Press Kit Essentials – what are they, and what can they do for you?


Your biography is the most important document in your Press Kit; it introduces you to the world – who you are, what you do, and what your work is about.

A great biography strikes a balance between colourful language to convey the vibe of your creative brand, and substantial factual information – it must be easily understood by your audience, as well as convey useful information to other creative industry professionals.

A well-crafted biography packs a great deal of information into a concise amount of words, and makes your story immediately accessible to media professionals and outlets. This versatile document is a PR must have item; it has longevity, it can be distributed widely, and published in myriad ways on websites and social media platforms.

Other industry professionals will be able to get a clear picture of who you are and how you fit into the industry and scene, even if they have yet to meet you. You save them time, they don’t have to do any homework to learn about you, and this puts you high on the list of people they will want to work with.

Publish your Bio directly online at: your website, your blog, your Facebook “About” section, your Myspace, your Amazon store profile, your iTunes artist page, Bandcamp, Reverbnation, CD Baby, BigCartel, Encyclopaedia Metallum, Discogs, the All Music Guide, your band profile on various forums – the list goes on and on…

Send your Bio to: record labels, music distributors, independent music retailers, venue bookers, tour promoters, music festival promoters, other bands you would like to book gigs with, music encyclopedias, music magazines, music webzines, and style appropriate radio stations and radio producers.

A Media Release (also known as a Press Release) is the most effective way to get important news out to the world, quickly and professionally. Examples of news suitable for announcing via a Media Release include the release and launch of a new album, a tour or significant performance, signing to a record label, going into the studio to record, a significant line-up change, receiving a grant, filming a live DVD or clip – basically any major milestone in the journey of your band can be boosted into a more powerful and interesting story by a strong Media Release.

Your Media Release can be published online in its own right, and many styles of music have key “feed” news sources to help spread the word (for example, for metal bands the Blabbermouth news page founded by Borivoj Krgin [former Metal Maniacs journalist, and ex-manager of the band Atheist] is your first port of call for distributing your Media Release). You will find journalists can use your Media Release as the basis for their own original pieces, and news columnists will take note and make use of information provided because it is already of publication standard. People in the media are often rushed for time and managing many projects – by providing a professional and publication quality Media Release, you are making the job of media professionals easier, so you increase your chances of receiving coverage.

A feature article is just that – a full authored feature story about you/your band, created to the same publication standards as seen in any professional magazine. It is a significantly longer document than either a Biography or a Media Release, it will involve intensive research and interview to get the personality and uniqueness of your band onto the page, and it can delve in depth into the various points of interest and difference about your band. You know you have many facets to your work – this is how you communicate that to the media.

Supplying a feature article with your Press Kit really pushes your band’s presentation over the top, and sets you apart from other bands. You are handing the media – other storytellers – a finished and detailed story, complete with quotable quotes, and many ideas to kickstart more articles. Professional editors and journalists will take notice of this content, because all the background work has been done for them. They get bombarded with generic band promo day in, day out. Hand them a real story about real people, and they can recognise the value in it.

Feature articles will often be heavily referenced or re-published in fanzine and community media. Webzines love it – you are handing them free content to impress their advertisers, and making them look good. If you are sick of being asked the same boring stock questions by fanzine journalists and volunteer radio presenters, this solves that problem – because you are handing them a kit of killer questions and answers, and setting the agenda of cool things you want them to talk about.

It isn’t rocket science – if you want people to take an interest in your music, you need to BE INTERESTING. A feature article puts your presentation on the highest level, and makes you into a real story.

Music Journalism 101

If “music is the universal language” (Longfellow) then music journalism is a conversation that never ends. For the freelancer, it’s endlessly fascinating. To break into music journalism, begin with your passions. If you collect Australian hip hop – carve a reputation in that niche. You can always branch out as your profile grows. Non-musicians should consider taking a summer school in music theory, joining a community choir, or a percussion workshop. Experience music, so you won’t be writing from the outside. If you have a musical background, approach markets for music education, production, and performance.

Websites and street press are ideal for developing a folio and network, although they tend to pay freelancers poorly (if at all). Limit your freebies. Target paying markets first. You will run at a loss if you buy CDs and pay for gigs (you might anyway with petrol, taxis and a few drinks), so don’t feel weird about insisting on comp passes and promos. Stay organized with invoicing for the many small amounts – they add up. Print business cards. Consider taking a listing in the Australian Music Industry Directory. Build a database of bands and solo artists, record labels, tour promoters, venues, specialist retailers, music industry publicists, publishers and editors.

