Lisa Coverdale interview: Being a PR in the digital revolution


As some of you may know, I am not just a writer, but also a PR, collaborating with the PR Agency Studio Y and the London label Zube Records – have I ever said that I love keeping myself busy? Anyway, I thought that have a chat with fellow businesswomen could be an amazing source for aspiring young. As a start, the lovely and terribly funny Lisa Coverdale unveiled the secret of managing her cats, an husband, a record label, PR company – comparing it to a thunderstorm / apocalypse. Fun times!

LisaCoverdale

Lisa Coverdale is a Scottish based music publicist, partner in Hold Tight! PR and the only girl on the team at progressive metal label Basick Records. With a career spanning 15 years in corporate, event and music marketing/PR, she has previously managed areas of large-scale, high-profile public events for both corporate clients and in the arts sector. She can usually be found face down in a pot of fresh coffee, writing press releases for a myriad of international bands, or trying to coerce musicians into things they generally don’t want to do. She’s passionate about progressive music, cheese, Jägermeister, Between the Buried and Me, and Persian cats. Twitter: @lisalovescheese Blog: http://lisacoverdale.wordpress.com/

For the ones who don’t know your story, could you tell us how did you land into music PR?

During my former career in corporate marketing and PR, I used to run a music website and community called UK Metal Underground, just as a hobby. It was a lot of fun; I met a lot of amazing people and discovered some truly amazing bands. I realised that `what I loved most about it was taking a band that only a handful of people knew about and helping to propel them to a larger audience. So I decided, rather than working in an office, doing a job I didn’t particularly enjoy, to take my passion and turn it into my job. It meant a lot of hard work, learning the industry from the ground up, doing A LOT of work for free and proving myself to others. Along the way I got involved in doing work experience with Basick Records, via these guys I met James from TesseracT and somewhere along the way we got professionally entangled and now we run Hold Tight! PR together. My music PR career has come about after a series of misadventures, chance meetings, hard work and random events. Such is life. 😉

Oh and you can join me on my journey, I’m now blogging about it – http://lisacoverdale.wordpress.com/

You are one of us, music lovers, who try to find their own way to share the music they appreciate. What happened when you realised that you could share your love for music and make a job out of it?

Some days I absolutely love it, and some days I wonder just how sustainable it is. And that’s the honest truth. It’s great just now, but in terms of longevity, will I still be able to do this when I’m 60? I have no idea.  So right now I’m looking at taking the music PR job and turning that into some long term life plan that will allow me to do the things I love, for the rest of my life.

The one constant is my love for the music. There’s nothing better than hearing a new band, or a great tune and just wanting to share it with everyone. People always seem to think that because a PR person is banging on about a band, then that’s just their job and they’ll say the same about every client etc etc. But the truth is, music PR people, good music PR people are passionate about the bands they work with, and won’t promote crap music. We’re living, breathing shit filters. Or at least that’s how it should be; some PR’s out there will promote anything that crosses their desks. Shameful.

You are juggling between being in PR, a record label , a student and a full time wife. What does your daily routine look like?

Something akin to a Hurricane/Tornado and an apocalyptic event. My days at the moment are just absolutely mental. A lot of it has to do with planning, scheduling and organising your life into compartments so that you can get things done. I run the PR company full time with James Monteith, who also is a full time musician in TesseracT. He also has 2 kids to look after. We’re all juggling life in some way or another.

I work at Basick Records, helping to manage the bands, look after PR and Marketing, I do some office admin, sales admin, I help the boss out, basically, I just muck in where needed. At some point this year I decided it would be fantastic to learn some new things, for no other reason than it would be a cool thing to do. So right now I’m also studying World History at Princeton University and in the Spring I’m going to be taking a music course at Berklee.

On top of that, I run my house like any normal person does, look after my husband, have two cats to deal with and I’m also an avid cook and crafter. I have a lot of hobbies to plug any spare 5 minutes in my schedule. On any given day my desk will have a pile of CD’s, schedules, work books, text books, usually a cat or two, some knitting or sewing project and multiple coffee cups.

