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Modern Music PR

Jamie Roberts is the President of For the Win Media, a full-service public relations and business development company based in NYC that represents artists/labels/musicians, websites, apps, films, authors and books. Jamie has a wealth of experience as a well-known music PR executive, leading departments at Roadrunner Records, Universal Records, 10th Street Entertainment, Eleven Seven Music and EMI’s The Enclave. She has 20+ years of experience working with top­-tier artists from multiple genres, including Motley Crue, Blondie, Papa Roach, Godsmack, Nick Lachey and Paulina Rubio. Jamie has also been an integral part of building the careers of artists such as Slipknot, Nickelback, and Nothing More as well as reaching new plateaus of success for break­out stars The Dillinger Escape Plan, Sloan, Belle & Sebastian and Hellyeah, among others.

 

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Jamie outlined how PR has changed since she started in the music business. She also shared tips for artists looking for publicists and some best-practices for running successful PR campaigns.

 

MC:

 

Thanks for taking some time to talk, Jamie. How did you get into the music business, and how did you wind up running your own PR company?

 

JR:

 

I’ve known I wanted to do music PR since I was about 13-years old. That’s when the records started appearing on my birthday cakes. I knew I loved music, but that I had zero musical talent. So, I had to figure out how to become involved in the music business in a meaningful way.

I actually found out about publicity from a movie. It was this really cheesy ‘70s movie called The Idol Maker, and it was my absolute favorite. My friend and I watched it a million times. And that’s when I decided, that’s what I had to do for a living.

So, I called into radio shows, studied music history and got as knowledgeable as I could about the business in any way I could, because when I was in college, there were no music business programs. When I went on a campus tour at SUNY Albany the year before I went, WCDB in Albany had been the #2 radio station in the country. I went on the tour of the campus and went straight up to the radio station, and kind of found my home there.

My freshman year, I got involved as the promotions director. In college, the communications program gave me the building blocks, but it was being at the radio station and meeting people there and getting to know the business through working there that really prepared me for the PR world.

I also had some great internships as well. I interned at Set To Run PR when I was about 19-years old. And that kind of changed my life, because every job I got subsequently in the music business had something to do with someone who worked there at the time.

 

MC:

 

What kind of jobs did you end up getting out of college?

 

JR:

 

My first job out of college was with Edwin Schlossberg, Caroline Kennedy’s husband. It had nothing to do with the music business, but I got the job because they liked my record reviews (which were my writing samples). It was a marketing job, and it was fairly uneventful, so in my spare time I taught myself how to better use the computer programs I had access to.

Then I worked for Musician Magazine at BPI Publications, which has Billboard and Hollywood Reporter. I worked there for several months in the circulation department. I used to kind of groupie around the editorial people, which is where I met Nathan Brackett, who worked at Rolling Stone until recently – now he is at Amazon.

I also met Dev Sherlock, who founded Hype Machine and a number of people who I’ve worked with to date in the music business. I worked at Flip records, for about two months, just long enough to prevent me from going to law school. I also worked at an independent PR firm, MFPR and an EMI/Virgin record label run by Tom Zutaut (The Enclave). And I worked at Roadrunner Records, KSA Publicity (which later became Press Here) and Universal Records (prior to the Motown merger).

After my stint at Universal, I went directly back to Roadrunner for another three years. I worked at Big Machine Media and was a partner there for a number of years. Once I left there, I actually left the music business for a few years to work in environmental PR, then came back. Upon coming back, I worked at Eleven Seven Music and 10th Street Entertainment for two years and ended up leaving to start my own company, For the Win Media.

 

MC:

 

And what are you guys up to right now?

 

JR:

 

We’re trying to do something special. When I was at labels, I hired nearly every PR firm out there at least once, and I was never quite satisfied with the work – there was always something missing. I never felt like they became partners in the campaigns.

Now, I insist we become partners and dig in, because I just know what it feels like to pay somebody to do PR. I have to answer for the work we do, so we take our responsibility to our clients and bands really seriously.

