The Side Barre: On Lessons Learned From My First PR/Management Agency

This is Season 1 Episode 5 of the The Side Barre podcast, developed through Anchor and streamed on Spotify.

Listen now on Spotify and read on to follow the transcript.

On today’s Side Barre I’m going to share a little about working with my first PR & Management company, but before we get underway, since it is the start of a brand new year I also want to share some brand new music with you. 

This track is exclusively available to stream on my website and with the track itself you can read a bit about what inspired the song, the official lyrics, and a little bit about the collaborative effort that brought it all together. 

This is a Crooked Forest song called “Blister”

If you liked the track, you can listen to it anytime you feel like it on I’ll post the link to the blog release in the show notes for easy access and feel free to share it around if you liked it. 

Back to the Barre. 

Back in summer of 2020 when I first released the A Quiet Place To Scream EP, I was surprised when I got a message in my inbox from an artist management agency based out of Quebec here in Canada who seemed interested in the music I was putting out. 

In my own mind, I felt it was entirely too early to be entertaining any sort of conversation around management or publicity for what I was doing then, but I also wanted to get a feel for how these types of conversations might go for me, so I told the person who reached out that they could give me a call and gave them a pretty open availability since I was working remotely from home and had a lot of flexibility. 

I did some digging around their websites as best as I could to learn more about the company and to be honest I was pretty confident just from viewing their website that I wasn’t going to be interested in this particular group, but after a short back-and-fourth I scheduled a call with a man named Arthur. The call and this exchange was set up by someone who stated their role was his assistant for just a couple days later. 

If you’re wondering what stood out to me from the website, it was that this company seemed to have a penchant for Battle of the Bands-style competitions and if you heard Episode 4 “On Adele and Performing For Free,” you know that I’m not such a fan of these types of shows. 

Nonetheless, the day came and I was ready to speak to Arthur. 

And a short time before our call time, I heard from his assistant – Arthur had gotten tied up with some things and wouldn’t be able to make the call. 

Okay, no problem. We re-scheduled. 

And then the day came and I was ready to speak to Arthur, and a short time before our call I heard from his assistant – Arthur had gotten tied up with some things and wouldn’t be able to make the call. 

Okay, no problem. We re-scheduled. 

And then the day came and I thought about the previous exchanges with Arthur’s assistant, my thoughts about the company based on the website and considered canceling while simultaneously wondering if they’d be the ones to cancel again first. 

I reached out to the assistant who confirmed, “Arthur’s schedule is clear today!” and the meeting was on. 

The phone rang a short time later and I answered and we exchanged our hellos. 

And then Arthur said something that almost made me cut him off and end the call right then and there: 

“I actually don’t know a single thing about you, can you tell me where you’re at?”

But Arthur, your assistant said — 

I held my tongue. I gave him a brief run-down of what I was up to. At this point, I’d solidified my stance on Arthur and his agency but I still wanted to see the budget breakdown for PR campaigns, so I made out like I was still interested in what they had to say, which is a talent you really get to hone in well when you work for a corporate machine like I did at the time. 

Before he could send me a breakdown, Arthur needed me to send a couple things to his e-mail: a bio, some contact information and some streaming links for him to show his people

Then he explained that he’d need to hang onto it for a bit while he brought it to his people and after discussing with them, he’d be able to send me some options if and only if they were all interested. 

I’d be lying if I didn’t already get the sense that Arthur was being a sneaky snake here, but I went ahead and sent him what he asked for anyways. 

If my e-mail went out at 7PM on a Saturday night, Arthur’s response came in at 11AM on Sunday morning. 

“Great news!” it exclaimed. “They LOVE your work!” 

Wow! What luck! Not only did I catch all these important people on a totally open and available Saturday night, but they were so stoked that they all signed off on the idea within far less than 24 hours of receiving it. 

This could only mean one thing to an independent artist: either these people know exactly what they’re doing or they don’t know shit. 

I’ll save my comments about the typeface, bold and italics involved in the e-mail that suggested it was a copy and paste effort, but I think you can all gather by what I’ve told you already that this was going absolutely nowhere from the jump and fortunately I was wise enough to steer clear of it. 

