Industry Insight returns and in this episode we chat to Urban Rebel PR head honcho Vass, who talks about his work with Hardwell, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike and Lost Frequencies
In any business, public relations plays a very important part in how that business is perceived by the public, so it is only natural that it is an important part of any artist’s career – just look at the latest antics surrounding Azealia Banks for an example of bad PR. For artists such as Hardwell, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike and Lost Frequencies, who are constantly in the limelight, they need to have huge and intricate PR schedules and plans in place (as well as top quality music) to ensure that everything is done for them to remain at the top of the dance music ladder. We had the pleasure of talking to Vass, the man behind the PR for many of the scene’s leading stars, to talk about all things related to PR, as well as tips for those who want to pursue a career in the industry.
Hi Vass, thanks for taking time to answer these few questions about your role within Urban Rebel PR. Just to get things kicked off, can you tell us a bit about how you first got involved in the industry and a typical day in the life of Vass?
I know to say “no two days are the same” is a bit of a cliché but that’s a pretty spot on truth with music PR. You’re dealing with a lot of variables of say an artist’s career or a tour so you can never be quite sure what each day will throw up. That’s also the beauty of it. As a team we focus on international PR so many of our clients and contacts are based across several different countries and time zones, which means one of the first tasks of the day is bringing myself back up to date with any work related conversations or pressing issues. Another early morning ritual is leafing through the news to bring myself up to date with what’s happening – this is very much an on-going task especially as the internet has really sped up the way stories travel these days. After a few hours of catching up on emails and working through the day’s deliverables, each day then differs from what projects you’re working on depending if we’ve got album releases coming up or a specific tour run or event forthcoming etc. It’s a communications job so naturally it involves a lot of phone calls, meetings and so on.
PR is an extremely important sector of the music industry, what enticed you about working in the PR sector of the scene?
I was always interested in the media side of the music business. I grew up on a diet of hard rock and Hip Hop, thanks to my brothers, and used to soak up all the stories that magazines like Kerrang and The Source would write about the various bands and rappers I liked. I got hooked onto dance music pretty early on in life. Going to my first club at 15 – to see the late great Tony De Vit play. After that I tried to soak up as much information as I could. Printed magazines like Ministry, Muzik etc were bibles to me back then. I knew early on I wanted to be a part of the industry, and although I DJed for a short while, I felt promotions was where my heart lay most so I pursued that as my ‘career’ goal. Being a part of the process that helps communicate an artists story or involved in getting the news out there about new events or projects is something I’ve always enjoyed.
Urban Rebel PR is your very own PR agency and the home to many of the world’s leading DJ’s and producers. What made you decide to establish your own PR agency?
I’d worked at a PR agency before, and involved with artist management agencies, on a PR level, before that, and I hit a point where I felt it was time to branch out on my own and become more involved with a specific side of the industry. Around this point I’d been involved with clients across a few genres in house, techno, trance etc so was very familiar with the different scenes. So when I launched URPR back in 2009 it was with an aim to bridge the divide between the music and mainstream media. Of course this has become a lot easier with the recent successes that dance music has achieved.
Hardwell, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Lost Frequencies and Paul Oakenfold are just a few of your clients. What kind of tasks and work is involved in looking after the public relations side of an artist’s career and how do you decide whether to take on client or not?
It’s a different approach with each artist because they’ve each got an individual direction for their career and where they want to be heading with their music. We’re on hand to back the client with a full 360 media approach so providing support across traditional forms of press through to digital and social media. Our role is to individually help their profile and music breathe in the media. For example we build into their touring schedule pre-show interviews and more often than not press conferences at the event. This allows the artist to get a direct conversation going with the local media and put across their story in person. We’ll also set-up meet & greet opportunities at these shows to give fans and artist a chance to meet with each other. This is where social media is really handy because these days you can run the entire invitation via the artist/events socials and have an immediate connection with the fans, and these meet & greets are really great chance for the fans to meet with artist.
The decision as to whether we take on a client or not is based on a number of factors. For instance, if discussing an artist then first and foremost it’s about the music. If we’re not into the music or understand the artist’s vision then it’s not going to work. Yes, it’s true that PR is in part a sales job, but you can’t bullshit your way through it if you’re not into the music, the culture and scene as a whole. It’s not what any of us are in this for. So for us it’s just a really simple process of we’re only looking to work with projects that we truly care about.
How stressful can the job be and would you consider PR to be a typical ‘9-5, five days a week’ job?
