I noticed a copy of NME sitting on the shelf at Tesco the other day. I was actually quite shocked that it was even still in print. Do music fans still read these magazines?
For the past few decades, the only way to find out about new music was through the radio, tv or newspapers and magazines. Of course there was word of mouth - the most powerful of all mediums - but this was largely unquantifiable - labels couldn't measure effectiveness or spend their budgets on it as easily as they could on the trusty stalwart of PR. As a young pup I was a devout reader of NME, Spin, Melody Maker, Select and Rolling Stone. I consumed the stories in these bibles without fail, every week/month. It was how I kept in touch with artists - the only way I could access information about them. Those stories wouldnt have been there without the industry's PR gurus.
The music industry has always relied heavily on PR. If you didnt have a good PR, you didnt have a career. But what was this magical power that these PR people weilded?
PR as "public relations" is essentially the manipulation of public perception through story telling via media. The PR professional creates the story - sells it to the press by convincing them that the story is worth telling - and voilà, a story appears. The story is used to sell the various media, so the more fantastic the tale, the more likely it is to be spun.
The power of public relations was therefore in the ability of the PR to spin a big hype-filled ball of yarn, alongside the relationship they had with the hack who was responsible for getting the story to press. Labels still spend oodles for this service. The tactic relies on the premise that winning over the press will result in an endorsement of your artist, and the public will follow.
In reality today, the service is media relations, not public relations. The relationship that the public has now with press is quite a different beast. The internet has allowed us to discover music in an entirely different way. Artists can create their own PR and build a community of fans without a journalist ever hearing about them. In fact these days, the journos are most often the last to write about new acts. Magazines and newspapers are struggling to survive. TV no longer has a captivated audience, and radio is being revolutionised by services like Spotify and Last.fm. Media relations has become the ego PR that rarely results in any audience connection.
"Public Relations" - real PR - is now something totally different. It is the relationship that an artist or label has with its audience. It is how an artist tweets back to a fan, or the comments it places on its Facebook group page. It is interacting with bloggers who become tastemakers for the life of a project, rather than just writing a story once to fill column inches. It is speaking directly to the people that are interested in their work, rather than relying on a salesman to force it into a journalists intray. Finally public relations is becoming a genuine interaction between the makers of music and the listener.