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PR Practitioners Rocking Out—How the Evolving Music Industry Works

Posted At: October 27, 2008 12:17 PM
by Stephanie Summer

Remember the old days when people listened to music from huge records or radios? Nowadays music comes from tiny hand-held mp3 players or CD’s and the music industry is changing with the technology. Public relations as well has grown and become more accessible for independent musicians to use as their own.

So, are PR practitioners really rocking out? No- unfortunately bands are the ones rocking out, but they are learning from PR professionals’ new inventive ways through the use of online media, relationships with fans, past relations with major labels and new relations with independent labels. Public relations will always be needed in the music industry because as bands are able to do their own PR in the beginning, the long road to success is a curvy one and outside help is impossible to live without.

With the advancement of online media, musicians are able to do their own PR from home. The Internet has provided artists with a free gateway of public relations. MySpace, Facebook, iTunes, blogs and webzines have provided ways for music and information about artists to be heard by millions without having to leave your room. Through these outlets, musicians are able to communicate with fans and important players in the music industry at the touch of a finger.

How it works in online media

Musicians can put iTunes on their Web sites, which connects to the iTunes Store for fans to purchase their songs. MySpace is a profile page where artists can upload pictures and videos, post blogs or bulletins about what they are up to, provide a calendar of shows and communicate with fans through the use of private messaging or wall posts (where bands usually leave ads). Facebook works in a similar way, except MySpace is better known for music pages because it has been in existence longer and the look of the site can be specially created. Some artists have been discovered from their MySpace page according to the number of hits their page and songs receive.

Other online resources offer information on where and how to provide promotional material like press kits. Web sites such as Artist PR can help connect musicians to labels, vendors, festivals, radio stations, magazines and film opportunities and can increase fan base. Media Web Source offers music industry resources, articles, band promotion and music jobs and statistics. Webzines are also a new online media craze. Many music industry magazines have either migrated to online magazines, such as Band-It Magazine, or do both print and online. It is always a good idea to try and get a magazine interested in reviewing an album. It is a good resource for a press kit and it gives the musicians even more promotion.

How it works in public relations

Aside from online media, musicians use other means of public relations. Bands are recording their own albums with the advance in technology and distributing it themselves at shows or finding contacts with local distributors, such as Oz Music in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Bands are nothing without their fans, which is why most successful unsigned artists are doing well—they get their fans involved and build a relationship with them. For example, some bands use their fans to do the legwork for them. Halpscript, a hard rock band from Atlanta, Ga., created a street team called Order of the Halo.

Saint, guitarist for Haloscript, said, “It is our version of a way to interact with fans. It lets them be a part of what we’re doing and not feel alienated.”

The fans can promote the band by doing the things that the band does not have time to do, such as hanging up fliers, finding places to perform, running and updating a Web site or simply just spreading the word about the band. In return, the fans get to help out a band that they love and support, while the band members get to know their fans better personally.

Aside from fans, it is all about knowing the “right people” if a band wants to make it in the music industry; therefore, building relationships with radio stations, venues and journalists are another way for bands to do their own PR. Contacting the local radio stations to get your songs played on air is a great medium. Then, developing a relationship can get you a spot for an interview on the radio. The same can be done with venue owners and journalists. Get to know them and keep the ways of communication flowing. Over time, musicians can develop regular bookings at venues and receive write-ups in local newspapers or magazines.

How it works in major labels

Every musician’s dream is to be signed to a major record label—until about five years ago, this was the dream. Now, with the help of the Internet and reality T.V., everyone is a star and there is an insane amount of competition. Learning from the success and failures of big stars such as Toni Braxton and her falling out with LaFace/Arista Records, some bands now do not want a major label. According toBillboard, referring to Braxton’s 1997 lawsuit against her record label claiming that they cheated her out of money, in 1998 the pop star filed for bankruptcy and asked the court to label her contract ‘unenforceable’ due to the “seven-year law.” The two clients settled their differences and Braxton resigned to a new contract under Chapter 7 protection from The Federal Bankruptcy Code.

This is where the expression “signing your life away” comes into play. The musician themselves do not see much of the money that they are working for. They receive royalties from the label and the label owns the copyright laws to the music, unless a distribution deal is made. Huge percentages go to managers, technical support and publicity. Other percentages from concert and album sales goes back into the label itself as a pay off for all of the expensive spending done along the way to fame.

