Written for Zildjian Cymbals’ blog
Inside Zildjian: How To’s
Intro by Ann Marie Sanfilippo, Social Media Coordinator, Zildjian Cymbals
… And now for something a little different: This week we have a guest blogger! From time to time, we’ll reach out to our friends in the industry to bring you professional advice and best practices we hope you’ll find helpful. In this issue: “From the Street to Social: Tips for Self Promotion from an ’80s Sunset Strip Rock’n’Roll Publicist.”
Ahhhhh… Social Media. How did bands develop a fan base without it? How did they ever invite people to their show without a Facebook event, or at least a tweet? How did people see your band without a video on Youtube… or hear your music without ReverbNation?
I started my career at Zildjian’s West Coast Artist Relations office in the mid ’80s. Back then we were located in West Hollywood, just below the world famous Sunset Strip. It was a time in music like no other. The office was a steady stream of long haired drummers who we were happy to help get the cymbals they needed to play the many clubs along the Strip, and ultimately on tour…Guns N Roses, Poison, Hurricane, Warrant, LA Guns, Bullet Boys, Faith No More, Badlands, Rage Against the Machine, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Firehouse, Mr. Big, and many, many more. The ’80s and into the ’90s were truly an exciting time to work with management teams and record labels and watch these bands grow from playing clubs into the mega stars that they became.
But how did they do it without the power of social media and the access to millions of people at their fingertips? Most likely they had someone do it for them… a “PR Person.” Thanks to Facebook, I re-connected with my good friend Violet who was a “Publicist” during the Sunset Strip’s hey-day, and worked with many of the legendary bands in Los Angeles. Sadly though, as music shifted from metal to grunge, the “Strip” as we knew it also changed. The ‘94 earthquake hit Los Angeles and musicians were flocking to Nashville. Many of us “grew up” and relocated to take advantage of job opportunities… like Violet and I did.
We got to talking about how, in this now digital world, the responsibility for promotion has shifted from the job of the publicist to the musician/band. And like anything, just because you can, doesn’t mean you know how. For musicians today (drummers too!), it’s an absolute necessity to “self promote” if you want to work as a professional. Think about it… you wouldn’t own a business and not have a website of your services, so why would you be a working drummer and not have an online presence?
So it is in this spirit that we give you these guidelines “From the Street to Social: Tips for Self Promotion from an ’80s Sunset Strip, Rock’n’Roll Publicist.”
My name is Violet Szilvas, known as UltraViolet during my tenure in the music business in the 1980’s — the hey-day of the Sunset Strip, The Whiskey, The Rainbow, The Roxy, Gazzarri’s, The Coconut Teaser, and Cathouse along with others. It was a time that GNR, Poison, and Motley Crue were relatively unknown outside of LA, and a time when cars lined the Strip through West Hollywood every weekend night. Of course there were flyers on poles and flyer-ers passing out flyers to passers-by, clubs, restaurants, and wherever else they could (or could get always with it). Regularly the Kliegs shot spotlights high into the near 365-days-a-year perfectly clear skies, and music didn’t play, it blasted, out of neon-lit clubs.
My Public Relations firm, UltraViolet Communications, did some PR for Eddie Money and John Waite (Baby’s). But my company really garnered a decent amount of media coverage as I helped make more and more of the bands I represented into locally, regionally, nationally, and even internationally-known acts. For instance, I saw the raging talent of heavy-metal band Hurricane, represented XYZ whose CD was produced by Don Dokken, was actively involved with Broken Edge’s “Karate Kid” soundtrack song, “No Shelter,” and I publicized Animotion and their Top 6 Billboard hit “Obsession.” I had a knack for being not only a PR maven but “a rock’n’roll people broker” as my business cards stated. I had to write all the band’s information, build their brands, coordinate photo shoots, create media lists, developed strong ties with the music community, and call media contacts on a regular basis. I also often took on the hat of manager, meaning I booked gigs, solicited A&R Departments at labels, kept contacts in the TV, film, and video industries and networked endlessly with a rolodex (list of contacts) like nobody’s business.
What I did then above and beyond the definition of a PR specialist is what bands are expected to today. It’s called promotion and/or marketing, but it’s basically public relations at its core — and PR to the core today is utterly dependent on the digital world of social media and the Internet.
