Q&A on Rockie Fresh with ANDREW GERTLER, manager at APG Music Group - Jul 22, 2011
“Getting Rockie to the point he is at now was not an easy task. When I first started working with him we literally had zero recognition.”
Self-proclaimed as “hip-hop’s future”, Rockie Fresh recently took star billing in our Making Waves series due to his extraordinary efforts in building a massive fanbase and media buzz from scratch. As a follow up, we get a fresh perspective on the factors behind Rockie’s burgeoning success from a key contributor to his rise, manager Andrew Gertler of APG Music Group, who touches on guerrilla marketing, exploiting the street-wear scene, constant social media engagement and Rockie’s formidable live reputation.
How did you first come to hear about Rockie Fresh?
I first heard about Rockie through a friend of mine, Andrew Koenig, who is his current road manager. All three of us went to the same high school. I was in college at the time working as an intern for various music-related companies, and Andrew approached me with Rockie's music looking for some general guidance. I decided to lend a helping hand, and we all hit it off as a team. From there I founded APG Music Group and became his full time manager.
Did you have any management experience at the time?
Before Rockie, I’d only had a small bit of artist management experience. I’d started out by putting on concerts in high school, and then worked various internships and odd jobs in the music industry.
I started off at Roll Call Records, who then managed Pete Francis from the popular indie rock band Dispatch (HQ interview). I then moved on to work at Jeff McClusky & Associates (HQ interview), who was a big Chicago radio promoter that had a hand in breaking everyone from The Rolling Stones to U2 to Pearl Jam. Jeff became a great mentor of mine, which lead to me working at Atlantic Records for a summer in the marketing department. All of that was during college.
Now I'm doing my own thing, managing Rockie and running APG Music Group.
What are your responsibilities in managing Rockie and how do you share duties with Andrew Koenig?
I handle the day-to-day business, working alongside our publicist and everyone else involved in our current team to plan and execute our release campaigns, book live shows, and coordinate everything that is Rockie. My job is to make sure everything that goes on behind the scenes runs smoothly and to make sure we get his music to the masses. What you see on the web is a product of a lot of careful planning and a lot of teamwork.
Andrew Koenig sticks with Rockie on a day-to-day basis. As his road manager he is there to make sure Rockie is where he needs to be, whether that is for recording, live shows, or interviews.
Once you began representing Rockie, can you explain what your original plans were in terms of working to raise his profile and establish his reputation?
Getting Rockie to the point he is at now was not an easy task. When I first started working with him we literally had zero recognition to work with. There was no press, only a very small group of fans - who really were just our friends that liked the music - and no team outside of the three of us.
We cut some records in Chicago, and started attacking the local media outlets with content from Rockie's first project ‘Rockie's Modern Life’. Many of the local Chicago blogs like Ruby Hornet and Fake Shore Drive took to the music early on, and we even got a few larger scale Chicago print looks for that release.
Rockie had also always been immersed in the Chicago street-wear scene, so when the time came to start putting out music, our fan base grew exponentially in those circles and he became a mini-sensation within Chicago. It was true guerrilla-marketing. Flood the market, hit up everyone we can, and get the music out there. Once we were able to gain some traction locally we then began honing our focus.
It took his second project ‘The Otherside’ to then elevate him to that national level. We began hitting national blogs and publications that we thought would take to the music and they began picking it up as well.
We also had Rockie constantly playing shows. We did our best to make sure Rockie was on every Chicago hip-hop bill that was notable. He opened for Big Sean, The Cool Kids, and tons of others, and sold out the 500-capacity Reggie's Rock Club on his own twice. Then we hit the road nationally and kept bringing our product to the people in any way we could, city by city.
In what ways did you exploit the exposure and acclaim from the blogs to build his career further?
Blogs are a tricky thing, especially in hip-hop. It’s hard to get in touch with the right people, and to get them to listen to your music is even harder. Once we picked up some steam, we used the acclaim Rockie was getting from certain publications to pitch him to others. It becomes a snowball effect, where if one person is covering an artist, the other person needs to make sure they're also on top of what’s hot.
For ‘The Otherside’ release, I brought publicist Artie Pitt on board. He’s Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller's publicist and was a big supporter of the music. He helped us connect the dots and take our blog coverage to a national level.
But it still takes more than press to do that. It takes engaging your fans, and making them feel comfortable to spread your music so that their friends, and their friend's friends, will become part of the movement as well. Not an easy task, but what has driven Rockie's fan base is constant social media engagement and a notable live show that makes his fans want to tell others about him.
Rockie has performed at SXSW and CMJ, both high profile showcase events. How did those two come about?
SXSW and CMJ came about through the tight knit hip-hop blog and street-wear community. We did showcases for ‘Leaders Of The New Cool’ back when it was a buzzing mini-tour, and they put Rockie on their CMJ show.
Also websites like Smoking Section and URB put Rockie on their shows at SXSW as supporters of the music.
Which live showcases have proven the most significant in terms of raising Rockie’s profile?
Bamboozle was definitely the most notable show to raise Rockie's profile. There is a big difference between playing in a room of 500 people and to an outdoor stage with a crowd in the thousands. His fanbase jumped up drastically at Bamboozle, and it also led to us connecting with the Madden brothers (of Good Charlotte), whom Rockie is now working with on some records for his next project.
Rockie’s next release is ‘Otherside Redux’, which features new versions of older songs. What is the idea behind this release?
The idea behind ‘The Otherside Redux’ was to bring the initial project to an even larger audience. Between the time ‘The Otherside’ was released and now, Rockie's fan base increased drastically and he has gotten a significant amount of press attention. We wanted to give everyone something fresh while they wait for his next release and figured there was no better way than to re-release ‘The Otherside’ with new versions of records, remixes, and some never-before-heard material. This was a concept we had been throwing around for a while, but didn't want to execute until the time was right.
Do you have any creative involvement, such as in what songs are recorded and released?
Outside of just business, I'm definitely very involved in the creative process, as is everyone on the team. I've had a hand in everything from giving input in songwriting, to music video direction, to the production of the live show. Everyone on our team works hard to feed off of each other's energy and make sure the final product is the best thing it can possibly be.
Rockie typically will write a song with his producers, send it to the team for input, and they'll go back to make changes. Or everyone will be in the studio bouncing around ideas for concepts before they record. It really depends on the situation and record at hand.
As for releases, we typically collaboratively lay out what songs to release and when. Then I'll take what we all agree on and build it out with the help of the team, decide what press outlets to hit with what content, and really bring it to life.
Finally, how far is feasible for Rockie to stay independent and what would prompt you to partner up with a label?
We think we can take Rockie very far independently. We have gotten some attention from major labels, but are waiting for the right time and right offer to make any major decision. For now, we'll keep building his fan base as organically as possible.
Interviewed by Barry Wheels
Read On ...
* Interview with Rockie Fresh himself as part of our Making Waves series
* Dispatch manager Steve Bursky on how the band exploited file-sharing