Interview: Mike Cubillos (Earshot Media)
Having previously worked with bands such as All Time Low, Midtown, All-American Rejects, Boys Like Girls, and Plain White T's, Mike and Earshot now have a vast number of bands, labels and tours on its roster, including: Rise Records, Run For Cover, Man Overboard, Of Mice and Men, Reel Big Fish, the Scream It Like You Mean It Tour, Anarbor and many more.
Mike recently spoke to Alter The Press to discuss how he started in Public Relations, the day-to-day role of a publicist, the emergence of online media and growth of social networking, Earshot's future plans and more.
Alter The Press: Mike, you started Earshot in 1998. Could you tell us how you started out in Public Relations?
Mike Cubillos: I started out interning for a couple of record labels while in college. After working in various departments such as video promotion, marketing etc, I end up in publicity and the rest is history.
ATP: When you were growing up, did you have an interest in working in the music industry in some form or another?
MC: I was always into music from a young age. My parents were always playing music around the house and being the youngest of three kids, I was constantly being turned on to new stuff by my older brother and sister. I also had an aunt who really was more like a cool older sister that was super into music. She’d come stay with us every summer and buy me and my brother and sister all these great vinyl records.
Then later as a teenager, I was the guy would always make mix tapes, either for parties, or for my friends, or for girls I was into, or for just cruising around in my beat up Dodge Dart. I used to spend all of my gas money on records and then run out of gas and get stranded places. I was pretty obsessed. As I got a little older I became more fascinated not just with the bands and artists that I was into, but with the business of music. I used to read Rolling Stone religiously and would even dig up old copies of Billboard at my college library. As someone who couldn’t play an instrument to save his life, it opened my eyes that there were a lot of other opportunities in the music business outside of being a performer. So yeah I guess I was sort of destined to be in the music industry.
ATP: What lessons did you learn from early experiences and how have these been put towards Earshot?
MC: The time I spent working in-house at various record labels was invaluable. I learned so much from my bosses and co-workers, and made a lot of relationships in the industry that I still have to this day. Some of my experiences were better than others but I always learned something from each situation, whether it was good or bad.
ATP: When Earshot was formed. What goals did you have?
MC: My goal was basically to build a company with a solid reputation and a really cool roster of artists. I wanted to be able to make a living doing what I love, and I’d like to think I’ve succeeded at that.
ATP: What would you say has been your greatest achievement with Earshot?
MC: There have been so many. As I said, each experience, good or bad, has taught me something. Some of the craziest projects or most difficult clients have become my favorites, simply because I came out of them stronger than when I went in. Overall though, I’d say my greatest achievement is really just starting Earshot Media from nothing, and turning it into a name that I think stands for quality stuff. The fact that I’m still doing this so many years later and can look back on all these great projects I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of, is pretty awesome. And I believe I’ve done it all without being an a-hole, which in this business is quite accomplishment.
ATP: In recent years you've worked with both established and up and coming bands. What bands have you enjoyed working with, both personally and professionally?
MC: Again, way too many to name. Reel Big Fish, All Time Low, the All-American Rejects, Transit, Man Overboard, The Rockstar Taste of Chaos Tour, Valient Thorr, Shonen Knife, The Only Children (find their stuff online - so good!), Gatsbys American Dream, Avenged Sevenfold, Plain White T’s, Set Your Goals, Fireworks, Punk Rock Bowling... I know I’m forgetting a ton.
ATP: What current bands/tours/labels are you excited to be working with?
MC: I love working with Rise (Records). They are on fire right now with so many great bands and the roster keeps growing and getting better and better. I’m also super stoked about now working with Run for Cover Records who again, have such an amazing lineup of bands. Tragic Hero, Hardline Entertainment, inVogue Records and Standby are other indie labels I’m really happy to be working with. Lionize, Lady Danville, This Century, Hostage Calm, Koji’s Amplify Peace Tour, Twin Atlantic. I’m also excited about all of the band’s we have on this summer’s Warped Tour and about the Scream it Like You Mean it Tour, not to mention the amazing new record from The Wonder Years.
