Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points Is Lester

When our second and third singles went completely unnoticed, I realized we could not rely on a record label to handle our promotions.  Remembering the Art Alexakis interview in which he said he took responsibility for hiring publicists and promoting his albums, I knew we had to do the same.  The problem was that we had no idea where to begin.

If you are a person that can do everything yourself, then you are a person that will not have to share any of the earned rewards.  I have no desire to do everything myself. If we can earn some rewards I am more than glad to share them, but nobody wanted to work with us.  People do not want to work with you until you have rewards to be shared.

There are a lot of things in life that just don’t make sense.  Many of these things are accepted to be true by the mass majority.  Then when you question them people say “come on, everybody knows it’s true” and you can’t get past that train of thought. The logic of hiring a PR rep is one of these things.  I quickly found out that if you are not popular, then a publicist will not return your call.  Publicists are people that you hire to make you known, yet publicists don’t want to work with people that are unknown.  This Simba is the circle of pop-life. It makes no sense. 

In addition, you pay a publicist before they do their job, and you don’t get a refund if they do a bad job. The idea that I was not popular enough to have a publicist take my money really really really pissed me off.

A few years later a friend introduced me to a publicist at a Halloween party.  I approached him with this conversation.  He explained to me that his roster of clients is his resume.  He needed known celebrities on his roster in order to bring in other known celebrities.  That is such bullshit.  I mean more power to him if he can pull it off, but it’s bullshit that people fall for it. 

If some guy comes up to you and says he has been Marilyn Manson’s publicist sense 2007 you would be impressed.  Why?  Because Marilyn Manson is a celebrity. But he was already a celebrity and well past his prime in 2007.  He has had no surge of popularity sense this hypothetical guy began working with him which means this guy is clearly not very good at his job.  The person you want to talk to is the guy that was Marilyn Manson’s publicist in 1994.  He is the guy that took a nobody and made him a somebody.  He is the guy that will have some great stories and advice, but don’t give him any money. You don’t want to hire somebody that had great success 20 years ago if he hasn’t recently had even a mild success.

Publicists weren’t the only people that stonewalled us.  If you sell a few thousand copies of a song in the U.S. then you can easily get attention, but sell a few thousand worldwide and you will quickly see that nobody cares.  It’s like the quote from the movie Singles “we're huge in Europe.”  Even if it’s true, people in the States don’t care.

Before people in the U.S. knew who they were (most still don’t) The Flaming Lips were huge in Europe.  When Coldplay (a band from Europe) was at the top of their game they sold out an arena in OKC.  During their show, to all of the coolest people in town, they said “it’s a real honor to play in the home town of one of the greatest bands in the world” and then performed Yoshimi by The Flaming Lips.  The majority of the audience had no idea to whom they were referring.  Sense then the Flaming Lips have earned mass appeal State side and there aren’t many in OKC that don’t know them.  But it took testimonials by people like Coldplay to earn them that attention.

In 2009 I was still working full time at any job I could get in an attempt to support my family.  Every free moment I was focusing on music, but those free moments were few and far between.  I was spread thin, and still not getting anywhere.  Billy and I decided to start a production company:  Lackadaisical Productions.  The logic of it was quite backwards but at the time, with our limited time, it made sense.  The idea was “we don’t know how to promote one band, so let’s promote several bands.” If we can represent bands that people want to work with, then we can make the connections we need to promote our music.

The first project we took on was a music video for Billy’s other band: Wondernaut.  We shot it on a Flip Mino and edited it on Microsoft’s free Movie Maker.

As cheap as it was, the video got us some local attention.  The Oklahoma music media re-posted the video to their online sites, and local bands saw it and learned about us.  This opened some doors and enabled us to have discussions.  We talked to a couple of different bands about working together but each of them thought they deserved more than we were willing to give them and nothing came of those situations.  Then I contacted Nikolas Thompson with the band Kite Flying Robot.

Nikolas had done a video with a local acoustic show in which he used a battery operated Casio keyboard (cheater). The song was Red Phone Booth, and I absolutely loved it, both the song and the “acoustic” performance.  I wrote to him and he quickly responded that he was interested in working together.  I immediately appreciated Nikolas.  Regarding his music, he had something, and people were interested in being a part of what he was doing.  He received emails daily from people far and wide wanting to get onboard with him.  He could have ignored us, and he very easily could have stated that we had no success of which to speak. Instead he researched us, acknowledged we were nothing more than a local start-up, and said “yes let’s do this.”  That was late 2010. 