Artists promoting a new CD may take back-to-back interviews for days. This becomes boring for them; if you ask tired old questions, you will get a lackluster feature. Try to make it fun and a real conversation. Research previously published interviews. Prepare questions that are different. Get behind the marketing clichés. A teetotalling psytrance guru? A black metal stay-home dad? Real people are the real story. Always have a low tech backup device for recording interviews. If your line splitter or iphone fails, that daggy old dictaphone or minidisc might save your bacon.

Listen to CDs in the intended format. If you play a stereo mix through your 5.1 system, your player will arbitrarily create a fold-down 5.1 mix; you will lose the original stereo image and any panning effects. Labels have introduced watermarking of promo copies; if the promo is leaked onto bit-torrents, they can trace the source to the publication and individual writer responsible. To protect your reputation, don’t treat your promos as a personal library, and lend them to friends. Maintain a dedicated professional resource. DJ work, or a radio show, are value adding.

Tour promoters are notoriously uninterested in having reviewers at their events, as they have nothing to gain financially by a glowing review for a tour that is finished or moved on. If you’ve pitched a review of an event to an editor, go through a publicist, or contact the artists directly to ensure you score a press pass. Get a mobile phone number for your contact, as you might need to remind them when you’re literally at the front door. Your charms and business card will mean nothing to the bouncer and door bitch. Contact the tour promoter to confirm arrangements for press photography as a courtesy. Bring a good quality SLR, and a small backup camera, just in case.

Alcohol and drugs are a pitfall for the music industry – stay professional. The credibility of your review rests upon people being able to believe you can remember the gig! The other main OH&S consideration is hearing loss.  For amplified gigs, bring industrial earplugs labeled with a Noise Reduction Rating (usually 25dB to 32dB). Prolonged exposure to sounds above 85dB (heavy traffic) can cause damage. The average rock concert is anywhere between 90dB and 120dB (jet engine) depending on EPA rules for the venue. This does not mean you need to wear earplugs the entire gig, or every gig. Depending on the volume, at most gigs you can check the mix for a few songs, as damage usually only occurs cumulatively. (For more information, contact Australian Hearing.)

Always scope out the mix near the live sound console. Watch the technician leave the desk and check the mix from different vantages. Without stalking them, try listening in those same places, and you will start to learn what different rooms sound like. In time, you’ll discern mixing styles.

There is no shame in not being an expert in music. Owning your curiosity creates a sense of discovery. Most non-musicians can’t hear chord progressions – it’s why you can’t copyright them. This is an aural skill worth cultivating; it will help you make meaningful comparisons between artists. You really need to approach different genres on their own terms, and check your prejudices at the door. Don’t write about death metal if you think it’s meaningless noise, or the blues if you think all the songs sound the same. If an album sounds monotonous, find the evidence. Songs in the same key? All recorded to a click? Substantiate your opinion.

And finally – to write about music, you have to feel it. George Bernard Shaw, a noted music journalist of his day, wrote, “Pay no heed to the idiots who declare that criticism should be free from personal feeling. The true critic… becomes your personal enemy on the sole provocation of a bad performance, and will only be appeased by good performances.”

Originally published in WQ Magazine: the Freelance Edition, the magazine of the Queensland Writers Centre.

The Pleasures And Perils Of Compiling Horror

What are the pleasures and perils of compiling the horror component of the Ticonderoga Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror?

One of the guiding principals I have is that the stories need to go to different emotional places, because horror is about hitting raw nerves. If you hit the same nerve too many times, you desensitise and the stories become emotionally monochrome. Horror is unique in that the genre is defined by emotion, rather than trope or context – you can have a completely supernatural story that is horror, and a totally realistic story that is also horror. So trying to keep the mix fresh and blow the readers away in different ways, keep the emotional impact – that is pure fun. Editing a Year’s Best is a bit like being a DJ. The works are already published and polished, so the job is to find that mix of hits and undiscovered gems and make the overall experience entertaining and powerful and surprising. It’s a kick!

Working with Liz and Russell at Ticonderoga is totally a pleasure. I was a dark horse choice for this editing job, and having them believe in my instincts is very humbling. They are also really understanding, and they’ve been very supportive throughout. Having a purpose that isn’t focused on my own headspace has probably been a saving grace for me. Just getting to associate with such fine writers is a buzz and an honour; meeting some of ‘my authors’ and having these instantly engaging conversations about narrative that I would never otherwise have is a delight.

