If you’re releasing music, gigging, using social media or working on your career as a modern-day jazz musician in any way, we have a 6,000+ word treat for you with today’s interview…
US-based Matt Merewitz is founder of Fully Altered Media which has been leading the field in creative music PR and social media marketing for almost two decades.
And not just any two decades: that fast-changing period from 2007 until today which has seen a huge shift in both traditional and online media, and the way jazz musicians manage their careers.
With that extensive experience and insight, I asked Matt if he’d be happy to answer some questions for the Jazzfuel industry interviews series.
That turned into a wide-ranging 90-minute discussion on Zoom which covered all the tips you’d expect around releasing new music, plus a ton of other stuff…
Rather than reproduce a series of simple questions and answers, we transcribed the full interview and have pulled out some of the key talking points for you to dive into.
So whilst we of course touch on the work of a publicist and what musicians today should know about planning and promoting a record, we also talk about Spotify, social media, blockchain, deep listening and the post-pandemic touring scene.
Once again, big thanks to Matt for taking the time to do this, and please stay tuned to the very end where you can find some more details about his work, as well as more recent campaigns including the likes of Marta Sanchez, Myra Melford, Tyshawn Sorey, John Escreet, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Julieta Eugenio, Roxana Amed, Simon Moullier, Yosef-Gutman Levitt and more.
Anyway, let’s get to it…
How long have you been doing PR now?
It will be 17 years in June.
The business is shifting very much towards social media and away from traditional, what some call “legacy media”. So it’s constantly a struggle to stay relevant to the general populace.
I’ve seen the “dominant” or “of the moment” social media platform go from MySpace to Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to Snapchat to TikTok and concurrently I’ve seen the decimation of regular daily newspapers, who used to review jazz regularly and who now rely on maybe one freelance pop critic, not even a staffer, who almost exclusively writes about pop/hip-hop/R&B and/or “celebrity culture.” They largely write about singles, not about albums or concerts or anything like that, you know?
It’s much worse in the US, I would say, than it is in the UK and even in Germany or Italy or France or Germany or Poland or even Japan. People still buy media there. The public in these other countries pays for their subscriptions or advertising is more robust or the state backs the media in some way through grants or some such.
In the US, the culture of ‘free’ became dominant at some point. Everybody just started assuming that they should get everything for free or perhaps at a massive discount.
I know very smart, intellectual people who believe in human rights and fight against societal wrongs, who don’t subscribe to the dominant mainstream news media, let alone music publications, and thus they can’t see more than three articles a month, if they even care. Some of these people are on a fixed budget and can’t really afford to subscribe. Others just don’t care enough. So they go to CNN, to Twitter, to Facebook, they can go to Instagram, and they basically get their news for free. There might not be as much journalistic integrity, but they get what they need.
On PR-ing your own PR
There’s more than a few sites out here running on what I call a Web 1.0 model, where you have to go to their site to get the content you’re looking for or that is actually relevant to fans of niche content.
You can maybe find some of it in Google searches but it’s buried deep in the results. These sites have no SEO and are run by enthusiast writers. Many have no or few inbound links and are thus less indexable by search engines.
So it’s a drag when you get a really good well-written review from one of these more hobbyist type folks who eschew social media and want their writing to be completely independent of social media platforms. Some of them have no web footprint beyond their actual site, which is frustrating in 2023.
So sometimes you have to create your own buzz around these types of placements. You have to create your own social media assets to promote these reviews or even the ones in bigger publications.
I have a dedicated person on my team who makes Instagram stories for press hits that we get, and we can transmit those to the artists. And if they choose to, they can run them themselves or run Instagram story ads with them.
We run a ton of Facebook ad campaigns for clients. A lot of the job now is like PR-ing your own results, you know? Not just as a publicist, but as an artist so people know the media is covering your music.
Because people don’t pay for it, not everyone’s reading the same media. So you have to really promote your results.
It’s like whenever you see a movie trailer, they always have 8-10 press quotes from legitimate sources that everybody knows; Variety, The New York Times, LA Times, whatever the movie-specific websites are… There are often websites that people trust and that legitimizes something to them. Even if they don’t subscribe to those publications, they know that those publications are legitimate.
