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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Artists - Know Who You're Working With
Monday, May 14, 2012

Last month I was assigned a big feature story on a band. The band is an up and coming act that’s started to get some press, they’re signed to a small label, and will be on tour this summer. Most artists would assume the label’s PR department, or an independently hired publicist, would take care of everything. That’s the way it’s supposed to go. Of course, if that actually happened I wouldn’t be writing this, I’d be writing the feature story.

After nearly a month of emailing back and forth with the label, and getting responses like “we’re working on it,” or a lame excuse as to why they hadn’t gotten in touch with the act, I gave up. For me it just turned out to be an incredible waste of time and energy. I had done a lot of reading up on the band, and had been completely prepped for the interview for weeks. For the band, however, it’s a gigantic missed opportunity to have a multi-page cover story feature in a national magazine.

The moral of the story is clear - artists need to pay close attention to who they’re working with. It’s not enough to sign on the dotted line, you need to know who you’re signing on the dotted line with. Make sure those people are really working for your best interests, and if, for some reason, you think they’re slipping, take some of your own money to hire an outside publicist. I’ve spoken with artists signed to major labels who hired outside publicity because they wanted more personalized attention. Yes, it’s an added expense, but it’s also an investment in their career. During the height of 50 Cent’s fame he told me he was sitting in on every meeting at Interscope that had to do with him and his music. While I’m sure that might have been a slight exaggeration, the point remains, he was signed to one of the largest labels in the country, but he still made sure he was aware of everything that had to do with his career. Being signed just made him work harder.

An interesting note about the situation with the band I was supposed to interview is that the label they’re on isn’t a big one. The major labels, for all the faults artists see in them, are usually on top of their game when it comes to marketing and promotions. Independent artists who hire outside publicity can see great results, and I know a plethora of indie artists who can’t afford outside publicity who are still beasts when it comes to getting press for themselves and working hard to make connections. There’s something about some of the smaller labels, though, that’s problematic (note: I said some of the smaller labels). Maybe they simply don’t have the manpower and the few people who are there are incredibly overworked. Maybe the people who are there don’t really know how to run a label, or are doing it for reasons outside of music. Whatever the case may be, labels and artists that have seen a modicum of success, but still haven’t really broken out, tend not to break out because of these issues.

There are thousands of artists we’ve never heard of who are signed to tiny labels, thinking the labels are doing all the work. If the artists used the labels more as tools, and didn’t rely on them for everything, perhaps more of these artists would be in better positions today. Signing a contract doesn’t mean you’re suddenly riding shotgun when it comes to your career, you still have to be in the driver’s seat and have both hands on the wheel.

In the case of the band I was supposed to interview, I’ll put money on them not even knowing any of this happened. The funny thing is, I tweeted about my frustration over attempting to book the interview, and within minutes I received a reply from Grammy winning artist Thomas Pridgen, who I’d interviewed in the past, letting me know his band’s next album was coming out soon and to give his publicist a buzz. If a well established Grammy winner can set something up so quickly, why couldn’t this particular label set something up for their band, which has no Grammys and is attempting to gain notoriety? If you’ve ever wondered why big artists stay big, and you’re favorite unknown band stays unknown, this is why.

There’s a country song that says “Jesus Take The Wheel,” but I say if Jesus is working for the label you’re on, don’t be afraid to tell him to scoot over. It’s your career, you need to be in the driver’s seat if you’re ever going to get where you want to go. Your label can big a big help, but they’re not your designated driver.

FYI - The names of the band and the label were purposely omitted as this piece is not intended to slander anyone, it was written to illustrate a point.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:37 AM  
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