At the time of writing, I’ve been recording For Folk’s Sake sessions for 3.5 years, with a total of 66 recordings producing 99 published songs.
As the 2019 recordings have come to an end, I’ve been categorising the artists that have come round and looking for any trends and patterns. I do lurk in a few online groups for music makers, and there are occasional discussions about the value of paying for PR agents versus DIY. In one of these discussions, someone mentioned the kind of data you’d expect them a PR to be able to show, such as “I sent your album to all these people and got these responses”. And it got me thinking, wouldn’t it be helpful if people on the receiving end of these pitches were more transparent about how things ended up getting selected for coverage, so here’s my contribution.
For this post I’m framing everything in terms of recording date, rather than publishing date, so some artists will be grouped into a different year to what you might expect. This also means some of the statistics include sessions that aren’t published yet. I’m also not weighting by the number of songs published as a result of a session – one visit, one data point.
Let’s start with how contact is getting made. First off, having professional PR does not make it more likely you’ll get accepted for a session in and of itself. For this project there are advantages to both DIY and PR approaches.
The value of PRs to the artist is that they know I exist and they won’t be shy to apply and then to chase up. There is also value to me is having someone who can act as a supplier of talent, with a quality filter applied, and is also aware of when visiting artists will be in area and available. On the other hand, direct contact is good as it demonstrates a level of enthusiasm.
For the purposes of this post, I’ve grouped the different methods of artist discovery into four categories.
‘Direct In’ is when an artist emails me directly and suggests a session, or artists who contacted us about something else and I suggest a session in response. This includes the coy artists who says things like “I really liked your session with X, anyway here’s my album”.
‘Direct Out’ is when I contact an artist directly having heard their music on a Spotify playlist or Freshnet or similar, and thought they’d be suitable.
‘PR Value Add’ is where the artist is gaining an opportunity because of the PR. This is when the PR emails me to suggest a particular artist on their roster and when I ask a PR if have any artists who might be interested. This second case was something I did in the 2016/early 2017 period when I was getting started.
‘Other’ is simply everything else. This includes artists returning for their second session, and some PR interactions such as if I invite an artist via their PR instead of directly. I don’t consider this a ‘value add’ category as if the artist hadn’t hired the PR the opportunity would still exist, they’d just be getting the mail directly.
The PR category includes not just actual PR agencies, but any kind of professional representation including labels and managers. The point is just to contrast with DIY approaches.
|Direct In||Direct Out||PR Value Add||Other|
Overall the direct vs PR balance is pretty even, although over time the PR share has decreased. This is due to us getting a lot more direct pitches as more people are aware of the project, and I’ve been more pro-active at offering to emerging talent.
In total I’ve booked artists from around twenty PR agencies. The most successful being one agent who supplied artists for five sessions.
One of the issues with a gender balance check is how to handle groups. I experimented with a few different counting methods, but the one I settled on was to identify the core members of the group and then seeing if there were more male or female core members. Sometimes the core members are obvious because of the name of the act, or by who has their picture on the album cover but sometimes it’s just a judgment call.
So with this method we have a (suspiciously) even balance.
The most biased year was 2017 and this also the most PR-biased year so I did a cross-check to see if there was a connection. Whilst it’s true that overall PR discovered acts are slightly more likely to be male, that year I seem to have chosen a lot more male acts even within the PR grouping. So more internal than external factors, I think.
Still, overall basically even so well done me and all that…. except maybe not. Whilst an even split is the simplest ratio to justify, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the correct one. In some genres achieving 50% female participation may be a real challenge, but it’s not with the music the site covers. There’s a solid argument that we should be over 50% given the current talent pool.
Trying to work out an objectively true correct ratio is probably impossible, but given the last two years have been slightly female biased I’m happy enough that the project is currently reflecting the talent pool fairly.
Lastly, as a health warning, these are relatively small datasets so liable to dramatic swings. If you replace one female act in 2018 with a male act, the ratios for the year become equal.
The last thing I’ll cover is the audience size / popularity / level of establishment of the artist. For this I’ll be using the crude metric of Facebook page likes.
|Median Page Likes|
I certainly don’t have any minimum number of likes to consider a booking (one booking was at under 200 likes) and in fact a large number of likes is more likely to be a hindrance.
The reasoning here is that we’re not selling tickets or pushing ads so the audience the artist brings to us doesn’t really matter that much. On YouTube there’s some advantage as the popularity of the artist drives the view count (and from there subscriber growth) on long timescales but on Facebook (still our bigger platform) there’s very little measurable gain from covering an established artist.
I’ve also found a correlation between the size of the artist and how much I enjoy working with them, and since this is a hobby not a job that matters. I suspect this is simply because for smaller artists coverage via this project is a bigger deal in terms of exposure and they’re less likely to have other similar content. The median likes for artists I would work with again is around 1200 and for those I wouldn’t about 4000.
But there is no maximum as such, and other factors such as a direct pitch from the artist (or via one of the PRs who only put forward good fits) can overcome any negative weighting.
I’m not sure how much any of this is transferable to other platforms, but it’s a data point in itself. Hope it helps.