So the business of PR was a welcome transition into what was my sixteenth year working in music. Having done promo for big arena shows; a very-well known composer and comedy writer; as well as booking was very helpful in creating strategy over the next several years. The business of music is a big picture scenario. The more you know about how all the components work together, the better the tool box becomes when it comes time to pull rabbits out of hats.
Tingstad and Rumbel are a duo based out of Seattle that literally burst onto the scene with a debut CD in 1985 well before I had been introduced to their music. It was a holiday CD, titled The Gift which sold 11,000 copies in 10 weeks if I remember correctly. That CD went on to become a holiday classic in the New Age genre which was dominated by Windham Hill Records with their Winter Solstice Samplers, and Mannheim Steamroller’s ubiquitous Christmas music.
Eric Tingstad and Nancy Rumbel had a business model that no one had ever explored. They put two unlikely chamber music instruments together to see what would happen, and their sound was immediately embraced. Classical guitar, oboe and English horn had no template, no blueprint. There were no existing charts, no music, no instruction book for how to make it work. But they did it, which gave them several leverage points to work with.
They were the brand leaders — a peerless duo. They traveled all over the country, and played many halls and venues numerous times over their career — about 100 dates per year at the height of it all. They created strong relationships and long lists of friends in all the various niches that support musicians. While Eric and Nancy were under contract with Narada Records at this point in time, they functioned very much like indie artists with their own booking agent, arranged their radio promo, PR, produced their recordings, wrote nearly every tune they performed, were members and board members of arts councils, NARAS, and the whole kit and kaboodle.
We’d worked together off and on for a few years. Then one morning very early; in December as I recall, the phone rang and Nancy was talking very fast and apologetically said she was sorry to be calling so early, but they’d been nominated for a Grammy award in support of their latest CD, Acoustic Garden. Wow! News like that wakes you up in a big hurry!
Acoustic Garden was Tingstad and Rumbel’s 13th release, launched on August 13, and it had thirteen songs on the CD. As I’d worked on the PR for Acoustic Garden, I typed those numbers frequently and always had this feeling it meant something. I’d never said a word to anyone but continued to think every time I saw those numbers something special was going to happen with that release, and this was that something!
At this point, I knew next to nothing about how the Grammy process worked. By 8:00 o’clock that morning I was in a whole different world. I hung up the phone with someone and a wave of utter terror came over me. I had no idea what to do. A few more phone calls and I set out to teach myself how to handle this wonderful new problem.
This was not routine. This was a time to hurry up and connect the dots. There was a very small window of time for votes to be cast by the academy. With five nominees in the category, all of whom were strong contenders, strategy had never been more important. By 9:15 that evening, my husband mentioned I’d been working without a break for 14 hours. By 10:00 p.m. the reward was to see and hear that the news of their nomination was on many local TV stations in Seattle, was included in newscasts and music columns in many of the markets where Eric and Nancy had recently performed, and much more was in the works.
The Grammy Awards were held in Madison Square Garden that year on February 23, the day before my oldest daughter’s 12th birthday. In the back of my mind I continued to think I should go to the Grammys. It would be a little expensive for all of us to go, but I didn’t want my family to miss it if I went. So I just kept working until the voting process was over, deciding to decide later.
The week of the Grammys is exciting. Not as exciting as the nomination news which is very much like a bomb going off in your office, but exciting! It’s the biggest party the music industry throws every year and it’s big doin’s!
By this time, I’d let my intuition convince me to stay home and not go to New York. Both sides of the argument let me know I may regret the decision either way it went. But one thing kept me home: If Tingstad and Rumbel won, I’d have missed a huge opportunity to get as much publicity for them as I could. It wouldn’t really be possible to do everything necessary from New York.
So that Sunday afternoon I sat at my desk answering emails and waiting by the phone. New York is three hours ahead of west coast time, so the time difference cut down the wait considerably. What I wanted to do was be prepared, but I wouldn’t let myself type a press release that said they’d won. If I’d written a press release and they didn’t win, I’d convince myself I jinxed it. I know. Superstition really is silly. The decision in a vote by their peers had been finalized several weeks before this day had arrived.
Nancy called sometime mid-afternoon to let me know they’d won. The announcement came during the non-televised portion of the program and honestly, there was something that wouldn’t let me believe it. In fact, when Nancy called, I remember saying something like “oh my God, you’re kidding me.” What a dumb thing to say to someone who just just reached an apex in their career. In truth, I’d wanted this so much for all concerned I’d probably built up some emotional wall in case it didn’t happen.
But it did happen and within minutes that press release was written and being sent off to everyone I could think of. And for the next eight days I didn’t leave the house. Not once. Every media outlet in Seattle was interested in one way or another, and for quite some time, rock star status belonged to Eric and Nancy.
What a rush!