ATP: For those who may not know. What is the role of a publicist?
MC: A publicist is basically the liaison between the media and the artist/label/management. We help strategize and implement media campaigns, usually with the goal of increasing a bands profile in the media. We set up interviews, reviews, get writers out to cover shows, send out press releases. That sort of thing. When you go online or pick up the paper or a magazine and read a feature or review on your favorite band, or see them perform on TV, usually a publicist worked behind the scenes with the editors or the bookers or whatever the case may be, to make that happen.
ATP: I can imagine the life of a publicist can be pretty busy. Descibe what your day-to-day routine is like?
MC: Every day is different. Sometimes it can be difficult to plan your day because just when you think it’s going to go one way, something unexpected happens that requires you to drop what you’re doing to put out some sort of fire. You are often working with crazy deadlines and juggling multiple projects so there can be a lot of pressure. Good thing I thrive on pressure.
ATP: Since forming Earshot online media; especially social networking, has become increasingly dominant in the music industry. How have you adapted to this new form?
MC: Since day one Earshot has embraced the online media. Years ago, I used to hear complaints from a lot from blogs and webzines that we were one of the only PR companies to grant them interviews and send them promos. Some of these are now well established outlets that many consider tastemakers in the industry.
The feeling back then, primarily among many major labels, was that the online stuff didn’t count as much as print. I never agreed with that line of thinking and I think its served Earshot well over the years. As far as social media goes, it’s hard to imagine doing my job without it. It’s become such a powerful tool in helping to develop bands and get the word out about our projects.
ATP: Do you think online press is equally as important print, TV and radio?
MC: Absolutely. If not more so! As people spend more time in front of their computers and on their smartphones etc, it’s become an integral part of any press campaign.
ATP: Has online media made your role more demanding?
MC: In many ways, yes. On the one hand, this constant need for “content” has opened up so many opportunities to get our clients press, on the other hand, it can sometimes feel like a another job in itself just keeping up on the sheer number of new outlets that keep popping up every day.
ATP: What attributes do you look for when adding a band to your roster?
MC: I really need to feel like I can help them in some way. I need to feel that Earshot can sink our teeth into a project make an impact. If I don’t think Earshot is the right fit, I’ll turn down a project. It’s also good have a client that wants to work hard and not have everything handed to them. Having a great team (management, label etc) in place helps too.
ATP: How vital is it too have a strong knowledge and understanding of the current music scene?
MC: Things change so often and so quickly these days, not just from a musical standpoint but also from a business and technological standpoint. For that reason alone, it’s important to keep up on what’s going on in the music scene and the music industry in general.
ATP: What are the key skills a publicist?
MC: A good publicist should be creative, which helps in coming up with new angles and new outlets to pitch. They should be passionate about their clients. They should have a thick skin. They should also be persistent, but not annoying. They should be able to write and they definitely shouldn’t get into this career if they don’t like working long hours.
ATP: What advice/tips would you offer to someone who is looking to take on a career in public relations?
MC: I would say, get involved with your local scene. Start a ‘zine or a blog. Get an internship at an indie label. If there aren’t any near you, get to know the bands in your area and hit them up about helping them with their press. Then research local writers and publications in your town. Get to know the editors of those publications. Establishing relationships is key. If you work hard and prove yourself, word will get around and other clients will follow.
ATP: What can we expect to see from Earshot and it's roster in the coming months?
MC: We’ve got a lot of great things in the works. Summer will be busy with so many of our bands on Warped Tour, plus the Scream It Like You Mean It Tour, and a bunch of other acts we have on the road. This fall is going to be huge with new releases from Man Overboard, Transit, A Loss For Words, a Shonen Knife tour and a lot of other cool stuff!!
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Words by Sean Reid (@SeanReidATP)