OneMetal Heroes is a feature dedicated to profiling the important, yet lesser-known figures behind the scenes of the world of rock and metal. While everybody’s gawping up at the band playing fret-scorching solos and roaring passionately on the stage, there is a whole world of people behind the scenes, working in relative anonymity in crucial roles to bring the music that we love to the masses. OneMetal Heroes seeks to introduce our readers to these record label bosses, sound engineers, gig promoters, tour managers, and various other hard-working individuals, and to shine a light on just what it is they do. In the last installment of this feature, we talked to a record label boss, Basick Records’ Nathan ‘Barley’ Phillips. In this installment, we turn our attention to the marketing and PR side of the music industry. Our guide is HoldTight! PR’s Lisa Coverdale.
Lisa Coverdale is a Scottish based music publicist, partner in Hold Tight! PR and the only girl on the team at progressive metal label Basick Records. With a career spanning 15 years in corporate, event and music marketing/PR, she has previously managed areas of large-scale, high-profile public events for both corporate clients and in the arts sector. She can usually be found face down in a pot of fresh coffee, writing press releases for a myriad of international bands, or trying to coerce musicians into things they generally don’t want to do. She’s passionate about progressive music, cheese, Jägermeister, Between the Buried and Me, and Persian cats. Twitter: @lisalovescheese
OneMetalHow did you originally get involved in the PR business?
LisaI came in from a marketing background. I was a marketing/commercial manager for a large business process outsourcing corporation which was great, but it wasn’t something which set my soul on fire. I’d come home and go out to gigs, listen to music non-stop, and I kept thinking, if there’s a way I could combine my love of marketing and my love of music, then I’d be the happiest bunny in the world. I initially set up my own zine on Myspace called UK Metal Underground in 2004, which was a networking and meeting place for anyone and everything in the UK metal scene, from fans, to bands, to producers, to magazines – the idea was to have a central hub where everyone could find what they needed and really cement the scene.
After a few years of doing that, writing reviews, doing interviews with bands and industry folks (much like you are doing with me now!) I got involved with a couple of independent record labels and started doing work experience there. I realised I could combine everything I’d learnt with my passion for promoting bands, and I started out on my own doing PR for a local band. Along the way I met the guys at Basick Records – on Twitter, of all places – and I badgered them to give me a shot at working for them. I honestly was relentless, and strangely enough they went for it. I initially joined up just to do their social networking stuff, and now I look after all the PR and marketing at the label, the social media, I mummy the bands and help Nathan out on a day to day basis, as well as being a full time partner in Hold Tight! PR. The rest is history – it’s been a long slog of work experience, non-paying jobs, late nights and early mornings – and now here we are doing this interview!
OneMetalWhat does a typical day at Hold Tight! PR entail – if indeed there is such a thing?
LisaI’ve learned that there’s no such thing as a typical day, but you can get to a place where there is some sort of routine – almost. PR is one of those jobs where it’s changing by the minute throughout the day, so even with the best schedule and will in the world, you can still find yourself at the end of the day having slogged all day and not even made a dent in your ‘To Do’ List. The other hazard I face is timezones – I work with bands from all corners of the globe, and have to be up and working at weird hours in order to catch them for meetings or to hit the press in that particular territory at a certain time.
On a day-to-day basis, I have the biggest pile of spreadsheets and admin work which has to be cleared daily. Everything has to be logged, catalogued, cross referenced – it’s never ending. I’ll generally sit down to work, make sure there’s some strong coffee to aid with the brain power, and crack through a pile of admin and emails – checking in with bands who are out on tour, bands who have releases out, making sure everything and everyone is where they need to be for that day. I also have to check in with the record labels I work for and make sure they’re happy, and then I start emailing, calling, and tweeting with all the journalists and media that I need to reach. At various points during the day I’ll have Skype meetings with bands and labels – technology has really helped to make my job a lot easier in that respect.
