Industry Spotlight: Will Miller (Tiny Engines / Beartrap PR)

Hello, everyone! After a brief absence from the blog it gives me great pleasure to resurrect our Industry Spotlight feature with a little help from our friend Will at Tiny Engines. The work he is doing in music right now is impacting countless lives, and I am thrilled to be able to share his insight on the future of the music business. If you have any questions about the content of the blog, or if you would like more information regarding the distributional services offered by Haulix, please email james@haulix.com and share your thoughts. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook.

We talk a lot about how much of music is a tight knit community of professionals, but in the grand scheme of things the business as a whole is a large, towering infrastructure made up of countless tiny moving parts (no pun intended) that music work together in order to keep the industry alive. Every person who contributes is, in their own way, a tiny engine working to fuel the continued existence of the music business.

For the better part of the last decade, Will Miller has been contributing to the music industry as a blog owner, label founder, and alternative music publicist. He currently spends his time as the co-owner of Tiny Engine Records and one of the great minds behind Beartrap PR, both of which keep him incredibly busy. I knew from day one that I wanted to work with Will on content for this blog, but given the typical workload he encounters each morning I held off on making any requests of his time until the very end of May. He agree, and now a couple weeks since our initial conversation I am pleased to present what I believe to be one of the best Industry Spotlights we have run in recent memory.

Will and I have worked together since we were both beginning to find out footing in music, but I don’t think either of us realized how inexperienced the other was at the time. From what I can recall Will was extremely professional from day one, and in the years since we have been fortunate enough to work together a number of times on exciting projects. Earlier this year he introduced me to The Hotelier, and not long after a close friend encounter a bout with illness that caused a lot of pain and stress in my life. That record, which I would honestly have never given the time of day without Will’s seal of approval, has since become a beacon of hope and source of comfort. It may even be my favorite album of 2014, and there will no doubt be several other releases on my ‘best of’ list that I know solely because Will and the people he has surrounded himself with made it a point to help those artists get the recognition they deserve. If that’s not the sign of a true industry professional doing their job to the best of their abilities, I don’t know what is.

If you would like to learn more about Will and his efforts in music, please make it a point to follow Tiny Engines on Twitter. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.

H: Before we dive in, please take a moment and introduce yourself:

W: My name is Will Miller, I do press for Beartrap PR and co-own the Tiny Engines record label.

H: Thanks for joining us, Will. We have been looking forward to this feature for several weeks. When you think about your earliest memories with music, what comes to mind?

W: Hmm, listening to a lot of oldies, motown and beach music growing up with my Mom probably. I still love that stuff too, oldies but goodies.

H: Do you remember the first album you bought with your own money?

W: Oh god, I have no idea. I’m sure it was something incredibly embarrassing. Something pop or hair metal I would guess. I was an 80’s kid, for better or worse.

H: How about your first concert experience? Bonus points if you share some memories of the event.

W: I think it was probably the Guns N’ Roses / Metallica / Faith No More stadium tour which I really remember very little about other than Axl Rose changing his outfit twenty times. I do remember buying a tour tee shirt and then discovering it had cigarette burn holes in it when I got home. Maybe that’s how they sold it to me? I have no idea.

H: You’re known these days for being a part of the punk and indie rock community, but was that always the area of music that captivated you the most?

W: I would say I was always drawn to music but it was taken to a whole new level once I started to dig below the mainstream. My story is probably similar to a lot of people my age who got into punk/indie rock. Nirvana was the gateway for me and from there I just went further underground into alternative and punk and indie rock and I’ve lived happily in that realm since.

H: A lot of the people we have spoken can pinpoint a ‘lightbulb moment’ in their lives when they realized that the music business was something that appealed to them. Can you recall when you this realization happened for you?

W: Well, I’m not sure the business side of it has ever really appealed to me, it still doesn’t really. The A&R side of it is what has always captivated me, I’ve just always felt like I had a good ear for things. I’ve always had a thirst for finding new music/bands and wanting to expose that to other people. So, the label thing was always in mind. The publicity side of it was never part of the plan but they are both fairly similar. I also ran a music blog for five years. So, really, it all just goes back to wanting to share my love of music with other like-minded people.

H: Did you attend college? If so, did you study anything related to the music industry?

W: I did, but didn’t study anything music industry specifically, just business in general.

H: Having become a successful member of the music professional community, would you recommend others considering pursuing a career in entertainment make it a point to attend college?

W: I’m not sure I would ever recommend this to anybody as a truly viable career. Or maybe it just takes a different mind-frame than what I bring to the table. But, if you choose it just be passionate about your work. I think at the end of the day, Beartrap and Tiny Engines have made it this far cause we only work with bands and other labels we love and respect. And I think that shines through. But, I probably didn’t realize just how difficult the industry is, in terms of making enough to survive and continue. It’s definitely something you have to be committed to and have passion for in regards to the bands and music.

H: Tiny Engines was founded in 2008. What inspired you to launch your own label, and who was the first artist you decided to work with?

W: Yeah, like I said before, wanting to do a label has always been in my mind. I always thought I could do it and I felt it would be a fulfilling way to spend my days vs. some boring 9-5 job. Tiny Engines was founded in 2008 by myself and Chuck Daley along with our buddy Jeff Meyers. Chuck and I met and worked together at Deep Elm Records and we stayed in contact once I left there. I think TE was just an opportunity for both of us to get further involved in music. But, I don’t think either of us saw it as something that would be going strong six years later and getting close to 40 releases now.

The first artist we worked with was Look Mexico, we put out their Gasp Asp EP on 7" back in late 2008. Chuck had worked press for the band via Beartrap and had become good friends with them. And then I met the band and we all just hit it off and felt like they were the perfect band to start the label off with.