Although, now major labels are contracting “360 deals.” According to an article, “Rock’s New Economy,” in Rolling Stone, bands such as Paramore are signing these deals to ensure more than just recording rights. Fred Goodman, writer for Rolling Stone, said, “they seek to cover every facet of an artist’s career, including publishing, touring, merchandising and licensing, the new deals are a way for record companies to hedge their bets in a declining record market…”

With great fame comes great consequence and that is why it is important to have public relations professionals by your side when you are a musician in the spotlight. If a band does decide to sign with a big label, it is impossible for them to do their own PR anymore. Not only making an album, but touring in a different city every week, making public appearances, and doing photo shoots and interviews are too much for a band to handle planning. And I doubt a fan will work that hard for free or have the experience it takes to accomplish all of that. It is all up to the band if they want to sign with a major label and there could be good or bad things that come out of it. But starting locally or going with an independent label and building a fan base on your own is a good place to begin—and that is what most bands are doing today and most record labels are looking for.

As for the “Go it alone” technique, it is being used by bands signed to major labels such as the White Stripes, as well as bands signed with independent labels. The White Stripes “negotiate distribution and marketing deals with labels on an album-by-album basis,” Rolling Stone writer Goodman said. This method is working for bands in today’s era, but it all started with independent labels back in the 1960s.

How it works indie

That brings me to “indie rock.” You may be saying, what is that term? You probably have heard it used in different contexts. Distinguishing the contexts, indie rock is coined from independent labels. Indie rock is a derivative of alternative rock music and can be associated with independent labels, but not in all cases.

In a Popular Music article by David Hesmondhalgh, about “Post-punk’s attempt to democratize the music industry,” he states that the British companies began the independent label movement in the 1960s with punk artists. Entrepreneurs Chris Wright and Terry Ellis with Chrysalis, Tony Stratton-Smith with Charisma and Chris Blackwell with Island Records helped establish independent labels because of their close relationship with cultural values to their signed rock musicians.

‘“These Do-It-Yourself labels were the institutional embodiment of punk’s famous commitment to access, propagated in fanzines and the music press and on record sleeves.”’

Independent labels have been in the works for over 40 years now and musicians themselves are moving the music industry to what it is evolving into today. The 1960s were just a jumping off point for record companies and the issue of control was deviated.
A founder of Rough Trade Records, Geoff Travis, said “…the thing to do is to get your own distribution network, then you’ve got control and give people alternate means of information. That’s critically important” (Hesmondhalgh).

Some bands recently began creating their own labels, if not signing with existing independent labels. Sevendust is a good example of a band that left their major label and started their own. The band created 7 Bros. Records after being contracted withTVT Records and Winedark Records. Having their own record label gives the band more control over money issues and PR decisions. Sevendust has not signed any other band to their label, so it is possible that it is a purely independent label only for that band; however, they are not “indie-rock.”

Signing with an independent label is the modern form of the music industry, which is a far cry from what the industry was 10 years ago when Braxton topped the charts. Independent labels give bands more freedom in recording and writing their own music and if a band independently releases their CD, they receive all the profits unlike the deal with major labels. Major record labels are looking for how well a band does on their own, before signing them as well. They want to see a big fan base so that they have a better idea of how successful the music can be. Sometimes it is a good idea to start out with an independent label and then move up to a bigger one or stay with the same one. It is all up to the band depending on how content and successful they are doing with an independent label.

The music industry has clearly changed from times when musicians had to go straight to a major record label to be able to get their music heard by millions. Now, bands use the Internet to create contacts in the music industry, to have their music heard by millions and to build relationships with fans. Many musicians are making it on their own without a major label, it just depends on the amount of success they want. A lot of bands make music their career because they love it and they couldn’t see themselves doing anything else, so being famous is not of interest to them. The key is to keep using PR strategies: developing contacts, distributing albums, touring on their own (perhaps with an independent label) and using online media to build a fan base. Then the band should be on its way to success—according to their expectations of success.



Morris, Chris. 1998. “Braxton asks court to label her contract `unenforceable.’.” Billboard 110, no. 14: 6. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 14, 2008).

Morris, Chris, and Don Jeffrey. 1999. “LaFace Re-Signs Braxton.” Billboard 111, no. 4: 6. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 14, 2008).

Hesmondhalgh, David. “Post-punk’s attempt to democratise the music industry: the success and the failure of Rough Trade.” Popular Music 16.n3 (Oct 1997):255(20). Academic OneFile. Gale. University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa. 20 Oct. 2008

Goodman, Fred. “Rock’s New Economy: Making Money When CDs Don’t Sell,”Rolling Stone 29 May 2008.

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