-Hi Scott. How and when did you start Clawhammer PR and how many people are working now? Did you start from scratch with no budget or what? Please write us a short bio, because not many know about this side of the music industry.
Scott Alisoglu: ClawHammer PR was started just over three years ago by me and my partner Ryan Ogle. The idea came out of a drunken conversation on my back patio one evening and came down to thinking we could really help out some underground artists that can’t afford high-priced PR. In a sad twist of fate the death of esteemed journalist Adrian Bromley resulted in Incantation front man John McEntee contacting us about promoting his Ibex Moon Records releases since Adrian had been promoting them before his death. That sort of kick started the whole thing and set the wheels in motion.
While we knew a bit about how music promotion worked from having worked with so many publicists over the years in our roles as journalists writing for zines like Unrestrained, Hails and Horns, Outburn, Blabbermouth, Pit, Metal Maniacs, and several others, we had a lot to learn with regard to the daily administrative activities, building a contact database, and the development of industry relationships. What many people on the outside looking in may not realize is the sheer amount of tedium involved in building a database of worldwide contacts and keeping that database current, as well as a range of other activities from the development of press coverage reports for the clients to consistent follow-up with journalists and radio DJs, updating the Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace accounts, coordinating interviews, providing consultation to clients on a variety of issues, writing press releases, etc. Later on we began utilizing Constant Contact (an e-mail marketing services) for our press releases and Haulix.com for digital promo distribution, both of which have helped us immensely.
-Do you have volunteers or internships or is each one of you receiving a salary for that without second jobs? Or is the Metal scene too small a niche to make a living out of that?
Scott Alisoglu. We have no interns or any other employees, except for the occasional assistance from our wives, which amounts to ongoing support for us personally more than anything else. We basically split the fees we receive from our clients, after covering our monthly operating expenses. I hold a “regular” day job and continue to be a journalist. Ryan is now a full-time college student, as well as a journalist. As for making a living out of doing PR full-time it is in fact possible, but would be much more difficult doing so for us since we intentionally keep our rates affordable in order to continue to provide high-quality promotion to the kinds of bands and labels that we sought to help to begin with. It certainly helps to have either another job and/or a second income in the household. I should add this ClawHammer PR is not a “part-time” job by any stretch of the imagination; it is full time and then some.
-How do you choose the bands to work with? Do they contact you and ask you for an estimate and then sign? Do you only accept bands with a label behind usually?
Scott Alisoglu: The overwhelming majority of our business still comes via referral and we only occasionally reach out to potential clients that we believe need the promotional help or would be a good fit. The number of referrals we’ve gotten the past year has been staggering and also satisfying since it seems to show that our past clients have been happy with our services and that we’ve developed a reputation for being prompt, responsive, and tireless workers. Thus far we’ve not been in a position to turn down many clients since most of what we promote we also like as fans. We take on as clients both independent bands with self-released CDs and record labels, as well as festival promoters (e.g. Warriors of Metal V Open Air Festival) and the like. In fact, we’ve done well getting coverage for self-released albums and have established a bit of a niche in that regard. We probably do more promotion for labels on the whole, but not by a lot.
What criteria do the bands you are looking for/applying to you for a worldwide promotion need?
Scott Alisoglu: The only criteria, if you mean what we need from the band, for the client are the MP3s, album artwork, biography if they’ve got one (or we can write it), band photos, etc. We usually send out a limited number of actual CDs as well, which requires some agreement/cooperation from the client and of course we ask that the client be available for interviews, send the answers back to us for e-mail interviews with some level of promptness and things of that nature. As far as what bands are looking for and what we provide it is basically getting magazines (on-line and print) to give coverage to the album being promoted in North America, Europe, and assorted other territories, which can include reviews, interviews, and radio play. That would also include sending out press release for newsworthy items, such as an upcoming tour. We also partner with sites to set up giveaways/contests, track streams, album streams, etc.
What was the main difficulty in your job and when did you get to the turning point in your career and said: Yeah, I’ve made it!
Scott Alisoglu: Well, since we are a company that is continually looking to improve and expand our reach, I’m not sure we’ve ever gotten to a certain point where we’ve declared that “we’ve made it.” Mainly that’s because deciding that you’ve “made it” could be construed as being satisfied with the level you’ve reached, thereby losing your edge and the hunger to succeed. Satisfaction is the death of desire, right? However, we’ve certainly had semi-celebratory moments during our career when we’ve taken on a client we’ve always respected or when the coverage of the releases we promote substantially increased.
-Does your job become standardized after years and tons of bands/artists to promote or are there tasks requiring creativity, imagination and a bit of risk?
Scott Alisoglu: Some level of standardization has occurred with respect to press release formatting, digital promo routines, and several other administrative activities. But a degree of creativity will always be necessary, especially in a world that keeps getting smaller based on Internet technology and the continual development of digital music formats. In our business if you are not moving forward, then you are moving backward. There is no such thing as standing still.
-One of the biggest problems for bands trying to self-promote themselves without a promotion agency is that webzines, mags, radios etc. just want bands already a bit known in the underground, or say they have lots of requests and accept only bands whose records were released not over two months earlier, or bands with a label, even if small, and not self-releases. Do you advise against self-promotion? What’s your view?
