What was your career path? Did you go to college? I majored in history at Vassar and then I became a paralegal for a big law firm. I was on my way to law school when I started freelance writing because I was interested in pop culture. A friend of mine, Kevin Powell, encouraged me to try and get published. He was very instrumental when I was starting to write. I go published in Vibe and a few other magazines, just little pieces here and there. That led to me working at Arista’s publicity department as an assistant. I was just trying to meet more editors to get more writing assignments, and plus, I liked music. Arista went through some changes and I ended up taking on more responsibilities, so basically I got into public relations by accident. I started doing campaigns and reaching out to journalists. I was there at Arista when Bad Boy was launching Craig Mack and Biggie, so that was interesting to work with them from the ground up. I got an offer to go over to Jive, where I worked with KRS-One and Tribe Called Quest. I ended up coming to Universal from Jive. To sum it up, I went to college to go to law school but I ended up in publicity, and due to having solid relationships with journalists and editors and growing with those people, I was able to get this position. I think it’s a real blessing to work around music and creativity at this level. Since your degree isn’t applicable to the music industry, do you think college was a waste of time? No, I don’t. There are different types of publicity – there’s event planning, personal party publicists, and publicity for a label. Publicity for a label involves strategically planning from the ground up. You’re taking a completely unknown artist from A to Z. It encompasses the other parts of publicity. A lot of people think it’s just getting into parties and stuff like that, but you need skills to do this type of job. You need to be able to analyze the artist; figure out how they’re different from everybody else. You’ve got to be able to sell them to smart people, because writers and journalists read just about everything. You can’t pull the wool over them. You have to be articulate. Fresh out of high school, I don’t think you have the skills you’d need. Universal is one of the few labels that does press junkets for local magazines. How important do you think grassroots publications are? I think they’re absolutely essential. I started doing junkets back at Jive, working with E-40. I’m from Colorado, so I was familiar with E-40 and Too Short, but a lot of the writers were very isolated. Outkast had just started – I worked with them at Arista, actually – but outside of the East Coast it was basically just Death Row. No one really understood who E-40 was. I flew out a bunch of journalists to Vallejo, California. No one understood what his reality was like until we got to his house party and we saw how he flowed. After that, we all got it – who he was, what the music was about. We did a press junket again for Cash Money. We flew all the magazines out to New Orleans. When Juvenile came out with “Ha,” they didn’t understand. But when you go down to New Orleans and see how people were living then, you can understand his lyrics. That’s how the junket concept came about; just trying to help journalists understand how the music is shaped by the artists’ environment. In every region, there’s a magazine that means more and has more of a reach than some of the national magazines, because people are familiar with them and they support local artists a lot more. It’s just like a mixtape. To me, street magazines are like mixtapes. Grassroots magazines reach out to people immediately.
seeing it through. Persistence counts too. If you’re trying to get the attention of a major label, you’ve got to make sure that we receive magazines regularly. If it’s not on stands, we don’t know how regularly it comes out.
Wendy Washington Senior VP of Media Relations
If you read something negative about an artist you represent, are you personally offended? When you’re an artist, everything is fair game. Some people are gonna like your album, some aren’t. Some people are gonna like what you stand for, and some aren’t. Everything is par for the course, and I understand that. I also understand that sometimes it doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad, sometimes it’s just free advertising. I try to maintain a professional stance, but I do get rubbed the wrong way when something is misquoted or unfairly written. If there’s a negative article and the writer clearly doesn’t respect the artist or the rap genre, I have a problem with that. But I don’t expect everything to be rosy and wonderful. If your artist gets arrested, are you secretly happy for the publicity? No, never. If an artist is talented they’ll get the press anyway. I don’t think you need negativity to fuel press. Unfortunately, a lot of press does thrive off negativity. A talented artist with a great product doesn’t need those gimmicks. What advice would you give to someone trying to start up a grassroots publication? One thing that we look at with these junkets is follow through. Do you have a track record? If we invest our money in you by making sure you have great editorial content – not just ten minutes on the phone or before the show in your area – are you gonna be around in a few months? Starting up, you really have to have a business plan or something that shows you’re committed to
Have you ever been put in a position where you had to promote a product you didn’t personally agree with? Like, for example, Nelly’s “Tip Drill”? I do believe in everyone’s right to express themselves creatively and artistically. I’ve only been in a position once or twice where I objected to something and chose not to work that project. As far as “Tip Drill,” I felt that Nelly had the right to express himself. But do I agree with some of the decisions that young women make to get into this business? No, I don’t. Ladies can keep their clothes on – they don’t need to do that to make it in this business. I think the “Tip Drill” video did start a healthy debate in hip-hop. I don’t feel compromised as a woman by the records that I’m promoting, but that doesn’t mean I agree with everything. Sometimes I have questions, and I’m in a position where I can question an artist one-on-one. Hopefully through that dialogue I can inspire them to think, but I also believe in their freedom. Have you ever represented an artist who wouldn’t show up for interviews? Absolutely. At first I used to get really upset, but now, if I’ve got an artist like that, I just don’t make commitments on their behalf. There’s so many artists and so few slots for artists trying to get signed, so if they don’t want it, someone else does. You have a lot of staff in your publicity department. How do you make sure everything runs smoothly internally? Luckily, it just seems like the staff is large, because this time around we have a lot of great interns. This is another reason people need to stay in school, because a lot of companies won’t let you intern anymore unless you’re in college and receiving credit for doing an internship. It’s not as easy as it once was. So, it looks like we have a bigger staff than we actually do. With the last press junket, there was really just four of us that put together the whole thing, and we just stay focused. It took 3-4 weeks of consistently getting together and planning; trying to assign people different tasks. What are you looking for when you select interns? The interns that stand out to me are the ones that don’t stand around and don’t need to be told what to do. They’re like, “How can I help? What can I do?” They take initiative. If you see me running around, nobody should be standing still. A lot of people think things are beneath them, like running to the store or getting clips. Things like that show follow through. No matter how trivial or small you think the job you’re doing is, someone’s always paying attention. If you don’t have to ask someone two or three times to do a small task, that establishes their credibility. We’ve hired some interns because they were ready for more responsibility, but a lot of people feel like, “I didn’t know I was coming up here to run errands and do clippings.” The ones that get more out of the experience are the ones that do it without complaining. They’re bright and eager.
“No matter how trivial or small you think the job you’re doing is, someone’s always paying attention.”
How could someone apply for an internship? Send in your resume to the Universal/Motown Records Media Relations Department/Internship at 1755 Broadway, New York, NY, 10019. OZONE AUGUST 2005
Ozone Mag #37 - Aug 2005