Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, entrepreneur, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

How to get on a magazine cover

I love collecting and sharing success stories from independent musicians, telling how they achieved some success, with details that other musicians can use.

Here's a success story from musician Tori Sparks. In her own words...

Getting Your Face on a Magazine Cover - by Tori Sparks

You’re a musician. You want to reach your potential fans. Those fans, in theory, want to find out about you. What stands between you and reaching millions of people through magazines and newspapers?

The barrier is composed of a few key individuals called tastemakers or gatekeepers. In this case, I’ll focus on the gatekeepers of the press world – the music writers, bloggers, and entertainment editors.

A music writer is like the hot girl at the party – everyone wants her, and she knows it. As a result, even the nicest of them tends to be a little hard to reach. After all, they’re in demand. They receive literally hundreds of CDs every week, and have a limited number of hours in the day to wade through them all. How is any one writer supposed to know which packages to open, which of us to let through the proverbial “gate?”

Usually, such matters are heavily influenced by industry politics. Frustrating, but true. When you apply for any other job, the boss wants to see your references and your qualifications, right? But in the case of the music biz, your references are the names of your manager, your record label, “who is your agent?,” your publicist, your radio promo guys, the list goes on and on. It can even extend into who played on/produced/guest-appeared-on your last album.

As with any job, you might be the most talented applicant, but if the other guy has a better resume, you might never get heard.

I’ve found that surrounding myself with good, experienced people helps overcome some of the filtering process. But there’s no arguing the point that, when it comes down to it, I don’t have a high-powered team to kick down doors for me. My only alternative – and a highly effective one, at times – is to use the spaghetti approach. You just have to throw it out there and see what sticks.

I’ve found that going straight to the source and asking for what you want can work wonders.

Example: I called up the editor of a local magazine, introduced myself, and said “I have a big benefit concert coming up in a month, here are the details. What would it take to get on the cover?” He explained that they usually sell the cover for a certain amount of money (way too much for my budget, and my conscience), after determining whether the artist in question would be of interest to their readers.

I asked if the cover had been sold for the upcoming issue. He said no, and I promised I’d check back in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I sent him a polite email with links to my website, MySpace, and EPK.

Two weeks later, I called again, and they still hadn’t sold the cover. He said he had listened to and liked the music, liked the story, and would be willing to put me on the cover, but there was still the issue of payment. I told him to that I couldn’t afford their asking price, but I could pay him a significantly reduced rate – essentially the price of a regular color ad. That way, they wouldn’t lose their shirt on the printing of the magazine. Seemed fair enough to both of us.

The only catch was that their print deadline with in a few days, I was on the road, and they wouldn’t have time to do a photo shoot and assign a writer to interview me under the circumstances. I offered to write my own copy and provide several hi-res photos for him to choose from for a cover image. He could edit the story to his taste, slap another name on it, and put it out.

So, that’s exactly what we did. I had the story and photos emailed to him from my laptop by the next afternoon. The cover story was a huge help in terms of promotion for the show, and editor was happy with the response to the cover story from his readers. Word spread in town that I was “on the cover of a magazine, but I can’t remember which one.” That sort of buzz never hurts.

I even ended up writing a couple of freelance pieces for the magazine afterwards. It gave me the opportunity to shine the light on some other incredible local artists, and get paid to do it. You never know what fringe benefits are going to pop up!

Does that sound complicated? Not nearly as glamorous as the idea of a magazine cover story should be? Most definitely. But it worked.

The thing to understand about newspapers and magazines is that they’re looking out for their bottom line. You have to give them a reason to want to cover you. And, although we as artists hate the fact that the cover of many of these publications are quite simply for sale, once we know the rules of the game, we can occasionally find a way to beat them. Find out what the gatekeepers need from you, and try to provide it.

I’ve used a similar approach when contacting local newspapers and television stations when I’m on the road. Be simple and direct. Email every paper and news outlet in town with a well-put-together press release, call to follow up a week later. Find out what they want from you, and try to deliver. Be concise and respect their busy schedules.

Press people are used to being sales-pitched, so don’t try to convince a music writer that he should have heard of you already. Just present him or her with the salient points as quickly as possible – i.e., why he/she should cover you, what your connection is to his/her audience -- and then be nice, funny, and interesting if possible. Some of these press folks are true music fans, and will respond to an interesting story and hard work. Others won’t, but that’s why you cast a wide net.

For every hundred emails I send out, I’ll probably get two or three television or print interviews. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been interviewed or featured dozens of times – but that adds up to thousands of emails and phone calls.

Like I said, the spaghetti approach, combined with patience and cajones, is your best bet if you’d like to see your face in print.

- Tori Sparks