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Publicist and author Stacey Piggott has penned a new book titled Blow Your Own Trumpet – A Musician’s Guide to Publicity & Airplay. With the aim of helping musical types deal with the business aspects of their trade, Piggott wrote Blow Your Own Trumpet… in order to provide an insight the music industry and the potential pitfalls that lie within.
Piggott’s book looks to give artists and students the tools needed to promote their own music, or in the case of managers the music of the bands they represent, without overpaying publicists or making poor deals with record labels.
Blow Your Own Trumpet… couples Piggott’s 14 years of industry experience with advice from the likes of Henry Rollins, Matty Woo (manager of The Beautiful Girls) and Dom Alessio (triple j), plus many more respected musical folk, and could prove to be an invaluable guide to making your musical ambitions a reality.
Why write a book that helps artists and bands potentially cut out management, publicists and labels?
Stacey Piggott: The book isn’t aimed at cutting anyone out, it is hopefully going to give bands some ideas, stories and information that will get them to a point where they are educated to make better decisions when they are looking at engaging any third party. It will hopefully lead them to take some responsibility in the early stage of their career so that when it does come time to look at hiring help, they will be in a better place to negotiate the right conditions of their agreements. When an artist has had first hand experience in various areas of the industry, they are more appreciative of what those parties are bringing to the table, and they are also more aware of what those parties should be bringing to the table.
I also hope it shows the various pathways that are available to them. Not every artist needs a label, agent, manager or publicist. Some need all of them, some need a couple of them. What I am aiming for with this book is to inspire those artists who are sitting by the phone, waiting for someone to call them, to pick up the phone, take control and start calling people. I also want to give those artists who are really keen and want to take control – but feel totally overwhelmed as to where they should start – a few ideas of how to break it all down so that it is a bit easier to digest.
What are some of the common predicaments bands and artists get themselves into when signing to a label?
SP: The two most common mistakes inexperienced artists make, and it is not just with labels but across every aspect of the industry, are firstly, not reading agreements thoroughly before they sign them. They end up learning the hard way that it is imperative to go through paper work with a fine-toothed comb before inking their signature on it, to ensure that they know what they are handing over, what they are receiving, when these transactions will be happening, and what the cost will be to them financially, creatively, emotionally and time wise. They also need to know what the forecasted gain is for them and if that forecast meets their expectations.
Secondly, a common mistake is thinking that if they have a manger, publicist or record label involved that they can turn off to the business side of things and just focus on their music. As soon as an artist takes $5 for a ticket at the door of their show, or sells an album or T-shirt, they are a business and they are the brand that business is selling. They need to be across every single element of that business to ensure they are paying the right tax, playing the right shows, using artwork they like, undertaking press they are comfortable with and developing associations with other brands they are proud to be linked to.
I find the idea of music being all about the art, and business being a dirty word incredibly romantic, but I equate that to the idea of marriage being all about great sex and fine dining. The reality is that in between that great sex and fine dining is a lot of cooking, cleaning and bill paying to make it a success, and so it is with music: the business is a necessary element and those who accept that and take control of it, will have a much better experience with things.
The bigger the label the better the distribution, but why do bands and artists need a manager and/or publicist?
SP: I don’t agree with this statement at all. There are loads of small independent labels in this country who have multi-platinum selling artists on their roster and indie acts selling a lot less who are in very good financial positions due to the percentage splits they are getting in their deals. There are also lots of major labels who have loads of acts struggling to recoup their recording costs, who will never, ever, make money on their albums.
Not every band needs a manager or a publicist. In some cases both of the aforementioned can be more of a hindrance than a help if they are not doing their jobs properly. In other cases there are bands who would not function at all without one or both, and the decisions these third parties make on the artists’ behalf are directly attributed to their success.
