Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Now available of Bandcamp!

Now available on Bandcamp!

Now available on Bandcamp!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Are CDs Still Relevant During COVID-19?: In Conversation With Publicist Chris DiGirolamo

The relevance of CDs is a question I've been asking myself a lot--especially in recent weeks since deciding to release three live recordings in digital-only formats. (Check them out here on BANDCAMP.)

I'm sure many feel my pain when I say that I've grown tired of trying to find space in my Harlem apartment for the boxes of CDs that I'm sure I will never sell. I'm someone who releases a lot of CDs, so mass-cheap-plastic accumulation has become a real problem for me. To be honest, I've actually entertained the thought of scaling back on releasing recordings, for the simple reason of space. 

Mind you, this is not just a recent COVID-19 concern. I've pondered this issue since 2010. The main reason I never altered my course of action: I wanted to get my recordings reviewed. Many publications had (or have) a hardcopy-only policy. 

Well, fortunately, things are opening up. Publications are now more willing to review recordings being released in the digital-only format. As I see it, this will save time, money, and certainly space. More importantly, it will afford us opportunities to be more creative and prolific. 

To do publicity for my current releases--Free Wyoming, Sonic Journey, and Subspace Interception-- I’ve reached out to publicity veteran, Chris DiGirolamo from Two for the Show Media, someone I've been working with since 2009 when I released Blue Soliloquy. And Chris has gotten me some top-shelf publicity, too: a feature on NPR's Fresh Air, a rave review in the New York Times, and a significant boost in the Downbeat Critics Polls.  No complaints here!

So, I figured it's only appropriate that I pick his brain about releasing digital-only recordings in this current environment, and what that means in terms of a publicity campaign.

Sam Newsome: Chris. Straight to the point. How does a digital-only campaign differ from conventional campaigns involving CDs and maybe even vinyl?

Chris DiGirolamo: Well, Sam, I think many of us are going to see "digital-only" as the new approach. I have found a number of positives.  Aside from the tremendous amount of outreach it creates, it allows the publicist to monitor who listened and who did not. Gone are the days of the artist running into a writer and them saying "I didn’t get or didn’t hear it." Sorry, brother, I have the proof right here. It is more direct and grants more information to the publicist that we never had prior. Also, let’s not forget the $800.00 in postage and the cost for 1000 CDs that become furniture you save on. It is just so much more sensible for 2020. 

SN: Amen on that one, brother! Do you feel your client has better opportunities for publicity if they have their music available in physical and digital formats? Or does it simply depend on the person and the music?

CG: I really think this is personal to the person. I cannot remember the last time I personally played a CD. I have hundreds of hours of music just on my phone alone. Its preference. let’s be real- it will all be digital eventually.  The physical CD will become like the rabbit ear antennas we grew up with. Lol!

SN: We actually had a conversation about digital-only releases a few years back. And you expressed to me that this would be difficult without at least sending writers a generic CDR of the music. What changed? And when did it change?

CD: Yes, we did. And it was difficult at that time. What basically has changed is just the timeline and technology. We are a few more years from that conversation, where many colleagues in our business have adjusted to the digital side as well. It has changed slowly and we still have a group who are still holding on to “I need my CD.”  It will eventually be digi. It is a no brainer. You have all of the materials for the listener and you have saved HUGE costs. And again, we can monitor!

SN: Many musicians see hiring a publicist as a waste of money, whether promoting digital or physical formats. Any merit to this? As you know, I don’t agree with this.

CD: If PR was a waste of money I would not be here for fifteen years. PR is a waste of money when the artist does not understand what the publicist is doing for them. I have seen musicians at comparable talent levels take PR and do amazing things with it. Then there are some who think their ego was hurt and it’s all BS. I use the DB critics poll as an example. If you are listed, it is amazing and you can’t believe it. (You thank Mom, the dog, etc.)  If you do not get listed it is BS. Same principle. When the media digs you, PR is great.  When they don’t respond as you would like, it is a waste of money. It is an opinion I respect. I never spend someone else's money. 

SN: We’ve all heard that famous philosophical question: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" I’ve often thought something similar to releasing recordings: If you release a recording and no publicity is done to promote that recording, do you really have a new release out? What are your thoughts on this?

CD: Sam I have a saying that's pretty clear. “What's the use of purchasing a new Porsche if you are going to buy it with no wheels." 

SN: Let's talk about different styles of music. Some musicians feel you need to play weird music or have some kind of shtick to get any kind of press. Branford Marsalis calls it "interview- music." What's been your experience?

CD: If someone is playing their music just to be covered, they should shut down shop NOW. You are a perfect example of that approach and dedication. You do what Sam does. We want the media to understand what YOU are doing. Sam Newsome is a “Soprano Saxophonist, Improviser, Solo Performer & Sound Enthusiast.”  You do not do what you do to get press. We both know that. I am not into” shtick" thing. Musicians have put in hundreds of hours to master a skill. It has to be real. IMO. There are writers who love the “left-of-center” material, but you have to know your contacts. I think we both know them. 