We get creative, use technology as much as possible and utilize every resource that’s open to us, even if it’s not traditional PR. We get sponsorships, opportunities to play certain events, etc. Whatever we can bring to bear, we do.

 

MC:

 

You’ve been in the business for a long time, and when you started, a lot of your work as a publicist was getting artists into print publications, whereas now, much of that has moved online. How else has PR changed over the years?

 

JR:

 

With the exception of magazines for specific instruments, I don’t really focus on print at all anymore. I find that in the current technology landscape, in order for coverage to be meaningful, regardless of what publication it’s in, it needs to be amplified by social media. That is how most people find what they read nowadays.

I really do count on online hits, much more than print. I recently had a print hit, and I had to take a picture of it, because I had to send it to the band somehow; they were on tour. It was really awkward, and it just proved my point that digital media is most useful in how we do business today.

Print is still something prestigious that a band, management and others who have been around for a while will value. It is a point of pride. However, as a useful tool and something that is going to move the needle for artists, it’s not really as useful anymore.

Online placements can be shared and amplified, so they are our focus. They are the most utilitarian. Our directive is to achieve our client’s goals and if their goal is to be better known, to reach people they reached before, online’s the way. It used to be very print heavy, but there also used to be a lot more options for print press.

Now, pop culture magazines have turned a lot toward Kardashians and people who are famous on television. Music coverage has really not been prioritized in pop culture publications. We’ve had to adjust to that. There have also been less and less opportunities because there’s more and more bands for what little opportunities there are for music.

Even in late night television, which is like the Holy Grail for a lot of bands, people are having music on fewer days. Since there’s more competition, there needs to be a whole plan of how you’re going to develop audience for your appearance. So if we have a band on TV, we try to put together a plan for how we’re going to promote that prior and how we’re going to amplify that on social media.

 

MC:

 

I was talking to a few different music people, and they were saying that the impact of TV performances isn’t exactly what it used to be either.

 

JR:

 

Not really, but late-night TV is still something prestigious that clients want, so we go for it when it makes sense. It’s funny, because I don’t get as upset anymore when I can’t get it. Daytime TV moves the needle as much as late night used to. Everyone I talk to tells me that an appearance on Ellen sells more records than an appearance on Letterman or Leno used to back in the day.

 

MC:

 

Interesting. We both know that now “Dude Releases Record” is no longer enough. I’m always under the impression that part of the publicist’s job is sitting down and saying, “Okay, why are you unique? What is your story? What else about you is interesting?”

How much of your job is preparing a story about an artist?

 

JR:

 

I think presenting an artist’s story is absolutely the most important part of my job, and it is the thing I talk about the most with my staff. Our job is to find out why the person is interesting. What, exactly, is it about them that makes them special?

Sometimes we utilize these criteria to judge whether we’re even going to take a client, because we don’t want to disappoint anyone.

We spend a lot of time preparing the story with the client. We have a questionnaire we send clients when we start with them. You can find something interesting about a client that’s readily apparent and makes you want to find out more. What we try to do is make sure there’s not just one angle on everything.

 

MC:

 

And what do those different angles look like?

 

JR:

 

They can be things like their stances on cannabis legalization and other types of political activism … or the path to success that the person has taken. They can also be talents the person has other than music. Maybe the band is blazing a new trail to a new genre. There are a lot of different things it can be, and there are often a lot more than one thing.

Every artist or band has to have a lot of angles, because, as a publicist, you have to be able to mine different aspects of a person’s career and personality. The angles can also involve association with a larger artist or a producer that artist has worked with.

There are so many different reasons an artist and their music can be interesting, and the more angles you have, the more opportunity you have to put a really strong story together.

For example, if someone has a song that is on a soundtrack to a movie, then you have the movie as an angle. Or maybe an artist is related to someone famous. Artists seldom want to use that angle, because they want to stand on their own, but it’s still an angle.

The idea is that you want to pull every little thing out, even details like someone being a really good cook. There are all kinds of food shows and other stuff online where you can recommend restaurants or a recipe.

