When I first began to reach out beyond the local heavy metal scene in Toronto and build social media connections with people writing and working and making music all over the world, Lisa Coverdale was one of the first people that I followed. I have been a loyal fan of her Twitter feed for years. As someone who works at both a PR firm and a record label, her insider knowledge of the industry is beyond compare. She is also an intelligent, outspoken, funny and passionate member of the heavy metal community in the UK. She was one of the first people that leapt to mind when I began this column, and I was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed.
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You are one of the hard-working folks at Hold Tight! PR, a music PR company that specializes in heavy metal. Can you tell us a bit about your specific role in the company, what you do and what you excel at?
I’m a partner in the company and work day to day as a publicist for a range of bands and record labels. I primarily look after the Basick Records account and all their bands. I also cover a range of other tech, progressive, extreme and death metal bands, as well as any indie clients that come through our doors. I generally work more on the international campaigns coming into the office. Currently I’m working with bands from Australia, Dubai, France, America and India.
On a day to day basis I work through a pile of admin, have my first coffee of the day and make sure all of our bands are up to speed and out there working. Depending on how many press campaigns I have working simultaneously, I’ll spend time on each one. This means sometimes having Skype meetings with the bands or their label, putting in phone calls to press to chase coverage and to see how their features are going, sending/writing a billion emails, constantly trying to keep on top of spreadsheets, writing press releases or articles for placement, drinking more coffee, posting out campaign packs to magazines, doing more admin, having more coffee, doing social media work and website coding, and more admin. People think PR is glam but it’s generally all coffee, spreadsheets/admin work, packing up hundreds of CD promo packs at a time for mail outs and shouting at/being a mum to/being a bank for/getting frustrated with whatever band you are working for.
What do I excel at? Drinking coffee, shouting at bands to get stuff done on time, eating cheesecake, networking, getting by on 3 hours sleep and maybe going the extra mile. There are so many bands out there vying for so little press space that you have to A) have a band you believe in and B) shout louder and harder than all the other PRs trying to get their bands into the mags, zines and onto radio. Imagine the trading pit at the Stock Exchange: when the bell goes off signalling the start of trading, all the traders are on the floor shouting about their commodities. PR is a bit like that, and come release season we’re all busy trying to convince the press that our bands should be featured. We’re all shouting, we’re all trying to get space, and we often have releases coming out on the same date.
If you have a big press budget, a big label backing and a well-known band to work with, your PR campaign will be easier than if you have no budget, no label or a small indie label, and a band who are on their first release. I generally work with that level of band as I love a good challenge and breaking unknown bands can be really rewarding. I also only work PR campaigns for bands I would listen to myself. You have to be passionate about your bands because essentially when you hire a music publicist you become the invisible spokesperson for the band. You are the conduit to get the message out to press about their music, including their image and background story. Being passionate and enthusiastic is probably the most important thing. If I can’t be passionate about the band, how can I convince others to be?
What is the relationship between Hold Tight! PR and the UK label Basick Records? What is your role in that company?
Hold Tight! PR is run by three partners: Barley from Basick Records, James Monteith from TesseracT and me. Barley generally will only work on our high profile campaigns. James works with tech, progressive metal, pop-punk and general metal bands. He’s a bit scared of extreme and death metal so I take those clients as I love “growly” bands. Actually, out of the whole team, I’m probably more of a scary metal ‘guy’ than the others. ;)
At Basick Records, I tend to look after marketing. I keep the bands in check and make sure they hear from us on a day to day basis. I also look after the social media front. In fact, I don’t know what anyone else is doing at the label, it’s mostly all me…(I’ll get fired now!) Basick is one big family, the team of guys are as close to me as brothers. The bands all speak to each other daily, work with each other on projects and give each other advice. It’s important to us to have strong relationships and bonds there. It’s the best job in the world, with great people, great bands and one shared vision.
How did you first become introduced to, and ultimately fall in love, with heavy metal?
I came in via the back door of heavy rock. I was about 10 years old and heard the Guns N’ Roses single “Paradise City” on the BBC Radio 1 Chart show. I used to tune into the charts on the radio every Sunday faithfully to hear all the new music and I remember this day so vividly. It was really sunny, I was sitting in the garden with the radio and suddenly “Paradise City” blasted out from the radio. I loved it. I thought it was the heaviest thing in the world. It was like no other music I’d heard before. I started to seek out bands like that, which in 1988 with only a radio and no internet was really hard. It wasn’t like I could just head to Myspace, Facebook, Spotify, Youtube or iTunes.
