Working the Press – Intellectuall Intercourse and Interviews at SxSw

I’m about to keep Austin a little bit weirder as most of the music community lends a helping hand to do every March…

I will be giving a seminar this year on how to speak to the press. A few different publications have been kind enough to choose me as one of their picks of the festival. Here’s and interview with Traffik that is a good overview of what I’ll be discussing. If you’ll be in Austin, come on down! Wednesday, March 17th at the Austin Convention Center, Room 11B.


SXSW 2010 Panel Picks – Working The Press: Intellectual Intercourse and Interviews

With so many panels to choose from during the SXSW Music and Media Conference, it can be hard to decide which to attend.  We’ve gone through the list and will be bringing to your attention the ones that we thought would best help the independent musicians.  Starting off with our first pick, Working The Press: Intellectual Intercourse and Interviews.

Ali187Ali MacLean knows her stuff. It’s as simple as that. With the entertainment industry constantly plagued with a flood of “self-described experts” that amount to nothing more than smoke and mirrors, individuals that have the actual experience to back up the talk are few and far between. Maclean possesses an enviable resume that would make those of her colleagues appear anorexic and lacking in comparison.

Vast experience as an on-air talent, writer, producer (MTV, VH-1, ABC, Fox, Indie 103.1 FM, Little Radio, Vlaze TV, Sirius Radio, Kathy Griffin’s So Called Reality, Celebrity Death Match) as well as a background in stand-up and sketch comedy (HBO’s Mr. Show, VH-1’s Ill-Ustrated) have allowed MacLean to learn the ins and outs of the entertainment industry from being both in front of the camera and behind it. All of this combined with her journalistic talents (Urb TV, Antiquiet TV, Huffington Post) and her passion for good music (expressed via her occasional dj sets and radio shows) lead her to be a logical choice to bring a Music Panel focusing on teaching the “best interview techniques and ways to use press attention to your advantage,” titled Working The Press: Intellectual Intercourse and Interviews to the 2010 SXSW Music and Media Conference.

Fresh from directing a film short called ‘DJ Intervention, starring Arabian Prince from NWA, Adam 12 from She Wants Revenge, Ken Jordan from Crystal Method, and Rhettmatic from the Beat Junkies (Part One can be found on Funny or where you can vote funny for it, and Part Two will soon follow), Ali MacLean took some time to answer some of our questions regarding her upcoming panel (set to take place Wednesday, March 17th at 2:00 pm in Austin Convention Center Room 11B) as well as why she decided to bring this topic to this years SXSW attendees.

TRAffIK: What prompted you to want to bring such a topic to SXSW?
AM: A lot of people ask me questions about how they can get press or get their demos to the right people. That paired with some disastrous interviews and really bad behavior during interviews I conducted or interviews I’ve seen, I figured it would be very useful to the musicians and the publicists attending the festival.

TRAffIK: What should those in attendance of your Panel/Discussion expect to come away with?
AM: Hopefully they will have a better sense of how to get press for themselves or how to approach a press campaign, get a publicist or journalist to notice them… and definitely how to behave when they are on a TV show or radio show.

TRAffIK: Who were some of the subjects used in your examples that you’ll be sharing to illustrate your points (if you are at liberty to share)?
AM: I have a few aces up my sleeves. I may actually have someone there, an example too if he is available.

TRAffIK: In a world where so much value seems to be placed on artists/bands interacting with their fans and the media, why do you feel (if you feel this way) there are still a large number of artists that treat the media as enemies rather than as positive or even potential career boosters?
AM: I think it’s fiction at this point, or at least I hope it is. Anyone who still harbors the idea that the press is the enemy is pretty idiotic. For a band to want to be on television or on the Pitchfork homepage or the cover of Rolling Stone, but at the same time hate them…well it’s a bit contradictory. I can understand being wary of how you are portrayed by the media. That’s legitimate. But to hate the medium you are trying to use doesn’t make sense. Use it to your advantage.

TRAffIK: As someone who has interviewed more than her fair share of artists (both established and up and coming), what are some of the mistakes you see done repeatedly by artists when it comes to the media?
AM: Well, being rude is the first thing that comes to mind. That’s never going to endear you to the public. Throwing your weight around once you get a little bit of notoriety doesn’t make your music any easier to listen to. I always say, there are a lot of talented people out there: I might as well work with the nice ones.

Sometimes publicists can be over protective of their new artists and they wont let them interview with smaller outlets or bloggers. In this day and age that’s a big mistake. Today’s blogger could be tomorrow’s mogul. Lady Gaga was launched on a blog. So being snotty about smaller journos is stupid. Pitchfork was just a website once too…I’m not saying they should do any and every interview, but with new media, it’s possible for a smaller outlet to get an artist’s music to a lot of people, grassroots style.