Well it’s definitely not a typical 9-5 job but I think that goes for most jobs in the music industry. It’s very much a lifestyle choice, as well as a career one, because there’s not a lot of distance between the week and the weekends. So you really do have to have a passion for it but if you do then it’s one of the best jobs going. Music PR is a pretty fast paced industry that involves a lot of planning, deadlines etc so naturally with that there can be a bit of pressure, but it’s how you operate under that pressure which really marks you out. It’s not a job for everyone.
At what point in an artist’s career do you think that they should considering hiring an agency or agent to take care of their PR?
Before hiring an agency I’d suggest reviewing where you are at with your career. Do you really feel the time is right for PR? What benefits do you believe hiring a PR will bring to your career? All too often an artist will sign with a PR agency just because they’re following what other people are doing and want to replicate that artist’s success or their media traction. The success an artist has with their own PR should be an individual development and not something built on the model of others. I’ve worked with artists in the past who have bemoaned the success of their previous PR agent but when you look into their history it’s clearly obvious that at that period in their career they weren’t ready for a full PR campaign and so it was always going to be a struggle. So what I’d say, and this is very obvious, but if you do choose to hire someone then make sure you’ve got your ducks in a row and get all your information updated, get your music/projects ready to go and any other assets he or she may need.
When working on an artist’s image, what are the main areas you would focus on?
With dance music now being in the spotlight of not just the wider reaching music media but also the entire world’s press, it’s important for us to help cultivate an artist’s own style within the media. By this, I mean, what’s their story, what are they trying to say, etc. Our first task when working with an artist is to determine what their vision is. We’ll then build a strategy around this vision and put together a plan that really allows them to express this through the media. From our end we’re trying to build a story and message in the press that showcases their identity. This media exposure needs to protect their integrity and open up new channels to their audience. For that reason it’s a long game, which means it’s a lot more than just about column inches and front covers but rather the longevity of this development.
What advice do you have for any of our readers who are interested in working within the PR sector of the scene and what characteristics do you feel an individual needs to have a successful career in PR?
Don’t be afraid to get stuck in and try your hand at a few different areas. Internships are a great gateway into the industry and offer the opportunity to get a taste of different sides of the industry – it’s all value knowledge that you may one day draw upon. Strong communication skills are crucial and you need to be articulate, reliable, well organised and someone who is an ideas person. A love of media and passion for the music is absolutely essential.
Can you give us some news as to what your clients are currently up to and what we can expect from them in the near future?
There are a lot of really exciting projects coming up in the near future. For instance, Lost Frequencies just announced news of his next single ‘Beautiful Life’ (out June 3rd) and his first artist album will be coming soon too. There’s a huge amount of interest and excitement around these releases. Not surprisingly given the phenomenal worldwide success he’s had with his singles ‘Are You With Me’ and ‘Reality’.
We’re also expecting the debut album from Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike later this year. Their next single ‘Melody’ is a collaboration with fellow 3 Are Legend brother Steve Aoki and Ummet Ozcan and the record has been selected as the Euro 2016 anthem for the Belgian Football team, which is pretty special for the guys! The boys will also be back on the white isle this summer with their infamous House of Madness at Amnesia and the line-up this year is the strongest one yet! Paul Oakenfold will also put out a new studio album this year – fans can expect more on that very soon. The last few months have also seen the return of Ferry Corsten’s much-loved Gouryella alias. The fan and industry reaction to the new live show concept has been nothing short of amazing. ‘Anahera’ really stirred up a lot of love from the fans so the future is looking very bright for Gouryella.
Another person who has been extremely busy lately is Hardwell. He’s been touring a lot recently and we’ve seen new music from him to with the brilliant ‘Calavera’ collaboration he did with KURA. Fans will soon be able to get their hands on the track he did with Craig David (No Holding Back), and he has more music to come over the summer months. Also this summer Hardwell kick starts his 3rd successive summer at Ushuaia Ibiza. It’s an exciting prospect this season because he’s going for a completely new direction with his theme. He’s been one of the strongest performers on the island week-to-week for the past few summers, so this year is definitely going to be a key moment in cementing his connection with the island.
What does 2016 and the future hold for yourself and Urban Rebel PR?
Looking forward with the agency we’re in talks about a possible merger that would see us expand our operations in a new direction. Meanwhile continuing with the traditions of the agency we’re looking at having a permanent Rebel Base residence in Ibiza.
You can keep up to date with all things Urban Rebel PR via the links below.