Gary James' Interview With Web Marketing Pioneer
Gale Rosenberg is a pioneer in web marketing. In 1994 her firm Rock 'n Retail launched Rock The Strip, the second CD store ever online. Their division, Web 'n Retail was specifically designed for the virtual world. Services include viral public relations, viral marketing, mobile app marketing, social media, eblasts, SEO and more! Web 'n Retail has been responsible for over 100 campaigns for concert events, record labels, independent artists, DVDs, mobile apps, websites and social media. Outside the music arena, Web 'n Retail also markets a luxury travel website, a clothing line, a micro-brewery, motivational speakers and more!
Gale Rosenberg has over 30 years of music experience. She began her career at ABC Records and then moved over to MCA Records, Billboard magazine, Mix magazine, Cream magazine, Polygram Group Distribution and finally the Wherehouse Entertainment retail chain headquarters before starting her own firm Rock 'n Retail in 1991. As president of Rock 'n Retail, which later started their other division, Web 'n Retail, Gale Rosenberg's clients include EMI Capitol, Universal Music Group, EMI Distribution, Fontana Distribution and over 100 indie labels. Her firm has marketed over 250 artists, including Bush, No Doubt, Joan Jett, David Thomas, Black Crowes, Neal Schon, Stanley Jordan, Sevendust and Trace Adkins to name just a few.
Gale Rosenberg talked to us about her life and her business.
Q - Gale, your name sounds so familiar and I want to say that we've touched bases in the past, but I just don't know.
A - We do PR for some of our clients, so it's quite possible.
Q - Rock 'n Retail. No one was doing that before you started your company.
A Not necessarily true. Rock 'n Retail started in 1991 officially, but more like 1987. We were doing listening parties. We set up listening parties for record labels from 1987 to 1991. We started doing store level marketing simultaneously while I was at Wherehouse Entertainment corporate office, which was a short stint. I think it was ten months or something like that. Then I really went into full gear after getting laid off from the Wherehouse in October of '91. That's really when Rock 'n Retail specifically concentrated on store level marketing for record sales.
Q - You mean to tell me that those giant merchandising companies like Winterland never thought of doing something like Rock 'n Retail?
A Well, Rock 'n Retail is almost dead now. Almost everything we do has been moved to online marketing. So, Web 'n Retail markets physical goods and digital downloads that are online. Rock 'n Retail had a bunch of competitors, be that The Tribe, The Syndicate and a few other ones, probably like five or six of us. We were all doing store level marketing. They used to be called Street Teams. People would go into the stores and talk to the manager about playing the record. Rock 'n Retail really had a different take on it. Having worked for Wherehouse Entertainment and for Polygram, I knew what everybody else knew, but I found out it wasn't true, and that was you couldn't get a store at the store level to bring in a product just because, i.e. Joe Blow's band was playing on the next block on Friday night. If the corporate office hadn't modeled the stock for that store from a corporate level then they weren't allowed to carry it. That was what everybody thought. It also went down to as far as the display boards in the stores. Those were basically rented and owned by each major distributor. So, everybody thought I can't get my poster up there because you have to pay for it and all the boards are taken by the major distributors. Same thing with in-store play. I learned when I was in the Wherehouse because I ran this weird truck, The Movie And Music Machine. It was a vehicle built by George Barris who did the Batmobile. It was a car and truck put together. My job was to go out to the stores and do promotions and take the van to concerts and do promotions. When I went to the stores there was nothing to identify me as a Wherehouse corporate employee unless they saw the truck, which they wouldn't have looked out the door to see what car I got out of. They didn't know who I was and I was able to walk in there and physically take down display boards and they'd tell me to go in the back and get a ladder and put up display boards. I'd give them a promo copy to put on the in-store play and listening posts. I would roll bins from the back to the front. Nobody seemed to care, so I thought, well, if I could to that at Wherehouse, which is super, super corporate, I can do this at all the stores. So, with the exception of Sam Goody, which I eventually broke through that one, basically I was able to go around the corporate office, get stuff done at the store level and make them more relevant to what's going on in their town. If there's a band that's playing at The Whiskey A Go Go and then the next night they're playing at The Roxy and then the next night they're playing down the block from there, don't you think the store on the corner should have their product?
Q - I would think so. It seems logical to me.
A - Right. Well, the corporate structure and the way the labels were set up with way too many bands, they couldn't keep up with all the bands they had in town. You could ask them which bands they had in town and they wouldn't be able to tell you. But, by working one band at a time, that's what I'm eating and breathing, where all their venues are making sure their stuff is stocked when their band comes into town. If I didn't have product in the store and posters up and in-store play copy, I'd be fired. That was the crux of my job now.