As I will reiterate throughout this piece, public relations never really changed in principle, it just changed platforms. Don’t think what you’re doing on Twitter and Facebook or on your website isn’t public relations… it is, only it’s no longer called that. Instead, modern-day PR is called social media and the Internet, and this blog will offer you a then-vs-now approach. So here goes, let’s start with the basics, from lease considered to most obvious:
Don’t laugh! Newspapers (local and alternative publications as well as dailies) and magazines (God I miss those iconic ‘80s rock mags like Hit Parader and Circus) still have a place in public relations strategies in music just the same now as back then. But instead of spending a ton on stamps and stationery, artists today need to put together media lists (like we did back 30+ years ago) and EMAIL — instead of mail – your info to contacts as well as potential contacts. Don’t limit yourself to the music and entertainment writers, but extend your reach by pitching to the Arts and Lifestyle media within your community papers, alternative publications, and even magazines in your area. Keep in mind that modern day journalists — you’re looking more at those who do features and reviews as opposed to news — look to social media as a tool for information and even as ideas for their stories.
Again, the basics from the ’80s apply — it’s just the mediums for contact methods that have changed (and your contacts are everything!). You never know when one of your informational emails (your “press releases” in a sense) winds up in the hands of someone other than the intended, so be sure to send it out covering more than just gig info. Always include links to your band bio and other “evergreen” info like photos and “press clips” (meaning reviews and articles you have garnered). Opening for a national act? It’s time to send out an email with the story about how you got the gig after some great online reviews from not only the crowd, but from music movers and shakers. Now there’s a story behind your “opening act” status and you’re storytelling, the great new buzzword of the decade on social media and the Internet, and therefore in public relations. But it’s actually nothing new: It has always been a component of good PR. In other words, the truly successful Public Relations practitioners in the music biz “story-told “ back then too. Again, the only difference is the platform!
Websites, Contacts and Email:
Websites, to a huge degree, have replaced old-fashioned press releases for gigs and general news, bios, photos, and press kits. Information today can flow frequently and freely online. Find places/websites that cater to your type of music and then get out and play them. Make sure you pitch the clubs with a well thought-out email (do a template of one and reuse) stating who you are and what your sound is… don’t be lazy by sending out an email that just gives your website info. Incorporate all your social media into your email through hyperlinks, and be sure several have links to your music. Check out Indie on the Move if you haven’t already. Then there’s the video portion of your website: Make it good, and don’t just post some music from your gigs. Do an interview and talk about not only your band basics, but fun details about you (remember the importance of storytelling in a PR campaign).
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Tumblr: Of course all are no-brainers for modern bands, but you have to commit to this or your fans will forget you in a heartbeat. Increase the number of fans and likes by using hashtags and tagging others, including your music instrument brands (@zildjiancompany). Although you can “buy” followers to increase your visibility, is it really necessary? I have one client who swears by it and another who feels the opposite, so this one’s on you to figure out based on your needs and finances. In the 1980s, this was similar to passing out free passes to shows to anyone just to fill a room. Let’s face it: A packed hour of “anybodys” was always better than a partially packed house of just loyal fans.
Naturally an official Twitter page is essential and serves as a fan page for one-to-one (two-way) communications. In the ‘80s, communication only went one-way: From the person who was doing the public relations to the person who was getting the public relations info. Real time conversations could be had by phone, but were very difficult the majority of the time. With Socials, real time is all the time, not 9-5 like the olden days (lol). Also, with Twitter, a link to your band’s electronic media info and blog can be sent out with every tweet instead of mailed in hard copies. Your only limitation is 144 characters.
Facebook is a must as well. Not only is it a great place to post (and repost on a regular basis), but it is the vehicle to drive people to your website where you provide a calendar of gigs, band bio (and individual bios if they merit individual attention), photos, reviews, media coverage, etc. Again, in the ‘80s, this was all contained in a hard-copy press kit (and thank God for the sake of trees, all this paper waste is now defunct with the advent of digital PR). Be sure to have a fan page here — it serves as a digital fan club. If a venue also has a site, link to it for even more coverage. Talk about immediacy: Facebook Live and Facebook Messaging with your fans are as instant as you’re going to get. Look at what came of Lorde.
On Facebook you can create an event, which is similar in my mind to the flyering and postering in days of old. Although a Facebook event only allows for a limited number of words, in the ’80s music scene, PR tactics could incorporate as many words as would fit on the flyer and/or poster.