At Hold Tight, as well as running our campaigns, we split a lot of responsibility for various aspects of the business that we need to take care of daily to help us to grow. This included blogging, social media, updating our website, new business sales, finance, networking, writing articles for the trades, doing interviews like this. It’s why we’re generally working all the hours under the sun, because we run as per a normal press agency – but this is also our own business, and to run a small business in this financial climate takes a lot of graft, especially in the fast moving world of media and PR. Luckily, we’ve all come from high-profile corporate backgrounds, and the experience gained in those environments has proved incredibly useful for just getting on with shit. When you work in PR, especially for yourself, there is no ‘off’ switch. Work hard, play hard – a go big or go home kinda ethos! ;)
OneMetalBefore becoming a partner at Hold Tight, you had your own PR company, Invisible Hippo – were there any major differences to get used to between running Invisible Hippo yourself and joining Hold Tight?
LisaAt Invisible Hippo I only had myself to answer to, so picking clients, working to schedules etc. were really all down to me, and the scale of the business was much smaller and lot more relaxed. Upon joining Hold Tight, there was a new set of systems to get used to, a team to work with and an existing client list. It was a giant learning curve, but I’ve loved every minute of it. The clients we deal with are larger than I could ever have coped with at Hippo, yet the benefits of being at a larger agency with a bigger team far outweigh any reservations I may have had. Luckily, the partners at Hold Tight are all into very different aspects of music, which means we can cover a wide client base with the knowledge and expertise we have in our respective genres. To date we’ve done everything from extreme metal to pop, festivals, authors and creative media campaigns.
OneMetalIn recent years, the means of music production and distribution have become increasingly affordable and accessible, with bedroom musicians able to record high-quality music and make their compositions available through the likes of Bandcamp, Soundcloud, et al. By the same token, social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube have made it incredibly easy for those same musicians to advertise their own wares. What expertise and advantages do companies like Hold Tight! offer above and beyond what the average bedroom musician could do for themselves?
LisaIt has become easier for musicians and bands to market themselves – however, you will hit a ceiling that you can’t get past, and getting past that can only be achieved by a dedicated team of publicists who know how to get you where you need to be in the quickest time possible. Publicists are, in theory, like gatekeepers – mags, zines, radio will be bombarded daily by bands looking for coverage and airplay, and the teams there simply don’t have the time to listen to every single thing that crosses their desks. Publicists have long-term working relationships with these outlets and, if your publicist is a good one, will be known for not peddling rubbish music their way. So, generally a recommendation from a publicist should open doors that you perhaps couldn’t open yourself.
We work daily with the mags, the sites, the DJs and promoters across the world – not just in the UK, but worldwide – and we know them all by name, we know what they like, what they don’t like, what will hit their soft spots and what will immediately turn them off. When you hire a publicist, you’re not only buying into a world of promotion you couldn’t achieve yourself, but you are buying into a contact network that would take you years to gather yourself, and a wealth of knowledge about how to take your CD and make sure it hits all the places it should. Another benefit is that as a musician, you should be dedicating the majority of your time to creating the best music possible. Promotion is labour-intensive, and can eat into the time you would maybe set aside to gig, practise or just have a life. A dedicated publicity team will be working on your behalf, behind the scenes, allowing you to get on with the business of being a band. And promotion isn’t just about reviews – it’s also about pitching ideas to journalists for articles. Sometimes we’ll group clients of a similar genre and pitch an idea to a magazine for a feature, or we’ll set up interviews to discuss a certain topic that we know is a really hot topic within the industry at the time.
OneMetalWebsites like OneMetal receive hundreds of press releases a month from bands, labels and PR companies clamouring for coverage – what do you do to try to ensure that the bands you represent stand out from the crowds and receive the exposure you feel they deserve?
