HOW INDEPENDENT ARTISTS GET MEDIA ATTENTION // 3 TIPS
Updated: Oct 7
We all love an inspiring quote, right? Of course we do, especially when it gives us permission to be shameless. So, let's enjoy indie filmmaker Jim Cummings' latest offering - served-up during a brilliant BFI webinar:
"You just have to be your own fanfare!" - Jim Cummings, May 2020
Translation: As an independent artist, if you don't start tooting your own horn, good luck breaking through.
Until Jim said that, I was the only artist I know who is simultaneously a creator and a proud self-publicist. With each new project I release, I reach-out to the media on my own behalf, approaching newspapers, radio, TV, digital, blah, blah blah. Weirdly, this self-initiated publicity comes naturally to me, albeit is a skill I never knew I had until a fluke email to a TV channel paid off and they invited me on. More on that shortly.
There's nothing overly-complicated about how I've landed TV, radio, print, and digital coverage over the years, and by me sharing these 3 SIMPLE TIPS, I hope more of my independent artist friends enjoy a little media fanfare, too.
TIP 1: ARTISTS HAVE MORE POWER THAN WE THINK
The first time I was invited onto TV to talk about my work was in 2015. It was to discuss my first big project, '100 Musicians'. Staggeringly, not only was this my first project, but it was my first TV appearance, and even more unfathomable... it was the first time I'd ever sent a journalist an email.
(Seriously, If Guinness World Records told me I'm the first human to successfully experience this trilogy of firsts, I wouldn't call bullshit)
It's only now, five years later, with a better grasp of the media, that I understand why I was invited to chat about the project. It wasn't necessarily that the project was innovative, unique, refreshing, the greatest thing ever produced.... no, more likely, it was thanks to the principle of supply and demand. Media platforms (radio, TV, print, web etc) have an insatiable appetite for stories, that's how they attract an audience and make loot. So, as an indie artist, if we can offer them an inspiring, amusing, innovative story, they'll happily entertain our presence. (They might even give you a biscuit in the green room. I took six, by the way)
Back in 2015, as I read the email inviting me into the studio, I was on cloud nine, "Wow, they love my project", I beamed. Now, in 2020, a little wiser, I think, "Oh, I was on-air padding, then? SUITS ME!"
I wish not to sound overly self-effacing, maybe they did love '100 Musicians', I mean, what's not to love, frankly. But, let's err on the side of common sense and recognise that as a legitimate TV channel, they're obliged to give their audience more than a studio and an empty sofa to look at, they kinda need guests to sit on said sofa and talk about stuff. The principle of supply and demand spans all media, whether it's TV, online, print, radio, whatever. Look at your art as a story rather than a project, and you're more likely to get coverage. Watch me explain how to be irresistible the media in the below video.
TIP SUMMARY: Do not (under any circumstance) think media platforms are doing you a favour when they feature your work. Be grateful for their interest, of course, but remember, when they promote brilliant art, they attract visitors to their website, listeners to their radio station, viewers to their TV channel or readers of their newspaper. Both parties (you and them) benefit from this exchange, so don't be shy approaching these people... you're doing them a favour, too.
TIP 2: BE WILLING TO HEAR "NO, YOUR ART IS SHIT"
Remember this episode of my podcast, where I discussed my hatred of being told "no"? Being told "no" is one of my least favourite things, I loathe it, brittle ego and all that. Sadly, it's something I have to live with when being my own PR guy, because for every newspaper, radio station or website that features my work, there's often countless others who politely decline or flat ignore me.
So, what are the common reasons I'm told "no"? Ugh, how long have you got? There are many reasons..... including:
the projects isn't a natural fit for their audience
the projects isn't to their taste
my email landed in their spam folder (they never saw it)
my email was lost among the other 6,000 they received that day (they never saw it)
they've heard [via anonymous sources] that I leave the teabag in my tea whilst drinking it
I'll never forget when, in 2017, I was invited onto TV to discuss my social experiment 'Be Different, Say Yes'. Just as with '100 Musicians', this was a joyous moment, but unlike '100 Musicians', I didn't hit the jackpot with my first email. Quite the opposite. You see, with this project, additional to the usual non-responses, one guy (the Editor of Time Out) actually did reply, telling me he didn't like the brand partnership featured in the project. Curiously, the project was not a brand partnership, I was simply given a pair of free trainers by KSWISS, after which, I produced the project in celebration of KSWISS' generosity.
The point here is that "no" is inevitable. The reasoning for the "no" is largely irrelevant.
TIP SUMMARY: As an artist, make peace with the fact that your art will not be right for everyone. The pattern of "no", "no", "no", "no", "yes", "no", "no", "no", yes", "no", "no", "no","no", "no", "no" has presented itself during every single PR campaign I've ever undertaken, and guess what.... it will present itself in all future ones, too.
TIP 3: GETTING VULNERABLE = GETTING COVERAGE
Can't lie, this tip is easily my favourite. It's the most powerful thing you'll ever learn in PR. Never (ever) approach the media with a new project without first asking yourself, "During the making of this art, what about the process left me vulnerable, challenged me or rendered me the underdog?"
Listen-up friends, vulnerability is one of the most potent PR tools ever invented. I'm a massive fan. To help you understand what I mean, consider the below two headlines. Which one do you think would be more attractive to a journalist/reporter/website:
Singer Releases Debut Album After Rich Parents Cover Studio Costs
Singer Releases Debut Album After Saving Five Years Worth of Waitressing Tips
(I was going to conjure-up a few more illustrative headlines, but I'm so impressed with those, that frankly, I can't be arsed)
We discussed, in TIP 1, how all media platforms want engaging, inspiring, interesting stories.... and as an artist, it's incumbent upon you to give it to them. What is unique about your story? What is inspiring about it? What about it invites interesting debate? The art itself is rarely the talking point, often, the talking point is the difficulties, challenges or fuck-ups that went on behind-the-scenes.
Do you remember the YouTube video where I revealed that I was featured on a newspaper front cover simply because I recognised my 'underdog hook' was the fact I made a film for £2.79? Well, there you go, it's really that simple.
Your 'underdog hook' can take many forms, including:
the lack of resources that were available to you
the life challenges you overcame during the creative process
the artistic challenges you overcame during the process
the unique artistic approach you employed
Basically, anything that stacks the odds against you is an 'underdog hook'
Indie filmmaker Jim Cummings, for example, rose to international acclaim following his 2016 short film 'Thunder Road'. His 'underdog hook' was his limited resource. As an independent filmmaker with no financial backing, Jim launched a kickstarter campaign, then went on to not only write, direct and star in the film, but shoot the entire thing in one continuous take to keep shooting time down. The film would subsequently go viral, attract a heap of media attention, win awards and spawn a full length feature adaptation three years later.
TIP SUMMARY: When beginning a new project, make a note of any and all difficulties you experience along the way, because months down the line, when it comes to releasing it into the world, those difficulties will no longer be your enemy, they'll be your best friend x