That is the whole point I am making in the book: there is no one-size-fits-all solution in this industry. That is the beauty of it. It is a choose-your-own adventure and there is a set-up that can be constructed to suit everyone’s needs. It is really up to the artists to educate themselves as much as possible so they are aware of those options, and in turn make the best decision for their specific needs.
With social media giving bands and artists the ability to directly interact with fans, is the role of a publicist almost obsolete?
SP: Well, you tell me. A band works their butt off to accrue 80,000 Facebook fans, then Facebook changes the rules so that the band can’t interact with any of them unless they pay to promote their newsfeed posts. So the band is held ransom by a company who technically owns their database. Their hands are tied, and subsequently they are forced into ad spends to access their fanbase.
Social media is now just another media platform where all of the content is owned not by the band, but by the supplier. It’s no different to any other website aside from the targeted, specific, and also limited reach, and the fact that the site is raking in ad revenue without having to pay for anyone to create content as the user is doing that for them for free.
To me, the smart artist is still collecting email addresses via free downloads, or old-school sign-up sheets on the merch desk at their shows. That is the only way to get a direct line to your fans that you own.
A publicist is an extra arm of that. They own the databases, and they have that direct line to the media, and the media have the direct line to the new fan. Social media and your email databases are the old and current fan connection. You need to be building your fanbase, and to do that you need word of mouth and new connectors. So in short, no, I don’t think they are making the role of the publicist obsolete at all. I think social media is just another thing that an artist and publicist need to have covered off, with a platform that will most likely completely change in the next twelve months to two years again to screw as much money out of their users as they can at every turn.
In your estimation, how much earning potential should bands and artists expect to give up when signing to a label and hiring the help of third parties?
SP: There are way to many variables at play in each individual circumstance to answer this question.
Steve Kilbey of The Church recently spoke out against the band’s record label Second Motion for excessive fees. Does the music industry have a tendency of ripping off the musicians they represent?
SP: That is a pretty cynical generalisation. I think it just illustrates the importance of really looking at the fine print and getting everything in writing so you know exactly what you are agreeing to before you sign it, fees included.
What is the trick to having your record not just pressed but played?
SP: Write great songs. Send it to the people who play music, and if you are a great band who makes amazing music that isn’t suitable for radio formats, be creative, get it to online folk, community radio and tour it so people buy it and play it on their stereos.
Given the various forms of media that allows listeners to consume music, should bands and artists still strive for airplay? Is radio still the most affective vehicle of disseminating music?
SP: I think radio is powerful, yes, but I think live shows are more powerful. I also think that artists overlook the power of community radio and the ABC regional and metro networks in this country. There is a lot of talk at the moment about the lack of radio airplay opportunities on commercial radio for local artists. I think we are better served to talk up the radio stations who go out of their way to support local music and give music fans the information on how and where to find them to tune into, rather than bash our heads up against a wall that doesn’t want to embrace local artists over their legal quota requirements. If you don’t like this, don’t listen to them, tune into the alternative stations; it’s pretty simple, just change your dial!
What advice would you give to an emerging Australian artist who is thinking of signing to a label and hiring the services of a manager and/or publicist?
SP: Educate yourself on what you need, and then look at the options out there and find the best fit for those needs. Don’t rush, talk to as many people as you can. Look at what those people have done previously and get it all laid out, so there is no room for assumption. Find out exactly what they are going to deliver to you, how, when, and at what cost.
In your opinion, are bands and artists generally better served by remaining independent and handling all business aspects of music themselves?
SP: It really depends on the various skills that are offered within the band by the various members. The needs and wants will be completely different from band to band, depending on who is in it and what they are wanting to achieve. I would write down the goals for short, mid and long-term and then look internally at what skills were on the table from each band member, and allocate the various tasks to suit. I would then look at what is missing, and out of those things prioritise the most important elements that need to be filled, and go out to find the right people to fill them.
Blow Your Own Trumpet – A Musician’s Guide to Publicity & Airplay by Stacey Piggott out now and available via Two Fish Out Of Water.