If you are into photo blasting, your obvious choices are Instagram and SnapChat, which imitate the sending out of printed photos (with just a caption back in the ‘80s) to show bands doing something cool, charitable, fun, or just looking amazing! It helps your fans to see and feel what you’re about and find common ground with you. The only difference in posting to Instagram is that the photos are digital and not hard copy. As for Snapchat, the beauty of 8×10 glossies is that they lasted indefinitely (until thrown away lol) instead of mere seconds. Interestingly, this platform has become so successful that Instagram and Twitter have now introduced similar implementations (Instagram Stories and Twitter Livestream), where you can deliver your live performances or rehearsals directly to your fans.
As for Tumbler, the live feed of posts that travel from you to the audience whose blogs you are connected with is a must, especially since it is tied into Facebook (as status) and Twitter (as tweet). So with Tumblr, you’re getting three social media sites at once!
One word for all the aforementioned platforms: POST, POST, POST!
PR in the music biz in the ’80s also meant radio play. Today the majority of commercial stations hardly give any love to indie bands. This means local radio no longer caters to local bands. You can try college and public radio, but all is typically naught when it comes to finding these places outside of a major market. The best resource I know for finding radio stations in general is songwriting.net. It has a vast listing of stations that you can look up by city, state, genre, etc. (You’ll have to do the work of looking them up and getting their specific info, but at least the hard part of finding stations is behind you.)
And of course there are Podcasts. I recently placed one of my former bands (my love for the old acts I represented never waned) on the KGF-Rocks live radio podcast. Although Terry Quinn and his Weasels are located in LA, there was nothing stopping this Florida station from airing the band. And one hand washed the other: Quinn expanded his market to Florida and KGF got to air quality indie talent.
Take advantage of alternative sources like ReverbNation and SoundCloud that serve as places to not only post your band’s info, but play your music as well.
In sum, the methodology used for public relations in the music industry in the ‘80s still resonates today. Modern day bands are doing old-time PR, except blogs now serve the same function as press releases did back then. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tumbler have become vehicles to send out information immediately instead of through the good ole mail service that took days at best, or through Fed Ex, which would cost a fortune. Your press kits and 8×10 glossies are your websites and your radio is sites like ReverbNation. In essence what HAS changed are not the principles, but the platforms only. One-way communications have become two-way and interactive, information can be sent in-the moment to recipients everywhere without stamps or stationery (I know, what are those right?), and communication can happen anytime 24/7. You have the power, now go use it!
One final tip… how you say it is as important as what you say. Tell a good story and write well. People have no patience for crappy writing. Also, don’t be an asshole thinking your shit don’t stink when you’re a newbie: You might be the biggest band in your town, but you’re not the biggest band ever, get it?
Above: Violet, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.
I left Cleveland for LA in 1981, with a dream of working in the music business, armed with a carload of my stuff and a Master of Arts in Journalism with a specialty in PR. Although I knew only a few non-music biz people in the city, finding work in rock was up to me. Through old fashioned networking, I met a guy, who knew a girl, who worked at a PR firm that needed an assistant, and that was the start of my illustrious career which introduced me to the rock world at the height of LA’s music scene. The reason for my success I believe is the result of a gift of gab and an eye/ear for amazing musicians/music. And because I was born to do PR.
Currently, I teach “Journalism and Mass Communication,” thanks to UCLA for an impressive start to my career as a part-time “academic” 30 years ago (I have since continued to teach “Communications” and related classes almost non-stop as an adjunct). As for book PR, one of the biggest clients I represent is author J.D. Barker (Forsaken, The Fourth Monkey) with Houghton Miflin Harcourt.
Oh a final note, I am so psyched to say that, 30-some-years later, the members of many of my bands (or the bands themselves!) have done amazingly well… The Hurricane guys now perform with some huge rock draws: Kelly Hansen is lead vocalist of Foreigner, Robert Sarzo was guitarist for Geoff Tate’s Queensryche, Jay Schellen now plays with YES (formerly with one of Vegas’s top attractions “Rading the Rock Vault,”) and bassist Tony Cavazo remains at the helm of a newly revamped Hurricane. Terry Ilous from XYZ fronts Great White, and Animotion released a new album this year. So kudos to them and kudos to me for making it in the ‘80s and living to tell about it!
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