by Zack Zarrillo
We published four pieces of content on PropertyOfZack every single weekday for nearly four years. It was exhausting, it was stressful, and ultimately, it was watered down. That content ranged from interviews to premieres to reviews to playlists and many other “innovative” pieces in order to garner pageviews. Before I get too far down a rabbit hole, let me say this: I am incredibly proud of the majority of what we produced to make the site successful in its first stage. But in doing so, we were born into an ugly system: Premiere culture.
Jacob Daneman from Pitch Perfect PR wrote a great post a week ago titled The Problem with Premiere Culture. Daneman came at it from the perspective of a publicist working with publications, and I found it incredibly interesting.
Last week, I arranged for 4 song, video, or album stream premieres with 4 different editorial outlets for my artists. This is obviously not uncommon for any of you, as this is has become a substantial part of our job as music publicists. There are aspects of it that are appealing, both to publicist, label, band, and management. It offers newer artists an in with outlets that might otherwise not give them coverage. It is guaranteed coverage for an artist and asset when otherwise, a press release may have gone out with the possibility that high-profile outlets choose to ignore it. It purports to offer a strategically-timed editorial posting, running coverage just as an artist chooses to make other announcements (tour dates, album release date, etc.). I’m explaining the obvious because I think it’s important to review the reasons we do this. Yes, all the reasons listed above are beneficial. But this system is corrupted. Not in a devious way that takes advantage of anyone without their knowledge, but simply in a broken way that doesn’t hold both parties accountable and doesn’t incentivize the editorial outlet to care about the artist, publicist, or label at all, and truly reduces this content to the “dissemination of an asset.” When we are discussing art, which is what we are discussing here, let’s not forget, it’s pretty much the most antiseptic and dispassionate way to consider it.
With that in mind, here are two things that pop up in my head at least once a month:
- Premieres are dumb. This is a pointless circle jerk that does nothing for anyone.
- Oh my god, we need this outlet to premiere this piece of #content otherwise we might as well jump off a cliff because fuck you.
Oh, don’t worry, I appreciate the irony that this is coming from someone that:
- Has premiered hundreds (maybe thousands?) of songs/videos/etc over five years.
- Manages two record labels and four bands.
In the previous iteration of PropertyOfZack, I most likely premiered hundreds of songs by bands I don’t care about that publicists may care about that record labels hopefully care about by bands that are misguided into thinking the premiere will change their career. That’s the truth. And that unfortunate chain is why, as Daneman goes on to say, the four pitches that he confirmed were all mishandled:
Those 4 premieres I mentioned above? They were all botched by the outlet. Three of them were anywhere between 45 and 120 minutes late, mostly with little regard or apology for the inconvenience. With the fourth one, the editor had completely forgotten about the premiere the day before it was scheduled to happen and tried to push it to the next day. After suggesting I find another premiere partner last minute (an extremely difficult proposition), he finally offered an ultimatum of premiering it 3 hours later than previously agreed upon, all with an air of frustration as though he was doing me a favor. One of my colleagues arranged another premiere where the outlet misspelled the name of the song (clearly spelled correctly on the soundcloud, of course), leading to another high-profile music outlet to pick up the item and also spell the song incorrectly.
I’d like to use the term “circle jerk” one more time. Here we go: The cultures of premieres between publicists and publications is a big circle jerk that 7/10 times does nothing for anyone, especially for the bands that are being jerked.
When do premieres work, you ask?
- When publications have a strong community built around them. This is why, time after time, Bad Timing gives AbsolutePunk song premieres or announcements. The forum community of the website cares about our label, and because of that, they may give our new band or release a chance. With that, they may comment. If there are more comments, more members will listen to the band. And that is growth. See also: The Wonder Years constantly premiering pieces of content on AbsolutePunk -> That band owns that website.
- If the writer actually cares about the band. Did you see Dan Ozzi’s writeup for the new Hop Along song? That asshole loves that band. How could you not listen if you, the reader, respect him as a writer?
When do premieres not work?
- When management, the label, the band, and the publicist deem that getting a “cool” look is more important than getting a premiere that could actually benefit your band outside of an ego boost.
- When you, the publicist, land a premiere on a site and the blog posts approximately 1–3 sentences about the band/song with no personal editorial. Here are approximately 5,000 examples of PropertyOfZack doing that between 2010 and 2015.
- When a publicist cuts off access to the artists they work with that bloggers actually care about, unless their website will premiere a song by a band the publicist doesn’t care about but wants to #keepgettingthemchecks.
Wait, are premieres dead? Yes, they are!
- Because your premiere isn’t actually exclusive. The Internet in 2015 (and 2013, and 2014) is wild. At some point, I decided that I was going to steal your exclusive, and your exclusive, and definitely their exclusive.  From Soundcloud, from YouTube, etc. Premieres are all swipe-able. I link back to websites if I steal their premiere and post it on POZ, but a lot of sites won’t. In fact, AbsolutePunk rarely links back, and no one cares except the blogger who didn’t care about the band in the first place but who first premiered the song anyway because he wanted more pageviews.
- Here’s the real non-shocker: Publicists don’t want their premieres to be exclusive, yet they’re selling them to you that way. If you give a premiere to Cool Website X because your band needs to be cooler and AbsolutePunk steals the embed code and more interaction happens on their forum than CWX, then guess what? That’s what we call the best of both worlds. It’s not sustainable.
“Too many people think they’re journalists when they’re just using writing as a way to land a job. Too many bloggers are happy to suck up to every publicist because they want to work for them someday,” said our senior editor/lawyer/old/smart person Jesse Richman on the topic. “When magazines and newspapers and radio and TV ruled the world, there were a limited number of outlets. Publicists had to work hard to get their artists into the few opportunities that existed. The media had the upper hand. Now that everyone has a blog, that whole relationship has inverted itself. There’s something truly fucked about the system when the PR flacks are the ones with the power.”
I can count the amount of great publicists I know on one hand. They work to develop more than an ugly game between publications and artists, but I can count many more publicists that do the opposite. If you are a beggar you truly cannot be a chooser, and that is why this model, which broke long ago, will continue to putter along until it stops.
Premiere culture is dead. Get a job.
Does it work that way? I’ve never actually jerked a circle…
If you want to counter me by saying that getting “cool” looks will help grow your bands to new fans that only care about “cool bands” – well, you’re probably wrong. That’s not how the world works. We find new music by word of mouth 8/10 times (stat not real).
We’ve dramatically cut down on doing premieres on the site. I want to be able to scream from the rooftop why I think you, the reader, needs to check a band out. I think that should be the case on all sites.
Because I was working under a corporate structure via POZ that only cared about pageviews in hopes that they would see a lot of money from a pop-punk blog. ↩