Thursday, April 10, 2008

Music writing - 2.1

I should have called this one rambling man... but whatever.

It doesn't happen all the time, but every now and again, I end up talking shop with publicists. They are a sneaky, treacherous lot and every encounter, by nature, is a little combative. While hunting down contact information for Kenny Chesney, I found his ex-publicist. We struck up a conversation and the two of us went back and forth via e-mail.

Her name is Holly. She was with Kenny for a couple of years. Recently, she went back to being a music journalist and critic. She appears to still be friends with Chesney to some degree, but she really couldn't help me with landing Mr. Chesney. She told me I really didn't have a shot in hell. She'd seen the list of people he was going to be speaking with and who he might be speaking to... and The Charleston Gazette ain't on that list. Sorry, 'bout that.

Guys like Chesney are long shots for guys like me most of the time. I've tried to land George Strait for years and nada. Willie Nelson has turned me down three times and don't even get me started on Bruce Springsteen. Hank Williams Jr. turned me down (but I did get Lynyrd Skynyrd), but so did Axl Rose. Bob Seger couldn't be bothered either. Keith Urban wasn't interested and I couldn't get James Taylor.

Which of those names are not like the other? Just wondering.

So, the former publicist and I talked. She explained to me why I wouldn't be talking to Kenny. It was nothing personal. It usually isn't. A lot of it has to do with being selective after the same dreck being asked over and over and over again. They get tired of the usual stuff about how they got started, the questions about their hair, their ex-wives, their coke problems. Reporters don't do their homework. They don't ask interesting, thought-provoking questions. It's boring. It's annoying.

She's right. There is a lot of recycling. It can't really be helped. Most people are not super fans and read up on every tiny detail of every singer who blows through. The guy who has album Keith Urban ever did might also have every KISS album ever made, but might not know about Gene Simmons latest idiocy involving a porno tape. A lot of it is new in every city. You get your message across by repetition, the same as how you sell your songs.

She also pointed out there is a fair amount of bullshit slung on the side of music writers. There are bait and switch tactics, character assassinations and a lot of nastiness you can do for fun, profit or just because you've got an axe to grind. All of this is true, but most of it seems to happen with the guys with the 5 to 50 million distribution who can afford the attorneys to fight and lose a libel lawsuit.

She's a respected music writer with a bigger and better resume than me. She's been the fly on the wall, gotten close to the performers, been to their house, but she's also collected a check from them. I think she's forgotten something. She phrased it all in what I could do for him, how I could make the experience somehow gratifying to him.

I told her the best I could do was help fill concert seats, help sell cds and merchandise and continue to develop his ongoing relationship with his fans in my neck of the woods. Developing your relationship with your fans is what I see is the way to real longevity.

She was nice about it all, but sort of oblivious. It's dangerous thinking you know everything and drinking the kool-aid does not make you smart.

The way I see it. Writing about music isn't about the music -at least, it's not supposed to be. It's not directly about the writer or the artist being interviewed. It's about the reader or the listener. The writer and the artist are secondary. Without a need, neither the writer or the artist would exist. The consumer is the one who feels the things the songs say. They're the ones moved by the words or the music or the way somebody shakes their ass in a pair of worn out blue jeans (art is fucked in the head). They're also the ones paying for the songs and the concert tickets (and the newspapers). They commission the art, drive the market, create the desire... whatever.

Obviously, I'm not in Gauthier's "art for art's sake" camp. I'm in the Hunter Thompson "It ain't art till it's paid for" camp. Somebody has to want it. Otherwise, it's nothing much.

Someone like me has to go after every headliner because that's what my readers want to read about. A big concert is a big deal. It's an event that happens infrequently in a town like Charleston. Telling me no is telling them no. It's telling them the things they want to know, the things they care about, aren't that important to guys like Kenny Chesney who, despite their sunny dispositions and images, have only come to collect a check.


moneytastesbad said...

It would be good for every artist and PR Person out there to read this. You should start by sending a link to your Ex-PR person friend

primalscreamx said...

Nobody ever listens and they wouldn't agree with me. I'm a moron writer from flyover country.

Besides, a PR person only has as much input as the agent and artist allow them. Everybody is always protecting the performer, but not really always looking out for that performer's best interests.

My pr acquaintance said a lot of strange things. She suggested I could write something to attract the guy's attention like, "what he means to the fly-over, why this music heralds summer, how he IS the songs of people's lives. have at it
maybe THAT catches his attention
& next time there could be a time"

It was nice of her to give me the advice. She was trying to be helpful. As I mentioned, it's sort of a rare situation, but I'd just as soon write something to butter Kenny Chesney up as I would offer to make out with the guy.

Not going to happen. If it comes down to it, I'll catch him in five to ten when he's playing the state fair or worse, when he gets booked for The Monkey Bar. I'm not going anywhere, but that's my choice. If he needs some kind of ego stroke off to give a small town writer for a town he's playing fifteen minutes on a telephone, he's got no future.

I'm kinda hoping she's wrong.

Anonymous said...

Writing is writing. Years ago, a friend corrected me when I asked what the book she was reading was about. "Doesn't matter what it's about, it's very well written and I really like it", she said. That brief exchange changed the way I look at a lot of things.

So let me give you something to think about: You will get to where you want to be when you are not using terms like "fly-over" but are coining terms like "fly-over".

Br original in both form and function, and you will set yourself apart which is the first step to success.

primalscreamx said...

"Fly-over" was part of her quote, not mine. It was politely derogatory; the kind of thing a publicist would be better off keeping out of her vocabulary, even an ex-publicist just shooting the breeze with a rural writer on an errand she wasn't willing to help.

To quote the poet Neil Young, "Everybody knows this is nowhere." Nobody likes to be reminded.

Thanks for the encouragement.