LisaFrom a personal point of view, I only work with bands I really, really believe in. The music has to be great, the band have to be great and the whole package has to ultimately work. If I don’t like it, if I wouldn’t listen to it, then how could I sell it to a magazine editor and be passionate about it? Whether it’s a signed or unsigned band, the guys I work with are all afforded the same work ethic – if the music is good, then I’ll work 110% to get it to the ears of those that need to hear it. The difference is ultimately in the quality of the musicianship, but I’m also looking for a band who are hungry for it – working hard themselves on tours, gigs and also on their social media profiles. There’s nothing worse than an inactive band who do not keep in touch with their fans. Packaging and artwork are also key influencers for me, as are some killer promo shots. These things may not seem important, but great cover art and great promotional photographs can mean the difference between a magazine picking you up for a feature or not.
OneMetalTo what extent does Hold Tight have an influence over the bands you represent in terms of their interaction with their fanbases over the internet? For instance, do you have any say over what band members post on the bands’ Facebook profile, or have someone running an official band Twitter account? Or do you leave those things to the discretion of the bands’ members?
LisaWhen we take on a band, generally the bands have already been vetted to see how interactive they are with their fans. Some bands will give us access to their social media profiles to help with the campaign, while some bands don’t need to. It’s really done on a case-by-case basis. We encourage bands to be the voice behind their social networks, as you can always tell when a PR agency is posting out – not only is it very obvious, but it can also be disingenuous. These are your fans, and they really want to be hearing from the band, not from a PR company. That said, we will keep a band profile up to date with PR materials like new photos or tour posters etc. – for example, if the band are out on tour and can’t access the internet.
OneMetalA lot of the bands that Hold Tight represents seem to share a certain minimalistic/abstract/futuristic aesthetic in their album artwork and merchandise. Was there a conscious decision by Hold Tight to de-emphasise the personal appearance and attire of band members in terms of the visual marketing of the bands? How important is a band’s image and visual aesthetic to selling that band to the masses?
LisaI guess the music we’re most comfortable promoting brings with it a certain aesthetic, but it’s not something we get involved in at that stage. Generally, we get involved when the band come to us with a fully finished product. The visual aesthetic is an important part for us, sure – but it’s not an area we have any influence over. I think because about 70% of our business comes from the progressive end of the metal spectrum, the trend at the moment is very minimalistic artwork – perhaps it’s something to do with letting the music do the talking and having the artwork as just another extension of the progressive sound.
OneMetalHow does your approach in marketing a band differ when approaching websites/magazines for coverage for a band compared to advertising that band directly to the music-buying public? Does one side of that equation take priority over the other?
LisaMarketing and advertising have to work hand in hand, otherwise you end up with disparate campaigns and a confused record-buying public. My role ultimately is to sell to the press, so my pitch to the media is based on what I know about the band and how I feel the media will react to it. Prior to the start of a campaign, we work with the label (if there’s one involved) to plan out the entire release campaign from both aspects – how we pitch it to media and how the label plan to present it to the public. Going into a campaign, I’ll already know which mags and radio will be receptive and which won’t – that comes from years of experience doing this day in, day out. I really try to keep it as concise as possible – no media outlet has the time to read through reams of waffle and generic marketing bullshit.
Some magazines/radio will encourage you to buy advertising in return for exposure – that’s never a strategy I’m keen on. As a purist, I like to think the media exists to promote music worthy of being put forward to the public. The reality, though, is that with magazine sales in declination across the board, the mags need to make their money somehow to continue to exist. So, a bit of give-and-take is essential on both sides. I’d rather have featured content, though – as a record buyer myself, I want to read a review or a feature by a critic who’s taken the time to listen to the record already and tell you a bit about it, rather than just have a stock advert which is placed alongside 40 odd other adverts, all of which look the same and all of which could interchangeably be the same record.
OneMetalWith music being as incredibly easy to illicitly and freely obtain as it is, how much do you have to gear your marketing strategies towards convincing the public to actually lay down some cold, hard cash for releases by the acts you represent?