When I was 13, I met a bunch of friends in the year above me in high school who introduced me to bands like Queen, Rush, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, The Dead Kennedys, Fugazi, The Pixies, Sisters of Mercy and Faith No More. It was like a portal to a whole new world of alternative music. At the same time Grunge was starting to take over the world and I fell in love with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains and Babes in Toyland. My early teen years were a massive mish-mash of eclectic music. Out of all of those bands, Metallica was the band I fell the most in love with. I adored all the other bands but Metallica was the one I could identify the most with. I still love them; when I got married I walked down the aisle to “Enter Sandman”.
What is it about heavy metal that you love most? How does it energize and inspire you?
All music energizes and inspires me, not just heavy metal. I love how different music can reflect your mood, be reminiscent of a place in time, but there’s a unique rawness and aggression to metal music coupled with outstanding playing that you just don’t get with anything else, in my opinion. It’s primeval and it’s very tribal. It reaches inside and just grabs you. I think that’s how you know if you are a metaller or just a music lover. Most if not all metalheads just know. It’s a feeling inside that no other genre of music can satisfy.
I can spend my days listening to everything from rock to hip hop to country to pop but I always end up lost inside a metal riff somewhere, screaming along to some tortured, angry soul and moshing until my neck has whiplash. I also do love to partake in a nice bit of air guitar action. And when you are all together, at a huge festival or gig, and the first guitar riff cranks out and the drums blast and the crowd starts heaving, jumping, morphing into one big hairy beast and everyone is singing – it’s the best feeling in the world. There’s nothing like it.
When and how did you come to the decision to make heavy metal music your career? How did you go about realizing that goal?
I’ve always loved music; I can’t remember a time when music wasn’t the most important thing in my life. It was always the common bond for friendships and relationships. It’s always all I’ve talked about with people, and I’ve bored many a person to death with it. Tape trading with friends turned into going to every underground gig I could get to. That turned to writing my own zines, and then my own metal websites. Back in 2003 and 2004 I was working in a corporate career as a marketing manager for a business process outsourcing company (yawn). I would come home and spend every waking hour outside of work building a website called UK Metal Underground to help promote and network bands, industry people and writers in the UK. We started on Myspace, then got our own website and forum and had a lot of people involved. Crazy good times.
Along the way I gave up my real life job in marketing and took some time out to try to focus on what I wanted to do in my life. I’d hit a fork in the road, and realized that I could continue in a boring office job doing something I hate but earning great money, or I could do something I love for minimum pay (and sometimes nothing). I choose the hard route, chose to be happy over having money and ultimately it’s worked out for me but it was a huge gamble. Along the way I discovered Basick Records and fell in love with their bands. I hit them up on Twitter in 2009 and said, “I’m coming to work for you.” I didn’t give them the option, just brazenly told them they needed me. I told them what I could do to improve their business and said I’ll do it for free if they let me show them what I could do. Luckily, they gave me a chance, I proved my worth and they kept me on. I’ve been telling them I know better ever since. I have no idea how the boss, Barley, puts up with me.
I noticed that you commented on the original Metalsucks article that inspired this column, making a note that your label only puts out “nerd metal” and that maybe you should check if you were a dude because you enjoyed it. :) Do you feel that certain genres of heavy metal are gendered, and if so, do you think this has a real impact on people’s listening habits?
I can tell you from being the Basick Records token female on the team and from also being into market research: less than 6% of our fanbase is made up by females. Hopefully this will increase as the label gains more exposure, as we’re still only a small record label branching out into the world. Basick is a progressive label with the one common theme being an attraction to strong, guitar-driven bands. A lot of our roster is very technical. Listen to the guitar work on a band of ours such as Blotted Science or Aliases to see what I mean. Sometimes it can be hard-listening material and it’s not as easily accessible as some other forms of metal. It really is all about the instrumentation and the intelligence and beauty behind it.
I don’t know of any other girls in my day-to-day life who listen to the sort of bands I listen to. When I go to gigs for the bands I love, I’d say out of a gig with maybe 300 people, only about 20 will be girls and 10 of those girls look bored because their boyfriends have dragged them there. Progressive metal is primarily the “Dungeons and Dragons” of the metal world: you tend to find that it’s a very specific audience who listen. However, there are cross-over bands, like Circles, for example, who the guys love because of the guitar work and the girls will love because of the soaring and quite frankly stunning vocals.
Metal as a genre in itself has historically been heavily biased towards men. The aggressive nature of it, the look, the bands, the tribal nature of the pit are all generally male-dominated, but with a small portion of avid female fans who are loyal to each sub-genre. Thrash, black, death, technical – they all have their female fans and more often than not we’re still the minority although it is getting better. More commercial and accessible metal bands will have larger female audiences, but for the majority of the sub-genres and underground bands, it’s still a dark place to be.