And even if they don’t know the publications, if a movie studio or a even an independent is choosing to put a quote from a littler website in their sizzle reel or their trailer, that’s gonna lend some credence to that media outlet (usually a niche website) as well, because unfortunately, a lot of the best writing is happening on these little sites or even journalist-run Substack email newsletters where people are writing for essentially free. Why? Because there are no paid media outlets left to pay them anything or at least what they feel they are worth; what they used to make when people advertised and paid for their news/arts criticism.
We all lament the disappearance of cultural criticism, but we are all complicit in its demise, because we have become part of this culture of free. I am constantly fighting against it. But most people have given up the fight. If they actually pay for their New York Times subscription and don’t steal their mom’s it’s almost a miracle.
Moving the Needle
Matt Fripp: I assume that 10 years ago, 15 years ago, PR results would actually shift a quantifiable amount of CDs, like if you had a great review in the New York Times. Do you think nowadays it’s more about using that to build a profile to get gigs? Or do you still think there’s options to actually sell?
So the things that I see that sell an appreciable amount of units are an NPR story, like an actual news magazine story, or like a feature on the BBC.
If somebody is interviewed or a track is featured on Gilles Peterson’s show or Mary-Anne Hobbs’ show or KEXP Song of the Day or KCRW, you’re gonna see a moderate sales or streaming bump. But really you’re gonna see the biggest bump from a Bandcamp editorial or a streaming playlist placement.
You’re gonna see the biggest sales bump not from a New York Times or a Wall Street Journal story anymore, largely because of the paywalls, but a TV hit or a hit on a podcast like WTF with Marc Maron or even something more niche like a WNYC podcast like Radiolab or The New Yorker Radio Hour or Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me or Fresh Air…
Obviously TV placements stills move the needle a lot. But for jazz, unless you’re Samara Joy or Joey Alexander or Kamasi a few years into his career, it’s next to impossible to get TV. They have to see abnormally large metrics from social media platforms and streaming platforms that justify to their producers that something belongs on the airwaves. Because you’re competing with all of this really mainstream stuff.
Personal Assistants vs Managers
I’m not sure what the efficacy of being a traditional manager is anymore in today’s world.
$100,000 [annual artist income] used to be a benchmark for agents of whether an agent could afford to take on an artist for their own ability to make money and make all the work worthwhile.
If they were making a hundred thousand dollars in touring or whatever without their teaching or record sales, that 15% would be $15,000. So that would be okay and feasible if that person is gonna handle eight or 10 of those type folks and pay an assistant or two. But I don’t know if that paradigm exists anymore unless the artists are already super well-known, recognized touring artists who have people all over the world booking them…
I think that sites like yours and small consulting rates or low retainer deals make a lot more sense for a lot more people.
There needs to be a bigger and more easily searchable market for personal assistants who are knowledgeable about the niche music industry. I think that more artists need personal assistants than need managers or can afford managers or the managers can’t really afford to take them on because they’re not making enough money for the manager to see any reasonable return for their efforts.
Post-Pandemic Viability of Touring
To a certain extent the pandemic has changed our lives irrevocably, and we’re never gonna be quite the same. But the point is, it’s really hard to make a [financially viable] career in music just from playing music.
You can do it if you have a teaching job with health benefits or you have a commercial music job where you write music for film and tv or commercials or video games or you have a publishing deal and you’re writing all kinds of music for different uses.
Even for the biggest touring acts in jazz, fees have plummeted after the pandemic, and we’re already on the down slide before the pandemic. Only in places where music is supported by state governments or by sponsorship is it really possible to make good money while also maintaining sanity and decent sleep while touring.
Touring takes an immense strain on the body, even for those who are in-shape. The average human body cannot take the strain of a 4 AM lobby call, 8 AM flight, travel for 8 hours a day, a soundcheck and a gig at 8 PM, have dinner, maybe hang a bit with fans or friends, go to the hotel and sleep for four hours and then do it again for days or weeks on end. And for low money. Not sustainable.
