Think Tank: Music Publicity – Then and Now

Close-up of a young man listening to an MP3 playerEach area of public relations, from crisis to consumer, fashion to technology, all have their own specific rules and methodologies. I kicked off my PR career in the music industry, and I continue to have a strong interest in this particular sector.  I left music in the midst of the exploding blogosphere – where music criticism was in question, magazines were folding one by one, and bloggers were becoming the new tastemakers.

I thought this would be the perfect time to take a look at what’s going on in the music PR world and see what’s changed, what’s stayed the same, and what the future holds.

To seek out some answers, I invited Rey Roldan, owner of Reybee Productions and 16-year old music industry veteran, to join us here in the PRBC Think Tank. Spearheading publicity campaigns for the likes of Britney Spears to Duran Duran, Rey lent us his incredible knowledge, and examined the biggest differences between the past and the present of music publicity.

Personal Interaction & Relationships

Back in the day, it was all about phones and faxes (gasp). Now it’s a well known fact that as publicists, we have become slaves to our inboxes. In fact, when our phone does ring, we might be caught staring in shock at the ancient mechanism on our desk. With the popularity of social media, communication with the press is expanding beyond e-mail to include Facebook, Twitter and… even Instant Messenger?

What’s Rey’s take?

Before: “During the days of pre-email pitching, I would come in to work, and there’d be about 80 voicemails and faxes. I loved it because the personal interaction of actually SPEAKING to the writers on the phone was exciting, and the conversations I’d have with writers resulted in actual friendships.”

Now: “Communicating with music writers has changed DRASTICALLY.  Nearly every writer prefers an email pitch vs. a phone call. The connection with writers has waned considerably and personal interaction has diminished to being almost nonexistent.”

Future: “It’s not just about e-mail anymore. Instant Messenger, Facebook are also great tools. When we put out a press release, we do an e-mail blast to over 8,000 media people, post it on our Facebook page and Tweet it to our followers. Then we follow it up with emails and phone calls. Different journalists respond to different reach outs, so we do whatever is most effective for those folks.”

Citizen Journalism vs. Investigative Journalism

I remember the days of getting the latest issue of Rolling Stone or Alternative Press and combing through page by page and jotting down the record I just had to pick up on my next trip to the record store.  Now, everyone is a critic, and there seems to be a plethora of blogs out there, which can make finding new music an impossible task.

It’s also not rare to hear that the term “music criticism” is dead among the masses in the music industry. So, how has the blogosphere impacted music journalism? And, is music criticism really dead?

What’s Rey’s take?

Before: “When I was working on a CD we would send it out to a wealth of magazines, fanzines and newspapers. The pages were filled with longer-form and thought-provoking think pieces, like the stories that Charles M. Young, Vic Garbarini, Will Hermes, Jaan Uhelzki, and other great writers composed.  Before the advent of P2P sharing and the Internet where everyone is a critic, albums were truly appreciated and the perspective of a journalist and/or critic was held in higher regard.”

Now: “As web-based sites drew heavier traffic because of citizen journalism’s immediacy, magazines started losing their grip and investigative journalism started to become a thing of the past. Now it’s about bite-sized morsels and smaller features. It just doesn’t have the depth and breadth the old stories had.”

Future: “I actually think the media is morphing again. I keep hearing mutterings of new print publications being hatched and launches being planned. I think a return to underground newsprint and Xeroxed fanzines is going to take shape again. I just hope that the online media world will take advantage of unlimited bandwidth and return to a more investigative journalistic approach.”

The Impact of Social Media on Music Public Relations

I got my start right when music blogs were picking up steam. In fact, if it wasn’t for one particular blog, one of the music artists I was working with at the time would have never broken. With hundreds, if not thousands of music blogs and only a handful of print publications, how does a music publicist attack a PR campaign? What social networking tools are the most effective?

What’s Rey’s take?

Before:One of the first releases I worked on was a triple-CD retrospective of the reunited Go-Go’s.  Back then, we sent out 2,500 copies of the CD to close to that amount of print publications. Now I send a mailing out to roughly about 50 print magazines and newspapers. I also loved, and continue to do so, turning people onto music and art that they  might not have been familiar with…or if they have, trying to convince them to appreciate it in a different perspective.”

Now: “It’s not always easy and these days it seems like EVERY angle has already been explored. I prefer to see publicity as more than just attacking a specific campaign head-on, I believe in attacking a project sideways and all around by making the artists themselves far more compelling and interesting. To break one of our artists recently, it took a combined effort. One team member handles online punk press and made sure the artist was well-represented there. Another focused on regional press and then I took on national press and television. As we each built up the respective cornerstones, it made the whole campaign bulletproof.”

Future: “Social media will continue to impact music industry. While I love the direct connection that an artist can now have with their fans, I also feel that it takes away the mystique and the intrigue that made fans more eager to learn about artists they love. With that said, it seems that a lot of writers are jacked into Facebook and Twitter, and I get a lot of ideas and angles from postings of the artists they’re following.”

So how do you sum up the state of music industry PR? As Rey so eloquently stated, “While the means of getting the job done have changed, the true nature of the job hasn’t.”

What do you think readers? Where do you see music PR headed? Do you think music criticism is dead, or do think there’s still hope for music magazines after all?

PRBC would just like to thank Rey Roldan for his time and invaluable insight.

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  • How interesting! Lots of parallels with other industries.

  • Becki

    I think in 5 years a pattern will emerge from all this craziness. At least I hope! It's like running a marathon keeping up with all the avenues for music PR these days!

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  • Great post, Marie. The provides a wealth of media contemporary relations technique that across industries and markets. The job always is to get the story told, and that requires new thinking to deal with the realities of the changing media landscape.

    Jim Bowman – The PR Doc®

  • Marie

    Thanks Jim for your comment. I'm glad you found the post informative!

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