People do assume women know nothing about metal, especially given the genres I work in. I got into a discussion recently with a guy about death metal who was saying just that. When he asked what death metal I listened to, I said Obituary, Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Dying Fetus. “Never heard of them,” was the response, “I like Bring Me the Horizon.” I just nodded politely and made for the bar.
As a PR and as a label representative, do you find yourself marketing “male” and “female” albums differently?
No, the bands I work with tend not to need this type of marketing. They’re sold on the basis of their music and skill level. After that, we market their aesthetic: the artwork, design, the feel to the band. The bands would probably be insulted if I tried to market them any other way. With a band such as Aliases, who have an outstanding female technical guitarist in Leah Woodward, we pushed that aspect a little, just because still, in 2012, the majority of players in metal bands are male and to have such an outstanding female player is to some extent a unique selling point. It shouldn’t need to be like that but unfortunately it is. She can outplay most men I know.
As a woman that appreciates the qualities and skill involved in metal, I wouldn’t like to think I’d been marketed to any differently. Saying that, I have just had to have a conversation with one of our bands about “styling.” That made me sick to my stomach — it’s not what metal should be about.
What music has captured your attention right now? What should we be listening to?
This is always hard for me to do because I listen to so much music. In any given week I could list about 400 amazing bands, but I’ll try to stick to a few. :)
Right now I have my head firmly in two areas: I can’t get enough of the heavier stuff and I can’t get enough prog/instrumental music. I’m known as “The Growler” at Basick/Hold Tight!, hopefully because I like the heavier end of the metal spectrum and not for any other reason.
Right now I’m listening to a lot of 7 Horns 7 Eyes, Dying Fetus, Yob, Obscura, Nader Sadek, Cannibal Corpse, Pilgrim and Blotted Science from the heavier side of metal, and bands like Exivious, Chimp Spanner, Circles, An Endless Sporadic, TesseracT and Counter World Experience from the proggier end of things.
On any given day of the week, the metal is mixed in with copious amounts of BB King, Aretha Franklin, Howlin’ Wolf, Buena Vista Social Club, Adele and my two favourite bands, Pink Floyd and Between the Buried and Me. Don’t get me started on Between the Buried and Me. If you haven’t heard these guys, just drop everything and seek them out. They’re one of the most important bands in the last few years, in my opinion. Crazy good. In fact, ignore everything else I’ve said above and just move directly to Between the Buried and Me. If you have any sense, they’ll change your life.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to work at a record label or a PR company, and especially for women hoping to break into the business?
Just do it, and aim to do it better than anyone else. Be prepared to work hard. On any given day, I can be up at 7 AM working right through until 3 AM because my PR clients are international and all in different time zones. Start at the very bottom, do it for free or for an internship at first, and learn your trade. Talk to everyone you can and listen to what they tell you – this is the most important skill you can have. If it wasn’t for people like Barley at Basick or Lee Barrett from Candlelight or Dom Lawson from Metal Hammer or Miranda Yardley from Terrorizer Magazine, then I wouldn’t be where I am today. They all took time to offer guidance and advice, and it’s been invaluable. Start small, have achievable goals and live, breathe, eat and sleep music. Also, and this is more a personal preference, but I try not to drink when I’m working, which is hard at gigs, but I need to maintain a focus until the job is done. Then you can party after wards. Never be rude or arrogant, but do have a ton of self-confidence whilst remaining as polite as possible. You’ll need these important qualities to be brazen enough to contact people you don’t know, asking for favours, press space, guest list places and airplay, especially when no one knows you, your band or your label. But mostly just work hard, have fun with it and don’t ever give up. If you shine brightly enough, people will come to you.
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Lisa Coverdale is a Scottish based music publicist, partner in Hold Tight! PR and the only girl on the team at progressive metal label Basick Records. With a career spanning 15 years in corporate, event and music marketing/PR, she has previously managed areas of large-scale, high-profile public events for both corporate clients and in the arts sector. She can usually be found face down in a pot of fresh coffee, writing press releases for a myriad of international bands, or trying to coerce musicians into things they generally don’t want to do. She’s passionate about progressive music, cheese, Jägermeister, Between the Buried and Me, and Persian cats. Twitter: @lisalovescheese
Natalie Zina Walschots writes. Her base of diabolical operations is located in Toronto, ON. Her interests include poetry, heavy metal, comic books, video games, gastroporn, sadomasochism, feminism, and supervillainry. www.nataliezed.ca