Listening to Jazz in 2023
People don’t have the attention spans that they did 10-20 years ago. And that’s hard to imagine coming back. It’s really hard for me to really conceive of a situation where people under 50 (or even above) are listening to full albums on record players or even in their cars.
People set an album or a playlist to play on Apple Music or Spotify or Tidal or whatever, with just a passive mindset. You’re sitting there, you’re hearing, but you’re not really closely listening.
If you hear something that wows you, you look up and you look to see what’s playing. That’s really how people are discovering music.
That’s even how people who listen to public radio or BBC or NTS or dublab or WFMU or whatever are discovering music. They have it on in the background. Something really, really grabs their ear. They go check it, maybe they Shazam it from a tv show or movie or commercial and then they maybe go make a purchase, or they maybe save it or follow that artist or whatever they do. But, you know, they’re not listening intently.
People don’t put all their attention on music. The only place they do that is in live music settings. And a lot of people talk over music. It’s like they have no conception that music is a thing for listening to – really, fully listening to – as opposed to just multitasking or talking over it, you know?
We have a kind of a cultural dissonance between what the general culture feels and what kind of the, you know, the educated elites or perhaps fellow artists or art lovers, feel, right?
And it ultimately serves to make the music less relevant to a broad audience. But then again, you know, jazz, even really since the 1950s, has not been for a broad audience. It’s been for a niche audience. And same goes for a lot of other music.
Matt Fripp: Do you think that because people aren’t listening to albums as they used to, it makes the story, the content and the branding more important?
Oh, yeah. Super important.
I mean, okay, look at Kamasi, right? It’s not really about just music with Kamasi, it’s about the overall package. It’s his hair, it’s his dress, it’s his wooden cane, you know, it’s his…it’s the whole like, “Street Fighter Mas” thing…the incorporation of video game culture, anime culture, incorporation of all this other stuff.
I’ve seen Thundercat, and Thundercat is a great musician, but Thundercat is also a real person with real interests and he inevitably brings these elements and all these broader cultural elements into his outfits, his persona, his act.
I’ve seen Thundercat interviewed about manga and about anime and about all the Japanese culture that inspires him and motivates his other senses.
But ultimately, people connect with him because of both the dope bass lines, the funny lyrics, the insane drumming (c/o Mr. Justin Brown) AND the whole get up; the outfits, the hair, the lights.
And he’s a fun guy to follow. He’s just really bubbly and fun. Ultimately I think that that’s just his personality. He’s not trying to put on any kind of freak show; that’s just him, you know? And I think that’s beautiful, and that’s like, that’s what people gravitate towards, you know?
You really do have to have a feel for stagecraft too. It’s not just about what your external interests are outside of music, but you have to have a real ability to build a rapport with an audience.
One of the first times I saw esperanza spalding, she wasn’t super famous yet.
Maybe her first Heads Up record had just come out, the one called Esperanza.
She had this presence on a very small side stage at Newport Jazz Festival where she really had the audience in the palm of her hand. She could do whatever she wanted with them. She had such a good rapport with her audience, whether it was while playing or while talking, whatever. It was amazing to see. It was like, wow, she is gonna be super famous. You know? I saw her early, I saw it happen.
I mean, you have virtuosi in the world who don’t talk to the audience, right? They don’t, that’s not their vibe. They just play music.
But they do have stage presence in their movements, in the way that they talk to the audience through their instrument, you know? It’s a thing, it’s a vibe that you catch onto, you know?
And certain bands just don’t have it at all.
There’s a band that I saw in Poland a few years back that I thought were moderately, okay, I’m not gonna name names…
But they had a vibe with the audience. Even though I think their music is mediocre, I see them constantly written up in UK magazines and on playlists and in German and Italian and French media, and wherever…they’re everywhere.
And there’s a lot of bands like that that get by on their vibe or their street cred. Yeah, they probably have publicists and labels but it starts with good audience rapport.
