For Sarah Dougher, the first step to building a relationship with music writers is to kinda like them first. "I like writers," she says. "But most musicians don't. It's very important for musicians to understand the critical process."
And the 35-year-old multitasking artist should know. She's been dealing with the press types since forming the PDX rock band the Lookers in '95. Back then, Dougher didn't have the luxury of a big-city publicist singing her praises to a slew of newspapers, but she was still media-savvy. She made nice with a publicist who gave her a peek at a national press list. And then she called every single damn person on it.
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Since then, Dougher's plan of attack has become at once more sophisticated and crafty. She sees locating the right person--the scribe who's dying to write about your band but just doesn't know it yet--as one of the keys to getting press. "I think people should cultivate relationships with specific writers, not their publications," says Dougher. "Identify writers who like your kind of music, and send your stuff to them."
Dougher's also seen the other side as music editor for the twice-yearly Portland art and design mag Plazm. At Plazm, she was deluged with press kits from bands X, Y and Z, all clamoring for ink.
"I realized how many packages music writers receive and learned what's effective in terms of attracting attention," she says. She cites the label Kill Rock Stars' media approach--sending CDs in paper envelopes with one sheet of info--as the ideal in getting the word out. When asked to cite a list of marketing faux pas, Dougher included fancy folders, color printing and late submissions as big no-nos.
Dougher also notes that it's helpful to have an outside party write a band bio and to "be sure it's well written," she warns. "You should feel comfortable seeing any info in your press kit appear in print, especially in towns where no one knows you." She says it's fine to compare yourself to a band and admits that at times she's compared herself to Melissa Ferrick, even though she's not a fan of the singer's music.
She also sees the value in sending kits tailored to specific types of publications. "If you're a homo, send stuff to homo papers," she says. "They're usually smaller, and it's easier to get someone on the phone." Likewise, Dougher's political awareness also shapes the way she and her publicists send out material. She urges bands to seek out women writers as a method of fighting sexism in the music industry.
Should one score an interview with a music critic, Dougher recommends an adventure as the ticket to an exciting article. "If you're in St. Louis, go up the Gateway Arch!" she says. "Pick somewhere special to go. It'll be much more interesting and will give the writer some context." She also sees press access as a good way for bands to get a primo band pic. Pitch Johnny/Jane photographer, she says, by offering to pay for an additional photo.
Dougher urges bands not to dwell on good or bad press. Sure, she's chuffed that music critic Greil Marcus praised her 2001 album, The Bluff, in The New York Times, but at the end of the day, she keeps focused on her various projects. Lately those include serving as a coordinator for the Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls, a professor at The Evergreen State College, and a touring rock-and-roll musician.
She's off on a tour of the British Isles at the moment. No word yet on how she'll handle the rock critics in Belfast.