Issue 130, interview with promoter Ann Braithwaite, of B&K Communications

Zzaj: You’ve been doing promotion for bands for a LONG time, in my memory, anyway… is there more to it than “just the money”?  If so, what?

Ann:   I do this work because I love great music and want to help spread the gospel of great music.  I kind of see myself as a matchmaker between the artist and the public – via the press.  Brian Coleman, who works with me, does this work for the same reason. I don’t think anyone gets into music PR  for the money –- I could make at least three-times more if I went into another type of PR, but then I’d be bored.  I’ve been doing this for 15 years – I was working at a non-profit arts organization and wanted to be able to help artists more directly, so I quit my job and started the business.

Zzaj:  Do YOU play a musical instrument?  If so, what; & did that contribute (in any way) to your deciding to be a promoter?  If NOT, how are you able to “judge” whether a band will be successful (based on your promotion)?

Ann: I grew up playing a bit of piano and then a lot of clarinet.  Classical.  I haven’t been playing a lot lately, though I’m dying to get back into it and play klezmer, one of my favorite kinds of music – at least in the hands of someone like David Krakauer or Naftule’s Dream.

When I was in high school most of my friends were in the jazz band and we’d sneak into clubs like the Jazz Showcase in Chicago to hear folks play.  The pinnacle listening experience during that time was going to hear Sun Ra in a club in Philly – we were on a band trip and snuck out after curfew to go hear him.  WOW!  That opened my eyes and ears a lot.  We don’t pick bands to work with on the basis of their being successful – we choose our clients based on the fact that we love their music.  We actually turn a lot of people down because we don’t feel we can do their music justice.  I wouldn’t send you a CD I didn’t personally feel strongly about, because that’s a waste of everyone’s time.

The clients who become most successful get out and tour, and if they’re just starting out they tour like a rock band – meaning they get in their cars and drive to the gigs and play anywhere they can to play for lots of people.  That helps to translate into more CD sales, helps to give the press a reason to write about them, etc.  That’s what Medeski, Martin and Wood did when they first started out and it really has worked.

Zzaj:  Have you promoted any “home-produced” bands?  Or are they all pretty much “studio”?

Ann: We’ve worked with a range of music, from garage recordings to big-budget studio recordings.  These days some very talented artists are putting out their own music – for example, there’s a guy named Dave Storrs out in Oregon who’s doing some great music on his Louie Records label.  It’s as low budget as you can get, but it’s the greatest music.  We’ve consulted with him on which media to send CDs to and so forth.

Zzaj: Are there different “levels” to your promotion campaigns?  What do you offer a group/artist as part of the promotion package?

Ann:  We offer everything from consulting –- if an artist doesn’t mind doing  a lot of the follow-up work, we can help with the press release, the list of press to whom they should send the CD, etc. and then guide them as they try to get reviews and features – to full-scale PR campaigns for a CD, tour support, and so forth.   If we have the time and we really love the music, we generally can work something out.

Zzaj: Has the Internet changed the way you do promotion(s) for bands/artists?   For better or worse?

Ann:  I think the internet has been a terrific resource for artists.  There are lots of great publications online only (such as yours) and we “talk” to a lot of people via email.

Though I do miss the phone – the other day I decided to call everyone I needed to reach instead of email them and it was refreshing to say hi to so many of my old friends in the media.  Email’s a bit less personal.  But I think it’s a lot easier for many journalists to have us email them – we don’t bother them on deadline and they can just click and respond.  So it’s a mixed blessing.

Zzaj: Why should a band hire a promoter?  Can’t they just promote themselves on the Internet? What makes B&K services something a band or artist can’t do without?

Ann:  If someone has the time and inclination, they can do a pretty good job of promoting themselves.

That said, if they’re unknown, we help cut through the clutter because an editor or writer knows that if a CD comes from us it’ll be of the highest quality.  We also have developed a lot of contacts over our 15-years and have a pretty good idea of who will like what.  We have a huge list of freelancers who write for magazines and newspapers, too and that’s something you can’t
come up with overnight.

Zzaj: Have any of the bands you’ve promoted gone on to “star-dumb”?  Or were they already famous?

Ann:   We worked with Medeski, Martin & Wood when they were completely unknown and were able to really help them get great press right off the bat for their first CD.  They then got signed to Gramavision, which told us they signed the band in part because of the strength of the reviews.  But they did their work too – they toured a lot and the internet really helped spread the word.  John Medeski’s one of the great musicians of all time and I’m very glad to see how successful they’ve gotten.

We’ve also worked with groups who were already pretty well known – The Heath Brothers, Karrin Allyson, Benny Golson, Billy Taylor – and we do US PR for the Montreal Jazz Festival, which in my opinion is the world’s greatest jazz festival.

Zzaj:  After doing promotions for so long, are you burned out on music?

Ann:  No way – I love great music.  Of course when my 2-year-old son wants to hear “Baby Beluga” by Raffi for the umpteenth time I cringe, but when he requests Ron Miles in the car or “trumpet” which means Satoko Fujii & Natsuki Tamura’s great duo CD “Clouds” I know we’re going in the right direction.  He pretends to play “trumpet” like Natsuki too, so hopefully we’re developing another set of ‘wide’ ears here.

Zzaj: What would an artist/band/group have to do to get you to promote them?  Any specific genres you prefer, and have you ever “turned down” someone who wanted you to promote them?

Ann:  We need to get a press kit and CD in order for us to consider promoting a band.   As I said before, we turn down people all the time because we don’t feel we’re a good fit for their music.  I personally love many types of great music – we specialize in jazz, avant jazz, klezmer, world music and just plain interesting music.   We currently work with everyone from the great Swedish bassist Jonas Hellborg to Ben Perowski to vocalist Judi Silvano to the Willem Breuker Kollektief.  Also a great singer/songwriter out of DC-area Mary Ann Redmond.

Zzaj: Since the focus of our ‘zine is “indie”, or “home-producers”, what words of wisdom do you have for those just getting involved in music?

Ann:  Make music YOU love; don’t worry about the marketplace.  Just follow you heart and follow your dreams.  That may sound corny, but you can hear true passion in music.