The so-called “modernized labels” like obviously Blue Note, ECM, Verve, Impulse, Mack Avenue, Edition, Whirlwind Recordings, Greenleaf Music, Cellar Live, La Reserve, High Note/Savant, even Intakt or Pyroclastic or Pi Recordings have become the standard bearers of jazz today because of their or their distributors’ direct access to and credibility with the streaming giants (Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, YouTube Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, Qobuz, etc.). These are the way most people listen to music. These companies have their distribution business together. They do a lot on vinyl. They do a lot on Bandcamp direct-to-fan. They have all the playlist pitching going on with all their releases with their distributors.
Spotify For Artists does allow more artists to submit their music to playlist curators. And if they do it well, if they learn to fill the forms out well, with, with the right kind of language and the right kind of marketing drivers or narrative drivers, like, why is this project special, how many people can it reach given the team and their combined followers, what media are likely to pick up stories on them?
Like what’s your elevator pitch? What’s the short pitch that if you got to talk to Gilles Peterson for like 30 seconds or some other big influencer like Don Was or whatever, what would you say about your music or your single that would get them excited?
That’s what you have to do with the Spotify pitching. You just have to make a really, really succinct wording of why your shit is special, where you have fans, in what markets those fans follow you, and then it’s possible that a playlist curator buys into that and puts you on a playlist. Obviously the music matters a bit too, but not as much as one might think.
I’ve seen recently, in the last two months, very small artists with less than 300 monthly listeners get put on All New Jazz or State of Jazz based on their own submissions to Spotify for Artists, not via Orchard or Redeye or some big European aggregator/distributor like Edel placing them as one of their 5-10 weekly spots. See, the big distributors automatically get guaranteed spots, because they are big and they rep all these known labels and the streaming curators can go to them on a weekly basis as a one-stop-shop of credibility. Surely there a curators who have more of an independent mind and who know about the music they are programming like at Apple Music and Tidal.
Everyone who puts their music on Spotify should be using whatever app has been created for artists and labels. And if they don’t have time to do it, they should be hiring an assistant to do it. Even if it’s not to submit for playlisting, even if it’s just to fill out your profile picture and your bio. Do it.
I just talked to a person from Spotify, whom I met through the internet.
He’s more on the label partnership side for independent labels. He told me that almost everything that you hear on the editorial jazz playlists on Spotify is actually curated by human beings, not by algorithms. But they are going for a certain vibe and you have to find the right playlist to pitch to for your music. Only a small portion of the jazz on State of Jazz is acoustic. Most of it is electric. Much of it is European and informed by house music or other forms of electronic music. You have to listen to see what will work for your music. Just because you think you are similar to another artist, or they are your peer, doesn’t mean you belong on the same playlists as them.
Some of the other ’mood’ stuff is probably done by computers, but for jazz, it’s actually real people listening to hundreds of submissions on a daily basis. And obviously if something doesn’t catch them within the first 30 seconds, they’re gonna move on, you know if it, if it doesn’t fit the vibe of the playlist.
If the label has a partnership situation with someone at Spotify, the chances of them getting on an editorial playlist is much higher. Also, Spotify has programs like Spotify Marquee which allows artists or labels to put advertising dollars into campaigns that lead real people to find music that they might not find otherwise based on sideman tags or featured guest artists or other criteria. This is all in the public record. This is not some secret.
So whether you hire a publicist, whether you get with a record label or a manager or whatever, if one of those entities has some connection with the streaming platforms, even if it’s a personal private connection, that can help a lot.
“The only reason to be on a label in 2023 is for the possibility of streaming placements and for general name recognition”
… and perhaps the international marketing support that is provided.
If you’re associated with a certain brand like Blue Note or Verve or Impulse or ECM, you’re gonna be taken more seriously. Obviously that is reserved for the rare few, but if you’re with Whirlwind, Edition, ACT Music, Outside In, enja, Biophilia, Pi, Dot Time, Jazz & People, Posi-tone, that still does a bit because these labels have their distributor/streaming game together.
Whether you like it or not, this is how people are discovering music now.
It’s just the main way, the main driver.
The guy at Spotify told me that there are literally thousands of uploads a day tagged as “jazz.”
So these people have to go through all that stuff, wade through all that stuff.
