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"We are advertised by our loving friends"
— Press Relations People in the Record Business

Mar, 2004

If you ever wonder how those who review recorded music get all those recordings in the first place, you might like to learn about what it is like to be in charge of publicity. I must say, it is a very tricky position to hold down in some companies, not so bad in others, and probably a mixture of nightmare and passion (in the non-suffering sense of the word) for a person who loves music.

Take the case of Universal Music. From what I recall, there used to be a separate classical music publicity person to handle Deutsche Grammophon, Decca and Philips. Then I was informed that a single person would be handling publicity for all three labels’ classical releases. Since then, the Decca Broadway musical CDs were taken over by an independent company called The Karpel Group that does a lot of business with Broadway people and therefore can do a very good job sending Broadway CDs out to reviewers. (And some of those CDs are historical stunners!)

I recall talking to a publicity person who had left a major music company to form her own publicity business. She complained at great length about how some of her fellow workers were assigned to top opera stars whose very names sold albums with very little effort on the publicists’ parts, while she was getting lesser talents that took a good deal of work to move their recordings off the shelves.

In the old days, a publicist would go to their "A-list" of reviewers, pack about 6 to 10 CDs into a padded envelope or box, and send them out. After a while, only one or two would be sent out with a list from which the reviewers would choose the items they wished to receive for their columns. Now most companies simply send the list.

Whenever I ask what the "return" is, they always say that it is around 10%. This means that only 10% of those reviewers who get the unasked for CDs actually review them and send in hard copies to the publicity person and (worse yet) that 10% of those who specifically request them show that courtesy.

I try very hard to review 100% of the items I get. Those I do not review might be music I truly detest or do not appreciate, or music I like but do not feel qualified to comment upon, or yet another (say) Beethoven Fifth that is not needed in a catalogue already filled with Beethoven Fifths. But of those I do review, 100% of the hard copies are sent to the persons who were kind enough to send me the CDs or DVDs.

One of the most accommodating of the classical label publicists with whom I deal is the one at Naxos down there in Franklin, Tennessee. Her name is Rebecca Davis and she is the only person in charge of all the new releases—not only those on the Naxos label but on many labels from Europe that Naxos distributes here—and deals with 1300 members of the press and radio in the US. A tiny few of them get batches of new releases, the others are sent request lists from which to choose. When the reviews do come in, she puts some of them into a digest form on the Naxos of America website.

Add to this that she has to help design and write the text for their monthly bulletin sent out to reviewers and now and then create a special campaign for a particular recording. One single CD, I am told, thanks to "retail promotions, a heavy press push, and great word of mouth" has sold 7200 copies in under three months.

She mentions that radio people tend to play the discs she sends them in a far greater ratio than writers send in reviews. Better than reviews of individual discs are articles that refer to "the comprehensive nature of our catalogue as the strength of our label as a whole."

Naxos has many classical series, my favorites being the Classics Explained series, in which symphonic works are given a bar-by-bar analysis on two CDs; and the Opera Explained series, in which operatic works are introduced and analyzed on a single CD.

Is the job of coordinating all of this one that I would like to have? Or you? I get the impression that these people with whom I deal love music and love their jobs. Reviewers love writing about their products. Readers, we hope, love reading the reviews. What a perfect relationship, as we hear in "Bells Are Ringing."

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