Are You an Emerging Artist? Here’s What to Ask Before Hiring a Publicist

Amber Horsburgh
5 min readApr 24, 2023

Hiring a music publicist is a daunting investment. Especially when self-funding.

When I was at Downtown Records as SVP of Strategy, we would always use independent publicity firms rather than an in-house publicist.

Different publicity teams fit projects better, e.g.: I wouldn’t call on the same publicist who gets an artist on SNL for a debut EP.

I’ve interviewed dozens of publicists, here are my go-to interview questions.

When artists come to my Fanbase Accelerator record marketing course having being burned by publicists, the reason is twofold:

  • Music PR doesn’t bill for results.

You are charged whether they get you press or not. You pay for them to reach out to their network.

  • Hired the wrong team.

It’s nice for the ego to say “I’ve got Frank Ocean’s publicist” but, if you’re not at Frank’s level, their resources won’t be best leveraged.

10 Questions to Ask Your Next Music Publicist

1. Have you worked with another artist at my level before?

You need to know who is realistically going to write about you at your current level.

There’s no need to look for someone who works for the A-listers if you’re on your debut.

2. Walk me through your process for developing and executing a PR strategy for a new client.

Going from 0 to 10 is a lot harder than going from 60 to 100.

Artist development requires a different strategy and contacts when compared to amplifying an artist that’s already on a moving train.

This question gives you an idea of what your campaign will look like. Do you agree with their approach? If not, dig deeper here.

3. What do you need from me in order to do work you’re proud of?

Your publicist will do a better job if they see the opportunity for themselves.

Your job, as the visionary, is to set them up for success.

If they need better photos, a bio in a different format or a short form video content plan to support their efforts, get it to them.

4. Is the time right? As in, do you need me to provide some PR interest or contacts from myself before we begin working together?

National media wants to see interest at a local level.

If your goal is national press coverage, it might be better for you to do PR outreach yourself first. Bring on a publicist to get to the managing editors of national media once you have a proof case.

5. Which types of publications do you see fitting with this release?

I wouldn’t push the specific publications in the interview because that is what they’re scoped to deliver.

Instead, get an idea of the types of outlets they see you in. Does it match with what you think? If not, have a longer chat during this question.

6. Can you tell me about a time when a PR campaign didn’t go as planned? How did you turn it around?

Your album dropped the same day a major world event happened? Not your fault. Also, not great.

Find out how well equipped your publicist is to keep a campaign on course with a curveball.

7. What happens if we begin working together and one of us feels like it’s not working?

You don’t want to get into a relationship where you owe a bunch of money and it’s not working.

Ask about fee structure, termination of contract, and kill fees.

8. What kinds of media outlets and influencers do you have relationships with, and how do you maintain these relationships?

In 2023, a blast to 100,000 strong music blog databases is not enough.

I would like to see a campaign that includes interviews, podcasts, Instagram/TikTok pages and appearances (if at the appropriate level).

9. Can you provide an example of how you’ve dealt with a crisis situation for a client in the past?

You can’t control how your work is perceived by the audience. You are releasing at a time of cancel culture.

Take these 2 records released within the same week;

Beyonce’s ‘Renaissance’ and Eminem’s ‘Curtain Call 2’, July 29 and August 5, 2022.

Beyonce’s use of a derogatory term received so much backlash, resulting in her changing the lyric.

On the other hand, Eminem released 35 songs with lyrics all over the place of offense, like introducing himself in “Crack A Bottle” as someone with “a record of 17 rapes, 400 assaults, and four murders”;

Doesn’t change any lyrics.

You never know how your work will be perceived by others.

Have a really frank chat about how they dealt with a past crisis and ask if you need to have something prepared.

10. How do you measure the success of a campaign? Which metrics do you use? How do you report on them?

Understand what success looks like for both of you. Are they measuring how many pitches go out? Or do they prefer to show activity over the campaign weeks?

If there is something important to you about this campaign, let them know so they can work toward it.

I write about music marketing via my weekly newsletter, Deep Cuts. Subscribe and let’s be email friends. Get daily tips on Instagram



Amber Horsburgh

Music marketing consultant. Downtown Records & Big Spaceship alumni. Writes about music, strategy and feels at Deep Cuts