It’s kind of insane to think that one or two people are curating literally the whole world for those services. But that’s usually what it is. I mean, if you’re on the pop side or the hip-hop side or the, you know, country music side or the electronic music side, there’s probably a bigger team.
But with jazz or classical music, I mean, some, of these services have the same person for multiple genres, and they’re mainly taking the “cream of the crop”; people and labels who have the connections through their labels or through their direct deals to get to these curators.
PR work at Fully Altered Media
Matt Fripp: Do you work with any artists who are unsigned, self releasing?
Oh, yeah. Most of my artists are ‘unsigned’ and we try to act as kind of an intermediary when we can to help them with the kind of the work that a label would do. So like, we’re kind of a PR and label services hybrid company.
I think the whole paradigm of artists wanting to make a living by touring is really being tested right now by society and by, you know, international travel conditions and whatever. I know really well-established artists who aren’t making what they used to make, especially from the collapse of the Euro, but also because a lot of places closed during the pandemic and people are just kind of getting back on their feet now. I’m not saying streaming can or should make up for this, but I know artists who are considering getting stable teaching gigs who used to rely on the road to earn their living.
Until a new generation comes along and starts to appreciate this art form and prop it up themselves financially either with sponsorship or community-building and really support it in new ways that we don’t even know yet, possibly through new technologies, we may not see a massive improvement in touring conditions.
“I’m a big proponent of blockchain technology for music”
I’m really enthusiastic about that coming to fruition. I don’t know if and when it will, but I’m really curious to see if it does you know, because that would allow a lot of stuff to be more democratically handled – smarter handling of rights, smarter handling of payments, smarter handling of permissions for licensing, all that kind of stuff.
If everything were uploaded as a blockchain file or under a blockchain codec that was uniform and everyone had to fill out the same data and it was subject to the same scrutiny, that would be a great development for the music industry.
But it’s a huge undertaking and I don’t know who’s gonna be up to it or who’s gonna fund it.
Only the major labels and possibly major indies have the money to do it; to convert all their existing master files that are mp4 or wav or FLAC or AAC or whatever.
With blockchain technology, it’s just a matter of who would adopt it, who would have the means to adopt and who would ultimately pay for that shift to occur. It’s a big question.
On choosing artists to work with
Matt Fripp: What, aside from the music, makes a project interesting to you, to work on as a publicist?
Besides the music? Music comes first. I have to love your music to work it. I do not take people’s money if I can’t personally feel excited about shouting from the rooftops about their music. Some publicists will take your money and try to sell music they don’t like or feel invested in. But that’s not how I operate. And then some publicists or other types of music promoters (be they radio or digital consultants) don’t even like jazz music and they treat their clients like commodities or consumer products with a dispassionate manner that I can’t abide. I personally need the passion in my belly to work a project effectively.
However some other criteria that matter are if an artist is either approachable or has a certain mystique, has a certain aura around them, it makes you want to learn more. If the person has a good vibe, a good temperament and they aren’t looking to get famous overnight, then I may feel more comfortable working with them.
Also, I think that if an artist researches me and researches other publicists and does some homework on who I am, who the competition is, what I do, what I’m known for, what I’m not known for, I’m much more likely to take them on as a client, as opposed to someone who just writes me the same email that they write to every publicist. And it’s clear that it’s a form email because often there’s no opening salutation or the fonts are a bit wonky from a lot of cutting and pasting. I’m much more interested in somebody who has taken the time to investigate me or read my social media postings and really appreciates what I do versus what other publicists do, you know?
That’s a determinant for me.
Also this is hard to say, but I’ll be real. It is way easier to work music that has known sidemen…way, way easier.
I’m not blanket suggesting that for everybody. But I think that it does have some merit when considering how you want to get ahead, if you are gonna hire an expensive publicist or radio promoter or digital marketer.
Great photos, great videos, good social media presence, clear voice on social media. It doesn’t have to be super promotional, but you get a vibe and something clicks with you, that this is an artist that you believe in, you dig their mission and you believe in their sound.