Q - I never understood why a record label would sign so many acts and not get behind them.
A - Their idea of breaking a band is getting them on mainstream radio. If you get the first single on, they'll put money into the second single. If they don't put the second single in rotation, they would drop them. I remember I was at A&M one day and they were saying they had this band they couldn't get on radio and they were going to drop 'em. That's when I was working for The Wherehouse. I'm like, "No. I love that band!" They're like, "Well, you are the only one that does." They were throwing out all their cassettes. I said, "Don't throw those out. I'll take them up to Seattle to Bumper Shoot. I'll get corporate to bring in a couple of albums, one album per store in the area." The band turned out to be Temple Of The Dog. I single-handedly broke Temple Of The Dog.
Q - I hope those guys appreciate it.
A - They never knew about it. (Laughs).
Q - They'll know about it now!
A - Sounds good to me!
Q - Looking over your client list, some names I recognize, but some I don't. I mean Soul Coughing, God Lives Under Water, Rubber City Rebels. Those are bands?!
A - Yeah. (Laughs)
Q - That's got to be an uphill battle to get publicity for those people, isn't it?
A - Well, I wasn't doing PR at the time. I was strictly doing marketing. I can tell you Soul Coughing was on a label called Slash Records, but I didn't work on Slash Records, so I don't know. So, I'm not going to say anything about Soul Coughing. Rubber City Rebels is on Smog Veil Records. I did a large amount of store level marketing for their bands. It's a Punk label. They primarily have bands from Ohio. On their label is David Thomas. He was very famous. They had David Thomas And Two Pale Boys. Rocket From The Tombs. No Doubt and Bush are really my two claims to fame. No Doubt and Bush were on Trauma Records and I did all of Trauma's marketing at the time. At that time we were bringing bales and bales and buckets and buckets of promo stuff into the office. We probably were sending out 250 promos per band every week to all the stores. Then we would physically get on the phone. In order for us to follow the tour schedule and find out where they were playing and what stores were around that venue, we had an atlas, a paper atlas and we would actually take a compass and we would draw a circle. One of my workers would call out every little itsy bitsy city and I would look up every city because the Billboard directory was by city. If there was a store in that area, we would take it. But that was the process at the time. Then we would make paper call sheets and they were very specific about checking stock and who did they order from. Did the order come in or are they having a problem with it? If we sent you a poster, would you put it up? If we sent you an in-store play copy, would you put it on in-store play? Instead of sending out CDs, we mark them inside and out "In-Store Play" and written on the CD "In-Store Play", so they remembered when they got it what they promised to do with it. Then we would call and follow-up and make sure that they got it and check their stock again, and that's how we did it.
Q - Now that there's an Internet, your job has to be easier, isn't it?
A - It's funny you said that because the last Rock 'n Retail store level marketing project I had were Borders and Barnes And Noble.
Q - And now there's no more Borders.
A - Right. And Barnes And Noble covets their store list like there's no tomorrow. You can only search by ZIP Code. However, they had an out there, you couldn't get a list of all their stores. You had to know where the store was or something like that.
Q - Now there is independent record stores and bookstores and there's not too many of them left either.
A - Yeah. We don't even do store level marketing anymore. We do all of our marketing online. Our job is to blanket the Internet with new artist information. If somebody is looking up Dave Matthews, whether it be his YouTube page or Google results, if we have a band that names Dave Matthews as a "like artist", we are going to get involved in that audience and all their forums. We're going to physically go to Dave Matthews viewers on YouTube and say, "Hey, if you like Dave Matthews, you might like this video." We're going to blog on CNN. We have about 300 of them (websites) that we blog on. We're going to blog on the "like" artists. We do have a Gospel artist now that likens herself to Dionne Warwick and so we put up a post saying her background includes having sung with Dionne Warwick in the early days. I checked the results the next day and there's an article in the USA Today topics, page 4, Dionne Warwick, about our Gospel artist, Judy Cheeks. She was actually an international Disco star back in the '70s. She's come out of semi-retirement. Her dad was a minister. For her we are doing traditional PR as well as online marketing.
Q - I interviewed a gentleman recently by the name of BJ Mendelson who says that social media is BS. It was dreamed up by corporate people, but it does bring results.
