How to Put Together a Professional Musician's Promo Kit

Your promo kit is critical when you are trying to get a deal, so make sure you spend enough time and money on it. In many cases, your promotional package will be your first impression to someone in the music industry, so it has to be as professional as possible. Take into account that whoever is viewing your package has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of promo kits. So don’t expect to wow them with a huge package that proves you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. Keep it simple, lean, and clean. You really only need a short biography, a good picture, an example of your music, and maybe some sort of press information.

Put all of that in a nice binder that can be kept together easily, and make sure that your name, address, phone, and other contact information are printed on everything that will be removed from the package, including the cassette case and the cassette, or the CD case and the CD. I’ve received lots of packages, and sometimes I’ve lost the CD cover but had the CD, or vice versa. Even if I thought the music was great, sometimes I couldn’t get in touch with the artist because there was no contact information on the CD.

You should also have your material copyrighted before you send anything to anyone. I’m not talking about a “poor man’s copyright” (mailing a copy of a song back to yourself), but an actual copyright Form PA from the Library of Congress. If you are sending actual masters, you may want to consider an SR copyright as well.

Also remember that you may have to send out hundreds of these packages, and some will just be tossed aside. Don’t spend too much money on them. If you’d like the recipients to return your materials if they’re not interested, make sure they have a return policy. If they do, include a self-addressed stamped envelope with your submission. Some people would send material to my law office, and not only did they expect me to spend my time reviewing their package for free, but they actually expected me to return their materials to them at my expense! This was inconsiderate of my time and money. I apologize to any prospective clients who may have done that, but I wasn’t about to incur costs on their behalf with absolutely no hope of any return. I always reviewed the material when I had the time, and if the act was good enough, I would write them or call them back. I received a lot of material every day, and 99% of it was not commercially exploitable enough for me to put my name behind it. Some firms or music companies might correspond with you for free and consider it a cost of business, but I feel that you should be much more considerate of other people’s time and money. Remember, you are the one who’s asking for something, so please don’t expect people to go out of their way to help you. Make it easy on them.

Your biography should be short and simple. It should include a brief description of your experience in the music industry, and maybe some personal history, such as your age and where you are from. Stay away from hyperbole or overstating your ability. Don’t use language such as “the greatest singer you’ve ever heard,” “the best act in the country,” or “the most phenomenal musician alive today.” Be humble. Your music will speak volumes about your talent. (Besides, it can be a real turnoff to hear someone talk about how great he is, when in fact he has a whole lot more work to do.) Let the listeners make up their own minds about your abilities. If you put yourself in front of the right people, they’ll know whether your music is right for their needs. If you say that you are “the most incredible musician ever” or some other hyperbole, you will end up being the office joke of the day.

Don’t include all of the places that you have played or other irrelevant information. Nobody really cares if you’ve played the best bar in your town. If you have any press from a newspaper or other reputable publication, you can include that. But don’t overdo it. If your music is good enough, the record label will handle your entire public relations and other matters, and your promo kit will no longer have any significance whatsoever.

As for your picture, try to get a professional photographer so that you will be seen in the best possible light (no pun intended) and at the best angle. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a bad picture will speak volumes about your professionalism. One 8×10 color or black and white picture will suffice. If anyone requests more pictures, you can send them later. Remember, it’s a numbers game, and you may have to send out hundreds of packages over a period of years. Sending one photo will help keep your costs low and won’t waste valuable photographs that could be used for other packages.

The most important thing is the music you submit. That’s the truest representation of your work. The better your music sounds, the more likely you are to get a deal. Take some of the music you’ve recorded and play it on your favorite stereo system, in your car, or wherever you listen to music the most. Then listen to some recordings that have been done professionally or that you’ve heard on the radio. Do they have a similar sound quality—not just the singing and musicianship, but the quality of the recording? If not, the recipient will definitely take that into consideration. Sending the best-quality recordings is going to increase your odds of impressing someone.

Think about who is going to receive your package, and then plan accordingly. Are you a songwriter who has no interest in an artist deal, but is only trying to get a publishing deal? Include your best songs, performed by the best singer you can find and recorded at the highest quality possible. You may even want to include samples of all your work, as well as copies of your lyrics and any pertinent information about copyright and co-writers’ credits.

Also consider whether you should send just a guitar/vocal or keyboard/vocal recording, because some people won’t want to hear a heavily produced version of your song. They sometimes prefer to have a strippeddown version so that they can use their own experience and imagination to envision the song’s potential. If you already know your stuff is going to be heard by a particular person, it may be best to ask what he prefers. Does he want full-blown demonstration recordings, simple guitar/vocals, or both? Always be ready to provide him with what he is asking for. This is not only a time saver, but very professional.

If you are going for an artist deal, you only want to send three songs that are the best representation of your music. It’s a good idea to include a ballad, a mid-tempo song, and an up-tempo song. Anything more is asking too much of the person receiving your package. Trust me, if he likes what he hears, he’ll get in touch with you soon to ask for more.

Having more material ready to go is also a great idea. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients with good material and the person that I was pitching to asked for more. If the client didn’t have more material right then, the contact would lose interest as he waited for more material to be produced. This is not a good idea.

If you meet with someone in person, don’t expect him to listen to all of your material at once. These people listen to music all day long, and they may not be in the best of moods. They may have other pressing matters to attend to. If they want to hear more, they’ll ask you. But if you put them on the spot and they feel like they are being forced to hear your stuff, they won’t take it very well. Most likely, you won’t ever get a meeting with them again.