A big thing that I didn’t mention yet is that artists who come to you, who are part of a scene, who are part of a movement of artists, a community of artists that is interconnected; it’s easier as a publicist or an agent to pitch an artist if you can pitch them in relation to other artists people already know. An artist who is a frequent collaborator with others makes for a greater ability to connect the dots between players and scenes.
A lot of journalists write to me and they say, “oh yeah, I’ve seen this guy’s name on some records, but I don’t really know much about him or her. And now I’ve made this connection thanks to you.” I’m really just laying out the information for them, providing context (and passion).
I recently worked a great record by a young bass player named Rick Rosato, who plays with Immanuel Wilkins, Joel Ross, Dayna Stevens, and has played with Melissa Aldana. He has a collective trio with Glenn Zaleski and Colin Stranahan.
He just made a solo bass record, 30 minutes long. He put it on vinyl, it got some nice notices, but people really weren’t aware of him as an entity unto himself, beyond musicians. And it helped a lot to have those things in my back pocket to kind of connect the dots. Who is this guy. How does he fit into the bigger picture of the music.
Musicians who don’t work with anyone but themselves, it’s really hard to place them in the context of the greater jazz scene.
You can try to position them as iconoclasts. You can position them as free thinkers who kind of don’t really fit with anyone else except in the context of their own music. But most of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz have played with many people, right? And have really collaborated with a broad swath of people.
Jazz is traditionally a music of collaboration. It’s not so much a music of individualist, even though, you know, the leaders of the last hundred years are completely recognizable – Coltrane, Monk, Miles, Blakey, even George Shearing, Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra…all the singers, Ella, Sarah, Billie, Shirley Horn, Blossom Dearie, Betty Carter. Today Cécile McLorin Salvant, Ambrose Akinmusire, Tyshawn Sorey, Melissa Aldana, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Logan Richardson, Walter Smith III, Chris Potter, Brian Blade, Lionel Loueke, Julian Lage, Linda May Han Oh, Kris Davis, Sara Serpa, Jen Shyu, Fabian Almazan, Chris Dingman, Maria Schneider, John Hollenbeck, Theo Bleckmann, Fay Victor, Gretchen Parlato. All of these people have their own sounds, but all have played with many others and continue to do so.
“Not Everyone Should Be a Bandleader”
I’ve said this a lot, and I wanna say it here because I think it’s important: not everybody should be a leader, not even close.
There’s a culture that’s been developed largely by the jazz schools, I think, that essentially states that everyone should be a composer. Everyone should be a bandleader. Everyone should have their own touring career.
I don’t think that’s the case. I mean, it’s okay to expose people to that, give them the option of that, but to have them leave school with the expectation that they’re gonna have some kind of career touring or leading or whatever, I don’t think it’s either truthful or healthy for the scene.
Certain people will invariably emerge just like a free market. People will emerge who are natural bandleaders, who have large personalities and, and have something to say musically.
And then there are people who need to be sidemen or sidewomen or sidepeople. It’s just a natural order of things. And I think this whole thing extends further than music.
I mean, there’s all these leadership programs, right? Not everyone is meant to be a leader. Most people, I mean, the majority of people, what, we have like 6 billion people now on the planet?
Most of those people are not leading, they’re following, you know, the masses are not leading, they’re following. They’re supporting the system.
You can expose people to leadership, you can give them some tools, but not everybody is meant to be a leader.
Jazz Schools: A False Bill of Goods?
By the same token, I think a lot of jazz students, people who study jazz at the collegiate level are being sold a false bill of goods that essentially says, if you come to our school, you’ll study with the most famous people in the world, they’ll rub off on you, and then suddenly you’ll have a career.
That’s not true. It’s false advertising. I don’t support it. I don’t think most musicians shouldn’t go to jazz school. I think they should go to regular college, university, get a real education that is broad and teaches them to write and read; like really analytically read and write and code and design do other stuff; have broader interests, you know, beyond emulating Kurt Rosenwinkel and Chris Potter or Joe Lovano or Tigran or Ambrose, and you know, Dave Douglas and whoever..
I think that the overall scene would be healthier with fewer jazz schools. And, you know, I mean, ultimately it’s an industry. People are trying to make money, and a lot of the people in the jazz world are teachers, and they’re teaching people to be teachers of other jazz musicians. And while that may be good for the continuation of the art form, we’ve seen negative effects of jazz being taught from an academic standpoint.