Nonetheless I appreciated the budget breakdown where they offered 3-independent offers, explained simply in bullet points and  what they offered: playlists, opportunities for shows, some radio spin, and the cost associated with each. 

They were pretty cheap packages mirroring the pretty cheap website presentation I’d seen already with the most expensive package still coming in somewhere under 4K. 

I thanked Arthur for sending it along and declined anything further. I didn’t explain why, and I didn’t hear from him again for almost a full year when he decided to poke the bear again, which I laughed off and ignored. 

In early September of this year I heard from another company. 

This time, instead of an annoying back–and-fourth originating on Instagram, they sent me what appeared to be a much more detailed and personalized e-mail, meaning they’d at least done enough due diligence to have found my website, so we started from a much better place. 

It’d been almost over a year since my exchange with Arthur and despite knowing that I was on my last legs financially, I knew I wanted to make a strong push to taper of the year after a series of otherwise, pretty unfortunate bad-luck circumstances that had followed me through the summer months. Besides, there’s never anything wrong with just opening the gates of communication. 

I sat on the e-mail for a bit before responding and once again did a bit of poking around. This agency had a much bigger presence online and for simplicity’s sake, they just looked way more professional and legit from the outside looking in. 

So I scheduled a call with the representative who had e-mailed me. That was the second part of this initial exchange that seemed positive, I wasn’t already being batted off to someone else. 

I’d say that there were key things I was looking for in a PR/Management agency at this stage, but there wasn’t really. I’d had some experience previously with other bands working with these types of companies but I still very much consider myself pretty new to the game, and particularly since this would be the first time being in the sole-artists shoes during the conversations, I took it as a brand new experience entirely and that’s often how I explain myself in initial meetings, too. 

You can learn a lot about people by the way they treat the new kid on their first day at school. 

Now I’d be lying if it appeared to me during our initial conversation that they’d done as much digging around my website as I had theirs, but I felt much better speaking to this agency’s rep than I did through any of the exchanges I had with Arthur and his assistant. 

Plus, at this stage I had a lot more music out and a better sense of what I was looking for. 

The initial chat was brief, basically just introductions to assess my needs as an artist and learn a little about who they were as a company and then they’d send me a follow-up e-mail after discussing some package options with their team. So, not too unlike the way the first consultation call went. 

And a short time later the same day, I received the package details. 

It was only one real option but with two different contract lengths associated with it. 

It included a guaranteed minimum of press placements, 2 per week, Spotify playlisting that is supposed to be tailored to finding your niche market and is, written in bold, “not done by bots”, and live show bookings of which the team takes a small cut for every show booked. 

The first option was to take part for 1 month, the second, 3 months. 

I’m no marketing expert here but it seemed to me there would be no way of really assessing any sort of progress with 1 month of vaguely derailed press and Spotify playlists, and since this company was based out of the states, specifically Tennessee, and not my native Canada, I had low expectations for any gigs at all. 

That all said, it seemed reasonably priced for the press and playlisting alone (where reasonable means cheap enough that my stomach was churning at the thought of it), and I was curious how much headway I might be able to make with similar agencies. 

Plus, there was a certain allure of working with an American team – after all, that’s where we’re shooting to base ourselves out of if we’re able to manage it one day, so this could be a positive stepping stone towards that. 

You can file that last one under, “Other Lies We Tell Ourselves”. 

So I thought about the offer for a short time and debated reaching out to other similar teams but ultimately decided to give it a go. 

At this point I was running with a “I’ve got nothing to lose” attitude and cut my losses emotionally as soon as I fired off the payment. Paid in full before any work was done, without signing any sort of paperwork. If I didn’t have the e-mail chain, I’d have no proof of any sort of conversation occurring at all about why this money was heading where it was.

A gamble, for sure, but sometimes you have to take small risks, I tell myself. 

I justified the cost in my head. My 5-day trip to Chicago at the end of July, which was supposed to be a really inexpensive getaway initially, ended up costing nearly the same as this 3-month package, somewhere in the ballpark of $1700 Canadian dollars, or $1300 USD – and this one was supposed to benefit my life and potential career, so it was money well spent. 

As soon as the payment went out I received confirmation from the team. The person I spoke to initially was officially off the thread and I was pushed over to someone else and assured that the team all spoke to each other regularly, so whatever I said to one would in some way get around the others quickly. 

