Interview with RICK STONE, senior VP at leading music promoters Jeff McClusky & Associates - Nov 16, 2009
“What is the reason you asking me to play this? ‘It's a great song …’ Well, there are a lot of great songs out there. Programmers want stories.”
Continuing our series focusing the whys and hows of modern music promotion, we speak to Rick Stone, senior VP at Jeff McClusky & Associates, the leading U.S. music promotion, marketing and artist development firm that has had a hand in the success of such artists as U2, Depeche Mode, Bruce Springsteen and Madonna and is now also an active force in helping independent artists gain exposure.
Stone talks about how industry upheavals have affected music promotion, why radio is still a powerful exposure tool, what radio stations are looking for, and what JMA Promo can do for you ...
As an artist with a local fan base, why would it be important to get a promotions company like Jeff McClusky & Associates behind me - how can they help?
They offer you their relationships to get access to the people you probably don't get to on your own. And with that access comes the potential for exposure much quicker than if you would have just cold called people.
Do you think the internet is starting to have a greater impact than radio as a promotional and exposure tool?
Internet radio is definitely growing. The artist needs to be in touch with their fans but the closest way of being in touch with your fans is a live performance. People throw down their money to see an artist, and for half an hour everything is right with the world. That's the ultimate impact.
And then you stay in contact through your social networking sites and your website. Day by day, you can tell your fans what you are doing.
That helps to sell tickets, but not necessarily sell records. I think radio is a more compelling driver for that.
Even though some people have predicted the demise of terrestrial radio, it is still the number one drive when it comes to exposure. It transforms music fans into consumers.
So how do you actually work the radio promotion? To a lot of people it might seem like you just call up the radio station or send out CDs?
Radio promotion is a science. It's a sales pitch to programmers - encouraging the programmer to pick up your record over someone else's. You have to understand your client's needs first. You have to anticipate the programmers you are dealing with, the mechanics of their radio stations, and what they are looking for.
If one radio station plays one kind of music and you’ve got a song that doesn't fit the radio station then you wouldn't promote it to them.
But if you have a rock band and a rock radio station then first thing is for you to use your relationship with the station to get access so they can listen to the song.
It's a really hard time to get radio programmers to listen to new songs. They don't have the time - especially in an age of consolidation, where the survivors that still have jobs have to do three or four jobs, and still only have the same amount of hours in the day.
We've been in business for 28 years. We know the people we're talking to, we have the relationships. That's something the average person cannot do. You cannot walk into a radio station and say, "I spent the last year making a no.1 record. You gotta listen to this!” The receptionist will say, "Just leave it over here, and we will get back to you." With us, you have a better chance.
The sheer volume of songs that are in the market place waiting to be heard and discovered far exceeds the demand in media to programme the songs.
As technology escalates and the distribution of music is at all time high - in terms of it being available to everybody - there are now even more challenges how to get people focused to listen to a new artist.
What is your background - how did you get involved in the music industry?
I grew up in the New York area and got the radio bug listening to disc jockeys. I said to myself, “This is what I want to do.” At college, I did a popular radio show and wound up working in professional radio 36 hours a week in my junior year of college.
After college, I spent about four years working full time in professional radio as a music director. So I got involved in selecting the music. I also had to deal with promotion people that came in and visited us pitching their songs.
After that, using my network and the relationships that I built up from the broadcasting radio side as a base, I transitioned to the record label side. I was interviewed for a job as a local marketing promoter in New York City with A&M records in the late 70s.
A&M Records was a top Label owned by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss at the time, and working for them was an honour. I spent 20 years with the company, moving from local marketing to local radio promotion to being senior VP running the whole promotion department. I had the privilege of working with artists like the Police, Bryan Adams, Janet Jackson, Quincy Jones, Soundgarden, Sheryl Crow and many more brilliant musicians along the way.
It was a great run but great runs come to an end, and the opportunity came along to open up a West Coast office with Jeff McClusky in 1998.
How has the company role altered since then, what with the industry upheavals and the rise of the internet?
In the last 11 years the business has done a complete 180° turn – everything’s changed, because the labels are much smaller in staff sizes. They are operating under a different business model working with outsourced companies. That had opened up the opportunity to pick up some of the work because you need coverage out there. So we are working with the labels more and in different areas now.
At the same time there has been a rise in the number of independent labels and artists that are putting out music on their own, and who have come to us for marketing, promotion and consulting support.
I don't know if at the end of the 90s true indie artists would have approached the company. Now so much of our potential business are people that don’t necessarily have a record label attached to them.
Today we look at our company as an exposure company. Not only with radio, but through licensing and placement in film and television or hooking up with an advertising product or helping them to tour and book shows locally, which we have done for some independent bands in the Chicago area - our home base.
Can you outline on a recent example on the specifics of what you're company actually does?
We were involved with Creed's first release on Wind-up Records. We had a major radio promotion role and helped break their first hit. We've been involved with Madonna, Ziggy Marley and Collective Soul over the years.
With some we've been involved in helping on the promotion end and getting airplay. Some of the others we were involved directly with the management. At the moment we are very involved with the radio promotion of the new Pearl Jam album ‘Backspacer’ and their new hit song ‘Just Breathe’, which has been released on their own record label.
Do you have any other examples of artist campaigns that you have been involved with recently?
We had interesting campaign this year with Ziggy Marley. The current record is called ‘Family Time’ and it's more of a children's record. Target audience is young kids, from two to ten.
We used radio stations help promote kids shows in the US, and at the same time Ziggy was also touring with 311. So we had rocking Ziggy on the one side and on the other side shows for young kids, where the family can come, park their stroller and watch Ziggy play. The strategy how the shows are going to run were already in place from the artist and the management and we worked the radio promotion end.