H: While we’re on the topic of the company’s early days, what can you tell us about the story behind the name Tiny Engines?

W: I can never really remember the whole story but Chuck came up with the name. I think it fits. We’re just a tiny cog in the machine. I think the name has always kind of aligned with how we run the label. We’re small and band friendly but we also try to run the label in a professional kind of way without ever being too business-ey about it.

H: What were your goals for Tiny Engines when the label initially launched, and how have they changed in recent years?

W: Definitely changed from the beginning. Originally we were just going to be a 7" label doing one-off releases with bands we loved. But, then the Everyone Everywhere full-length came along and that record was just too good to not put out, so after only two 7" releases (Look Mexico and Tigers Jaw) we changed our plans and did our first LP as release #3.

I’m not sure we have any grand goals for the label. Obviously things have grown for us and the bands. At the end of the day we still just want to put out great records and work with bands we respect. But, we also want to sell enough records to keep doing this and growing and provide our bands with more resources. And it would be nice to be able to take a little for ourselves here and there considering how much blood, sweat and tears we’ve put into the label. I’m not sure people realize the amount of work and hours running a label takes. It’s draining but also incredibly rewarding as well.

H: You are also a part of the Beartrap PR team. When did you join the team?

W: Chuck founded Beartrap in 2006 I believe and then I joined in 2007.

H: What came first – your interest in running a label or your interest in doing PR?

W: Definitely running a label. Doing PR was never in my mind. I’m quiet and reserved for the most part so press was never something I pictured myself doing. But, like I said before, it’s fairly similar to the label in that I’m only working with stuff I genuinely enjoy.

H: Both Beartrap and Tiny Engines have been growing at an alarming rate. Do you ever struggle to balance the demands of both jobs?

W: Yes, most definitely. Especially these days. I would say my workload for Beartrap and Tiny Engines are both at an all-time high right now. Currently I do all the press for Tiny Engines as well as the press for 4-5 other labels so yeah, it’s a ton of work but I enjoy staying busy. I"m a bit of an organization nut as well so that helps. It also helps to be a single dude with no kids and a crazy passion for music.

H: Without going too in-depth, please walk us a through a typical work day:

W: Oh, nothing crazy really. I just moved up to Charlotte late last year so Chuck and I could be in the same city and I’m temporarily living in the TE office (Chuck’s basement…see how much money we make from this?) right now. So, that’s changed the routine a little bit I guess. Beartrap is much easier to set a schedule for, with Tiny Engines you never really know what the workload will be like from week to week, just depends on our current release schedule. I typically get started on replying to email first and foremost, Beartrap and Tiny Engines related. After that it’s typically on to Beartrap work, whatever press releases and/or digital promos need to go out that day. I know what I have for that day / week and I’m one who likes to knock my work out early and try to get ahead for upcoming days /weeks. It’s definitely a lot to keep up with so it helps to be organized for sure. And it’s a ton of email throughout the day, responding and pitching and coordinating. That can certainly be maddening at times but that’s just the job. And I usually end the day with packing up Tiny Engines mailorder. Save the worst for last I guess.

H: Tiny Engines has been using Haulix for a while now, and from what I have been told you are incredibly happy with the service. What is it about our platform that keeps you around?

W: We actually just started using Haulix this year. We have a Beartrap account that hosts Tiny Engines albums as well as all the other records we’re working press for. It really is an amazing service and one we probably should’ve been using a lot sooner. Just having the ability to create a nice digital promo in a matter of minutes is a beautiful thing for someone who makes a living doing press. And then obviously having the ability to send out and track what press contacts are listening to and downloading is so incredibly helpful in regards to follow ups and targeting contacts for premieres, etc. And then of course having the peace of mind to send out a record months in advance and be protected from an early leak, that’s been nice for Tiny Engines as the anticipation has grown for some of our releases this year. It’s certainly been a great tool for the growth of Beartrap and Tiny Engines this year.

H: Looking ahead to the future, what are the biggest challenges facing Beartrap and Tiny Engines?

W: Just trying to continue to survive. It’s always about survival in this business I think. You have to be willing to adapt and look for new ways to spread the word about your bands. I think for TE it’s going to be a challenge to balance our growth while still being able to operate as a small label on our own terms.

H: What advice would you offer aspiring industry professionals hoping to one day find themselves in a position similar to yours?

W: Work hard. Be passionate and selective about the music/labels/bands you work with. And stick with it, put in the time. Too many people give up too easily these days. And that goes for just about everything in life.

H: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?

W: I don’t know. It’s a tough industry for sure. For bands and labels. I love it when bigger bands, labels, publications support & spread the word about smaller bands & labels they believe in. That’s something to me that there’s not enough of these days, just mutual support/appreciation for when people are doing cool stuff, big or small.

H: Vinyl has become a big part of Tiny Engines’ business. What is your top-selling release to date, and what color variant are you most proud of having pressed?

W: Tigers Jaw’s Spirit Desire 7" as of right now although The Hotelier LP is going to gain traction on that one sooner rather than later I think.

In regards to color variants, god, we’ve done so many. I would say the starburst variant we did for the new Direct Effect LP might be one of the best for sure.

H: What goals do you have you set for yourself and your career in the year ahead?

W: I don’t have any supreme goals, I just want to be able to live a simple, comfortable life and continue working with bands/labels/music that inspire me. That’s it, I’m happy if I can do that.

H: I think that just about wraps it up. Before I let you go, are there any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers?

W: If you love a band support them. Buy a record or a tee shirt or go to a show. If there’s a label putting out music you love support them. Like I said, this is a tough industry for bands and labels to make ends meet and continue doing what we do. So, I think it’s important to remind people to support what they love in some capacity or it could very well be gone one day.

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.