Has the Pandemic Changed Music Industry PR Forever?
Published on October 4, 2021, at 8:20 p.m.
by Megan Murphy.
With an inability to hold concerts, meet and greets, release parties and other major press events during the COVID-19 pandemic, public relations professionals took advantage of digital media opportunities to gather publicity for artists and maintain relationships.
Many artists now have their own social media teams, separate from the publicity teams that ordinarily pitch to traditional media outlets. According to S. McClain Portis, founder of Live2 LLC, a brand-building, collaborative independent artist community that started on social media just months before the pandemic, “social media will for sure be the biggest thing. It’s what I’m structuring my entire business around.”
Does hiring influencers make them part of the PR team?
Influencer content has the potential to start trending and attract press coverage; however, the risk that comes with this strategy is an influencer may not accurately represent the artist’s image or the message inherent in the artist’s music. Furthermore, utilizing influencers does not guarantee exposure despite the price of employing them.
Russell Kaplan, co-founder of Every Eight Hours, an LA-based artist management company, noted that “artists, managers, and labels will still pay top dollar to have creators promote their songs, but I think now that there are so many bigger creators on TikTok and it’s such a crowded space, it’s hard to guarantee any sort of results…not everything is going to connect.”
Is going viral an indicator of virtual PR success?
During the pandemic, artists took advantage of virtual interaction. The question remains whether posting in hopes of going viral for exposure will continue as live events return — especially for artists with a smaller fan base.
“TikTok is the top of the funnel, and the way TikTok and Instagram reels are structured, algorithms favor the content over the person producing them,” Portis said. In addition, he explained that the problem with content-based promotion is it strays focus from the artists and engagement with their profiles.
New issues arise with the new medium, including the struggle to build a consistent and loyal fanbase. Kaplan made the point that “if everyone went viral, then it wouldn’t mean anything anymore.” He said artists sometimes lose sight of the importance of building a legitimate fanbase after going viral. “Touring is still the best way to convert listeners into real fans.”
There is still a possibility that the use of social media to build relationships is an effective practice. Without traditional media coverage and in-person events, using social media platforms had its advantages as “it definitely allowed [artists] to [have] more focused opportunities without travel,” said Victoria Chaitoff, publicity director at Warner Music Nashville. Still, the question remains whether virtual opportunities create a more engaging fan experience than live events.
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Have pandemic-era opportunities changed the way professionals pitch?
As a result of the pandemic, publicists had a limited amount of desirable outlets to pitch artists’ profiles for coverage. As such, they heavily relied on virtual opportunities to sustain meaningful relationships with their fans. “A lot of outlets were forced to cut or furlough staff due to the pandemic, and at the same time they were receiving more pitches than ever as publicity teams across genres were doing their best to capitalize on available opportunities,” said Chaitoff. Nonetheless, limited opportunities do not necessarily mean utilizing different artist pitching approaches and strategies.
Chaitoff proposed that the effectiveness of a pitch depends more on the artist’s brand than the medium PR professionals are pitching them to. She recommended studying the PR success of Ingrid Andress and her team, led by Warner Music Nashville’s senior director of publicity, Mary Catherine Rebrovick.
Splice’s Guide to Music PR in 2021 emphasized that there are fewer journal outlets covering music — causing a surge of coverage across social media platforms. “The tools publicists use have evolved along with technology, but not necessarily their approach,” according to the guide. It noted, “Securing traditional media coverage today means knowing your audience, crafting an effective pitch with a compelling angle, making all pertinent information easily accessible, and sharing good music.” Implementing these fundamental tactics is still the most effective way to secure media coverage for an artist.
Chaitoff said her team is “using similar kinds of pitches and going after similar outlets, but the opportunities look a little bit different.” What can be expected is a hybrid experience with artists splitting screen time and stage time, similar to the current relationship most have with co-workers at the office, she explained. Digital media may have heavily pushed new means of promotion, but as Kaplan said, “there’s much more to it than social media and TikToks.”
What will become of live music in a post-pandemic world?
With an uncertainty of whether the show will go on — depending on the number of COVID cases — planning live events has been difficult. One positive outcome of the pandemic’s circumstances was the opportunity to do extensive virtual fundraising and hold benefit concerts. Artists showcasing their talents to raise money for philanthropic causes rallied the music-loving community together. Regarding livestreams and concerts, fans can expect to see just as many if not more in the future. According to Rolling Stone, “The more of these concerts and ticket sales there are, the closer we’ll be to fixing the damage caused by COVID-19.”
Currently, the touring and streaming markets are in a battle between the more costly live shows and the more economical livestream shows. While the use of social media made gathering publicity quick and effective compared to previous tactics, touring is a billion-dollar industry, and according to Kaplan, the “biggest way to build a fan base.”
With venues starting to open up, “instead of being able to plan out a tour route that makes sense, some smaller-scale artists are taking shows where they can get them,” stated Ashley Stalvey, vice president of operations for Turnipblood Entertainment. She said the typical window of a year-long planning stage for private show events has changed to “a six-month to two-week lead time to organize an event that definitely needs more time than that.”
With the rapid return to live shows, professionals are fighting to book venues and must do so safely and effectively, because “at the end of the day, artists want to know that they have connected with their fans and done something meaningful,” Stalvey asserted.
The question remains whether livestreaming will maintain its popularity post-pandemic. Portis believes livestreaming will find its place, and the live scene is going to come back heavily. Although social media has contributed to building sustainable relationships with both fans and partners in the music industry during the pandemic, traditional media outreach still plays an important role. The goal will always be to keep artists connected to their fans in the most effective way possible. As Chaitoff emphasized, “Nothing replaces an in-person experience.”