Once we agreed to work together one of the first things he said to me was that our business web page looked like it was 20 years old and had been designed by a child.  He was right.  It looked very dated and unprofessional.  Instead of updating it I just added “Lacking professionalism sense 2010” to the bottom of the page.

When Nikolas and I started talking I found out that he had just finished the mixes for his album Solid Gold which ended up being released in December 2010.  We promoted the album to college radio around April of 2011.  The album did extremely well despite our bare minimum “promo” packaging (it was just a disc in a white paper sleeve).  It charted in the top ten of many stations and reached number one at a couple of those stations that mattered. We received a lot of feedback saying things like “I almost ignored this CD because the packaging was so cheap, but now I am glad I didn’t.” 

The only reason I mention this is because as much as it shouldn’t matter, it does matter.  For every DJ that overlooked the packaging and listened anyway, I guarantee you there were ten that didn’t listen because of the packaging.  Every success has a small degree of failure, and every failure is a lesson learned.

I can’t honestly say that I learned my lesson after just one failure.  Later, on a different project, I would hire an even less expensive company to mass produce our promotional copies.  When I received the discs they looked fine.  They looked like what I purchased so I sent 300 out to radio stations.  After the discs were sent, I put one of the remaining copies in the CD player to listen to it.  It didn’t consist of the music we were promoting.  The “discount” manufacturing company got our order mixed up with another order which happened to be from a church. This meant I had just sent 300 copies of a Sunday sermon out to radio stations.  Luckily the album was a compilation that we were producing so no artist was harmed in the making of that mistake.  After that we quit using promo copies and just sent the full “commercial” packaging with each promotion.

Because the album Solid Gold was finished prior to Nikolas and I meeting, our intention was to work with Kite Flying Robot on promoting the album then Lackadaisical Productions would go all in and produce and release the band’s next album.  That ended up not working out because unfortunately the band waited five years between albums. KFR’s next album “Magic and Mystery” was not released until 2015, a year after the music died.

The idea of promoting other bands to learn how to promote our own band ultimately worked out well.  Unfortunately during the process all the attention had to be focused on the bands we were promoting.  The deeper we got into working with more and more bands the further away we got from focusing on our own music. 

Our second album “Paradigms In The Design” was released September of 2013, three years after our first LP.  By this time we had achieved a considerable amount of success promoting bands, but all of that was coming to an end.  For years the writing had been on the wall, but now all doubt was gone.  Radio was virtually dead, and college radio was pointless.  The majority of our press contacts were writers that worked for actual newspapers or local entertainment magazines.  Either way they were writing for a source that people slowly quit reading.  

As promoters we could easily achieve bragging rights such as "we got this band "x" number or press articles" or "we got this band played on "x" number of college radio stations" but if nobody reads the articles and nobody listens to the radio, what good is it?  

Early on, when we didn't know what we were doing, we saw fans respond to our efforts. We received emails, saw blog posts, and/or were mentioned by fans in music forums. Three years later our efforts were more powerful, but we were no longer reaching anybody.  It got to the point where we would promote an album, it would reach the top ten at a college radio station, but nobody in that stations market would have any idea about our band.

In the world of college radio there is CMJ (College Music Journal).  Think of CMJ as the Billboard Magazine for college radio.  The way the CMJ charts work is the stations turn in a report stating what they are playing.  Back when people listened to college radio, the listeners would call in and request songs and this would impact the list of what the station was playing.  As people quit listening, the requests stopped coming, and now the lists are just lists of what the DJs want to hear.  It is flattering that the DJ liked the projects we were promoting enough to play them, but other than the DJ nobody heard the music.

Even if we were able to reach people it quickly wouldn't matter.  At that time, around the end of 2013, we didn’t know it, but with legal streaming services like Spotify, people would quickly COMPLETELY stop paying for music.  By the end of 2014 that fact became clear.

We may have wasted our attention learning to be better at promoting music. In a very short amount of time everything changed.  We could change with it, but that would mean dedicating additional focus to being a promoter.  Billy and I both agreed we would rather spend our time being unsuccessful musicians.

No comments:

Post a Comment