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Publicity in the Music Industry
Are They The People Behind The Success of Artists?
By MuzikMan
(more articles from this author)
2004-01-26
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[MuzikMan] How important is it to get a good review for an artist? Conversely, how difficult is it, and if so, why?

Rhonda Kelley (Rainmaker Publicity) It is very important, but a good review alone won't break an unsigned artist. Just as a radio campaign alone won't. It's the combination of all marketing and promotion mixed together; radio, press, webzines, internet radio, advertising, in-stores, performing, touring, CD compilations (Lollipop,Magnet, CMJ), street teams, postering etc. To create an industry buzz you need reviews in national magazines like Billboard, Performing Songwriter, Spin, Alternative Press, Relix, CMJ, Rockpile, Music Connection Magazine; it makes a huge difference. But, always remember, word of mouth is still the best advertising a band can get.

How difficult is it getting press today? For publicists, it is much easier because there is double the amount of space than there was just 3 years ago. Look at Music Connection Magazine; they actually have 3 writers that specifically write about Indie Bands & Companies. Performing Songwriter has doubled their space & added a Managing Editor. Relix has "Bands You Should Know About" in every issue; Rockpile has "Under the Radar" and so on. We also have new magazines that are proving very successful like Women Who Rock, Alarm Magazine, Venus Magazine, Varla Magazine, & Harp to name a few.

Terri Hinte (Fantasy Jazz) Obviously good reviews are desirable. However, if there are too many of them, or they are TOO glowing, it all starts smelling like "hype." Let the backlash begin...

Victoria Rose (Lightyear Entertainment) It is very important to get good reviews for your artist. Usually an artist thinks they should never be criticized. Their egos normally do not allow for such things. I had an artist once who was criticized by the NY Times for his voice style on a particular genre of music. The artist fired me because of the review, which said, "The screechy sounds of his voice are an insult to the style of music." I told the journalist what happened and he was shocked at the artist's reaction. Artist do not like being wrong. Good reviews are hard and you have to bring out all the positives and the hooks when presenting an artist. You also have to create a good image for the artist. In this case, I did not by telling the journalist what happened.

[MuzikMan] What kind of feedback can a publicist expect from an artist that wants to use their services?

Rhonda Kelley (Rainmaker Publicity) Bands ask me, how do you measure a successful press campaign? Are there any guarantees? Can you make me a rock star? (Seriously, they ask that). I just tell them honestly, publicity & public relations is very subjective business and there are no guarantees or promises. However, I do think that the personality and style of the publicist should match that of the bands. Expectations should be spelled out at the beginning of a campaign.

Victoria Rose (Lightyear Entertainment) A publicist should have a completely open rapport with the artist. A good publicist should be like a mother/father, sister/brother, shrink and stylist at times or confidante, whatever it takes with the artist. This relationship creates a trust and allows you to get what is necessary from the artist to get the job done for them. Remember this is for the artist's benefit not the publicist.

[MuzikMan] What is the knowledge level of most artists concerning the ways (and evils) of the media, technology and the Internet?

Rhonda Kelley (Rainmaker Publicity) Most musicians and artists in general would rather not deal in the business aspects of the music biz; that is why they hire us. Some of the myths are:

If you spend $30,000 on the production of the CD and the cover art, the music will sell itself - FALSE!

We have to have brick & mortar distribution before releasing the CD? - FALSE! (CDbaby.com/The Orchard work just fine)

If we buy a few ads in the magazine, they have to give us a good review! - FALSE!

Terri Hinte (Fantasy Jazz) Varies wildly.

Victoria Rose (Lightyear Entertainment) This is too broad a question. It depends on the experience of the artist. Some are media savvy because they have been around that block before. Some are more tech savvy and today I would imagine many are internet savvy. All are anxious and you have to use "kid gloves" with them most of the time.

Anne Leighton (Media * Marketing * Motivation) I find that musicians are probably more knowledgeable about the ways of the web than publicists are. In general, the internet has very few outlets that the hordes go to for updated info and publicists choose to work with the small websites because the reporters are polite. The mentality is that record companies want what is called "real media," meaning print newspapers, magazines, national or regional TV shows and then the popular sites like ALL MUSIC GUIDE and ROLLING STONE ONLINE. To see well-hyped sites like ALLSTARMAG.COM cease its existence or combine into CDNOW, which ended up cutting its staffers is a significant statement on how insignificant the web is to media outreach businesses.

However, most artists are grateful for whatever media they can receive because it is a struggle to get into ANY media outlet. So if I can get a placement in a junior media outlet that 20 people go to every month, there may be hope I'll sell two CDs. For a baby band, I will take that attention.

[MuzikMan] What are some of the hardest barriers and attitudes to overcome when you are dealing with tours, recording studios, and labels?

Rhonda Kelley (Rainmaker Publicity) In a word, TIME. In a perfect world, we would have 2 months prior to a CD being released nationally and 1 month before a tour started. The reality is that very few Indie musicians realize how far in advance magazines work. It is November and I am getting confirmations for reviews & features for February-March 2004 issues.

