You know how important a press release is to get the word out about whatever your band or label has going on, be it a new album, a tour, or some other piece of news. But sending that press release a the right time is another key piece of the puzzle to getting media coverage. How do you get the timing right?
As you might imagine, the answer to this question depends very much on the media you are contacting. Radio has a different lead time than a national print magazine which has different timing requirements from a website, and so on and so forth. There are ways you can take some of the guess work out of the equation, however. Do a little research and create a database:
Contact all of the music media outlets to which you hope to promote your music, and ask them about their deadlines. Start a database on your computer tracking this information, so you always have it on hand. You should do this far enough in advance that you haven't missed deadlines by the time you get around to making your calls. For instance, if you know that you will be releasing an album in 6 months, make those calls now.
Contact any freelance writers you know and ask them how far in advance they need news from you to be able to run with it. Add this information to your database as well.
Your database will probably primarily include national outlets, plus local outlets in your area. However, don't forget to contact local outlets in towns that the band plays often, or if you have a tour planned, local papers/magazine/radio in the towns on the tour. You might not be able to plan for these contacts as far in advance as you might like, but do it as soon as the shows are booked.
Beyond taking these steps, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind:
For a new album or single, sending out press releases and promos 2 - 3 months in advance is ideal (national publications have very long lead times - smaller mags, local papers and websites may have shorter lead times, but it is better to be early than late!).
For a tour, 6 weeks or so ideal, though 4 weeks can sometimes be ok. How early you send your press release for a tour depends on the kind of coverage you are trying to secure. If you just want to get in the show listings, then you can afford to cut it a little closer (though many national magazines will have specific deadlines for show listings pages that you need to follow). If you're hoping to get a piece written about the show or the band, earlier is better.
If this all sounds a little confusing, don't fret. Press release timing is an art, not a science. The best thing you can do is gather all of the information about deadlines that you can and stick to those guidelines as much as possible. Follow up after you send a press release, especially as your release date/show date nears to make sure you release has not gotten lost in the shuffle and to encourage them to give you some coverage. Last but not least, you should never skip the press release because you think it is too late. You never know what can be pulled off at the last minute, plus, even if it IS too late, you're still getting your name out there, which can only help you next time you send out a press release.
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Heather McDonald is a contributor for about.com and has worked in nearly all aspects of the music industry, from independent record labels to acting as manager and buyer of a record store to tour booking and show promotion.