Do you work your artists locally first or do you try to work them national right away?
It really depends on where the artist is at that point of their career and the structure of the company around them.
If they would ask us, “What shall we do?” Well, not every record should go national, not every song should go to radio initially. All artists should build up a fan base first. Establish a growth pattern within their fan base and be able to perform shows. A combination with adding in the online market puts an artist in a position then to truly benefit from possible returns from radio.
At what point in an artist’s career would you suggest to getting in contact with your company?
Anytime. We want to hear your music.
We're not only in radio promotion. We currently have artist that has just recorded their first record. They want us to listen to it or they want to get connected with a manager or a possible booking agent. Or they just want to know what the next move is …
Ultimately, it’s about if an artist is willing to work hard and he or she wants to be a mutual partner with us. I sense that immediately - in their attitudes, how they handle their business, how they present their music.
What should an artist have that would make them interesting for your company?
Great songs and a great performance that stands out. That combination will get our attention. First thing I listen to is, how that song is hitting me. One thing that is very common amongst everyone that listens to it is if you are reacting well, you are reacting quickly. First 20 seconds of a song, you're in it, you know if it's the shit.
And from that song you go, "Oh, I have you check them out, what are these guys called?" Today you have so many more ways to get close to an artist that you didn't have 20 years ago.
How do people normally first get in touch with you?
We get a lot of referrals. They check out our website and I try to answer every e-mail I get. I try to be available for people. If I'm talking to an artist or a manager, I get a feel about their work and how they present their work and whether or not I feel that we should be partners. I cannot get that from an email, but I can get it from a phone call.
What is important for the radio if you present them a new band?
Radio is about playing hits, and playing both stars and future stars. With any new artist they want a reason. “What is the reason you asking me to play this?” “It's a great song...” “Well, there are a lot of great songs out there. What’s the story? Is it breaking in a specific market? Is it played in a television show? …” Programmers are looking for stories.
The first judgement they make is, “Does it fit our radio station?” It doesn't matter what the story is if it doesn't fit the radio station. Most of the time it doesn't get seriously considered unless the audience is voting it on. So they are getting e-mails, text messages and phone calls saying, “I want to hear this song!”
For the most part radio stations program according to the sound and what they feel is popular, and what they are getting back in their research.
How many radio stations are there in the US? How many do you have to deal with?
There are thousands of terrestrial, satellite and internet radio stations in America. It requires a lot more strategic radio promotion.
Instead of just calling everyone and everybody, you go to work a certain level of radio first, and then based on the success you get you then go to the second level.
You‘ve got to listen to the marketplace, too. You go to where you have relationships. If a band have as a local following you go to the radio stations that are based around there. It's a case-by-case thing.
The audience is now more fragmented. There are far more choices when it comes to how you listen to music and how you receive your music. You are going get your music exposed in a lot of areas and then put all the successful pieces together to make an even larger piece of activity.
Every week we are calling collectively about a 100 radio stations. That involves over a 100 radio programmers. Calling, text messaging and emailing - all just focused on one song. Presumably the artist is in the US visiting the radio station. Then we are putting together a campaign to walk in and play a song or two acoustically.
How important do you think is the local following?
A following is the artist’s life blood. I think you can have a following today that is much more than local because everyone checks you out online. It's now a world thing.
What does a street team mean your eyes?
For example, it is supporting a club date by putting posters out or handing out flyers or mainly internet marketing nowadays.
We sit down with the artist and figure out what they've done to get to where they are now, what has worked and what hasn't worked. Then we give suggestions that might help him to get him to next level.
If the artist doesn't have a record label, our company will quarterback all the record label needs and services for the artist. That means hire other outsource companies that we have strategic working relationships with.
How much financial backing do I need to hire a company like yours for doing radio promotion?
I get e-mails asking, “How much are your services?” My response is, “The first thing I want to hear is your artist. Please send me a link or a CD. I'll be happy to listen to it and then you and I will have a conversation.” Everything is case-by-case. We are very upfront about the potential costs when we get involved.
You mentioned on your web page that you help to get revenue for the artist as well. How does that work?
Well, if we get a song licensed the fees will create some revenue. I think everything else is a by-product of exposure. For example, their fees for live shows go up, because they are on radio. That's how we can help.
What is your M2 development team doing at your company?
They are working with indie artists like Robin Horlock and Janelle Kroll out of Chicago and helping them grow their exposure through local press, local marketing strategies, booking shows for them and when they toured through the Midwest, making sure they got radio and press. They are both artists without record labels.
We are looking for fresh artist from everywhere. We are not a record label, but if we hear something breaking and the manager needs help accessing major label attention, we can help them because we are in that business 24/7.
Do you have A&R people at your company then?
I look at everybody in our company as an A&R person. We always listen to music.
How easy is it to get a radio promotion tour in the States?
It's not easy at all. Don’t forget a radio programmer’s time is as precious and important as yours or mine.
We just finished up a successful promo tour with the artist Gary Go, who is from the UK. He has a song out called ‘Wonderful’, which is No.1 in Italy and has been Top 20 in the UK. He has toured with Lady Gaga in Europe. JMA worked extensively with him and his U.S. label, taking him to a lot of radio stations and people love him when they meet him. Gary Go will be a big artist.
What makes your company standout compared to other radio promoters?
If you're in business for over 28 years, and you are still going to shows at night because you love what you do and people trust you with your judgements and your instincts then I think we’re definitely in the game.
Interview by Jan Blumentrath
Next week: Acclaimed singer-songwriter Josh Rouse talks about alternative record label models
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