whatever your chosen point of attack is, make sure it’s concise regardless of method. Your main body is where the dissemination happens.
Opening Lines, Greetings, Requests
- You’re probably thinking of the ultra-sleek mailing list press releases. These are those that are sent out en masse and are designed more professionally. Now, what you may not realise, is that they can be as garbled and nonsensical as the manually typed email kits. If the kit is in email format, then a greeting to the publication ‘Hello Matt’, ‘Greetings Ear Nutrition’ or something to that effect is nice and simple. This is exactly the same if it’s within a template, keep it friendly and simple. You’re still speaking to a human. (To your knowledge)
- Never get right into it without some level of greeting or humanisation. It takes two seconds to type a greeting. “Please review my album” etc … is not the first thing that should be read.
- Contrary to the above, if you are emailing the whole package and all your details are within an enclosed document or PDF, then the above isn’t really needed beyond normal email etiquette.
- Be obvious in what you are asking for in your emails! Mass-produced press kits can forgo this because they would have already likely had this in their title, ‘Review Request’ etc … but if you’re typing away make it clear. Simply getting a ‘here it is, hope you like it’, with no context, even if it’s friendly, is a redundant and monumentally irritating way to do it. Humanisation remember! We know you mean well, but this isn’t an idle chat, you’re trying to get yourself featured within a likely already huge workload.
- Take some time to research the person or zine before you email too, it’s nice to know people have bothered to acknowledge you. We aren’t machines who sit at computers all day and more often than not, arduous daily routines sadly come first and are ahead of such hobbies or side gigs.
The Main Body
- Make sure your text is spaced out, concise, easy to read and straight to the point. Cover all the information that is relevant to the release to eliminate the need for more than a few questions. There will always be some so don’t worry but the aim is to limit them. The efficacy of a fantastic main body is going to be severely negated if its format is a chore for the eyes. Equally, a beautiful format is only half a job if the contents are muddled, limited or irrelevant.
- If you have to go into a swathe of detail, consider how you’re going to do it? – ‘Here is what Shouty McPunk Face had to say about it’ – clearly spaced and perhaps indented or displayed in an alternate font is a CLEAR segue and can be read and re-read at any time. Writers will view this several times over the course of whatever work they have been enlisted for or undertaken in this labour of love. Don’t forget that.
- All conceivable links to pre-orders, pre-saves, social media, record labels and where we can find your music to date need to be included and clear. You can NEVER go OTT here. Writers would rather have it and not need it as opposed to having to ask repeated questions. Just make sure it’s neat. Don’t forget dates for everything that has or needs one!
- Details you feel you need to add for context or because you deem them important are a nice touch. Consider the following: Mixing and mastering, song details, personnel, influences, the recording process etc… Every release is unique.
- If you have any quotes from other publications or from the band, add them! It’s another little touch that wouldn’t go a miss. What do you think people need to know about your band or release? What did you go through to get this release out? Do you have any funny stories? See the last paragraph in this example from an Ear Nutrition piece on Incisions – Here. And just because the band are a must-listen in the UK Punk and Hardcore scene, find them – Here.
- What do you class your band as? Go into as much or as little detail as you can but knowing an approximate genre base is paramount for the writer.
- All of the above can be interchanged and alternated to varying lengths. As long as writers have what they need then great! Not all of this is relevant to writers but again, what does your release warrant outside of the basics?
- Lyrics are also a nice touch, they aren’t always necessary but it’s always been either appreciated or massively helpful to me personally.
- Band bios never go a miss, no matter how simple or complex. They can even be a little abstract, get creative if you feel the need!
- Extravagance! Most writers don’t care how artistic or complex a press kit is, as long as it’s easy to read, it is a tool to be used after all. This goes for the email templates as much as the PDFs tucked away amongst the tunes. If you want to jazz it up a bit, great! If not, great! Just make sure it’s all easy to navigate and read regardless of whether you do and I CANNOT stress that enough.
- Also, decide how you are going to do it way ahead of time to save yourself some of this precious commodity! The clue is in the title, press kits are a meal plan.
Formality, Target Audience, Tone
- There isn’t any “set” etiquette really, just be friendly and informative! The matter of clarity presents itself again here but if a more casual message is your way of communicating, that’s fine, or if “email etiquette” is your forte, go for it! Just make sure it’s easy to understand either way.
- Cliché language is just one of the things that will appear on both sides and I really wouldn’t stress about it too much as it’s often down to the beholder or artificer.
- If you’re a Hardcore Punk band, why are you emailing about playlist placement or reviews to a zine that explicitly features Dream-Pop? Why are you submitting Simpsonwave* a guitar or Metal-based blog? You get the idea. Do your research! If you’re submitting something that isn’t remotely relevant to a playlist or blog, you’re wasting your own time as much as whoever is on the other end. If you ask anyone in the DIY press game, they will tell of this occurrence ten-fold.
- Try not to make it sound like you’re ordering something either. ‘We are submitting this for your consideration for review’ or ‘We were wondering if you would feature our track or album‘ are perfect! ‘We want this, we want that’ or ‘here is our music, review it’ etc … is not the way to go and believe me, it does happen. Remember, a lot of these people are doing this in their spare time, the same as you!
- Though mentioned above and thematically appearing throughout this piece, being “nice” or civil in this is paramount, which, brings me onto “replies”. The “spare time” aspect of writers contributing to the scene is realistically the majority of its composition. Though this is something more so synonymous with PR agencies and such, sending follow-up emails and messages can be both overwhelming, annoying and damaging to the writers on the receiving end. Obviously, regardless of origin, none of this is meant with ill-intent but consider if, when or at all when pondering on sending these. Equally, on the writer-centric side of it, there is also no negative intent for not responding or doing so late. Chances are, the electro-scribbler on the other end is simply too busy. If you are emailing about your music, regardless of whether you’ve nailed such a request, so are many others.
- * Yes, this is real. See – THIS.
Media, Files, Attachments
- Press photos are a must if you have them or at the very least, links to where the writer can find them. Album covers, inserts, promo shots and the like should all be included with the minimum being one landscape image of the band or artist and whatever release artwork is relevant. The writer should not need to ask for this as standard.
- Also, integral to the above, make sure all band shots are up to date with current members or if they aren’t, leave a nite denoting that. If you don’t have any band photos, try to provide logos etc… that can serve the same purpose. Just let the word-tapper know.
- Make sure photos are credited if they need to be. Chances are, photographers will have said you can use their shots as press but it’s always better to check. Leaving links to their respective work, sites or socials is also a great move. Not everything has a watermark.
- Photos and any artwork need to be of functional and proper size. 300×300 (or lower) is not useful.
- Again, you need to clearly mention what you have attached. I know that sounds silly but it’s the standard.
- Everything needs to be LABELLED AND NUMBERED CORRECTLY. This is especially the case with TRACKS. I know tracks have codes, shorthand and acronyms behind the scenes but by the time press is involved, this SHOULD NOT be the case. Metadata MUST be clear and correct.
- The above, but in red.
Well, that was Press Kits: A Meal Plan. I hope that in some way, this has been helpful. Despite the more emboldened remarks, “dos and don’ts” and the rest, it is very important that I give the following disclaimer. But again and slightly different.
Regardless if you get this right, do so in a way that requires some improvement or indeed get it wrong, the emails and messages though often overwhelming, are, again, truly appreciated. We are all a part of the greater music scene, let us help each other to keep this going, yeah?!
On that note, if you think I have missed anything here, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions as I plan to update this as an evergreen guide.