The perils. Well, there should be perils in compiling horror, right?

I think probably the biggest peril is balancing literary horror and visceral horror; horror goes to places that connect with visceral responses, and it goes to places of deep trauma and danger and anger, and sex and death are so very tangled together. If the emotion overwhelms the form it can be incomprehensible, and if the form overwhelms the emotion you get cliche. The quality that lifts both aspects up is authenticity. I’m just one person, so I have to trust my own instincts as to which stories do which of those things excellently. Just entering that territory is perilous, because when people disagree they will disagree vehemently. Conversely, if I didn’t stick to my guns about my choices, I have no business editing horror.

I worship what I would call literary horror – writing that engages with top-shelf word craft and narrative constructs in the service of hitting those raw nerves. In the Capital L Literature world the idea of ‘literary horror’ is regarded as an oxymoron. The reality of any genre is you have to read through a truckload of mediocrity to find the amazing work. Go to a Capital L Literary spoken word night. You will have to endure an avalanche of bullshit to experience a few dazzling talents. But I think it’s harder for people to go the other way – from the literary world, to the horror world – because horror stories do contain exploded intestines! The bad ones have exploded intestines! The brilliant ones have exploded intestines! It takes a committed reader to learn to separate being repulsed by bad gory writing, and enthralled by brilliant gory writing – which is also repulsive! But repulsive in the service of some larger meaning.

Really great horror stories aren’t just about horror – there is always something else that makes you empathise. That’s the reason Stephen King writes so much about love and different kinds of relationships. If you write about death, you write about life. I think horror is the deepest genre because it speaks from that precipice of our mortality. But I’m not allowed to harpoon people who don’t share that view!

While I prize literary horror, I also feel very connected with visceral horror. There would be something really wrong if the horror selection in Year’s Best didn’t include some stories where things that are supposed to be inside people are splashed all over the page – maybe that is blood, or a terrible secret, or unbearable knowledge. I think there are people who read horror and appraise the shock value over the literary merit – that reader is going to roll their eyes at terror in sunlight stories or existential horror. For me, blood and the numinous are equally powerful. By making a broad selection, I’m demanding the reader be open to all of that.

Is that condescending? I don’t mean to be condescending to consider that a peril. My gut tells me horror writers feel that they put great demands on readers too, and that is one of the issues of commercialism (or lack of) for horror.

There is an amorphous danger zone of gender politics in the speculative fiction community in Australia, and in horror more than any other genre. It is in part due to a disparity in theorised feminism, because writers range from all walks of life – can I say thank fuck? That is something I can appreciate from both sides, because I’m not a theorised feminist myself. (I don’t have a degree, and while I do read feminist musicology with interest, I’m truant on Feminism 101.) I think the sticking point is that horror is often violent, and historically violence precedes from the patriarchy, so there has been confusion in separating confronting language from gendered language.

As horror editor of the Year’s Best, I’ve had to remain silent on feminist issues I might have otherwise been very vocal about, because I have conflict of interest – and I support people in their artistic practice who have completely contradictory views, including views that I don’t agree with. It doesn’t mean I’m not participating in the discourse, because I will recognise writers who are disrupting and interrogating those issues in their work, and that becomes an influence in my editorial process. I want the anthology to be a powder keg of awesome! My philosophy is stolen from an old 3RRR Radio Station ID: ‘Diversity in the face of adversity’.

A more personal peril is discovering if I don’t include a writer’s stories, I can hurt the feelings of a friend – and maybe give them the erroneous impression that they had ‘a bad year’. While the words ‘best’ and ‘horror’ are the stars by which I navigate in story selection, there are also other pressures on the selection process – and not every fine story on the shortlist makes it through. It does not always mean those stories aren’t as good – or that I am prejudiced against a certain flavour of horror and won’t ever include it. This is the arts. It is subjective. It has to be subjective. And the DJ part of the editorial process serves a mix, not just an evaluation.

The final peril is for me as an emerging writer. Donning the hat of gatekeeper threatens to crush my view of my own writing with 10,000 tonnes of neurosis. (And that’s what SuperNova [writing group] is for.)

This is an excerpt from the Australian SpecFic in Focus Snapshot interview series, leading up to the 51st Australian SF NatCon; this Snapshot was conducted by Jason Nahrung and the interviewee was Talie Helene. Talie is co-editor of the Ticonderoga Publications series, The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy And Horror. You can read the original, full Snapshot interview here and you can find Talie Helene online as a hired gun for editing, copywriting, and promotional goodness at Killer Content Communications.