A Week In The Life Of… A Music Publicist, Melanie Lewis

Mel Lewis
Mel Lewis
runs her own music publicity and artist management agency, SPUR, as well as working with music media and marketing agency Heapsaflash as Managing Publicist. Her dual roles require flexibility, collaboration, media savvy, and a great deal of multitasking.
Mel’s sound knowledge of the inner workings of the music industry took time to cultivate. Previously, she has worked as a music writer for renowned publications Australian Hysteria and FasterLouder, and after becoming Music Editor at Beat magazine, and then Editorial & Operations Manager for Tone Deaf, Mel was handling campaigns for some of the biggest festivals and artists on the Australian touring circuit
Below, Mel gives us a look into her busy week: coffee, communication, CC’ing and Cookie, her spirit animal …

Week commencing Monday 13 April

Job Description
Artist Manager and Publicist.

I’ve just started SPUR, my new management and PR agency, but I’m still Managing Publicist for Heapsaflash, and spent hours yesterday working on the Thundamentals album cycle report for delivery at the end of their current tour. The Thundas team are awesome fun to work with, and it’s really satisfying to review the success they’ve achieved with ‘So We Can Remember’ over the past 18 months. This tour cracked the 15,000 ticket mark and everyone is hyped.

9am: I have a phone conference with new Heapsaflash publicist, Jess, about the report and other new tasks she has to tackle. I re-introduce her to some of our key friends in media around the country, and CC her on media pitches and follow-ups so she can get a handle on our relationships. In the afternoon, while handling emails regarding the Heapsaflash roster, and my own burgeoning client list, I am focussed on one of my three management clients, Ngaiire. I review a contract we are working on together, as well as defining some key projects for her upcoming album, emailing booking agents 123 Agency about our vision for her album tour, arranging a phone meeting with Ngaiire’s branding consultants, Brand Organic, listening to new versions of the songs from her second album Blastoma and sending them to my radio plugger. In the evening, I re-write a press release for a rapper I’m working with, Master Wolf, and chase my designer for the creative assets we’re rolling out on his social media.

At 8.30pm I talk to a new artist about the strategy for his album cycle and publicity campaign. We arrange a meeting for later in the week before I collapse to watch the latest ep of Empire online. Empire’s Cookie might be my spirit animal, FYI.

7am: Facebook, Internet, Facebook. I am looking for four things: world news for myself; good advice on running a small business or things that are influencing the music business; opportunities for artists, and music and pop culture news that makes me laugh. I also like seeing what my other creative buddies are talking about and promoting, and get a lot of new music this way. I have a great meeting with Brand Organic about re-configuring Ngaiire’s social media accounts, website and mailing list to maximise efficiency and effectiveness across her systems. We share some images and artwork from the Blastoma online mood boards, and define a communications plan so we can work together in the best possible way. They also recommend some great apps for tracking productivity, which is a sweet bonus.

I spend the rest of the afternoon re-writing a business plan for another of my management clients [Áine Tyrrell] for presentation to an investor we have secured, and send it back for her to action. Because I’ve got three new clients waiting for direction, services lists and quotes on their upcoming releases, I adjust some SPUR campaign templates to suit their needs, for review over the next couple of days, and consider how the elements will best be grouped in my online project manager. While I’m doing it, I’m texting with one of the artists about potential single release dates. Once we agree on launch dates, he gets to work circulating his artwork and information to about 40 mates he’s lined up to help him promote his show.

By this point, after working for 10 days straight, I happily accept a dinner and beer invitation and knock off early [5pm] to catch up with a mate, while delivering a photography brief and emailing management from my phone for the Thundamentals’ Brisbane shows. The next two days will be practically office-free days, and I’m worried about the burgeoning inbox, but decide speaking to a human being in person is a good move for sanity.

First up, post-Facebook, I lock in a few media requests for Thundamentals, CC’ing Jess with the band’s team so she can see how we roll. The interesting thing about training Jess is having to explain WHY I have made decisions about media, and how those decisions take consideration of the band’s existing commitments and strengths, and how I can take the leg work out of things for them. ie, trying to collate Q&As for Morgs so he can smash them all in one go, considering which timeframes Jeswon is available for during the day, and which media opportunities might work best for Tuka who has been flat stick completing his own solo album and touring schedule concurrent to the Thundamentals’ dates.

Then it’s on the phone with my radio plugger who tells me how he can support Ngaiire’s album. This creates more definition in the full campaign plan. A media opportunity for Ngaiire with a major print title, and radio’s input, means we have some new deadlines and project narratives to drop into our overarching plan. I catch Ngaiire on the phone while she’s running to the studio to meet with Paul Mac and Jack Britten – her killer production team – and fill her in on the last 24 hours. We quickly consider how the current aesthetic concepts will work with the new single. It’s getting close, after six months of tossing ideas around and we are getting the nervous/excited wiggles. Can’t. WAIT!

I eat lunch while I’m FB messaging a buddy who presents a national radio show. I sneak her a private demo link for Ngaiire and call this “radio networking” before making some calls in the car on the way to the hairdressers. In the salon chair I get a chance to check out a fashion magazine I haven’t read in a while, and FB the editor to get a rate card and editorial plans sent over for Ngaiire. At 5pm, I’m out of there and grab a steak at a pub nearby while I check emails [rate card and editorial ideas have arrived, win!] and review a publicity plan to make sure all the assets have been delivered. Success! They have! I shoot into the city and grab a coffee in a well-lit multinational coffee house, and complete the publicity plan for the client.

