Success With Digital Promos: Clawhammer PR

**This is first in a series of interviews that showcase Haulix customers who successfully use digital promos in their day to day operations.**

Clawhammer PR, ran by Scott Alisoglu and Ryan Ogle, provides promotion and media relations services for underground metal bands and labels. Ryan gave us a glimpse into their business. “We take the burden off their shoulders so the bands can focus on their music and the labels can focus on day-to-day operations.” Both coming from a journalist background he says, “I feel like having seen the PR game from a writer’s perspective gave us a little extra insight when we first got things rolling, nearly three years ago.”

Promoting In A Challenging Industry

When asked how many artists and what genres of music they handle, Ryan had this to say, “Since day one we’ve worked with a variety of acts and labels that fall under the ever-expanding metal umbrella. We’ve worked everything from metalcore to avant-garde black metal and even a couple of very cool folksy, atmospheric, cerebrally awe-inspiring bands. We seem to have found somewhat of a niche with the death metal crowd though thanks to clients like Dark Descent Records, Ibex Moon Records, Chaos Records, Abyss Records, Rotting Corpse Records, Deathgasm Records and our brothers in the band Gravehill. We’re also currently handling North American promotion for Listenable Records and Debemur Morti Productions (both from France). Nordvis Production is a very cool label that have allowed us to throw some twisted little black metal-based curveballs at folks and Chicago’s Mortal Music have given us a diverse collection of bands to work with as well.” He adds, “We’ve got a very cool collection of independent bands that we work with as well in Abacinate, Shroud of Despondency, Ironwood, Apostate and trad-metal machine Johnny Lokke. That’s the beautiful thing about metal; it’s such an expansive genre. It’s impossible to get bored working with or even being a fan of this style of music.”

Day-To-Day Operations

From the way it sounds, there is no such thing as a typical day at Clawhammer headquarters. “Working with clients and contacts spread out across the globe means there is no such thing as business hours and one of us is almost always on the case in regards to email replies.” Ryan continues, “I typically spend a good portion of the first half of my day assembling and proofing press releases. Once those are approved, they’re sent out, which of course leads to more emails to sort through. There’s also lots of tweaking of images and artwork, converting music files, press reports, brainstorming, bio writing/tweaking and following up with contacts in regards to coverage.”

The Media’s Impact On The Success Of An Album

Though it might be obvious, we wanted to pick Ryan’s brain on how big of an impact the media plays when it comes to writing publications and pre-release streaming of tracks in order to have successful opening sales. “It [media] plays a huge part. Granted anyone can go online and listen to or download almost any release before it come out, especially now that streaming has become such a major promotional tool, and they can judge for themselves, but reviews are still vital. You want to know an album is even worth spending the time it takes to sit down with it.” He continues, “Pre-release coverage is huge for lesser-known and indie acts that might not have the funds to do a lot of advertising or that aren’t quite suited for radio either. Obviously, Metallica is going to sell regardless of how many (or few) reviews they get before their record drops, but a band like Gravehill benefits greatly from pre-release coverage. The more reviews they get increases the chance that someone new will read about them and get interested enough to check out the disc. We try to get a release out to the media at least 4 – 6 weeks prior to release. It doesn’t always work that way, but it is the best way to go. If you get people talking before the street date, it’s only fair to assume that you’ll see results right away.”

If you get people talking before the street date, it's only fair to assume that you'll see results right away.

A New Strategy For Promoting

The traditional promotion model for pre-release music involves manufacturing discs and physically mailing them out to the media. When asked what he dislikes about this strategy, Ryan had this to say. “First and foremost, the cost of mailing CDs is a huge click on the ‘dislike’ button on the Facebook page of life (if Facebook were to ever incorporate a dislike button). Metal isn’t exactly a lucrative genre, so sending out 200 – 300 physical CDs and promo packs to writers who may or may not give the release the time of day could easily break the bank for a smaller label. From a writer’s perspective, two weeks worth of packages can create more clutter than I (or my wife) care to sort through. Sure, a fully-packaged retail copy of an album is a cool perk and we try to accommodate when a writer asks for one, or even just a simple slipcase promo, but we really try to push the digital. I guess that’s kind of hypocritical considering I prefer vinyl over anything else when it comes to my personal collection, but it just makes more sense for a band or label to focus its resources on things like advertising, a stronger online presence or even touring and/or merch than sending out a couple hundred discs that would serve them better in a distro than as a promo. That’s just one point of view though and we do recommend to our clients that they do some mailing, but most outlets are totally cool with getting digitals these days. I suppose I could get ‘green’ on everyone here too and gripe about how wasteful and harmful to our environment physical mailings are. All those precious tress…In all seriousness though, mailings are a necessary part of it; I would just rather throw my cash in other directions.”

