When it comes to the music industry, the importance of a good promotional plan is key. With great marketing (and great talent!) bridges can be established between the artist and the public.
In a world that is becoming increasingly technological and dependant on social networks, it’s understandable that, if on one hand, more space is given to a new artist to promote themselves, on the other hand the competition has also increased exponentially. That’s why, now more than ever, it is essential to have professional support in the process of music dissemination.
This week, we had the opportunity to speak with Cristina Fernandes, owner and publicist of Listen Harder, an independent music publicity company based in Toronto. Listen Harder has worked with a talented and eclectic roster over the years including JUNO, Grammy and Platinum award winning artists like Barenaked Ladies, City and Colour, The Lumineers and Ruth B. Cristina Fernandes was born on Terceira island, in the Azores, Portugal, and immigrated to Canada as a child and is now a highly regarded professional in the Canadian music industry.
Milénio Stadium: How does an artist manage to get a place in the music market these days?
Cristina Fernandes: We all wish there was a simple answer to this question! There are so many factors involved in getting your music noticed and there is so much competition. In many ways, the digital revolution and social media has made it easier. When I started in the music industry, you pretty much had to be signed by a major label to get noticed by media and radio programmers. You also needed a big budget in order to go to a recording studio to record your music and then more money to market it. Now, anyone can record and release a song independently on digital service providers like Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, etc., which is great but also brings its own challenges because there are so many songs and artists flooding these platforms that you’re competing with.
For lesser-known artists, planting seeds is key but you really need to have realistic expectations. Laying the groundwork takes time, often many years and many music releases. The hope and goal are to develop a fanbase over time and if the music is good, with enough support (promotion efforts/tour dates/fan growth) you will start to get noticed and attract people in the industry that can help you build from there.
MS: What are the main obstacles for an artist who’s trying to move from anonymity to stardom?
CF: Since I am a music publicist, I will answer this from my point of view. Our job is to try and get media’s attention and in turn, hopefully some media coverage for the artist we are working with. One of the most important things these days outside of making good music is having an interesting narrative. Any interesting biographical info or career highlights can make a difference as to whether you’re noticed or not. If you are a new artist and don’t have noteworthy accolades to brag about yet, pick the things that stand out about you, your background and your art. Think about what makes you interested in learning about other new artists, and why an entertainment reporter might be interested in your story.
A music and entertainment journalist I respect very much once told me, “I get around 75 pitches a day, so just proudly announcing a single or album isn’t going to cut it. I find that music publicists don’t often see the story behind their artist – even if that’s not the story that’s ultimately written by the journalist. It’s helpful to have a few bullet points on why I should care about this artist I’ve never heard of, and very rarely should those points be about how many followers they have on Instagram or their stream count unless it’s something noteworthy.”
There are so many resources at our fingertips on the Internet. You really need to do your homework. Many Canadian music industry associations provide webinars and lectures featuring music industry professionals who give great advice on how you can grow aspects of your career.
MS: As a publicist, what is your opinion on the current global music scene?
CF: I think it’s wonderful that we have access to so much great music from around the world that may have not been on our radar or accessible to us before. It’s also wonderful that artists can so easily access and be influenced by international flavours, and create their own vibe and sound. But it can be challenging for domestic artists to break into worldwide markets. Just because you hire a publicist in the UK, doesn’t mean you are all of a sudden going to get in a UK magazine. You can be a gold or platinum certified artist in your home country with several radio hits, and still have trouble getting attention for your music in other countries. It really takes perseverance and dedication to your craft.
MS: In your opinion, has social media helped or hindered the lives of musicians?
CF: Obviously a strong social media presence is important and social media platforms have become an incredibly effective and important tool in building an artist’s profile and career. There are many artists we would never have heard of without social media. Many artists can invest in reasonably priced ads on social media platforms to help promote themselves, without having to spend tons of money on marketing or print advertising. On the other hand, it can also be disheartening when you release music that may go unnoticed because it doesn’t necessarily fit the mold with a young TikTok audience. We all have witnessed recently how influencers on the platform can use an old song in a video that goes viral and that song all of sudden blows up. That can be an issue when you are spending money promoting your new music. Ryan Tedder of One Republic did an interview with BBC recently where he talks about their new single “Run” being outperformed by a song the band put out in 2013 because of TikTok. As Tedder says in that interview, “It’s a nightmare, because we live in a time when track seven off an album that you released six years ago has a greater chance of becoming a hit than the current song you’re promoting. It defies gravity.”
MS: What’s more effective: talent or good promotion of an artist?
CF: It always comes down to your talent and a good song. However, as we all know, there are so many talented artists in this world that we will never, ever hear about unless we see them on a show like The Voice. Having good, experienced people who understand how to promote music can help take you to the next level, but it all begins with how good your music is, how talented and motivated you are, and how hard you work at it.
MS: How have the last two years been for the music industry, considering that the pandemic ravaged the world?
CF: The music industry has obviously been hit very hard by the pandemic. Unfortunately, many artists do not make money from selling or streaming music and rely heavily on the money they make from touring and selling merchandise at shows. It’s been very sad to see how concert promoters, booking agents, venues, artist managers have been affected as well. For us, although artists were not touring, they still had records coming out to promote. We reached out to our media partners early on in the pandemic to find creative solutions to support our artists and their upcoming projects. Meanwhile, media partners were trying to figure out how they were going to do tv interviews without a studio or cover entertainment without concerts. Musicians got creative on social media and with streaming performances. Platforms like Bandcamp debuted “Bandcamp Fridays” to help artists who found themselves sidelined from touring. Humans have proven to be pretty resilient throughout history and adapt. Thankfully we were able to pivot quickly and be able to keep a spotlight on our artists who had releases during the pandemic. At the end of the day, the show must go on and music and entertainment has always helped us get through hard times.
MS: Opine on the future of the music industry?
CF: It’s always difficult to predict how the music industry will evolve. Technology has played a huge factor in this. No one truly comprehended the incredible influence a platform like Napster would have on the industry back in the early 2000’s. Record labels and several well-known artists were panicking at the time, and concerned about how this new technology would affect their record sales.
I’d like to think we move into a direction that artists are compensated more fairly, and do not have to rely on just touring and merchandising to put food on the table. It’s no secret that it’s big artists who benefit more from streaming income and with the pandemic shutting down live music, conversations around how to compensate musicians more fairly have become more common.
The industry has changed drastically in the last decade alone. I grew up with vinyl and certainly didn’t predict the resurgence in popularity of vinyl records. It seems so counter intuitive in today’s digital world but here we are. If there is one thing I do know, the music industry always manages to surprise us and evolve with the times.