“There is no such thing as bad publicity, except your own obituary.” – Brendan Behan, Irish poet.
As the sub-editor for Unsigned Music at God is in the TV I get sent a lot of stuff, mainly hand scrawled CD-Rs, lovingly put together DIY demos and small label releases. A lot of music I get sent is also handled by PR and marketing companies, and I also receive a truckload of emails from these companies too.
Sure, sometimes the PR is filled with ludicrous hyperbole, which is generally why I try not to read any of it or let it effect my opinions of the artist(s) I’m writing about.
I love all genres of music, so I get submissions for review from pop to industrial, hip-hop to classical, generally – by nature of the website – the stuff I receive is indie orientated, but it’s usually a complete lucky dip as to what style I’m going to hear when I pop the next CD in the pile into my stereo.
Having opinions has resulted in a few disgruntled responses, I know that each CD I review is someone’s creative work, it’s very personal to them, it’s what they live for, and I never wish for my words to be flippant and dismissive or discouraging, though it’s inevitable that I won’t like everything. I always strive to review stuff constructively and honestly, I hope – whether the artists agree with my review or not – they can appreciate my integrity.
Which is why I’m particularly miffed and shocked by an email I received today from a PR company, well, a ‘music consultancy’ as their website states. The email said:
Dear Media Friends,
The UK’s fastest rising R&B Soul singer, [NAME DELETED] recently sold out the [VENUE DELETED] in London. We are in a possession of a review (below) of the show from a fan that we have permission to reprint and we forward this review to you for your publishing consideration.
The review that follows is, as one would expect from a PR company, ridiculously positive, but, for me, as something purporting to be from a ‘fan’ it felt hokey. It felt like a press release dressed up as a review.
I decided to put the fan’s email address into Facebook, sure enough they do have an account, though, sadly they’ve only got three friends, one of whom shares the same surname, another who shares her taste for having a standard desktop wallpaper photo as their profile pic, and the last is a girl from the Philippines who I believe is the one genuine human out of the quartet.
Sadly there are no actual photos of either of the three other people beyond their desktop wallpaper images, and their wall posts are minimal to say the least. In fact, the only truly relevant posts any of them seem to have made promote the same artist as the earlier review. Well, at least they ‘are’ fans then.
Occasionally one of them logs onto other popular (and similar) artist’s pages and posts a brief sentence comparing them to the artist represented by the PR company. Elsewhere the ‘fan’ that wrote the review has a youtube page, pretty much dedicated to the same artist. It’s touching how much they care about the career of this musician.
Now, it’s no surprise to find a PR company trying to promote an artist, that’s kind of their job, but to send out a press release masquerarding as a review in the hopes of a legitimate website publishing it as if it were a real fan’s opinion feels pretty shameful to me.
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened and certainly won’t be the last, indeed Sony Pictures invented a fake reviewer to give positive quotes on advertising for their films:
If anything I feel sorry for the artist who is part of this pathetic little scheme to generate attention. It’s rather dispiriting that their PR company has to concoct positive reviews and invent imaginary fans to tell others how ‘great’ they are. To me this does a great disservice to the integrity of the artist regardless of whether I personally enjoy their music or not, or whether they are in some way part of this campaign (The artist’s twitter account – which doesn’t feel like it’s the artist themself – has a post reading: ‘Hi everyone, a few blogs have been in contact asking for reviews from my show last week.’)
Hyperbolic blurbs are fine, they’re all par for the course in a company’s efforts to grab the attention of whichever desk their humble release is being flung across, throwing in some creative adjectives and comparisons to classic acts will hopefully catch the critic’s eye and encourage them to write a few words. But this is, for me, crossing a line and outright lies.
If I was the artist I would feel ashamed to be associated with this PR company/music consultancy.
Obviously all musicians want to generate attention for themselves, but with companies charging artists for their PR services are a lot of young, perhaps naive, people finding themselves duped into something that could ultimately do more harm to their popularity than good? Is there actually such a thing as bad publicity? Has anyone out there paid for PR and been utterly fleeced?
Let us know in the comments below!