Music Publicists Finding Solo Success The Buzz


The music industry is going through a lot of changes. Record sales are suffering due to the popularity of downloaded music.

The major labels are laying people off. As a result, many publicists are going solo -- and finding success.

The independent publicist chooses what bands they promote. In-house publicists for record labels don't have that choice.

"My job is to take an artist or band and look at ways that I can make them interesting to the media," says Cristina Fernandez. She runs a publicity firm. "My job is to get as much media exposure for an artist as I can."

Fernandez feels more secure working for herself as opposed to working for a record label.

"The major labels are in a really scary situation right now," says Fernandez. "They're shrinking. There are a lot of layoffs. To me, I'm in a better place because a lot of these labels are outsourcing, as opposed to doing stuff in-house."

One bonus to being independent is that the payoff is all yours. But so are the failures.

"When you work for someone else, you're always at their mercy," says Jerry Graham. He runs a public relations firm in New York.

"You always have to work when they want. When you work for yourself, you're always on the job. But whatever happens is yours. If you make it, it's yours. If you break, it's also yours as well. So, it's long days. And the pay? Don't expect to get rich off this."

Fernandez disagrees. Although she makes no claims to being rich, she does maintain that one can live very comfortably off of this career.

"For me, yes," says Fernandez. "When you start off, no. Unless you're at a label or you're hired by a publishing company to be an in-house publicist. But as an independent publicist, you really have to build up a reputation before you can justify making a living on your own. Then, you can make a very, very satisfying living."

"It can be uncertain," adds Derek Meier. He owns a public relations company in New Jersey. "Who knows what the future holds? I have been lucky to be on a steady incline with work. But I always have to work my hardest and do the best I can. I know this can all go as quickly as it has come."

Times could be good right now. But due to the unsteady nature of the job, independent publicists are always concerned about the future.

"There can definitely be slow months, but you must stay focused on the work at hand," says Meier. "If it doesn't seem like there's enough coming up to keep you busy, pursue what's out there and who might need the help."

One big factor in the changing face of the music industry is technology. Cheap Internet access and affordable computers have made it easy for anyone to become an independent music publicist.

"I think the market's been over-saturated in the last couple of years," says Graham. "A lot of these people are unrealistic because they have no experience. They think, 'Hey, I'll do it myself.' What happens is people can't do it."

So what does it take to do this job? You need a computer and a phone, obviously, but what sort of personality traits should you have?

"You have to be tenacious," says Fernandez. "I have the soft-sell approach. I'm going to pitch something the best I can. And I know it's either going to fly or it's not.

"[The] media's not too favorable when you're trying to shove something down their throat. You have to find a balance between how much you're pitching something versus taking no for an answer. I don't know if that's something learned, or if that's intuitive."

"You have to love talking to people," adds Graham. "You have to be able to communicate clearly about what this project is that you're selling to them. And why it would be appropriate for the person you're calling.

"You need to be able to write for the media. That's different than writing as a journalist," he says.

"When you're a journalist, you're writing for your readers. When you're a publicist, you're writing to communicate to the media. When you're writing for the media, it should be very dry and to the point."

And what about all the behind-the-scenes craziness? Is being a publicist as glamorous as one may think?

"No, it's not glamorous," says Graham.

"You're not going to get famous off this. This is the first interview I've done in three years," he laughs. "If you want to be famous, get up front on stage."

"It's a lot more glamorous than most lifestyles, I guess," says Meier. "It can be overwhelming, but you get to experience some pretty amazing and surreal things."

Some say record labels are doing better these days. Many are countering Internet downloading by including free DVDs in their releases and lowering their prices.

Still, the trend is one of downsizing. So while it may be a bit rocky being an independent publicist, at least you're in control. Plus, it's clearly very rewarding work to those involved.

"When I first started, I was hustling, I was Johnny-on-the-spot," says Graham.

"Nowadays I get sent projects for consideration or get recommended by people. It's the only thing in my life where it's worked out, where it's been something I've loved and it's actually been something I've happened to be good at. I can't say that about anything else."

Being an independent music publicist can be unsteady work, especially when getting started. But in a notoriously shaky industry that's only getting shakier, it can be a more stable option than putting faith in a record label to pay the bills.

Links

Billboard.com
Find out what's selling in the music world

Inside Connection
A great resource for music industry contacts