by Katie McCort of Rock Edition
PR powerhouse Black Lodge Publicity helms from Pennsylvania where co-founders Jeff Royer and Jeff Breil work with some of the most notable names in metal. Armed with a decade of experience, the duo mold, evolve, and expand their clients’ presence within the overcrowded world of rock/metal through uniquely tailored marketing campaigns. With acts such as August Burns Red and Underoath on their roster, the PR firm has quickly established a solid reputation, even going as far as securing the attention of one of metal’s most efficacious record labels. Jeff Royer graciously takes the hot seat and answers our questions about artist promotion, image, technological advances, and the future of Black Lodge. Keep reading to learn more about what really goes into music marketing and public relations.
How did Black Lodge PR form? And how do you and Jeff Breil work together as a team?
We had both been involved in music for years when we started Black Lodge, both as musicians in separate bands (and eventually the same band) and as music industry “insiders,” for lack of a better term. We both had experience in music journalism. I had worked for years as a music editor, so I saw the equation from that side. Jeff B. had worked on the other side at an independent label. Basically, he spent his days pitching people on bands, and I spent my days getting pitched by annoying people like him. Between the two of us, we knew the full experience, and we saw what worked and, as importantly, what didn’t.
As far as how we work together, to really oversimplify, I do album press and he does tour press and client relations. But doing PR is a messy, hectic business and of course nothing fits into boxes like that.
What should bands be doing to promote themselves?
Tour, tour, tour. It’s the most important thing a band can do, and it’s the one thing you can’t pay someone else to do for you. We think of touring as the other half of the attack (alongside publicity) in rolling out a new album. Generally speaking, if you’re releasing an album and don’t plan to be touring heavily behind it, you shouldn’t be surprised if people treat it like a vanity project.
When is it time for a band to find a publicist?
Personally, I don’t think it’s a good investment until you’re ready to launch your first full-length. Until you’ve got a product to get in the hands of the media, you’re better off focusing all of your resources on touring, songwriting, and recording. Once you’ve got an album ready to roll, then it’s time to gas up that car and go.
How has the Internet changed publicity?
It’s certainly increased the bulk of bands (and publicists) competing for attention. But overall, the game is the same. The bands with something to offer will get written about, as long as they’re effectively getting the word out. They’re just rising to the top of a much larger pool.
We do talk sometimes about the death of print journalism, and what that means. It really forces you to redefine what a successful publicity campaign looks like. A few years ago, success for one of our bands might have meant scoring 10 print features and a tidal wave of online press. Now there are barely even 10 print magazines left that are viable options for the kind of bands we’re pitching. So now you need to find a new high bar. What kind of online coverage can you score that is going to separate your band from everything else out there?
How involved do you get with radio? Do you feel like it’s still a good source for promotion?
We don’t really touch radio. If a client’s hired someone to shop singles to radio, we’ll certainly work with them, but it’s not really what we do.
What goes into constructing an image/background story for your artists?
This is something we put a lot of stock into. The first step of any campaign is defining/refining/enhancing a band’s story. You’ve really got to get it right, because it’s often all the ammo you’ve got in your first round of pitches — especially when you’re trying to talk someone who’s never heard of a band into taking the time to check them out. Then the music takes over. Until then, as a publicist, you hone that message and you throw it in people’s faces every chance you get.
What do you find to be the most important service that Black Lodge offers clients?
Free beer when you’re in town. Honestly, I think the most important aspect of what we do is tailoring each campaign to the band from the ground up. Every campaign we do looks different from the others. No cookie-cutter stuff. We start with a goal — whether it’s convincing journalists that a baby band is the real deal, or maybe emphasizing a band’s “return to form” after a particularly experimental album — and then every other part of the campaign drives towards that goal.
What is the most challenging aspect of publicity?
Snark. Rejection. Being ignored. It’s all challenging. The hardest thing for me personally is lazy journalism. It makes me crazy seeing a really good band get destroyed by someone who had obviously formed their opinion of the album before they’d ever heard it. Especially when we send out a metal band that happens to be Christian, and that’s all the reviewer can talk about. So lazy and myopic. But you smile and thank them for the review all the same. Ultimately, not taking bad reviews personally is a big challenge.
How do Black Lodge’s services differ when dealing with up-and-coming artists compared to established artists?
They’re cheaper. I mean, that’s really it. With baby bands, we’ll certainly streamline the operation to keep costs down. Otherwise, the investment of time and effort is all the same. In some ways, launching an unknown band is as exciting as working some of our biggest bands, so there’s always that fire. That’s how we got started after all.
How do you keep your work individual to that particular client?
The artist’s story, and where the band is at exactly that point in their career, is the launching point for the entire campaign. You pick your talking points, you frame them well in your pitches and press releases, and you use that to kickstart all coverage. You use the band members’ interest and hobbies to score left-of-center features, personality-based features to up the band’s profile. Everything is tailored.
Is there really no such thing as bad publicity?
Ehhhh. Yeah, kind of, in the sense of artist awareness. Anything that gets people talking about your band is theoretically good. But we’ve worked with bands where I definitely would have chosen no publicity over some of the bad publicity. Especially in metal, where authenticity is such a big deal. If news hits, for example, that seemingly undermines credibility a band has worked years to build, it can really sting, no matter how many headlines it generates. We’re very serious about becoming part of a band’s team, the infrastructure, so when they get kicked, we get kicked too.
How would you like Black Lodge to evolve? What do you see in store for the future?
Right now we’re really entrenched with Solid State Records at a really exciting time. They’re signing a lot of really good bands with the potential to shape the genre, so we’re psyched to see what we can build with this new crop of bands. Beyond that, we want to continue to see how we can grow Black Lodge without compromising what we do. Right now, there are just two of us grinding it out, so if we start cranking out 40 albums a year, something’s going to suffer. We got to where we are by focusing really intensely on each band. I’m convinced that’s the difference and is what helped us snag bands from other firms and eventually win the entire Solid State roster. We’ve thrived as a boutique PR firm so far, so if success means purposefully limiting our clientele and becoming specialists in our genre, I’m happy with that.
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