They warned me at the outset that one of the criticisms they’d received was that, “if anything, we’re in communication with our artists TOO much,” something I was curious to learn more about. 

It wasn’t long before e-mails started coming through from various addresses associated with the brand, branching off a big welcome e-mail from the brand’s CEO, who uses a moniker instead of their real name which caught me a little off guard and had me second-guessing myself rather quickly, but not as much as the first e-mail from a member of the team.

All the e-mails started roughly the same with the rep introducing themselves and their role within the group. This one was… a Yoga instructor. 

Uh, okay. 

It gave me a bit of pause. Of all the initial e-mails to receive from a team that I had signed on to for two very specific, non-Yoga related causes, this was the member quickest to get their name in this new door. 

In any case, it seemed a nice offering. They could build you custom Yoga classes to follow to help keep you stress-free and it was just a nice thing included in the package. Sure, I guess. I never used it, but it didn’t hurt to have. 

The other team members had more appropriate roles: Booking Agent, Publicist, Playlist Pitcher. 

And everyone else was by all accounts friendly and seemingly happy to be on board for this short-term contract, so I was optimistic. 

Interview requests came in quickly and in a variety of formats: online radio shows, podcasts, Instagram Lives, and written responses over e-mail. That last one was the most common of them all, although I was surprised at how many podcast requests I received, too. 

But the written interviews quickly left something to be desired. They seemed like they weren’t exactly curated for me specifically as a musician, nor were they pointed to any release in particular. They were generic and I doubted very much that the questions altered from artist to artist. And when they’d begin getting published, I’d find myself poking around those websites, too and wondering just how far of a reach any of these could possibly have given the state of their chosen platform. 

I’d seen these types of websites regularly in the year or so leading up to signing with this group, and most of them charged something like $5-$10 for a similar feature, which is something I’d take note of the more I answered them. 

And there were a lot of cancellations on the podcast end of the spectrum, but more frustrating than that (because these things happen and I’m not in any way unreasonable about personal emergencies or otherwise), was that the publicist on the team never seemed to be able to provide me with much more information about it other than, “go here to schedule it”. 

On the one hand it meant a lot of the interview content itself was largely up to what I wanted to talk about, a plus – on the other hand it also meant I knew nothing about the shows. Were these live or pre-recorded? Should I be promoting these or will I get further information closer to? 

We were officially winging it. 

All in all, out of the many podcasts and interviews I did during my contract, only a couple shows felt really engaging to me and as interested in my work as I was theirs, like the Sisters in Music radio show with Natalie Jean, Live and Amplified podcast with Thomas Kwiat and a short but insightful Instagram Live chat with Kenny Feinstein – something to keep in mind for the future. 

On the playlist end of it all, I was getting added to quite a few. And because I’d given the team a couple different options, every time I got added to one it was like a fun surprise to see which track got picked up. 

It was less fun when I felt the playlist I landed on made no sense for the track it picked. 

But we all know a little about how I feel about streaming and it’s lackluster benefit to independent artists, so I took this in stride, too. At this stage in my career I’m still firmly in the, “even if just 1 person hears this and likes it, that’s cool”.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that these playlist spots didn’t elevate my solo EP “Jestem Krzywym Lasem” far above my initial expectations for its release in late October. To date the debut single “Driveway” sits just over 22,000 spins with the Jaimee Jakobczak channel as a whole spinning to over 2200 listeners monthly. A big distinction from where we’ve been sitting with our Crooked Forest releases which tends to get about 130 listeners a month these days. 

Of course, these spins don’t do anything to improve my standings with my local bank, so when a brand new member of the team reached out to discuss new contract options, I showed them my empty pockets. 

But the reality is that I likely wouldn’t have signed back on with this particular agency regardless, and here’s a couple of the other exchanges that make me say that that I haven’t mentioned yet:

When I first heard from the booking agent, a young man named Colin, I mentioned to him that I was most interested in trying to book some shows in the United States, particularly because, as he expressed to me, I was his first Canadian artist ever and he had no idea where to begin with booking shows in Canada. 

I didn’t say it outright then, but if I was interested in booking shows in Canada, Colin, I would have signed with a Canadian booking company instead. 