There are all sorts of reasons that an artist can be interesting. You have to find as many as possible, pull them out and make sure the artist can discuss them intelligently. As publicists, we do media training for that very reason, to make sure artists can talk about themselves succinctly, completely and interestingly and in a way that is honest and authentic.

 

MC:

 

And, what are some of the essential materials that clients should come to you with? In other words, what are the materials that make it easiest for you to do your job as a publicist?

 

JR:

 

I think the most important thing is that you should all know each other very well, because not all of you are going to be in the room during every interview. For instance, the drummer might be interviewed for Modern Drummer and asked what a song is about. And he might say, “I don’t know. Ask the singer, he wrote it.” That response is not OK. So, as a band, you have to have some very serious discussions about what songs are about and what the stories are so you are all on the same page about it, before you even come to a publicist or do any interviews.

And having visual imagery is very important, but while it’s amazing to have multiple photos that you like that you’re cool with, I’ve had bands that have had none and have done well. I think knowing the stories behind songs and having a band mission are the most important things for a band to have.

Still, as a publicist, I would love five or six different band photos that are approved to be used however we see fit. I would also love live video that shows that the band prides themselves on their performance.

 

MC:

 

What about social media pages and the band’s website?

 

JR:

 

A website is not really that important, because no one cares anymore. Usually websites are just landing pages that have links to socials. That being said, if your website and socials are consistent looking, that helps. If you build your social numbers, that’s always helpful, because that aids in amplification of your coverage. If you have a smaller number of followers, but they’re really engaged and help you promote things, that’s fine. I’d rather have a thousand people that are super active and will repost things on their pages than 20,000 people who just look and lurk and don’t do anything.

 

MC:

 

Right. And when do you think is the right time for an artist to hire a PR company?

 

JR:

 

The best time is when you’re serious and have your act together. There are a lot of people who have a record they made, and they’re just going to put it out. They haven’t put any thought into how they’re going to put it out, when they’re going to put it out, where they’re going to put it out and when they’re going to go on tour.

All the pieces of the puzzle should be in place before you hire a publicist. A publicist can’t book tour dates for you and can’t get you distribution for your record. You also can’t expect them to sell your records. What they get for you is awareness. That’s why you have to have all the other pieces in place before hiring us; it helps us do our job to the best of our ability.

The time to get a publicist is, for example, when you’re a band in Australia looking to get publicity in the U.S. Your job is to book some dates in the U.S. and make sure the records can be purchased there. Also, make sure your socials have some American people following. You need to be prepared, because it’s a tree falling in the forest.

If we get you a piece in Pitchfork, that’s great, but it won’t do anything if nobody’s watching.

 

MC:

 

Right. You can’t make something happen for people if they don’t have some sort of momentum already.

 

JR:

 

Exactly. It’s a waste of your money if you try to move ahead with nothing else going on.

 

MC:

 

And what’s easiest for you to push: a single, EP or a full-length album?

 

JR:

 

It depends on the genre. We have a lot of people that test the waters with singles, and I think that’s great. But if you have an amazing body of work, just put out a record.

For instance, we’ve got this German rapper, and he’s got the Wu Tang Clan on his record. He’s just blasting out a full record. They know people are going to freak out over it. If you’ve got the goods, just get it out there.

 

MC:

 

And how important is video these days?

 

JR:

 

Videos are great tools to show how many fans you have and how engaged they are. Still, MTV is not MTV anymore. However, video premieres are great. If we do them on a non-music site, like a lifestyle site or something similar, depending on what the video looks like, it can be a good way to expand an artist’s audience.

To give you an might not have seen the video otherwise.

 

MC:

 

That ties into knowing who you are and knowing who your audience is.

 

JR:

 

Right. And you want to put a lot of time into any video you make. Maybe you can just stand there and play your instrument if you’re a great live band, but if you want to put any sort of a storyline into the video, you really have to think carefully about where the video could go. Think about how you can find your fans through the story.

