How did you get into public relations?
I went into the Art Institute of Seattle for music, video, and business. I knew from high school that I wanted to work with music. Then I moved to Austin, partly because of South by Southwest (SXSW), I went one year and I loved it, and partly to get journalism degree. While I was there I worked at SXSW, which led in a roundabout way to where I am now because I ended up working as an intern at the college rep for BMG Distribution. My role there was finding alternative artists, street teens, and coming up with marketing promotions. From there I became an alternative artist development rep, I moved to Detroit where I worked on a lot of regional campaigns like the Kings of Leon, The Strokes, The White Strips, those were some of the bigger ones. Three years ago, I quit my job and started Green Light Go because I wanted to go back to my roots of publicity, and really I just wanted to become a beacon of hope and integrity and honestly in the business because I see so many musicians just being taken advantage of.
Why did you decide to choose to work with small bands in Brooklyn?
They actually chose me. A lot of my business is through word of mouth. It starts with one community and builds from there.
Naked Hearts was the first Brooklyn band that I started working with and I met them from another Portland band that was called Star Fucker at the time [now called Pyramid]. And then the others were just word of mouth from other musicians.
How do you describe the music industry now compared to what it was five, ten years ago?
I’d say that a change really started about 10 years ago. I will never forget, I was at a meeting at SXSW and I had worked for a major distributor at the time and it was right when Napster started. One of my counterparts had asked, “What do you plan to do with Napster?” and the response was, “We’ll wait and see what the little guys will do because, as a major label, we’re not going to take the lead with that.” And BMG ended up trying to work with Napster, but at that point it was just too late. I think the real challenge is that the music industry tries to dictate what the consumer wants instead listening to why the consumer wants music and how they want to consume it and how they want to use it in their lifestyle.
Now it’s looking at how music plays a role in a person’s lifestyle. Now it’s not just listening to a CD. Now it could be having a ringtone on your phone that says a lot about who you are. It’s also licensing, films, TV. It’s really just music all around us and that’s what we need to adjust to. How people are getting music is so different. We need to adjust to selling entity of the music, of the band and who they are. It’s no longer selling it as a physical package per se.
What’s your job description?
From start to finish, we’re public relations because from the beginning we’re trying to help them find their identity. We don’t dictate that, we let them and we work with who they are and find their story within that. It’s targeting the people that we think would like their music. For Naked Hearts, they have their niche; an indie rock fan base that will eat them up and love them. For Fan Tan, because they’re synth-pop, the people that go out dancing on Saturday nights and listen to great retro-Brit-pop, that’s like their lifestyle. We’re playing into those things–how people would already consume the music and find the right writers for them.
How does this industry change effect PR?
It’s easier to get their name out there because there are more opportunities. For me, it’s much more fun because it’s so much more interactive being able to offer an MP3 that people can hear right away, rather than trying to read about music. Someone once said that you can’t hear music by reading it. You can describe it all you want, but you need to hear it to really understand it. That’s the great thing about it. Those two things go hand in hand, because it gives the reader and the listener a chance to judge for themselves what the music is. The writer becomes another voice and another opinion to get the word out there.
Does the digital revolution make it easier for bands to make a living?
A band able to make money? That’s big misconception because people look at Beyoncé and they watch MTV cribs and they think that every band makes a ton of money, and why should they have to buy CDs? And my biggest pet peeve, probably because I come from the music distribution world, is when people say, “I’ve already bought so many CDs in my lifetime, I shouldn’t have to buy them anymore” That’s like saying, “I’ve bought so much gas for my car already, I shouldn’t have to buy more.” We have to value what each other does. And if I was to devalue what someone else’s art or what someone else does for a living it would be the same thing. Therein lies the challenge with bands because they can’t make money by selling CDs anymore and even digitally, there’s not enough money in there anymore because people are getting that for free.
Then you have to look at licensing opportunities. There aren’t a lot of opportunities out there and that’s how it’s become very bottlenecked. Although now you have a further reach when getting your band’s name out because of blogs and what not, the challenge becomes getting money for your music. There’s touring, but all that money goes to putting gas in the tank for the van. There’s just a disconnect with fans realizing that this is basically a loss, and there are very few bands that make money off of this.
Is there a way for bands to start making money? Not becoming wealthy, just making a living?
It has to completely change. How things are at now, I don’t know. I try to look at a lot of different things. When I’m working with a band, I have many backgrounds, so I don’t just give them publicity advice. Kickstarter is the name of a site where fans can invest in a band and help pay the costs that go to CD production and recording. That’s a really interesting concept. As a fan of certain bands, I would definitely be willing to invest in that processes knowing that I made a difference. If it’s done right I think more of the business can go this way where fans are investing in the beginning of the process than in the end. It’s still in its infancy at this point.
How is Everything Independent changing the industry?
I love what they do. The book, Our Band Could Be Your Life, by Michael Azerrad (who used to write for Spin and Rolling Stone) was set during the punk movement when all these bands were DYI and it chronicles how these bands were doing it on their own. And I think that’s where we are at now. You take Everything Independent; they’re not functioning as your traditional label, and they’re offering more support than management would. They’re advising their bands and they’re consulting a band on building a budget.
They’re helping a band go through a timeline and go through a budget so they can really achieve their goals. That’s the difference from a traditional label and Everything Independent. They’re setting goals for the band and talking to the bands about what their goals are while a traditional label’s goal is primarily to sell records. Everything Independent looks more at the artist’s career as a whole, which is what a label does to a certain extent, but they’re just looking at so much more. They’re putting them in the right places and connecting them to publicists like myself. There are elements that are similar to a traditional label. I just think they take it a step further. They’re basically an artist development firm.