A - It's an evil necessity. I'm not a fan of Facebook. I'm not a fan of Twitter. YouTube has something going on. When he said it's dreamed up by corporate people? No. It's dreamed up by a bunch of kids in tennis shoes who have absolutely no background in business whatsoever, especially with Facebook now that they are trying to monetize it. They have absolutely no idea what they are doing. I worked an ad agency in the media department. That's where I started my career. I'm thinking these people at the ad agencies must be up in arms over the way they deliver their analytics or the way they don't deliver them. You are spending. You tell them to spend one thing and they are spending something else. That one person has to do everything for which there used to be seven different departments. One would handle copywriting. One would handle the artwork. One would handle accounts payable. One would handle the media budget. Now, one person has to sit and do it all. And then, you have to try and decipher it and they have no idea what they are doing. It's a big mess. So, I'm not a fan. Unfortunately, it is a necessary evil. Unfortunately, the record companies put a lot of stock (in it). If you are trying to get a record deal and you are trying to get a manager and you are trying to get a booking agent, you are trying to get sponsors, you are trying to get your own gigs, they are all going to be looking at your Facebook numbers, your Twitter numbers and your YouTube numbers.
Q - That's scary stuff.
A - It is.
Q - It used to be business people were more concerned about your local following.
A - And the booking agents are a little more in tune with that. They want you to have 100 people on your e-mail list in your own home town. They want you to have a certain number in the surrounding three towns. But all that stuff goes through social media now because in a lot of cases you can break it down locally, especially with Google.
Q - For your services, who pays you? The group themselves? The management? The label?
A - All of the above.
Q - Are you paid a flat fee or a percentage?
A - Flat fee. And we have very reasonable rates. We used to, when Rock 'n Retail was in swing, work for record labels, big or small. Sixty percent are independent artists now. So the account is going straight through the artist. Then the other forty percent came through strategic partnerships we have with management companies, video marketing companies, so on and so forth.
Q - You're working more than one band at a time, aren't you?
A - Oh, yeah. But not a lot. We're a very small shop. We like to know everything about our artists. I never want to re-invent that template that the record companies had where they had so many acts nobody knew who was going to be playing in what town and that whole thing we just talked about. So, the one thing we have to offer as a small shop is we only take five to eight artists. When we were doing Rock 'n Retail, it was time consuming. Now, we take a maximum of eight artists at a time so we know everything about the artist that's going on. In fact, we know more about their goings on than their managers do, because of the Internet. A lot of time they're not forthcoming about giving us updates.
Q - Do you ever have to jump on a plane and get out into the field to promote the artists you're working with?
A - No. I will set up in-stores, but no one has asked me in a really long time. That used to be part of Rock 'n Retail's thing. But no, I don't generally travel. I don't generally go anywhere. (Laughs)
Q - What do you tell people who want to be a part of today's music business?
A - I'm pretty harsh. If you want to get in this business you better be prepared that it costs $600,000 for every Rhianna record that comes out. You better either have deep pockets or you better be planning to work 24 hours a day. Only one out of every 25,000 bands breaks even.
Q - The market place is just saturated with bands.
A - The last I read, and this is about a year ago, i-Tunes had 28 million tracks for sale, and they added 100,000 tracks every week. Think of the size of that store. If you were a store, how would people find you if they didn't know who you were? I have my own class at UCLA that started for the summer. It's called Entrepreneurship Of The Independent Artists. My first speaker was a musician named James Lee Stanley. He's got 46 albums out. He's in his 60s. The one big take-away from his speech, from his lecture, that I know made an impact on them (college students) was when you travel to a gig in another town, you're gonna work 24 hours a day. If you're sitting in your hotel room, watching TV, you might as well pack it up and go home. You've got to go out to other venues. You gotta meet other venue managers, you gotta meet other bands, you gotta stop at the radio station and say hello and give them CDs. I looked around and they were all surprised.
Q - How do you retain your voice and stay healthy for the evening show if you're talking to everybody that day?
A - That I don't know. I'm not a musician. But he's been doing it thirty, forty years. And that's why he's successful. Everyone of his albums has charted at least one song.
Q - You see this business that you're in as a growth industry, don't you?
A - For the right people who have a realistic approach. The realistic approach is you're not gonna go play a gig and get famous. If you choose to do this as a career, you should be armed with the knowledge of everything you could possibly be armed with. And you're gonna have to work really hard. We had a Jazz artist that was the son of a famous Jazz artist. His label hired us to do marketing for him. He was A: so ungrateful, B: lazy, C: non-responsive. His comment was, "I don't have time to get you this information. I'm a father and a student." Well, hey, you want to be a musician or is this like a hobby to you? If it's a hobby, it's not worth your record label's time or our time. I resigned from the account. Those aren't the kind of people we're gonna work with.