About 8pm I head to the Toff for the STEP [Society Of Tastemakers & Elegant People] event ‘Melbourne – The Music Capital’, where I run into heaps of music buddies I’ve been keen to see, one of whom offers me a magazine cover for Ngaiire. We all fill each other in on what we’re working on, and listen to a great panel on what makes Melbourne a great place for music. It is PACKED. It’s nice to be home!

I am so knackered, but Ngaiire has sent me a new song overnight, which inspires me while I’m doing some exercise. I do the bare minimum on emails to keep everyone up to date, jump on the phone to a client to discuss an upcoming photo shoot, then drive across the city to a lunchtime mentoring session, making some catch up calls from the car. I’ve got time to kill before the session so phone another mentor to go over a few ideas I’ve had about a client plan, before meeting a potential new client to find out what he is hoping to achieve with his album, this year, and over the next two years.

Another 30 minute drive ahead, so call my 16-year-old development artist and have a conversation about unlocking creativity, training yourself to write, and developing songwriting discipline. She has been teaching herself how to use Garageband on the ancient Mac I gave her and was so despondent about the projects she’d started she deleted them all in frustration. She was relieved to hear that every great writer has hordes of scratch tracks, notes and snippets in the vault for future reference, and we discussed ways to capture and file those ideas.

I’m back in the office for 5pm, respond to a few urgent emails and head out to catch dinner and a comedy show with a good friend [which means another complete lap of Melbourne], crawling into bed at 1am, totally fried.

It honestly feels like Monday. I find two new business enquiries in my in-box and a mentorship request from FReeZA, putting the former aside for next week and responding to the latter in the affirmative right away. Number one priority is finalising numbers for the Thundamentals’ sold out show in Brisbane tonight [last night hit capacity as well – thrilled!], and deliver to media a Q&A that DJ Morgs completed for me this week. The rest of the day [and into the night] sees me negotiating a festival fee for Áine , working further on some campaign plans for delivery to artists/managers, following up on a regional VIC single tour I am booking for Áine [this is not usual!] and about three hours worth of phone calls to agents, mentors and artists. *collapse*

I review a client’s emails to make sure I haven’t missed any pertinent dates before he phones for a conference at 11am. We go over the final details of the single campaign, the services he needs, and other concerns and expenses to think about during the course of the year as we work toward the larger release. I’m an hour on the phone to him before we can sign off on the initial campaign plan, which I immediately email to him with an invoice. From here, I need to have more conversations regarding yesterday’s still-not-confirmed festival fee.

Over the course of the next three hours, as I’m trying desperately to catch up on the week’s housework and accrued emails, while Áine and I finally come up with options to present to the festival promoter, which will hopefully result in a win for everyone. I email a designer for a quote for upcoming album art I want to commission, fire off a Facebook message to a venue booker and press play on some new demos, before I start making moves to eat something [healthy!] before I head to St Kilda to see Liz Stringer play the opening of a “new” venue, Memo.

It’s a beautiful old theatre-style hall, Liz is stunning, I run into a new client and say hi, before zipping back to Fitzroy to see Cash Savage And The Last Drinks. I chat to some mates from Graveyard Train and Cherrywood, fill them in on Memo and find out what is happening with their bands and Graveyard Train’s label Blackhat Rackets. I do the bolt just before Cash’s set ends. Freezing, rainy night in Melbourne and dreaming of doona.

Besides checking some creative assets from my designer and sending to the client for approval, the day is miiiine! Meet a mate for coffee and hear about his gig from the night before, and that’s as close to music as I get. Phew! Just joking: by the time I get back from my day out, there are new assets to upload across Master Wolf’s social media, so the designer has the right links for tomorrow’s send out. Done!

Something awesome happens every day, but after nearly ten years in music, as a writer, editor, administrator, unofficial manager, and finally actual manager and publicist, starting my own business this year was terrifying and astonishingly well received. The support has been amazing, and better yet I’ve had lots of people offer their services so I can start to collaborate and pass on work to other freelancers, so my artists get better, faster service.

There is this phenomenon in the music industry where people hit a low and start to talk loudly about getting “a real job”. I have spent a few periods lying in a dark room at my Mum’s place thinking the world had fallen off its axis. It’s usually because I haven’t fit into someone else’s business vision, which has absolutely nothing to do with me, personally: but rejection is real, swift and hard in this game, and when you’re trading on your own reputation it can feel brutal. It’s always been forcing myself to go to a music conference that pulls me out of the doldrums. All of a sudden you’re in a space where everyone’s talking about new ideas, and getting excited, and you’re thinking, “This is amazing! Let’s do some stuff!”

Words of Wisdom
1. Work for artists you believe in, so you’re proud to talk about them.
2. Find out WHY your artists are doing what they do, so you can get behind them 100% on the real goals.
3. Be organised and communicative. Make sure everyone knows what the brief is, and where the deadlines fall. Spreadsheets are the best.
4. Be honest about expectations, and say please and thank you.
5. Always go to the show. It is really easy to get stuck to your desk and forget what the point is sometimes. You can’t say yes to every invitation, but it’s important for me to get to industry events, and my artist’s shows, to remind myself that I’m part of something bigger and to connect with the other awesome humans working in and for music.
6. Get a life. Look after yourself first or no one can rely on you. Eat with your best friends and family as often as you can. Do fun stuff.

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