The press release game in Nigeria is hilarious.
'FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
'One of the hottest acts in Nigeria(with no single, whom nobody knows) Shubangu (fictional stage name) is set to release his new single, 'Lale Friday.' The song was produced by the mercurial DJ Flipcart (also unpopular and with mild success). It is a follow-up to 'Lagbaja' which topped charts (which charts) and garnered a cult following (okay??).
'The song is set to SET NIGERIAN DANCEFLOORS on fire and cement Shubangu as the greatest act since Elvis Presley.
'The beat is so infectious, your body will sway beyond your imagination. Shubangu is the hottest in Nigeria.'
Nigerian press releases read like something along those lines. With PR reps and music writers, the subconscious belief is that a press release should be a mix of an ad and an invitation to treat with an unhealthy dose of undeserving hype thrown into the mix.
While it is worse with upcoming acts, it is almost peculiar with every press release in Nigeria.
PR companies/reps start off with the very interesting email heading, 'For Immediate Release.' Why do you add that? The journalist knows the music is for release.
It's incredible how this forms the basis of 95% of Nigerian press releases for artists. In fact, it is the fundamental style and tone of Nigerian press releases.
It has gone on for so long that Nigerian PR reps and entertainment writers feel this unnecessarily 'packaged' style of writing is THE way to write anything that involves a release. Well, it's not the only way and in truth, it serves no purpose. Hype is not substance, it is abstract and unattractive.
There's an unhealthy dose of content to consume out there that no matter how much you hype an unknown act in his press release with conjectures and wishful thinking, it is unlikely to have any effect in swaying a reader to listen to or post his music.
More often than not, inadvertently hearing a song on radio or at a party gets people to become fans of a new act. Except the act has a name, 'packaged' press releases won't do anything. If a potential listener clicks the link, the hyped up press release has little or nothing to do with it.
In fact, an artwork might even have more persuasive tendencies than a 'packaged' press release. It's annoying when that's what one keeps seeing over and again. Just because something has become popular over time does not mean it is the only way to do it.
It also does not mean any other way - for example, a press release with no hype or 'packaging' - is wrong. But as human beings, the subscription to cliche drives idealistic myopia - there is a subconscious fear attached to doing things in another way. The only reason this happens is because we don't ask two questions;
- Why do we do/write/say/sing it this/that way?
- Does the way we do it have the desired effect?
A lack of imagination and meticulous thought on the part of PR reps/companies and music writers is why this grossly ineffectual style persists in media and entertainment.
Why do we write press releases this way?
It's historical and has become a mirror of accepted usage. It transitioned from the tabloid/magazine era to the blog/internet era. It is a created style that became the standard we now adhere to.
The use of media as a music promotion tool started off the tabloid and magazine era. Radio and visual media later joined, but an invitation to treat of hype and 'packaging' will never work on those platforms. You can't hype what people are already listening to and/or watching. They can judge by themselves.
But with tabloids and magazines, they have the luxury of having the music behind the shadows, with the reader incapable of listening while reading. With tabloids and magazines saturated with music promotion requests by artists and their reps during that era, music placement was largely done by payola and man-know-man - nepotism.
For the few ones that were picked on a raffle, the press release had to really sell a good song to even get listened to by the journalist who will place it in the tabloid or magazine. So, the PR rep/company had to hype and 'package' the song to even get a look-in.
On the part of the music writer, as noted earlier, music placement was done by payola and man-know-man. In the entertainment industries across the world, you must make anyone who pays you know look good. You must also treat your 'connects' well.
In the tabloid/magazine era, when the press release came from any of these avenues, you had to make people look good. So, hype and 'packaging' became a medium of supposedly selling a narrative to potential listeners.
'For Immediate Release' was created to connote urgency, but it has literally grown to have no effect. If anything, it projects megalomania and a bloated sense of importance on the artist's part. It is a cliche that people have accepted as a standard.
Do hype and packaging have the desired effect for upcoming acts?
The simple answer is no.
Hype in press releases are a turn off. While confidence is attractive and needed for artists, and boisterous statements work, there is a difference between confidence and hype.