Scott Alisoglu: We don’t advise against self-promotion since it is possible to have some success doing so if bands know where to go to get coverage and, more importantly, have the day-in-and-day out discipline required and are willing to put in the time and effort. Quite honestly, the vast majority of bands and small record labels just don’t have the time and resources required for a thorough marketing campaign, which is of course why we provide the service in the first place. The other big hurdle bands and labels face with regard to self-promotion is not having the established database of contacts (and often not the digital and e-mail marketing platforms) that an established PR company has worked to build up over many months or even years. It is also very difficult for a journalist or radio person to take the time to pay attention to every independent band or small label that e-mails them about covering a CD since those folks are already inundated with releases, many from established bands and labels. Once a PR company like ours has established a “name” in the marketplace, as well as a good reputation, magazines and radio are far more likely to at least pay attention to promotional items mailed/e-mailed to them and in most cases respond with a “yes” or “no.” As journalists, Ryan and I can both attest to the fact that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to pay attention to every request for coverage we get, but we will at least correspond regularly with publicists and/or record labels with whom we’ve established a relationship and/or respect. Relationship-building and the creation of a large, up-to-date database of contacts is something that comes with time, something that cannot be created on the spot by a band releasing its first CD or a label that has never done much marketing or promotion.
-Another problem and mistake of many is that when they have a large amount of contacts they think they can promote themselves easily, but then they see that 90% their e-mails come back with the failure or undelivered message report, mainly because they’re not friends in the receivers’ list and get automatically thrown into the dustbin or rejected. How do you cope with spam filters and how do you successfully make the communication through?
Scott Alisoglu: That’s exactly right! And that’s the point I was trying to make earlier about the amount of work required for effective database management, as well as the time commitment and sheer amount of administrative tedium involved in running a business like ours. We have very few issues with e-mails going to spam filters these days, but we do pay attention to outlets from which we’ve not heard anything (or heard from in a while) and seek ways to address those issues, which can include contact through social networks or by simply consulting with any one of the contacts with whom we’ve developed relationships. But you nailed it, that’s one part of self-promotion that becomes a huge headache for bands and labels.
-Which are the characteristics of a good promotion agency work? What difficulties did you meet in the beginning and how were you able to become one of the world’s leading ones?
Scott Alisoglu: I’ll start with the second question first. The biggest “problems” concerned the efficiency of the manner in which we “spread the word” about our clients, which was rectified through time, experience, and the use of marketing platforms like Haulix and Constant Contact. It also took a while to expand our reach so that no stone was left unturned; a lot of that just comes with time. We believe the main characteristics of a good promotion agency work are thoroughness, which includes having that massive, well maintained database, and just as importantly responsiveness to client needs and concerns. We try our damnedest to be easily accessible seven days per week and both of us make sure that one of us is available to our clients at almost any given time. Furthermore, we make sure we know the finer details of the releases we are promoting. Since we aren’t getting rich doing this we get a great deal of satisfaction out of seeing our clients’ releases get the exposure they deserve.
-If an act would be interested in striking a deal with you, do you offer different options or do you have a standard deal and way of working with every band?
Scott Alisoglu: In most cases we offer a standard deal, which involves a multi-month promotion campaign, but we do offer different types of packages depending on what the client needs and/or to fit the client’s budget.
-Do you send more physical CDs or do you prefer sending MP3s? How do you convince mags to accept MP3s to review instead of the original CD?
Scott Alisoglu: The vast majority of our promos are digital, which is pretty much the industry standard wherever you look. We do send out (or have the client send out) a small number of CDs to those places that still won’t accept digital copies. And since many of our clients work within very tight budgets the postage cost they avoid by having us send promos digitally is enormous.
-What bands are you working with currently and how do you see 2012?
Scott Alisoglu: 2012 is already shaping up to be a busier year than 2011, which itself was far busier than 2010. We don’t anticipate the work slowing down any time soon and it will most certainly continue to increase. We are currently working with these record labels: Listenable (France), Sepulchral Productions (Canada), Negative Existence/United Guttural (U.S.), Ibex Moon (U.S.) Mortal Music (U.S.), Brain Damage Music (U.S.), Goomba Music (U.S.), Cruz Del Sur (Italy), Deathgasm (U.S.), Dark Descent (U.S.), FDA Rekotz (Germany), Svarga Music (Ukraine), Horror Pain Gore Death Productions (U.S.) Dunkelheit Produktionen (Germany), Funeral Rain Records (Canada), Chaos Records (Mexico), and Abyss (U.S.). We are also currently working with these independent artists: Shroud of Despondency (U.S.), Vore (U.S.), Inferion (U.S.), Birth A.D. (U.S.), Eternal Decay (Israel), Lords of the Trident (U.S.), Careless (U.S.), and Hemoptysis (U.S.). We are also promoting the Warriors of Metal Festival V Open Air (June 28-30 in Ohio).
-Thanks for all the detailed and involving answers, Scotts! Just feel free to use all the space you need to add something I didn’t ask you about or that you repute important.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to do this interview. I don’t have much to add, except to say that we are grateful for having been able to work with so many great bands and labels, including all the super cool people and friends we’ve made along the way. Much thanks to our respective families for not only putting up with us, but for supporting ClawHammer PR. You can check us out at www.facebook.com/clawhammerpr, www.twitter.com/clawhammerpr, and www.myspace.com/clawhammerpr.