Daily, I get up, get to work, drown myself in coffee, kick off with some meetings with bands, if I’m working on a campaign then I generally am on the phone or chasing coverage by email, following up on press activity, checking who’s out on tour, making sure their tour press is covered for the day, checking in with the labels we work with to see that they’re happy and up to date, filling out some social media activity, perhaps writing a blog or two, completing interviews like this one. Then I have to schedule in some time each day to read the news, the latest press for our clients and also to keep on top of industry articles, I try to read between 5-10 articles a day, sometimes it’s more if I can manage. In this job you always have to keep learning and to stay on top of the latest changes in the industry. Everything we do has to be documented for our monthly reports, so daily we have admin to do. At various points during the day I’ll touch base with James HTPR to see how he’s getting on. I have a daily planner which I just churn through each day, ticking projects off as I go and I don’t stop until it’s all done, even if that means I’m there until midnight.

At the end of the day, I tend to just pass out, exhausted but happy. You only have one life, so you have to squeeze everything out of every second.

What is the key feature for somebody who works in music PR? Can we say that passion is as essential as good marketing skills?

Passion is great and passion is an essential component of what we do, but it will only take you so far. Great PR and marketing people are like gold dust. You can study both at college or uni but as with any subject, the ones who get ahead and shine are the ones with a natural talent for it and the ones who are willing to not only go the extra mile but to work relentlessly until they achieve their goals. I’ve met some truly bad PR people, who have a degree and tick all the right boxes, but no real passion for what they do and as a result, are pretty much showing up, doing a basic job but not really setting the world on fire. Nobody wants to be beige, do they!

If you really want to get into music PR, work hard, put the hours in, be prepared to start at the very bottom and to have to intern or do work experience for a while for FREE. Keep your knowledge base up, read everything you can, understand your industry. I’m constantly asking my boss at Basick Records questions about the ins and outs of the business, not because it’s stuff I have to know for what I do on a day to day basis, but just because I want to understand how EVERYTHING works, not just the areas I take care of. To be honest, Barley at Basick Records has been an excellent mentor to work with, I learn a lot from him. So there you go, find a great mentor, then stick to them like a limpet.

How much importance do you lend on social network and general networking?

Both are essential to a PR person, you are only ever as good as your contact book. Social networking is a completely different beast and isn’t just about networking but about online presence, branding and establishing your online reputation. You can network with people online, but to really network you have to get in front of people. James, my other half at Hold Tight! PR is great at this; he’s usually to be found face down in a field at a festival with a bunch of journalists, or in the pub with them. He has a very unique take on networking. Usually it involves vomit. 😉

Which is the relationship between PRs / record labels and journalists?

Strong, forged in the fire of working towards a common goal. As a PR I’m the gatekeeper to my bands. As journalists they’re the gatekeepers to their magazines/ online zines/radio stations. Somewhere in the middle we meet, wrestle naked in jelly and whoever comes out victorious usually wins some coverage.

How do you ensure that your bands stand out from the tons of press releases that land in a webzine’s inbox? How much do you rely on your press kit, and how much on social media presence?

My bands stand out because of their music, not because of any press kit or fancy words I write. Even the hottest looking kit won’t get you anywhere if your band sounds like a bunch of bullshit. As soon as a journalist puts on a track and hears it, and realises that it’s rubbish, you’ll get an email back asking if you are taking the piss. So the focus has to be on quality.

After that, it’s down to relationships. I have one journalist I send stuff to and he never ever reads anything, he listens, he makes up his own mind, he writes what he writes and he doesn’t even bother to check the press sheet. If you have a strong relationship with the press, and they know you won’t send them rubbish, you are more likely to get your music heard ahead of others.

For bands though, it is essential they have a good solid press kit, a good live track record (lots of good quality gigs with decent turnout and strong recommendations from venue promoters) and a good online social media presence. Basically both record labels and the press are looking for bands that can generate their own buzz initially, if you get a band like that (and right now I’m thinking of bands like TesseracT, Hacktivist, Monuments, Periphery) then you are onto a winner. Although these bands have strong press teams behind them, they’d stand alone and still pick up press (not as much and not as far reaching) but if you want to look at bands that the press love, and those 4 I mentioned there are pretty much guaranteed to be in most metal magazines every month, then you have to look at how those bands conduct themselves online, offline and the relationships they have with their teams and with the press.

