Q. Hey SoundChick! My band has just hired a booking agent and a manager. I was really stoked that they would work for us, but we're just about tapped out after the CD recording and the retainers and everything. The booking agent wants $400.00 to make a presskit, but will it really make that much difference? I am really bummed out so far because we aren't getting many gigs, and we just don't have another 400.00 to spend. Can I do this myself? What does a press kit look like?
A. Hi! Glad you made it here. Hope you stay awhile. You bring up a number of issues, but the heart of your question is Presskits. We'll hit that first.
Press kits are your booking agent's primary advertising tool. They speak for you when you cannot be there to speak for yourself!! Yes, you need a presskit and it should contain the following basic elements: (how elaborate they are depends on your skill as a graphic artist)
1. A Photo - 8x10 black and white glossies are always appropriate, but did you know that newspaper music editors will always publish a color photo first if given a choice? They want to make a splash too!
2. A Bio - Make your bio interesting. They don't care how many brothers and sisters you have or where you went to school, or that you sang in church choir for 8 years. They want to know *why* you got into the business, who your musical influences are, the number of people in your band (maybe spend a sentence or two on someone other than yourself!). Include any pro experience you have or a list of venues where you have performed. Save newspaper clippings and flyers from every gig you play - even the free ones.
3. A Set List - even if the songs are original or obscure.
4. A Recording - Live recordings are best. Studio recordings often do not accurately depict what your live show is like and lack audience response. You want the venue owner to feel as if he is mere feet from your tip jar, even if he is listening in his car! It doesn't have to be fancy at all. If you have original material in your act point that out. Not every venue wants original material, or at least show them you have the ability to play covers if you get requests. My own kit has a 6-song mix with 3 originals and 3 covers.
Hey! The SoundChick can help you with your live recording! (gratuitous plug)
5. Endorsements/Recommendations - If you can remember to, get each happy venue to write a paragraph or two, mentioning your good qualities , (e.g. on-time, entertaining, ) Include the reviewer's phone number so that they can talk to each other about you! (no doubt they will!)
6. Contact Information - You MUST write your contact information on every page of your press kit - even the disc face and the photo!! These elements get separated when the reviewers listen to them.
7. Your business card - If you print your own, make sure the fonts are not too small!
When you write your press kit elements, think about how the package will 'strike' the reviewer. If you are a punk band, then make your press kit look and feel 'punk'. Use funky type fonts, unique spellings of words (i.e. "NOIZ") and unusual papers. Just don't get too cheeky. If you are a classical pianist, stick with traditional script fonts and white paper. The venue owner wants to know *who* you are and *what* you 'feel' like. Don't mislead him/her with a poorly thought-out press kit.
Don't bother with fancy folders. Especially if the folder is the prettiest part of your kit. I know one club owner who uses the folders in lieu of purchasing his own office supplies. He laughs and laughs about some of the lame kits he gets that come in $8.00 folders.
Most importantly, create an online presskit (you DO have a website, right?). This can save you alot of money in the long run. When your physical presskit is done, save them for submittal to festivals and house concerts and clubs that you have a fair shot at.
If you have uploaded your music to file sharing services or if you have a huge e-mail list, you will eventually get solicitations from DJs overseas that want your presskit. Before you send one out, check to make sure that person actually *has* an internet radio station. Is their name mentioned anywhere on it?
Hundreds of European teens have taken to e-mailing American artists and posing as internet jocks just to get free CDs. Send em your online kit instead if you are unsure of their motives.
Visit http://www.smytheandtaylor.com/blackframepress.html to see an online press kit for my duo - Smythe and Taylor.
If you want to see what a great hard-copy press kit looks like, you can e-mail me to order it. Hey, they are not free - they cost me about $6.00 each to make plus postage. Mine is *very* nice.
Now on to your other issues:
Your booking agent needs your press kit. But he doesn't have to make it for you, and it certainly doesn't cost 400 bucks to put one together. If you have any skill at all with Powerpoint or Photoshop, you can easily do it yourself. In fact, some of the most interesting kits I've seen were creatively handwritten or even painted! Just try to use nice paper and proof it carefully after each addition or change. Your physical kit won't be much different than the online one I mentioned earlier.
Since you haven't gotten many gigs, I wonder at the wisdom of having a manager and a booking agent in the first place. (I don't, and I'm so busy I don't have time to fart!) It may be true that you haven't gotten gigs because of your lack of a promo kit, but they should be able to cajole their club owner friends into trying you out anyway. This does not speak well of his/her network. Same goes for your manager.
My advice to new artists is to walk a mile in these shoes first. Learn how to book. Learn how to manage your band's issues and assets. Do the homework, Do the math. Assign roles to everyone in the band.
The most outgoing member should be the booking agent, not necessarily the lead singer. The most introverted should be the manager. The gearhead needs to run sound. Don't do it all yourself. This kind of delegation can make you a more coherent team as a band! I know that many artists are not good businesspeople, and don't want to be, but if you have at least tried to do these jobs, you will be better able to recognize a good agent/manager when you meet one. I have seen too many bands sign 'in perpetuity' contracts with agents that do absolutely nothing for them!
Hope this helps!