SN: I think we can agree that my work is left-of-center. Do you feel there are more opportunities to get press for musicians who are more experimental? Or is it easier for more straight-ahead clients?

 CD: Honestly, Sam, it really depends on the media you are serving. I am not sending your new releases to people that like the Great American Songbook. Your PR efforts should be constructed around a serviced list of people who would be interested.  EVERY writer has interests that a publicist NEEDS to know.  Otherwise, you are throwing it against the wall to see what sticks. Which is why publicists can get a bad rep. 

 SN: Do you feel blogs are becoming more important to publicity than traditional print publications? Or are they both running the same race?

CD: I believe it really is a race that print is STILL winning. Bottom line: we would rather be in the New York Times than Louie's Music Blog. I personally feel every bit of coverage is positive. Some have more value and some are to just keep the fire burning. It all has value. It may not be the value your ego needs, but it all helps.  

 SN: What can musicians do to get writers and the general public more excited about their work?

CD: Sam, I have been saying for 20 years, the musicians need to market their live performances. Meaning record everything and release live music.  Your studio material is on every streaming service for 5 cents a month. So, do something different to benefit instead of complaining about what you will NEVER change. Change the live experience for your fan base.  When they get to your gig, give them a thank you card for attending with a download code on it. This could allow them to download the performance the next day from your site. It's giving, it brings people to the site and allows them to relive the event. (You also now have their contact information as well to build database.)  I think what we have seen lately is how musicians all of sudden are thrilled about their streaming events. That is something else that will aid in getting more people interested.  

SN: One of the most insightful things you said to me years ago, was that the biggest mistake most musicians make is that they put out one recording of something and move on—never really building on the idea. Over the years I’ve felt I’ve built an identifiable brand, not necessarily from great work, but from the consistency of my work. What are your thoughts on this?

CD: You have completely nailed it. More today than ever before you must stay on your branding. I tell every musician who wants to pursue professional music, “You now are a business owner.” You must take the approach as such. You must maintain the quality (practice and performance) and you must maintain the business side (pricing, time, etc.). You must maintain. With the new outlets that have come from COVID-19 you have no excuse. 

SN: I know it’s hard to say right now, but what effect do feel the COVID-19 will have on the world of publicity?

CD: It will all be positive. When humans are all in fear-mode.We cannot see the amazing things that are actually going on. I have heard more new music than ever. I have seen musicians really expand their personal growth through streaming and social media. I have seen a number of videos where people were afraid to “open” up and post. Now they feel good about their playing as many would complement them. What about the networking that has occurred. The new teaching business’ The opportunity to now hold a rehearsal online … I could go on and on.  

This is a very good time for the arts, you will see. We all lost money.  Now how do we make it work? And by the way, this will happen again in another 20 years. It always is changing.  I remember in 2006 every record company was closing. We were DONE!  Now how many artists have been able to be heard because of that. It’s all good. Music and Bad are two words I never use. It will all be good Sam! Promise!

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Thoughts on Music - Episode 17: Shaking up the Status Quo, Three Stages of Acceptance

Here, I'm discussing the three stages of acceptance. Stage 1: First, they DOUBT you. Stage 2: Then they LOVE you. Stage 3: Then they IMITATE you.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Looking for a University Teaching Gig? Some Things You Might Want to Consider

So you want a teaching gig? Well, the good news is that you can get one. The bad news is that securing one is a little more complicated than you might think. I've been full-time for going on 14 years and I'm happy to say that I've been tenured for half of those years. For those of you not familiar with academia, tenure means you have a job for life--as long as you don't do anything stupid, or your department doesn't fold. 

News flash! Universities operate by different rules than the rest of the world. They really do. It's a weird mix of politics, merit, being a good fit, and plain old luck. It's a more slippery landscape than Washington, DC politics. At least a US president or senator will most likely serve out their term. A university president, dean, or department chair could be gone by the end of a semester. So what you thought was the agenda is no longer. 

Why is this important? Well, when times are precarious, many musicians think, "Let me go back to school and get my degree so that I can get a teaching gig." Unfortunately, the performing arts are not that simple. Yes, the degree is essential, but it only permits you to enter the game. Playing and winning it is a hyper-nuanced process. 

I'm sure many of you have sent your resumes to numerous universities, to no avail. There's a reason for this: just from looking at your resume, they have no idea who you are, or if you can function in their unique political and learning environment. Again, this can change at the drop of a dime. Three things tend to put their minds at ease: experience, experience, experience--not a degree, degree, degree. A person with a master's degree and a ton of experience has much more value than someone with a Ph.D. straight out of jazz school. Mind you, some universities are pretty strict about their degree requirements. They would turn down Sonny Rollins if he applied and hire the person who did their dissertation on Sonny Rollins. This world can be pretty wacky at times!

Back to my earlier point, I've sat on numerous university hiring committees, and sitting across from me was a brilliant and talented person that I knew it did not have a shot in hell of getting the gig. It was usually for three reasons:

  1. We did not know them—before and after interviewing them.
  2. They didn't have the experience needed.
  3. What they were offering was not what the university nor department needed.