The music becomes sterile, the music becomes lifeless. Music just emulates the music of others. You have a circular-like feedback loop of players emerging from school sounding like Chris Potter or Michael Brecker, or Brad Meldhau or Aaron Parks or Mulgrew or Glasper or whatever. And you can only have one Aaron Parks. You can only have one Brad Meldhau.
And it’s just like all this copycatting, I mean, is inevitable in the music. It’s been here since Duke Ellington, since Charlie Parker. But they’re not teaching individualism. That can’t really be taught. That comes from living; from trial and error.
On Press pitching Lead Times
Matt Fripp: If a musician’s looking to work with you what sort of lead times do you tend to work on ideally?
I prefer if people book me like six months or more out. But if they can’t do that, I need at least four to five months initial notice. It’s you’re famous and whatever, I’ll usually make room or if you are someone I’m supe excited about. I am a fan. I pay attention to this music.. But for most artists who are up and coming, who are coming out of school and coming into their thirties that’s another thing.
Typically a good time to hit me up for projects is late November, early December for the following year for releases after February or earlier in the Fall for the following year, the following Spring, or like, kind of in the early Summer months for the Fall months.
If someone hits me up in June for an October release, that gives me plenty of time to slot it in. I would prefer they hit me up in May but it doesn’t always line up like that.
I constantly have to tell musicians records cannot be worked after they are out. It’s a waste of everyone’s time.
You can get press after the fact, but it’s so not worth it. It’s so not worth your investment.
If you’re gonna hire a reputable firm that, has, you know, reasonably high rates, you really need to spend your money wisely, and you need to spend it in advance of the release, you know, several months in advance, three, four months in advance, ideally.
It used to be that we could get some of these lifestyle magazines like Vogue and GQ and Men’s Health and whatever to cover some music stuff.
And that would require like six months or more of lead time. So the music would have to be ready, you know, at least six months before the release date. And it’s usually only major labels that are planning that far out.
If you’re pitching album cycles, it’s become more tenable to start pitching two months out and, you know, and getting, getting what you need. Obviously a magazine like MOJO or NME or Rolling Stone or whatever, even Down Beat; those magazines require a healthy amount of lead time, but most of what they review doesn’t actually appear in their magazine. It appears on their websites, which is often paywalled. So, you know, you have to also consider that.
There’s very few sites out there I like anymore that have no paywall. I mean there’s Stereogum, there’s Pitchfork, there’s Bandbamp that have no paywall, you know Aquarium Drunkard, that’s a great site with no paywall that is actually reader-supported through a Patreon-type model. They do encourage people to be members. PopMatters is a good site, but doesn’t really employ professional critics; just hobbyists willing to write for free.
AllMusic.com is a great site with great resources and great writers actually, who are dedicated to weekly album reviews and bios being written. But yeah, I think that it’s really, really, really important to plan ahead as much as possible.
I’ve seen so many artists fall into the trap of having a target date for their release that coincides with touring, or that coincides with the one big festival and kind of everything falls apart in, in the process of printing promos or printing CDs or vinyl or whatever.
And then we get to like six weeks out and we’re just starting the campaign. And those campaigns almost always do worse than the ones where we have three, four months of lead time, you know, to really get the press release written, get the pitch points set.
Pitch points are like the four or five most important things that you want to get across in a pitch to a journalist or an editor or whatever. Distilling those to an easy to read three paragraph email, maybe even two paragraphs and a link…
Are physical CDs still important?
I do think that printing physical CDs is still important for jazz artists, if not for the general audience and for the critics.
A lot of the critics feel that it’s kind of their payment to receive a physical product because a lot of them are receiving no remuneration for their services, or very little. I don’t wanna betray my journalist friends at certain publications, but it’s really very little money. And so they see the finished physical as a form of respect, and a like an unspoken agreement between artist or label and writer saying you we value you, and if you like physical media, we’re gonna deliver you physical media.