Victoria Rose (Lightyear Entertainment) Getting the information needed to do the job, especially tour info. Everyone in the business knows what is needed to do tour press. It's a matter of having a good tour manager that can do the job, feed you the tour info, travel info and also be sure the interviews get done (if the press agent is not on the road.) As far as the recording studio this should never be a problem as the artist is paying for the studio time, so the studio should always be cooperative. Labels are usually very cooperative as they are pleased to have someone outside handling artist that is a priority.

Anne Leighton (Media * Marketing * Motivation) When I am dealing with labels, who are generally my clients, I have to follow their directives, so there are no barriers and attitudes to overcome. They are the boss. Tours... I like getting tour dates six weeks in advance for an unknown band. It is easier to find media placements if you had a hit or were a mainstay at some era in rock & roll history and you are going after the media three weeks out, but ideally, you want to set up interviews and make calls six weeks out for everybody. It is purely an organizational issue.

I have not dealt with recording studios at all.

[MuzikMan] For those of you that work directly for a label what are some of your daily challenges promoting artists? What is the difference (if it applies to you) from working on your own and a label?

Rhonda Kelley (Rainmaker Publicity) As an Indie publicist, I get to choose the bands I work with. A label publicist does not choose the roster, the label does. That is the main difference.

Terri Hinte (Fantasy Jazz) Effective communication between artist/manager & label is the single most important factor in a successful partnership.

Victoria Rose (Lightyear Entertainment) The challenges start with getting the press to notice your artist, especially the unknown ones. Most artists that can afford press agents are established. The ones that cannot are the ones that need the most help. Because of the barrage of product today (worse than ever) journalist do not seem to have a chance to listen to many CDs. They usually go for the ones that are familiar to them. It is less work, and when they do, it is usually under trying circumstances. I have artists that deserve and should get the attention because their product is good or sometimes great. It is difficult to get a journalist to listen and in my case, most of the time, when they finally do they LOVE what they hear, focus long enough to hear. Over the course of my career, I have been an independent press agent for usually an established artist (as they are the ones who have the money to pay.) If you are good at what you do, you can usually pick and choose the clients you want. I always go for the ones I admire the most and love the product so the passion shows when I am selling it. I try to always be professional and that counts for a lot as well. Another words, follow through and deliver what you say, do your homework as well.

[MuzikMan] What are the different forms of Payola you see today opposed to 25 years ago? Has it become more insidious and complex than ever because of the competition?

Rhonda Kelley (Rainmaker Publicity) I have only been doing this for 71/2 years, not 25, but I find it is actually more open than it has ever been as far as I am concerned. Many of today's music magazines release compilation CD's and clearly have an asking price to be included and many follow with a review. Musicdish.com has Artist Express, a great service that will syndicate a good review/article and profile it to over 200 (and counting) presses outlets for a price. NYROCK.com has asked for a $20.00 donation for reviews for over a year now. I guess it is an individual choice.

Victoria Rose (Lightyear Entertainment) The scanning of records given to retail that they don't really sell. Other than that, I don't know.

Anne Leighton (Media * Marketing * Motivation) I don't know. I don't do radio promotion. None of my artists can afford to pay a radio station to play them. Well, some can but I think they would rather spend their money on other things like their pets.

[MuzikMan] What advice do you have for young people that want to get into publicity for a career? What are some of the do's and don't's?

Terri Hinte (Fantasy Jazz) Do's: learn how to write & SPELL. Read widely. Listen to all kinds of music. Don'ts: using the word "brilliant" in any of your press releases more than once a year.

Rhonda Kelley (Rainmaker Publicity) 1) ONLY work bands you love; Your reputation is all you really have at the end of the day; 2) Learn how to WRITE; 3) know when to delegate and outsource.

Victoria Rose (Lightyear Entertainment) It is a tough business today more than ever. You have to have the energy, the passion, the stamina and a thick skin to handle what is thrown at you. First, believe in what you are selling or the people you are trying to sell will smell your lack of passion and will not give you the time of day. Always try to stay credible because if you do not the press will not trust you and you will lose. Doing press is about as much as creating relationships as anything else. Anybody can get the lists is the relationships you create that make the difference.

My background is 30 years in the business doing press and marketing. I have worked with artists including David Bowie, John Melencamp, Lionel Richie, Tom Waits and Iggy Pop. I headed Farm Aid I and worked with The Talking Heads, among many others. I am now at a label/distributor Lightyear for the first time and have been here just under a year.

Anne Leighton (Media * Marketing * Motivation) Publicity is goal setting. First, you need a project to hype. Then you need to figure out what media you can get the project into, and then you approach the media. Obviously, there are fine points like understanding how to make a phone call and write a press release.

A few of the most important DOs and DON'Ts would be DO BE A GREAT COMMUNICATOR. If you want a journalist to call you back (and you do!), leave your number at the beginning of the message and at the end of the message-at least twice. Leave your number clearly; don't imitate a top 40 D.J.

The other important point is that you need to shepherd a story. Once someone wants an interview with your artist, ask them about photo needs. Find art for them, yell at your artists (or record company) if there is no art available.

Fantasy Jazz - www.fantasyjazz.com
Media * Marketing * Motivation - www.anneleighton.com
Lightyear Entertainment - www.lightyear.com
Rainmaker Publicity - www.rainmakerpublicity.com


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