Take one step onto Broadway Street in Nashville, Tenn., then stop and listen. Music floods your ears no matter what season, month or day it is. No style is off limits and neither is the microphone. The voices range from the karaoke guy who had one too many longnecks to the brilliant musician who might as well be the next big star. While many think the Music City is only for the Southern country hopefuls, the last few decades have seen an infusion of not only new genres of music, but also a host of new record labels and management firms. New labels and new artists mean one thing — publicity. New records mean new campaigns, tours and appearances, which lead to new tasks for the public relations and marketing team. But what if that team happens to be one or two people at a small independent label?
Twenty years ago the music industry was different. Cassette tapes played through over-sized boom boxes carried on the shoulders of aspiring hip-hop artists or in the car stereos of teenagers driving down back roads. MC Hammer started a dance and fashion craze before PSY could have even imagined “Gangnam Style,” and the only new music release campaigns an artist’s public relations team needed to plan were radio and TV appearances and occasionally magazine interviews.
Fast forward to 2013 and teams not only have to deal with the death of CDs, but also plan social media campaigns, talk show appearances, tours and award show performances. While publicists and public relations teams attempt to promote the current artists, record labels want to ensure the success of artists before even signing them to the label.
The Collegiate Conversation
“For the most part, the days of record labels developing talent are over,“ said Janna Malone, professor of Record Label Operations at The University of North Alabama. “Labels want to sign artists that already have that all important ‘buzz’ and fan base. Record deals are harder to get because labels are investing so much time and money to break artists that they have to be sure the artist will be successful before taking a risk on them.”
UNA took special interest in helping students learn the music industry inside and out after the city of Florence, Ala., saw an influx of artists, labels and studios. The school formed the Department of Entertainment Industry in June 2010. DEI offers two specializations in the degree program: Entertainment Business Emphasis and Entertainment Technology Emphasis. The technology path concentrates on production, audio recording and lighting, while the business emphasis concentrates on just that — the business of the industry. While all students must take law, history and multimedia classes, the business students look more in-depth at how record labels operate and artist management as well as how to make it in the music industry.
“Sometimes students don’t want to work hard for what they get so they have the misconception that they are going to start a career in the industry at the level of management,” Malone said. “Most positions are entry-level, which is where everyone starts in this industry.”
Proving this point, Gary Branigan, Web developer/marketing director at Palaver Records, explained how he got his start in the music world.
“I had a hard time getting a job in the industry,” Branigan said. “I was working with a company (now defunct), who pretty much tried to screw us. After that, the band we were trying to work with gave us an ultimatum. Us or them. We chose the band and called ourselves Palaver Records.”
The Label Conversation
Palaver Records, an independent record label in Nashville, stresses the importance of public relations in its mission statement: “At Palaver Records, we realize it is not an affiliation with a record label that makes a music act successful, but a partnership between artists and their representation.” This label understands that it takes more than just good music to sell albums — it takes promotion that adequately represents the artist.
“PR plays a huge role in everything we do,” Branigan said. “On a daily basis, we usually have a release in the works, which means that we are constantly working with PR. Depending on the budget of the album, we hire out a few choice publicists. If the budget isn’t there, but we believe in the project, we’ll do the work.”
As a small label, Palaver Records signs artists who have a niche audience that usually is not reached by mainstream giants like Sony and Capital. Palaver promotes collaboration between the artist and the label. Its website defines the company as “an ongoing, meaningful conversation.” By committing to keeping the originality and personality of its artists alive, the record label differentiates itself from giant music corporations by continuing the conversation.
“Nashville is an incubator for great bands right now,” Branigan said. “We find all of our bands in town or on recommendation from friends. After the ink dries, we take a good look at what the band is doing for marketing and what we think they should be doing. We start meeting and planning everything out.”
The Ongoing Conversation
It is a non-stop job for any music industry professional, but both Malone and Branigan offer similar advice for how to keep an edge over the competition and why, in the end, the time and effort pay off for the band and label you represent.
“It’s a hard industry,” Malone said. “You have to have a passion for it. Sometimes it can be working long hours and attending parties and events at the end of a long day. Also, beginning salaries sometimes aren’t that great. We strongly encourage our students to take the job even if you have to work another part-time job to pay bills. It’s worth it!”
“In this town, you have to do it great, or you’re not going to last long,” Branigan said. “If you’re a business person, do it yourself. You are the only person that can hold you back.”