TRAffIK: Do you feel that it is the more established artists that aren’t always as cooperative, or is it the newer up and coming artists that more commonly behave in this manner?
AM: Actually, the bigger artists are usually more accommodating. It’s usually the less established artists who are pains in the necks. Or their handlers are. Some artists who have just started to get some traction can sometimes be difficult. They are late or they don’t show up and if they do, they can be sullen or rude. The major artists are usually very graceful and good interviews. That is why they will stick around. The artists that give me a hard time? I rarely see them come through my studio twice. They burn out fast.

TRAffIK: Do you think there is a template that artists should follow when dealing with the media or do you think it should be something that varies among artists?
AM: It’s probably different for each artist depending on their personality and type of music. Some people are comfortable speaking to a journalist and some aren’t. Some have music that lends itself to storytelling and discussion, others don’t. So I think it’s hard to tell people to follow rules. I can give them a general idea of what to do, but they should tailor it to what is comfortable for them and what works for their music/business.

TRAffIK: Most artists/bands get excited to receive any press especially in the beginning. How selective do you think artists should be when deciding who to be interviewed by given the overwhelming amount of music and lifestyle blogs/magazines/websites out there these days)?
AM: Well, in the beginning, it’s not necessarily going to be Rolling Stone knocking on your door. You need to decide if you want to be interviewed by the local paper. Are you someone who is part of the local music scene? Are you only to be known nationally? Are you going for a social media audience? Do you want to brand yourself through a company?? Are you ok shilling for a company and therefore being written up on a corporate company website i.e. for an energy drink? It really depends on what is ok for you and your sound and what you’re going for. Some bands only want to be written up by certain publications and they will have to wait for that press. Others believe that any press is good press.

There is a glut right now of blogs, so it is easier to be written about. It’s up to you to discern if it’s something you think will help get your name out there. Be savvy and look at what the journalist has written about before. Do some research and see if it’s in line with what your music is all about and what you want to be involved with. If that doesn’t matter to you, and you’re just looking to blanket then just go for it.

TRAffIK: What are some of the basic guidelines or rules that you wish artists would abide by when it comes to dealing with the media?
AM: Be polite. It’s like a first date or a job interview. We are actually working when we are sitting there with you… and if we have done our job we have spent hours prepping and researching all about you before you even got there. So be on time and polite and relaxed and ready to talk. I’ve had musicians be out and out hostile right at the start. I’m there to make you look good and help your career. Why are you aggro at me? So just try to relax and have fun and share a little bit about yourself and your music and give your fans a little hint into your world. That makes our job easier and makes you look good.

TRAffIK: Who are some artists/bands that you have seen effectively use the media in a positive way?
AM: There are a lot of examples of artists using the media or press to their advantage musically or otherwise. If you can have the press eating out of your hand and covering your every move, then you are, in essence, using them effectively. As for using them positively? That’s an objective question. Bono uses the press’ attention and he gets to try to pay down world debt. He uses the press as a tool for his own advantage and in turn uses that advantage to help others rather than advance his music because his career is already secure.

As for new bands using the media, I always look at artists who take a different path. Amanda Palmer has done a great job leveraging Twitter. And OK GO has really used YouTube video to their advantage.

TRAffIK: Is there a certain way that you like to be approached by an artist/band who is seeking coverage from you?
AM: If you see me out you can hand me something. You can always send me something through the mail.

An email is probably the other way to go. I prefer a brief introduction of who they are and how they found me or met me…i.e. they read my site/blog or we met in person. Then they can attach an mp3. If they tell me to go to a website and they don’t include a link I probably won’t ever make it there.

Don’t Facebook me or Myspace me… and tell me to be a fan of yours. I get thousands of those and have a hard time getting through them.

TRAffIK: We would consider you to be a SXSW pro by now, having even put on events during this week of music mayhem. Would you have any advice for bands on making the most of their trips to SXSW especially for the first timers? How about just for the general public?
AM: Honestly? Don’t drink too much. I know that sounds like ‘don’t breathe air’, but if you’re planning on getting things done, try to cut back on the binge drinking or you wont remember who you met. Get as many business cards as you can and see as many great acts as you can. Go to the daytime parties…and don’t throw big parties in your room at the Intercontinental. They don’t like it.

TRAffIK: Are there any Panels or Discussions aside from your own that you are looking forward to attending and why?
AM: I’m looking forward to the panels on CBGBs and Bill Hicks…the 1977 CBGBs era of music is one of my favorites and Bill Hicks was a comedic genius…we could really use him today with the current political climate.

TRAffIK: Where can everyone see more of or read more by Ali MacLean?
AM: You can read my blog at and I also blog for the Huffington Post. I’ve taped three comedies this pilot season and I’m developing a new music web series called “Eat To The Beat” with My Damn Channel. More info on that will be updated on my blog.

TRAffIK: Where can people contact you?
AM: You can contact me through my blog or at

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