Are You Cultivating The Right Image?
How should DJs and artists manage their relationship with the press and their fans? Industry PR experts give their advice…
Words: Kristan J Caryl
In many ways, it’s never been easier to get established in the dance music world. The advent of cheap — or even free — music production software means anyone can start making beats. The internet allows music to be uploaded in a matter of minutes for all to hear. The proliferation of media outlets, radio stations and podcasts mean that people are always on the hunt for the next big thing. With hungry audiences around the world bigger than ever, it doesn’t take much to go from bedroom hero to breakthrough sensation.
Rising to the top off the back of a big hit might be straightforward enough, but unless you follow it up, your moment in the spotlight won’t last long: dance music is famously quick to evolve, chew up and spit out artists who don’t keep on innovating. That’s part of the reason so many acts today are quick to set up their own labels and party series, to broaden their influence and appeal, and try and get something of a longer lasting foothold.
But even then, says Matt Learmouth, managing director of Alchemy PR, a respected and award-winning PR agency based in the UK, successful artists and enduring DJs are the ones who maintain a healthy, regular presence in the media and online.
Though dance music is often hung-up on being authentic, counter cultural and non-commercial, the truth is the vast majority of artists “need to play the game”, according to Matt. “No-one is waiting for an artist now. Time out of the spotlight means you’re just leaving a space that will soon be filled with another artist.”
Of course, interactions with your audience need to be genuine and relatable. Simply rolling out the same old tired images and “New York, you were great!” social posts will grate on even the biggest fans. Matt’s advice to DJs is “keep learning about your audience, test content and target like you would with shows. It means commitment and it’s not what a lot of musicians or DJs signed up for.
“If you’re an artist keen to push your own social views, then treat it like being down the pub, and make sure you know what you’re talking about before you get on a soapbox,” adds Matt.
Dean Muhsin has spent his adult life working in the music industry, first as a PR and latterly as manager for the likes of Huxley and Ben Sims. “Nobody in underground music likes to talk about this,” he says, “but with DJs, your image and the choices you make are a big part of your career so it’s sensible to be concerned about how you appear in the media.
“Whatever you do, be yourself,” says Muhsin. “Too many artists adopt tones that are too far removed from their own personality and that’s never sustainable.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Dion Verbeek, owner of Amsterdam based Octopus Agents, which represents the likes of Hunee, Xosar and Ron Morelli. “Keep it personal and real,” he states. “Then you can actually tell your fans a story about who you really are. People sometimes forget how vulnerable an artist is on stage and how he or she feels, but the most successful artists have always been very conscious about the bigger picture, long-term plans and their own values rather than going with the hype of the day. There is nothing wrong with a bit of self-promotion, as long as you stay honest and don’t overdo it.”
In this writer’s experience, it can be frustrating to be chased by a PR to cover an artist on their roster, only to agree and then for the interview to never materialize. Berlin-based Aussie Clare Dickins runs her own PR company and explains: “Some artists are totally driven to rip through their press priorities, others really struggle with it. It’s odd as they’re essentially wasting their own money if they don’t bother to complete interviews.” But she points out that the game has changed in recent years. We now live in a much more visual world. “Whereas earlier the priority may have been completing a long form interview, now it’s an Instagram takeover.”
“Make sure you know what you’re talking about before you get on a soapbox” Matt Learmouth
“It’s sensible to be concerned about how you appear in the media”
It’s worth remembering that behaviour and reputation — in the public spotlight, but also behind the scenes — is vitally important in what is a relatively small community. From those we spoke to for this story, it seems that not doing press can be down to a number of things: far from artists just being lazy, some are so introverted or such perfectionists that the idea of dissecting their music is overwhelming. Others are tired of the same old questions or wary of overexposure.
“There’s a danger of [an artist] becoming complacent and not having a voice and not being part of the general conversation,” reckons Clare. “That said, as long as an artist is engaging with music fans and thus getting the attention of promoters, that’s the most important thing.”
“Don’t be political or get into it with fans – even if you think you’re right,” says Sara Cooper, founder of Sara Cooper Management and PR out of California. “It’s petty and, unless you’re deadmau5, it’s not going to end well for you.
“Have a personal channel for personal things and an artist channel for your career and brand. On the artist side, it needs to be about the art created and engaging with fans. That doesn’t mean you can’t post pics of your dog, your holiday trip or your mom – fans love to glimpses into personal lives – but do it in a thoughtful way. Never put anything out there that you wouldn’t want everyone to see.”
While Sara stresses that all journalists – from a rookie to a seasoned vet – should do their research before interviewing an artist, the interviewee also needs to put in some effort.
“Some artists just don’t have the personality for press. For those that do, it’s a matter of teaching them that it’s about having a conversation. No-one wants simplistic or ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. It does nothing for the client or the media outlet to peddle something that lacks substance.
“I always tell my artists that press is not a punishment, it’s a necessary part of a successful career.”