It is an inconvenience to artists who don’t have a dedicated fan base that wants to buy their physical product. But if you’re already investing in making a record, doing PR, you’re already going into your pocket $10K or more, what’s another $500 to print 300 properly authored non-CDR copies, even if it’s just in sleeves with maybe cover artwork or even a white label promo copy. People want CDs that they can play in their medium to high end CD players that will actually play.
Maybe it’s kind of at 50/50 right now; like 50% of eligible writers who are actively writing for somewhere want physical and 50% just want digital. And that is up from like 40% wanting digital and 60% wanting physical just two years ago. And, and it’s up from, you know, 5 or 10 years ago where it’s like 70% physical and 30% digital.
It’s slowly increasing towards digital only as people run out of space and move houses or only have apartments and can’t handle what they physically receive in the mail.
They just can’t do it. But yeah, I do think it’s important. And if you’re sending to audiophile outlets, like vinyl-type magazines, you have to send ’em vinyl.
I mean, you just have to set aside 10 to 15 copies per run. Which I realize if you’re doing only a run of a hundred or run of 300 can be a significant amount can cut into your margins, but you wanna get reviews in audio file publications like HiFi News you have to do it.
There’s also a lot of people who only want to collect high-res digital music. So you have to deliver something that’s, you know, 24 bit, at least high res.
And it’s not even audiophile writers that want it, it’s anyone who buys music at Bandcamp who wants high-res files, who wants to play it on a digital audio converter at home. There’s a big market for solely lossless music, there’s media outlets who focus on that.
There’s a publication called Tone Audio that only only covers high res files, listened to through, you know, Dax or other kinds of receivers that are, you know, modern and, and that, that have to do with people who, who mostly stream their collections.
“I think that many artists seek PR too early in their careers”
I think also people try to release records too early in their careers.
I think that you shouldn’t release a record until you’ve achieved a certain musical maturity. Now that’s obviously subjective and, and non-quantifiable. But I would say people should start releasing records in their late twenties. That’s a time when they’ve been able to, you know, glean enough of the scene that, that they really have incorporated some, some world experience and, and some different perspectives.
People who write records while in school, usually the case is that they’re fairly boring and fairly mainstream, they just sound like jazz school records. They have sound that’s pretty sterile or, or lacking life experience.
Matt Fripp: Massive thanks again for taking the time to chat!
I hope you got both some actionable advice, and some interesting talking points out of that.
Feel free to use the comments section below if you have things to add. Personally, the big takeaway was this: the scene has always been evolving, and there are always advantages and disadvantages to the current situation. What you *can* control though, remains the same:
- Make the best music you can (that’s true to you)
- Consider the way you’re presenting this in all the ways available
- Look deep to find the ways you can connect with potential fans and supporters, then keep doing it consistently
- Have a plan and keep adjusting it and setting new targets as you go
About Fully Altered Media
Fully Altered Media has been leading the field in creative music public relations and social media marketing, without boundaries since 2007.
“In recent years, as the media landscape continues to change, we have developed a hybrid approach to marketing music and ideas. While our hearts will always be filled with pride when we see our clients with a print spread in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or WIRE, we feel just as pleased with a client takeover of a media outlet or sponsor’s social media channel or a premiere by Gilles Peterson on Worldwide FM.”
The landscape has been irrevocably blurred and non-traditional outlets from crossposted Facebook live-streams to highly curated Instagram stories to consultations with artists on crowdfunding or Patreon roll-outs qualify as “results” in our new landscape, where artists and organizations are unencumbered from the strictures of gatekeepers.
“Our greatest strength lies in our relationships and our credibility representing artists and organizations we believe in. Our goal is quality placements with knowledgeable journalists or influencers that maximize potential reach nationally and internationally. Each campaign is customized to each client’s needs, often concentrating on different aspects of career development and brand recognition from traditional press campaigns to social media curation and strategy to digital advertising plans for albums, videos, songs, festivals and new ideas.”
Matt’s unique team at Fully Altered Media includes publicists, social media marketers, online advertising specialists, software developers and more.
Connect with Fully Altered Media
You can keep up to date with their latest roster and releases via the links below.