Misadventures in Independent Music: excerpt #2

The time I hired a publicist to do something I could have done myself


I'm going to start getting into some more recent mistakes here, also to add a little context to the reason(s) why I basically... ended up hiding out for a year ignoring almost everyone and everything.

I am not, at all, a Sonicbids fan. I despise the company and most of what they stand for. The only saving grace of one of my many Sonicbids experiences was a woman named Tess who went above and beyond making a situation right. Tess and I still follow each other on Twitter and make no mistake, she's a cool person. So I'm not talking about the experience I had with her, at all.

I used to view Sonicbids as a necessary evil, something I would definitely need to have active for the times when I wanted to submit to festivals or other things. I used to have a premium Sonicbids account, and then I quickly downgraded after seeing how absolutely fucking worthless it was. I applied to a lot of the 'free' listings; they're still not free because you have to pay for a monthly membership in order to submit but that's neither here nor there.

I also want to say that the PR people I dealt with were absolutely lovely people, and at the end of the day, this is like a drop in the bucket of my (financial) mistakes. If I had to do this all over, I'd definitely fork over the cash again to these people. They were sweet and kind, and they made no errors in their side of things. My mistake was... well, they are all listed below. 

I was fooling around on the internet one day (story of much of my life) and I submitted for a PR slot on somebody's roster. Like with all Sonicbids submissions, I was certain that I would never get selected and I was also certain that I'd never even hear back from them. Surprisingly, they wrote me back and informed me that I had been “selected” to be on their “roster.”

After the (personally) devastating loss of my 'booking agent', this felt like a real win. I was in France at the time, so we began communicating through email. A lot of questions, a lot of information, and then the prices started rolling out. Because I am still somewhat naïve, I felt a tiny little sting seeing the numbers in the email and realizing that it wasn't as if I had won something (cool), like a magazine subscription or a $25 Nordstrom gift card, but rather that I had been selected to be asked for money.

The money involved ranged from the reasonable (the option I chose) and the unreasonable (for me at the time.) I agreed to do it and sent them the money – not because I totally knew what they were doing or even because I trusted them – but because the interactions with them made me feel important. It stroked my ego so gently and nicely to answer fancy questions for a (gasp!) PR firm! I had a PR person working for me now! Surely it meant that I made it to a new level in my career. Certainly this meant that something big was about to happen. Surely!

I had a wonderful person in San Diego working to put the records in the envelopes and mail the kits out to the press. I got updates regularly, maybe not as often as my control-freak self would like, but enough to satiate me. I waited for the reviews to trickle in.

My publicist emailed me excitedly to tell me that the first review was in, and that it was lovely, and here's the link, go check it out right now! I clicked over to the link to see a sloppy, one-sentence review of my music (complete with spelling and grammatical errors) hosted on a basic Word Press page with a default theme. Apparently, after seven years of making my own music and pushing it with my bare hands out into the world, I was now, finally, a “promising artist.”

I sighed heavily and wondered what else I could have done with that money.

Now, before I talk about the lessons, I will say that this entire exercise wasn't a waste. I did indeed get one highly coveted positive review from a major California music publication that, at the end of the day, made it all worth it. But I wouldn't do this again, and here's why:

This is something my mentor, Cari Cole, and other people in this industry say all the time: No one is ever going to care about your music as much as you do. No one. No one will ever take your art as seriously as you do. Here's what I add: forget this, and you are doomed.

I was out of alignment with my philosophy on life: I paid money for someone else to do something for me that I could have done myself. If I had been a little less lazy, a little more motivated, and a little less susceptible to the whispers of my ego, I would have done what I did for all my other releases: rolled up my sleeves and done the damn thing myself. I got many, many positive reviews for my second solo full-length album “The Flower Box” and a lot of what I did was mail out CD-Rs with literally next to no information on them. I got positive reviews for all my other material while barely trying, reaching out through emails only for many of my latest releases. Who's to say I wouldn't have gotten the same results if I had tried just a bit harder for my 7” release?

I was tired, I was burnt out, I was feeling sensitive and mostly: I was desperate for external validation. The PR firm sure gave me that, as long as I paid the price for it. I also could have gone shopping... or had a massage... or a nice photo shoot for a fraction of the money and felt about the same.

Don't pay for things unless you absolutely have to. If you want to buy something to make yourself feel important or loved, I recommend hopping over to Nordstrom and getting some fancy underwear or some makeup. You literally can't go wrong. Save your money. Blow a few twenties on a cheapo binge purchase instead of making a larger investment that is basically going to have the same effect on your self-esteem.

I have heard many people say about PR firms that you should only hire one if things are just absolutely out of control and you just cannot keep your head above water. This was a harsh thing for me to hear after this misadventure, but I feel like that's good advice. I will not be hiring a PR firm again until it gets to that point, where things are just so crazy that I can't do it all myself.

I feel like this lesson also taught me a lot about “Magic Bullet Syndrome,” or MBS, as I'll affectionately call it from here on out. There's no magic bullet. There's no quick answer. There's no cure-all in this industry. That's just not how it works. And don't cry that the only reason a magic bullet hasn't worked for you is because you don't have the money. I know a musician who just spent well over $60k on his latest record and some of the promotional stuff that goes along with it. He's got about the same stuff to show for it as I do, the only difference being that he has a radio campaign going on right now, and he has a few quasi-famous people who played on his recording. Big whoop. I'd rather have a Birkin.

Moral(s) of the story:

-When you pay for PR, remember that you pay for effort, not results

-Handle your own shit until you can't handle it anymore

-If you wanna blow money on something, go shopping