by Mike King, author and instructor for Berkleemusic.com
The music industry tends to be a jaded group to start with, and nothing raises the ire of these folks more than a poorly planned and executed promo kit. A poor promo kit is sure to keep your demo or finished CD unopened and not listened to, and the rest of your kit is sure to be sent to the circular bin “with a bullet,” as they say. The good news is, the elements that make up an effective press kit are straightforward, and the essentials will not change much from band to band.
You should create a press kit with several folks in mind—club bookers, radio DJs, and the media—and while the details may change very slightly, there is one thing that you have to keep in mind:
When putting together your promo kit, the first rule of thumb is to put yourself in the shoes of the people that receive these things on a daily basis. The music writers at major US and Canadian local papers, like The Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune, receive dozens of promo kits per day, and the same thing goes for the popular clubs in your area.
These people have seen it all, and while you may have the urge to create a leather-bound CD wallet, monogrammed with your band’s name, that really stands out from the crowd, I urge you to reconsider and instead let your music, bio, and press clippings do the talking for you.
Common Promo Kit Problems
I worked at an independent record label for a while, and saw more than my share of press kits. And I’m telling you straight up that spending a day in the water of the river Styx in Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell may be only slightly less preferable than going through amateurish, unsolicited promo kits. Bad promo kits may make you mad, but really bad promo kits make you sad, too. Before we get to the ingredients of a killer promo kit, I want there to be no confusion on what makes up a bad one. For everyone’s sake, please avoid the following:
Too much information—Unless you are in the superstar category, there is no reason to have a dozen pages describing the conditions under which you recorded the record, your political leanings, what the songs are about, etc. The biographical information in your press kit should be informational and concise.
Poor grammar—Misspelling the recipient’s name on your package or cover letter is a big problem. And while it may be cool to avoid punctuation and capitalization in your e-mails and My Space page, it is definitely not cool when you are writing to someone asking them to play your record or book you a gig. You may be an artist, but this is one place where you are going to have to exhibit some professionalism.
An overreaching package—Again, unless you are on a major label or have the dough to send program directors promo items (even then, it doesn’t really matter unless the promo items you’re sending are American Express checks), there is no need to create some grand package to really “wow” the recipient. The truth is, if the music isn’t any good, it really doesn’t matter that you enclosed cookies with your package (true story).
Not enough information—You covered all your bases, your demo is hot, you addressed it to the right person, you’ve got some momentum, and the writer/booker is interested in finding out more. But wait, who are you? Always be sure to put your contact info all over the package. Writers and bookers may not be the most organized bunch and things can easily get separated. Clearly mark your name on the CD, on the cover letter, on your bio—and if you can, make up some cards and drop a few in the package.
Poor research/no prior contact—It’s fundamental that you send your kit to the right person. Never address your promo kit: “To whom it may concern,” or “ A&R.” This is a sure-fire way to get your kit into the trash since many folks don’t take unsolicited kits. Find out who the right person is through a phone call. Also, be aware of what kind of music the organization you’re sending your kit to is into. If you are sending your package to a hard rock label, it’s pretty unlikely they would put out a collection of classical accordion covers. (Unless they rocked, of course!)
Bad tone—Another big turn off is a demanding promo kit. Remember, the goal of the kit is to present your band and your music in the best possible light, and the language you use is important. Be nice. I recall, in particular, one promo kit that came in from what looked like twin sisters who sang folk music. Not only was the cover letter off-putting in tone, but they demanded we send the kit back after we reviewed it! Bad form.
What Makes a Good Promo Kit?
Like many things in life, simple really is better. An effective press kit contains five or six key things: cover letter, bio, your demo or finished product, photo, press clippings, and sometimes a tour schedule.
1) Cover letter—Your cover letter should be addressed to the proper recipient, and attached to the outside of your kit with a paper clip. Tone, content, spelling, and grammar should all be checked. You want this letter to be warm and relatively formal, quick, and to the point. Explain what you are looking for from the recipient as concisely as possible.
2) Biography—In my opinion, the bio is not a place to get cute or overly creative. Present the facts: the history of the band, interesting individual background and/ or accomplishments of the members, the band’s highlights so far, and perhaps some key press quotes.
3) Your demo or finished product—This is the most important part of your kit. No matter how good the rest of your kit reads and looks, if the music is not good or presented incorrectly, you’re sunk. If you’ve got a finished CD together, include a copy in your package. If not, you should prepare a three- or foursong demo.
Song order is very important. You should absolutely lead off with the song that you feel kicks the most ass. And that song needs to kick ass immediately. No one has time to listen to a two-minute intro before the song gets moving. For example, if you are a rock band, you want “Black Dog” as an opener, not “Stairway to Heaven.” And as I mentioned above, it is incredibly important to have your contact info all over your kit, especially the CD.
4) Photo(s)—This is the visual representation of your band. Again, be a bit careful about how artsy it is. The photo should try to capture what one might expect from listening to the music.
5) Press clippings—If you’ve had some past success with the press, your promo kit should include a “Paste-Up” of this media coverage. Format is important here. Any editorial your band gets should be cut out from whatever else surrounds it in the paper. Cut out the masthead of the publication, affix it on a piece of paper with the article below, and be sure to format it all so it looks nice on an 8.5 x 11-inch piece of paper.
6) Tour schedule is optional—If you have an amazing tour schedule, it may make sense to include an itinerary of upcoming shows as well. If the recipient of your kit is not all that familiar with your band and they see you’re playing places like the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., or Yoshi’s in San Francisco, they’ll know you are the real deal.
Package all these items up in a straightforward folder and you’re all set. Again, no need for oversized glossy kits. Keep it simple, baby. It’s easier for you, and I guarantee that, even if they don’t say it, the folks that receive your kit will thank you as well.
Mike King is the associate director of marketing at Berkleemusic. Prior to working at Berklee, he was the marketing/product manager at Rykodisc, where he oversaw all marketing efforts for label artists including Mickey Hart, Jeb Loy Nichols, Morphine, Jess Klein, Voices On The Verge, Bill Hicks, The Slip, Pork Tornado (Phish), Kelly Joe Phelps, and Frank Zappa’s estate. King is also the course author/ instructor of several online marketing courses at www.berkleemusic.com, as well as the author of the book Music Marketing: Press, Promotion, Distribution, and Retail (Berklee Press, 2009).