Working With Digital Promos

As an alternative to mailing out physical promos, we were interested to hear how using a digital promo service changed the job of someone in the Public Relations business. “Before we got rolling with Haulix, we utilized sites like Sendspace or Yousendit, which were nice in that they were free, but that was really the only advantage,” Ryan explains. “The service makes things much more streamlined and easy to keep tabs on. I can log-in and look at a list of who has downloaded a certain promo and follow up with those people individually, rather than just sending out a blanket email to our entire database. That allows us to give things that personal touch, which I think our contacts really respond to. There’s a strong sense of community in the metal scene and, even though we’re spread out across the globe and most of our interaction comes via email/social networking, many of consider one another friends. Since Haulix allows us to keep track of things, I can reach out on a more personal level rather than, “Hey everyone, please let me know if you checked out the new Blut Aus Nord yet.” That can make a huge difference when pushing for coverage.”

Before we got rolling with Haulix, we utilized sites like Sendspace or Yousendit, which were nice in that they were free, but that was really the only advantage.

Watermarking

We couldn’t talk about digital promos without diving into watermarking. Ryan has unique insight into this technology. “It’s becoming a very good deterrent. Most writers have just grown to expect that a digital promo is going to come watermarked and they have seen examples made of a few that have had leaked promos traced back to them. Nobody wants to carry the stigma of being “that guy.” It puts your journalistic integrity in question and the number of outlets that would want to work with you decreases significantly. We recently got an email from a client who had discovered two of his upcoming releases had been leaked onto the internet and were made available for download. Months of planning, preparation and hype all went right down the drain. Needless to say, he was pissed. I immediately went and snagged the offending files, sent them to Haulix to test for a watermark and none was found. Said client had a different PR company handling things on the European side who did not use a service like Haulix and was sending out non-watermarked physical promos (another downside to mailing CDs), so whoever leaked the album got away with it. Watermarking could have easily prevented this. An album is going to wind up on the internet within a few hours of release regardless of the measures taken, but it’s almost pointless to put the time and effort into pre-release hype and promotion if someone from the media is going to post it online for everyone and their brother a month before its release.”

The Future Of The Music Industry

On the subject of deterring leaking, we were curious to get a philosophical vision of the future of CD sales, digital sales and the overall future of the music industry. “That’s a really good question and one with limitless answers. I think illegal downloading, oversaturated music scenes and lack of originality and substance from artists is really hurting the industry as a whole. The huge drop in sales and concert attendance is the only proof of that you need. I almost feel like the days of the major label are coming to an end; at least in a conventional manner. You can see the shift when they’re trying to sell you a single on a video game, a cell phone, on reality TV, YouTube or anywhere else besides on an actual album. To me, that’s almost insulting. You’re robbing a generation of fans of the ‘album experience’ and instead just throwing some flavorless piece of bubblegum for them to chomp on until the next one comes along. It’s been like that since day one, but technology has pushed things over the top. Fans are finally getting tired of it and are speaking with their dollars. There will always be a huge majority of the population that will gladly graze on whatever pasture you put them in, but those fans that demand something with substance aren’t going to bat an eyelash when they see some clown from American Idol trying to sell a song his producer wrote for him. I think Orwell said it best when he wrote, “If there is hope, it lies in the proles.” By that I mean the indies and the smaller labels/companies are recognizing this discontent sentiment, have shared it themselves for a long time and are responding by seeking out artists that actually have something to offer. These are the guys that realize the bottom line has bottomed out and are more concerned with putting out quality music than anything else. That being said, integrity doesn’t pay the bills and these labels and bands have got to keep coming up with creative ideas to grab people’s attention. I see a lot of focus being put on artwork, concepts, bonus dvds and many other bells & whistles that all add to that album experience I mentioned earlier. There’s also a huge vinyl resurgence underway right now and the purists are loving it. I’m even seeing more and more bands offering cassettes again, which I think is great. There’s something about that analog hiss that warms my heart. It’s becoming cool again to have an actual collection. You can have friends over to your house and show off your stack of records or revel in the novelty of throwing a tape in the deck. That kind of brings back that old feeling of what made music special in the first place. Will these old-school mediums save the industry? No chance in hell. But they are comforting signs that tell me no matter how ridiculous things get, there’s always going to be a fraction of people out there keeping the true spirit of things alive. I’ll end my ramblings by saying the way we listen and the way the music is marketed might change with each new gadget, thereby keeping the industry in a constant state of flux, but the heart and soul of it all will always remain the same. It is a shame that so much talent goes unnoticed and has to struggle financially because they don’t fit the corporate mold, but a creative mind will always find a way to get the music to the ears of those who will appreciate it.”

With digital promotion strategies becoming more accepted in the industry, Ryan was asked what he would say to a label or firm who is considering going digital – to get them to take the leap. Ryan responded, “Everyone is a critic and thanks to the advent of the blog, everyone and anyone with an internet connection can make that statement come true. Print magazines are declining and the bigger websites are so overloaded with work, you have to start looking elsewhere for media coverage. Where ten years ago the list of folks who got advanced promos might have fit on a sheet of paper, that list can easily fill a massive database today. It’s counter-productive to spend the time and money getting all of these people your music when you can do it with a few mouse-clicks and at a fraction of the cost. You know exactly where your music is going, you know exactly when it gets there and you know it’s secure upon arrival. The bottom-line is that the industry has largely gone digital, so it’s a no-brainer that promotion should as well.”

The bottom-line is that the industry has largely gone digital, so it's a no-brainer that promotion should as well.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.