How do you manage to cope with all the new micro-blogs and webzines that are currently rising? Is there a criteria when it comes to who you include in the mailing list?

Not for me, the smallest blog is just as important to me as the big national magazines. In fact I’ve had a few bloggers say that I was the first PR person to send them music, when they’d tried other agencies and had no response. I understand why agencies are like that, but it’s not something I’d feel comfortable doing. I like to give everyone the chance to cover the music I promote. We all have to start somewhere, and I don’t want to be that person who just ignores someone, based on the fact they’ve not got 1 million hits on their website every month. Every blog, zine, website, radio station, magazine etc has their place in this musical ecosystem, it would be a very dull place if we only just catered to the big boys. Plus, I’ve found that the smaller blogs sometimes throw out the most interesting interviews because they’re working really hard to differentiate themselves from the larger sites.

The main debate nowadays is about the value of work experience compared to a course / workshop, both in PR and journalism. Which is your view on these two options?

I covered this above slightly, in all my years working in marketing an PR, I’ve had to do work experience at various stages and for me, that’s personally been so much more valuable that anything I learned at college. I found a huge gap in what’s being taught at college and what is realistically happening out there in the business. You can come out of college or uni equipped with knowledge that’s been taught from a text book and then after a week at your first job, you’ve chucked out most of what you’ve learned and you end up learning again from scratch. I’ve also realised there’s a difference between academics, who can learn and repeat but not expand on that, and people with a natural talent for their business. So whether it’s PR or Journalism, there’s no substitution for both on the job learning and also having a natural ability and passion for what you do.

Some of the best PR’s I’ve met in this business have no formal qualifications. So my advice – shine like a burning beacon of awesome and you’ll be ok.

What advice do you have for people and especially for women hoping to break into the music business in the UK?

Oh god, women, get off your high horses about ‘being a woman’ in anything and just get on with it. If I were to look it that way, I probably wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I’m one of the very few women doing what I do, specialising in the genres I do it in (seriously, tech metal is just full of guys….at gigs it’s rare to see another girl) and I don’t even think about it like that. I just do it. So my advice to anyone, whether you are of the breasted variety or not, is to just do it, do it like it hasn’t been done before and do it better, quicker and bigger than anyone else. Be yourself, be brave and be bold and be kind. There are a ton of assholes that work in the music business, so if you are nice and you are genuinely being yourself, you’ll be remembered because it’s such a rarity.

Be prepared to work hard, long hours, for very little money. Some days I get 4 hours sleep and I’m back on it. This isn’t a 9-5 job, especially if you decide to run your own business. You have to be out there before anyone else, just to stay ahead. Ask advice and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find a good network of mentors or people you trust and learn all you can from them. Stay humble, don’t be in the business 5 minutes and assume you know everything because the likelihood is, you know nothing.

If you are a writer, get in touch with the magazines, most of them take on interns throughout the year and the experience you’ll have there is invaluable. If you are wanting to get into PR (seriously, are you mental!?) then either take a course if you feel that would help you, or just get in touch with PR companies (and there are many) and ask do intern there. Or…just find a band, and champion them. Do their PR for free, cut your teeth on a campaign, have fun with it. Learn as you go and don’t ever say you can’t do something, because you can.

Among your roster, a band that you’d particularly suggest to our readers?

Oh that’s like asking me to pick my favourite child. However…based on how easy they are to work with, how professional and focused they are, how hard they work and how much I love their music, I’ll pick Circles, a band from Australia that we work with.  http://www.facebook.com/listentocircles

The guys always bring their ‘A’ game to the table. They work ALL the time on their band and they’re smart about it. It’s one thing to be a musician, but in this day and age where information is wanted by fans 24 hours a day, musicians have to turn their hand to being able to promote everything they do, so when the guys are in the studio, they’re keeping people informed via video, interviews, they’re putting out status updates on their network. I never have to ask them for anything, because 9 times out of 10, they’re ahead of me and already have it ready. They’ve got an album coming out on Basick next year; a video due out in a week or so and 2013 is going to be the year they explode. I know this, because they tell me, and I believe them. I’ve never had to doubt them.

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