MUSIC PR: What You Need to Know
By Belle Ross
On Monday, April 22nd , two music PR professionals visited DePaul’s PRSSA organization to tell their personal journeys, offer advice, and inform the attendees about their internship experiences. Josh Zanger of Bloodshot Records described his daily duties in one humorous sentence saying, “One day you’re sending emails to NPR, the next you’re plunging a toilet.” Though Josh has been able to tackle a variety of tasks at Bloodshot over the past nine years, his primary position focuses on releases (aka campaigns) for solo artists and bands under the label. Each year, he creates anywhere from 11 to 15 campaigns consisting of a rough timeline of events, contacting media platforms for coverage, discussing themes and language for the release, and finding placement for the finished product. “Every campaign is different,” he says, “but they all bring their own excitement to it”. One of his most challenging campaigns surrounded a new transgender artist who wanted to break down stereotypes and branch out into different demographics.
Being under a country/roots record label has it’s restrictions, but Josh’s campaign encouraged music-lovers of all backgrounds to broaden their horizons and listen to tracks that were outside of their typical genre of choice. This new obstacle required him to think, “How am I going to get someone like my sister or my parents interested in the music my record label makes?” When asked by the members of PRSSA, “What advice to you have for current college students who are interested in the music PR field?”, he responded with something that really opened the minds of all in attendance. Many students who are looking for internships, or entry-level jobs for that matter, expect to jump right into the high-profile, intense projects within their company. Josh explained, “sometimes you have to know what it takes to work at the venue, put up posters around town, or set up concerts” to understand the industry you’re getting yourself into. In other words, starting at ‘the bottom’ allows you to prove your work ethic, understand how your company operates, and gives you room for growth.
The second speaker, Mike Boyd of Thrill Jockey Records, had a bit of a different journey than most in the PR profession. As a music graduate from Columbia College, he “felt like an imposter to the industry.” However, with his passion for the arts and diverse internship experience, Mike found his calling as publicist with a focus in tour PR and radio promotion. “I just like writing,” he revealed, “so I managed to combine both of my passions into one.” One of his favorite and most recent campaign featured a band who made music in a “rock opera” style. He explained how this wildly different genre was “like something you’d see in a museum – it’s like [I was] contributing to culture.” Another favorite involved a group who created music, or sounds, using only plastic items. Both Mike and the band members used these plastic instruments to appeal to the eco-friendly & health-conscious crowd through their promotional activities to receive more attention. In doing so, they all became very close friends, which ultimately made their campaign stronger.
Mike stated, “Even if their music isn’t my cup of tea, knowing the person and their process helps me to appreciate their music more”. Human connection is a very important aspect to his career, and in some cases, his job “doesn’t even feel like work.” In alignment with Josh’s advice, Mike urged PRSSA to “start now.” Though some may disagree, he claimed that “the best way you can show someone what you can do is to do it for free.” He packaged records, went on coffee runs, and assisted at venues for years before he got to where he is now, and on top of that, he did it all under unpaid internships.
Neither of the two speakers had their success handed to them on a silver platter. They
worked (and still work) tirelessly around-the-clock for their record labels in order to provide a service to ‘underground’ musicians around the world. Following their Q&A panel, PRSSA members were given the opportunity for one-on-one conversations with Josh & Mike. As a whole, students left the meeting feeling inspired, determined, and a bit more knowledgeable about the field.