LisaIt’s a fact of life now that anyone can grab a torrent of anything you put out there, whether it’s an album, video or film. You can fight against it, but it’s impossible to stop, and getting your knickers in a knot about it really doesn’t help the situation. What does help is to have a forward-thinking approach to it – ask yourself why people torrent (times are hard, people love free stuff, people want things in advance to check out whether to part with their cold hard cash). What we’ve found is that giving advance free streams via websites, or via the bands own Bandcamp, or via a label’s Youtube page can help towards this and sometimes, where possible, we’ll give downloads away for free too. The important thing is to work with the emerging technology and mindset rather than pushing against it, because you will alienate people that way. The world has changed, so the marketing mindset and the business model has to adapt too.
The Spotify example at the moment is a great example. I love Spotify, and I use it regularly, but the bottom line is that the business model isn’t the best to offer significant returns to the record labels or the artists. So many of the large labels and bands have decided to pull their catalogues, which is understandable. However, the feedback we’ve heard from fans has been to the contrary – they love the service Spotify provides, and by looking at the bigger picture of what Spotify is trying to achieve and the channels it’s now using to integrate its streaming service within other social markets and aligning with larger global brands, you can see that Spotify could essentially be a formidable player within the next 18 months, and those labels and bands are then going to have to do an about-turn and bring themselves back into the service. It’s much easier for us at the moment to remain open-minded to what Spotify is trying to do and to work with them to do that, rather than being spooked by low financial returns. Sometimes it’s not about the money in the short term – it’s about helping fans to have what they want and enabling them to be the brand ambassadors for your band/record label – that’s ultimately where future revenue streams will fall in from.
At the end of the day, If an album is worth buying, people will still buy it. They’ll want to own that physical piece of the band, and the main things bands can do to ensure people want their physical product is to go the extra mile – people still love artwork, people love the freebies that come with a bundle or a pre-order, and for the first time in years, sales of vinyl actually rose by about 25% last year – so, the piracy problem is actually making the industry get more creative, which can only be a good thing.
OneMetalWhile on the subject of encouraging people to actually pay for music – I understand Hold Tight! and Basick Records have some things planned for this years Record Store Day on April 21st. Care to tell us a bit about what Record Store Day is, and what you have planned in support of it?
LisaRecord Store Day in the UK has been going for about 5 years now, and is a celebration of those places that anyone over a certain age will know and love and will probably have spent much of their formative years skulking about in – the independent record store. Many of us have memories of hanging out in musty record shops, filled with the latest and often obscure releases that you just couldn’t find anywhere else, surrounded by reams of vinyl that had amazing artwork, talking with record store owners who knew everything about everything. And then the age of the large global superchain came along, and the mom-and-pop shops started to disappear. Then the internet came along and swallowed up the majority of the global superchain market, and we all had to adapt. But the independents have fought back, sparked by a formidable underground campaign which has swelled in recent years to now being a global event. Whilst the industry forges ahead embracing new technology, new business models and new ways of working, it’s also wise to remember where we came from and what made the industry great – and record stores run by passionate people are a prime example of that. Find out more and which stores are participating here – http://www.recordstoreday.co.uk/
At Basick and Hold Tight, we’re obviously spreading the word about Record Store Day via a series of interviews and online features. Basick Records will be having a sale through their online store to celebrate the day, and we’ll have vinyl and CDs specially placed in certain shops as well. It’ll be a day of celebrating the music scene for us. Any excuse for a party! ;)
OneMetalFinally, do you have any particular parting message you’d like to share with the OneMetal.com readership?
LisaThanks for that uber grilling there – I hope it’s made some sense! Last words – um… Support bands, get out to gigs, buy some merch, look after your smaller independent labels, get into some record stores and buy something – we need to keep those guys in business for as long as possible! Wear clean underwear, grab some free music from our record label (http://basickrecords.bandcamp.com/album/basick-2012-free-sampler) and finally – listen to Between the Buried and Me. Always.
Hold Tight! PR’s Website: https://www.facebook.com/holdtightpr
Hold Tight! PR’s Facebook: http://www.holdtightpr.com
Basick Records’ Website: http://www.basickrecords.com
Basick Records’ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/basickeurope