Hype is when you write in your press release that your last single, which nobody knows was a hit. Hype is when you say you're one of the hottest when none of your songs are even being played at parties. Even when they're being played at parties or radio, hype is when you appropriate the word 'hit.'
Appropriation of superlatives like 'hit' or 'hot' to describe an artist or his music makes the reader feel patronized.
Hype in press releases will most likely get you laughed at by the audience you seek to attract than get you a listen. Even if the potential listener ends up clicking your song, it has to be really exceptional to truly resonate. If it's average, the listener will most likely hiss and stop after 10 seconds.
Hype breeds cynicism - it's that simple. Yes, how about the new listeners who are not really conversant with the scene?
True music lovers - who go in search of music - are the ones most likely to click your music. And the music has to be really good to resonate with anyone anyway.
Sometimes, it works, but think of yourself when you write these things. If you read something like that, knowing it is propped and drummed up nonsense, what would your reaction be?
As for 'For Immediate Release,' it is the most unnecessary tone of urgency in history. Your music will go up by what the writer deems important journalist. It is the most useless tool in modern Nigerian PR game.
Change is necessary
Please forgive this short story, but it will help us get somewhere. When I left Law School, I immediately got a job at a reasonable medium-scale Law firm. I took the job because my boss was progressive and our first conversation ended with Linkin Park and Elon Musk's satellite internet moves.
I always had the ability to write, but at that Law firm, my entire orientation of legal drafting and legal writing was totally changed for the better. On my second day, my boss asked me to draft a Writ of Summons. The next day, he asked me to draft a land agreement.
With minor editing, they were both used. My land agreements would be 12-15 pages sometimes and I kept writing that way. I thought that was how it was meant to be.
After my first two months, my boss called me into his office and asked about my take on legal drafting. He then asked me, "Do you think there is a Lawyer's way of drafting legal documents?" I replied, "I think so. That's how Lawyers write."
On the spot, he told me, "Mo, you're not wrong, but that's bulls**t. There's nothing like a Lawyer's way of writing anything. The only thing a Lawyer has over the average person is knowledge and in some cases, experience.
"What you call a "Lawyer's way of writing" is archaic legal jargon that Lawyers use to bamboozle outsiders when in fact, it's hogwash. Those idiosyncrasies of your writing, you need to cut them to stand out."
What he said next was that, I needed to ask myself if drafting in shorter and more concise would hurt my purpose. I was indifferent. He then showed me something.
You see, he rewrote my first writ of summons and land agreement. My writ of summons had the usual Lawyerly mumbo jumbo, "The claimant then sine qua non asks the court for an unwitting..."
My writ was compressed from 3 pages to one page. My agreement was cut from 13 pages to 3 pages - yes. Guess what, the new versions both said the same thing with less Lawyerly baggage. On that spot, I realized how we unknowingly subscribe archaic styles of writing that we don't question the 'why' we do it and 'if' it works.
The same thing applies to a lot artists, PR reps/companies and writers who put the word out. Hype and 'packaging' became a feature because a lot of people conflate appraisal of an artist with written hype. You can't use a superlative like 'hit' for a song that was not even a sleeper hit.
You can't say an upcoming act is the greatest thing since sliced bread in a press release. I mean, you can, but it is to your detriment. It is counter-productive. We need to change.
What should PR reps and music writers do?
1. The heading should change from 'For Immediate Release' to the artist's name and the song's title. Something like, 'New Single/Album: 'Lale Friday' by Shubangu.'
2. Talk about the artist - appraise, but be minimal and truthful with it. Measure how you use the word 'hot,' 'hit,' 'star,' and other superlatives. If that's his first single, then talk about his journey up to that point. Express, tell a story, don't hype and 'package.' Even clout-chasing needs some form of authenticity as an ally.
Learn to weild authenticity. You cannot speak a hit into existence. Call yourself a star, but if you are not, you are shooting yourself in the foot.
3. Work on the aesthetics like artwork, stage name, song title and the entire styling of your press releases.
4. Work on the music. If you hype from now till tomorrow and the music is trash, it will not do anything. Make sure the music is good. This is fundamental.