Despite this, he set his focus on Canadian cities anyways and I reminded him again that I was really more curious about the potential of breaking into the U.S market and I was open to any and everywhere. 

He explained he didn’t know anything about getting a Canadian artist shows in the states and what that would entail legally and I explained that I was pretty sure it was a type of work-visa I’d require. He let this sit and never looked into it and not long after reminding him of this and how quickly I was able to source the information myself, Colin got a new opportunity elsewhere and I was assigned a new booking agent who … promptly returned to trying to get me shows in Toronto. 

And among those show opportunities included one where I’d have to book the venue myself, a popular blues-venue I’m well familiar with here, and organize and promote the show myself. 

A little more irritated now my e-mails becoming more curt, I explained that I was really adverse to having to rent out and book my own spaces and if that were the case I was already well familiar with the process. 

Needless to say, I lost faith in the booking team quick; fortunately I’ve been savvy enough to get myself many of my own livestream shows in the interim and at least 1 in-person event here in Toronto. 

It was also becoming pretty apparent pretty quickly that team members would get passed around on a whim to artists like me, and I’m not sure if that’s by their request or their management but, it wasn’t making me feel any more confident in this group. 

Over half-way through my contract I heard from another new team member who introduced themselves as a Weekly Success Strategist. They’d hop on calls with you each week to make sure you were getting what you needed out of the group. 

I found this funny. 

For starters, why hadn’t they introduced themselves at the top of the contract? 

For another, well, in short, I brought up at least 1 request in our first call that I felt was a simple one; when I first signed up, I took the time to detail an admittedly lengthy document explaining myself and my projects to the team as whole, including folders where they could find hi-res photos and bios (short and long) for any of their needs and my phone number. This was just as much for the team’s benefit as it was to save me from having to repeat myself to what quickly became something like 8 team members assisting on this 3-month contract. And one of the things I’d been noticing was that it appeared not a single one of them read this documents or poked around the files, because they were constantly asking me for this information. 

The weekly strategist assured me she’d pass along the info, but, nothing changed in this department and that told me about all I needed to know about her own power within this interesting organization. 

Which, by the way, not actually based in Tennessee if you consider the fact that every single person who reached out to me resides in a completely different state, from Missouri to California and everything in between. 

And I largely felt the weekly meetings were unimportant and nothing that couldn’t be handled with a quick e-mail check-in. And apparently the strategist agreed because she flat out ghosted me on one before, yep, you guessed it, someone else took over. 

In the last weeks of my contract, my publicist who had otherwise been pretty good about sharing links to published pieces with me once they went up, had stopped doing so, and after I mentioned to the new weekly strategist that I wasn’t going to renew, their e-mail got deleted entirely within a day of our last conversation – before I could even say goodbye! 

They say you get what you pay for and based on everything, I guess what I paid for was 20,000 streams on Spotify and a couple introductions to some podcasters who actually seem to have a bit of an idea what they’re doing, so there’s that. 

And as I’ve mentioned already, I absolutely wouldn’t sign on with this group again, but if nothing else it was an interesting experiment full of some fun experiences and minor frustrations. 

And at least now I have a better sense of what I’d be looking for and the types of questions I’d be sure to ask from the outset, starting with, what’s the CEO’s real name and why do they use a moniker? 

The other things I’d be looking for are real stats of what I should expect given the parameters of my contract. What type of spins they normally see using their playlist pitching, some examples of their artists who have been playlisted and where I could sample some of those lists; Some samples of interviews their artists have completed and the blogs they reside on and finally, I’d be asking for more information about the types of podcasts and radio appearances they’re generally able to source. And on the booking end of things, I’d be sure to be extra clear about what I was looking for and ensuring they’re the type of team that can pull it off. 

And for the record, I in no way believe this contract was priced appropriately. With some digging and spending a little more time, I could’ve gotten many of the same types of placements at a fraction of the cost, which is something I’ll definitely bare in mind going forward. 

Normally at this point in the Side Barre I’d switch gears to another topic, but I think this has been enough for you to chew on if you’re an independent artist curious about these types of agencies and what you might get out of them, so that’s it for today. 

Happy new year and see ya next time. 

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