I've been a music publicist for over ten years working with a variety of artists from folk to pop to world music to metal. I've had the opportunity to work at major record labels and small independent publicity firms. While the jobs are the same, there are some advantages to working at an independent firm. You often have a smaller roster to work with, which allows for a much more in-depth approach. Independent firms have become more popular within the last few years as record companies are downsizing and not wanting to pay benefits to employees, so they hire outside people.
As I've observed how various artists have been promoted and seen who has been handling their publicity, I've had some interesting observations. Consumers have long been driven by “names.” We buy a product that has a recognizable brand name because we’ve been somewhat conditioned to think it’s better. Advertisers make millions promoting the “name” and promising it will take years off your life, remove tough stains, or save you hundreds on car insurance. Many of us blindly accept these claims and, despite often finding the reality not as advertisers claimed, we continue to reach for it.
When it comes to hiring companies for outside services, we often follow the same pattern. A bigger name must mean better service. Sure, they charge more; they can because they’re a “name.” But are you really getting a better deal with them? Having been on both sides of the fence – the big-name company and the smaller independent – I don’t think so. Often the bigger company has a blanket marketing plan that it plugs in to each client. It certainly looks impressive – targeting all the major outlets, using catchy industry buzz words etc. But in the end, did they really shine in terms of what they delivered? I’ve seen independent music promoters' client rosters and when they have a new album out, for example, I keep wondering where’s the press?
These bigger companies often seem to rely heavily on their established name but fall short of delivering what they are expected. A smaller, perhaps lesser known company can often be a risky prospect. We’ve learned to trust the known entity, and where’s the proof that hiring someone less known is a smart decision? A smaller company is driven by the fact they are a smaller fish in a big pond and will often approach each product in a more unique fashion to demonstrate a more cutting-edge attitude.
Smaller companies often have fewer clients, ensuring that each client gets more attention and does feel like they’re on a conveyor belt. Contacts are obtainable by anyone if you know how to use the phone and talk to people. It’s a fallacy to say a bigger name must have better contacts. There’s also the financial aspect of a bigger company versus a smaller company. More overhead in a larger company does not necessarily translate into better service. It can equate to higher prices.
With the advancement of the internet as a major source of promotion, it costs companies a lot less to market a band than even five years ago. That’s good news for the smaller companies who in the past were cast aside because they didn’t have the resources to produce large promotional blitzes.
Before dismissing the lesser known name, see what they’re about. There might just be what’s not in the name that speaks volumes.