 

MC:

 

And on another topic, is it common for bigger periodicals to look at the existing placements when deciding whether to place a band? In other words, if you have something up in a dozen small blogs, would medium-sized or even large-sized blogs see this as a good sign or a bad sign … or does it even influence their decision at all?

 

JR:

 

I think it’s much to their credit that a lot of bloggers don’t really care what other people do. They care whether they like the music or not and how it makes them feel. What they look at more than previous placements is whether or not you have an audience that is going to read a piece on you. What’s most compelling to them is how engaged your audience is on social media.

It all comes back to the idea of the tree falling in the forest analogy: If a blogger writes an article and no one is going to read it, what’s the use?

However, people do like to discover new talent, and I think that’s the greatest part of the flattening of the press landscape. There are 800 times more bloggers than there were newspapers back in the day. People want to pioneer and discover new talent, and you just have to sort of show that it’s going to go somewhere once they do it.

 

MC:

 

It’s interesting how it’s sort of become a catch-22, because a journalist, or blogger will want a band to be able to drive traffic to their site in order to write about it. Then, it becomes really difficult to build that without stressing other things going on. It is just a funny time that way.

 

JR:

 

I remember back in the day when people used to walk around with mailing lists and have people sign them, and when bands used to trade mailing lists. Now there’s a social media equivalent to that. You can get fans without a story on you. You can go to bands with soundalike pages and, like for instance, for Twitter, you can go to a band you sound like, and follow all their followers. Then you can put up some music somewhere that they can hear, and they’ll probably like it and follow you back. I think it takes a lot of creativity and a lot of work, but you can do it. You can also still make a deal with another band and email to their fan list and do some email marketing.

 

I feel like people don’t get creative with these techniques. They expect other people to do it for them. But once you get a following, then people will be excited to write about you.

 

MC:

 

Obviously, it’s better to be able to hire someone, but not everyone has the budget. What should artists do if they can’t afford a publicist yet and are trying to do their own PR?

 

JR:

 

My best advice is to have a friend do it for you. You can’t really be objective about your own music and about who’s going to like it. If you had a friend that is willing send out some emails, make phone calls, and write some objective pitches that will help you.

 

An example of an objective pitch would be: “You covered X band, and this band I represent sounds like X band. They are playing in your town next week. Will you go see them?”

 

MC:

 

So, find personalized and specific reasons to email a journalist rather than sending a form letter.

 

JR:

 

The form letter doesn’t work at all anymore, for anyone, so you have to really personalize how you do it. You can’t get hurt if someone says no either. You have to always remember how many people there are out there trying to do this.

 

You just have to do more homework than anyone else. Journalists are human and want to be complimented. They want to know you read their work. If you can intelligently quote someone’s article and give them a reason why they might like something that they can understand, then great. If you blasted out a form letter to 100 people, you would get fewer results than if you called ten with specific research done.

 

MC:

 

Is the phone still important to PR in this day and age?

 

JR:

 

God, yes. And so few people use it. It’s true that, especially in the case of young publicists, most of their jobs are done via email. And more of my job is done via email than it used to be. But if you want to get an answer about something, there’s nothing better than picking up the phone.

 

MC:

 

I have one last question. What personality traits or behaviors are shared by your clients who have become successful?

 

JR:

 

I would say that the things that my successful clients all know that this is just the beginning of the work, not the end of it. When they got a record deal, even the ones that initially thought that it was smooth sailing from there learned really quickly that it wasn’t.

 

The successful ones know they’re running their own business. That’s what a band is. I mean, it’s lovely if you got into a band thinking you were just going to be cool and creative and never have to do anything, and other people would handle your business. But other people don’t know your business like you do, and they don’t know your fans like you do.

 

So, if you want to be successful, get it together; run your business. That’s the only way you’re going to make it. And also remember that success is relative. Somebody asked me the other day, “how do you know that you’re a success in this business?” And I said, “I sleep well at night. I know I put everything into what I do, and I’m happy doing what I do.”

 

To learn more about Jamie Roberts and the work she does with artists, visit the For the Win’s website: https://www.forthewin.media/

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