Welcome to record promotion in the ‘90s. You heard about the guy who went around the village riding a horse and singing Christmas carols? The police found a horse running free and gave him a call. The guy looks outside and sees his horse still in the corral. He tells the police, “You’ve made a mistake. That’s a horse of a different caroler.”
Okay, it’s a long way to go to let you know things have changed…but things have changed.
It wasn’t long ago that record companies laid out a lot of cash to get a lot of ads (real and paper) and son-of-a-gun, their records were Breakers in R&R. The next week they played on that Breaker status to get more adds (real and paper) and their records began moving up the charts. Another couple of weeks, more money, more adds (real and paper) and they were in the top 20. The end result: A label suddenly has the #15 record in the country, nobody’s heard it (oops…more paper than real) and, surprise, a record that shipped Gold returns Platinum.
Few worked harder for less than promotion people in these “good old days.” It wasn’t easy to get an add…paper or real. Come on, Bud, it was tough. A radio station could only list so many paper adds. Programmers had to play some records. Their audience expected it.
Promotion people did anything they could to get their record noticed. They dressed up in chicken suits, hired Little Egypt and the Dancing Pyramids, rented all sorts of farm animals, brought sleeping bags in the lobbies of stations, made complete fools of themselves and in the process, got their names…and the titles of the records…remembered by programmers.
With actual spins and actual sales now a reality few can ignore, they way record companies do business has changed. And record promotion has changed with it. Unfortunately, not all the changes are positive.
For the past few years, record companies have trumpeted the fact that most records break out of major markets. Less time has been devoted to smaller markets because (a) smaller markets are often slower than the majors to make playlist additions and (b) even if a smaller market adds a record, it doesn’t affect the important SoundScan charts, so many believe it doesn’t matter.
Until they have a “work” record. Then those Field & Stream reporters start getting a lot of calls and promotions.
The importance of smaller markets is something I’ve written about before and will be the subject of another Editorial. This week’s ranting is about promotion in general.
In the eyes and minds of many company presidents, promotion in the ‘90s must be done differently than promotion during the “Dark Ages” of the ‘80s. Part of this is due to the changes in the way we do business. Reality is the key. Today, we know how many times a radio station is playing a record. We also know how many records are selling, as opposed to how many are shipping.
Another reason is because many companies have leaned more toward A&R than promotion. With the rise of Alternative music and programming in the past few years, we’ve all bought into they hype that “…it’s all about the music.”
Of course, it’s all about the music. It’s always been about the music. But you can have the greatest record ever produced and if it isn’t heard by the right programmers, it doesn’t matter. Here’s another news flash for you: there’s a lot of great music out there. You have to distinguish your great record from the other company’s great record. How do you do that?
As hard as it is for some A&R people to believe, promotion is still the engine that pulls the train. A lot of great records have died in the studios…or on the desks of programmers who never heard them.
More now than ever before, programmers need to be promoted. With the advent of more record companies come more releases. It’s all well and good for the head of A&R to say, “The record speaks for itself,” but in today’s market place, a record can’t just speak…it has to scream.
We hear so much today about “Old School” and “New School.” Many promotion people today are afraid of embarrassing themselves by being abrasive or too outrageous. Many feel that it isn’t “in” to be too pushy about their records. The only thing that makes you “in” is whether or not your record is “on!”
It’s sometimes tougher for promotion people to be outrageous in today’s corporate atmosphere. Many of those who got where they are today by being outrageous at chosen times are too quick to make “cookie-cutters” out of those who now work for them. We need to remember that, especially in radio, it’s still fun. I’m not suggesting that promotion people show up in WPLJ’s lobby next week naked with dancing girls, but waddling around in a chicken outfit or something else outrageous from time to time never hurt anybody…or any record. You may not get your record added, but if you draw attention to yourself and your product, you’ll certainly get it heard. Then, and only then, if the A&R genius is correct, the record will speak for itself.
When I was programming KWOD in Sacramento, Michael Silva put on spandex glitter pants and wore a long blonde wig into the station to promote a record by the Nelsons. We had just turned KWOD Alternative at the time and even for me, adding the Nelsons was a stretch. I refused to see him. He refused to leave. I finally went into the lobby and threw him out. He was embarrassed. I was embarrassed. Yet from that time on, every time he entered the station, I saw him and listened to his music. I figured anyone who was crazy enough to make a fool of himself to get my attention, deserved it.
It’s a lesson a lot of promotion people need to learn. PDs and MDs have a lot more on their agendas than taking the time to listen carefully to each record they receive. It is up to you, as a promotion person, to do anything and everything to make yourself stick out from the herd.
Whether you’re “New School” or “Old School” isn’t what’s important. It’s what you learned while attending.
In record promotion (as in golf), it’s not how, but how many that puts you on the leader board!