The summer of 2003, post-Grammy was not as “solid” as I’d thought in terms of new projects. Publicists are usually one of, if not, the last professionals called onto a project. The translation here is very, very few artists plan for the marketing of their projects. It’s the creative work, writing, recording, mixing, mastering that is exciting to them.
More often than not, I’d get phone calls saying “hey, I just released a new album, how much will it cost to do the PR?”
As pleasantly (and perhaps naively) as possible I’d do a quick audit of the situation and ask what their marketing budget was. I say naively because surely these people were professional and had a marketing budget. Surely they knew to properly launch a new release a publicist should have been fully briefed and prepared to go eight weeks BEFORE the street date of the new CD. Surely they knew whatever amount they’d spent on their recording, they should have twice that amount ready to spend on marketing and PR.
Not once during that time or since has a client been fully prepared financially or in terms of time to meet the criteria of a proper launch for a release. Talking with various publicists around the country, it seems I’m in good company. I have no idea what would happen if any of us said, “You’re in a bit of a pickle. I don’t know of anyone who will handle this project for you without a budget, under these time constraints.”
But no. We all figure out what has merit and if we can make it work, even without enough time or funds. Some projects just aren’t strong enough to warrant a campaign. Some are very strong, and it’d be a shame to miss the promo boat on behalf of an ill-prepared client.
Somewhere around this time, one such project came across my desk. It had legs. So it was full-steam ahead with a recommended radio campaign and full-blown PR campaign fitting for the project. Reviews began to come in — really good reviews and the CD was charting with radio.
Then two very strange things happened. One review in particular came in that was very positive, but the context didn’t sit well with the artist. So the artist sends a blazing email to the reviewer with a copy to me, letting the reviewer know in no uncertain terms (s)he had totally missed the artistic point and would they retract part of the review?
Instantly, I was sure my hair was on fire. I didn’t pick up the phone and tell the client he was fired, but I should have. We all go through certain situations that instantly negate any credibility we might have had with somebody, and if I didn’t keep my thoughts to myself, everyone was going to know about this. Livid doesn’t even come close to the insanity that email set off.
From that point on, I was pretty guarded with this client. And then he pulled the same stunt again. So I mulled it over. That artist would likely never be reviewed by those two media outlets again. They really couldn’t hold me accountable for someone else’s behavior, especially if I sent them new work by different artists. So I trudged ahead. The campaign wasn’t finished and I didn’t want to be unprofessional even if the artist was behaving so badly.
Finally, the kicker in the whole thing came somewhere toward the end of the campaign. I’d agonized over the whole thing much too much when I learned not even one song from this full-length recording had been copyrighted. NOTHING! No registration with a PRO, no Library of Congress documents were submitted.
For those of you who know me, under certain circumstances – okay, many circumstances, I’ve been known to swear like a sailor. And I did — but I’ll spare you the words blow-by-blow. To add insult to injury, I was told payment for the last half of the campaign was going to be postponed. The artist said he was good for the money, and he did finally pay the bill months later. But it was too little too late for redemption. No one could pay me enough money to go through that kind of situation again.
Someone asked me not long ago, “Why is the music business the only one on earth that requires prepayment? Who else does that?” The reason is clear. Artists desperately want services. They want them on their terms and for the amount of money they think they should pay. Prepayment ensures the pro gets paid in a timely manner and for an amount they can live with.
No one goes to the dentist, a lawyer, or a mechanic and TELLS them how they are going to do their job or how much they are willing to pay them. But it’s pretty darn common in music. In fact, I’d say it’s the rule among artists to tell music professionals how high to jump and which hoops to jump through. They want to be rock stars, the ring leader, the successful entrepreneur and nary a clue how to get there.
Recording artists and touring musicians would be much more successful learning the ropes before they step foot in a studio or on a stage. It appears to be part of the myth, this is a learn-as-you-go profession. But I’m here to tell you the most successful artists are also pretty savvy when it comes to business. The industry isn’t set up to let just anyone succeed. It’s set up quite the opposite.
My advice: Do the math and all the homework before you go to take the test.