University positions--and I'm speaking of the performing arts--tend to fall into one of three categories: 
  1. administrative heavy (student advising, recruitment, and program coordinating);
  2.  teaching-focused (lecture-style classes); 
  3. and performance-centered (privates lessons and ensembles). 

Many departments require you to dapple in all three, but you will most likely need to have one as your forte. When you show up for your interview, keep in mind that the hiring committee already knows what they're looking for, and sometimes who they want. And this is the fourth reason why we knew someone wasn't getting hired. In some cases, the hiring process is rigged. Yes. You've heard it here. Not only do they know what they want, but the committee also knows who they want and this whole search-for-a candidate-thing is just a mere formality. Some call it a fake search. This is not always true, but in a lot of cases, it is. There have been a few occasions where I went up to someone and said, "Hey, did you know John Doe College is doing a search. And they were like, "Yeah, I'm going to apply, but I already know so and so is going to get it, since he already teaches there." As I've said, it's not always like this, but it does happen more often than you might think.

There have been a few situations where a coveted university position became available and because the person spearheading the search contacted me personally, I was ushered into the final round. Why? It wasn't because I'm so great, nor super-famous, but because they were confident that I knew the culture of higher learning, and could come in without having someone hold my hand. This is very important. There's no getting-used-to-the-gig period. You're handed the steering while going 90 MPH and are expected to handle the vehicle like a pro. That's why you have to get your experience before interviewing for the position.

When LIU hired me, on paper, I was the least qualified of the three finalists--another situation where I was ushered into the final round. One of the candidates had a master's degree in jazz performance from NEC and extensive teaching and performance experience; the other had a Ph.D. in music composition, but very little experience; and I only had my bachelor's degree from Berklee. However, what the department needed was someone who had experience with grant writing, someone with cross-cultural interests, and, most importantly, someone who had the temperament for their current body of students. At that particular time, I was the right candidate. I failed to mention that I taught there for two years prior as an adjunct. So everyone was pulling for me—even folks in other departments like anthropology, theater, dance, and visual arts. 

But back to my original point of how to have your resume looked at more favorably and how you can become a more competitive candidate. What most hiring committees and departments look for is experience, and maybe some name recognition, if it's a high profile university or conservatory. 

The next big question. How to get experience?

It's good to use the same approach that one would use to secure a desired gig at a jazz club. For example, if you wanted to play at Smalls, you can't just send the owner Spike Wilner a demo tape and expect him to call you back asking which weekend you'd like to play there. 

There are only three ways to get a gig at Smalls:
  1. You have to hang out there and become a part of the culture.
  2. You have to be a regular member of bands that regularly perform there.
  3. You have to be so famous that your reputation precedes you.

Getting a university gig is not so different. In most cases, you can't just send your CV to the department chair and expect to get a call back because they have a well-paying position for you. 

My advice: Instead of waiting to hit the lottery, you can take smaller steps to get your feet in the door. 

Try these things:
  1. Show up to student concerts and recitals performed at universities you'd like to teach. Shake hands with some of the faculty and students. Get to know them.
  2. Attend the gigs of professors who have influence at universities you'd like to teach. 
  3. And a really good way to get your feet in the door is to ask to be on the sublist of someone already teaching at a university. This is also how many musicians infiltrate the Broadway musical scene. 
Unlike other fields, people in the performing arts still perform, especially in music. Trust me when I say we're always looking for reliable folks that we can call last minute. Also, whatever they're offering you financially, take it--within reason, of course. There's a time and place to play hardball. If someone is calling you to sub for them, they're usually paying you out of pocket. See the bigger picture: you're trying to build a relationship. 

University professors call subs that they like, are available, are dependable, who can conduct themselves in a classroom setting, and are not going to be a significant pain in the ass. Here's another point to ponder: If your specialty is big band arranging and jazz composition, don't hold out for the perfect position to become available. If someone offers you a beginner piano student, take it. Again, if that coveted composition class, jazz ensemble director, or head of the saxophone department becomes available, who do you think they're going to call? Most likely someone they have a relationship with, and someone with whom the other students and faculty are familiar. 

Another thing to think about: When you do apply for positions elsewhere, everybody needs letters of recommendation. Which will be more impactful? The one from the leader of the club date band you play with, or the one from an actual university professor who has gotten a chance to see you in action and observe how you vibe with faculty and students. This helps, even if you were just a sub.

None of these things I discuss will guarantee you a tenure-track position nor one as an adjunct. The needs of universities and their various departments are always in flux--which is good. If not now, it could mean opportunities down the road. You really never know!

Even though the things discussed won't automatically secure a gig for you, they will give the following:
  1. The classroom experience that you need.
  2. A better understanding of university politics.
  3. Some weighty substance for your resume. 
So, good luck with the search and note that opportunities reveal themselves in many guises.

Oh, and there's one last thing you can do. Always be professional and treat every person and situation you're in with the utmost respect. You'd be amazed at how small our world really is!