Music and Public Relations

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Jazz, pop and folk festivals have on recent occasions blacked out many other things in the news. The public, as much as the promoter, is responsible. Some events, some products make news. The PR role in this case is to control and guide it. The billing of the artists, the crowds drawn by the names and reputations of these artists are what attract the critics to these festivals.

Bad publicity and good publicity come in the wake of these jazz and rock festivals. The publicity that results is largely unavoidable. The promoter is the real PR man on these festivals; he bills the acts and he decides on the locale. What follows can be, as it was in one case, roadblocks by the police. The public relations staff is powerless on the main issues in these cases. All they can do is summed up in a paragraph from a story on one festival from the magazine Jazz & Pop:

"I escorted Jim Sherwood to Bourgeois' press trailer because Jim wanted passes to James Brown's Sunday afternoon concert. Bourgeois politely told Jim that musicians do not need passes and, further, if he had trouble parking his car to ask for Mike David (Festival Security) and all would be cool. That's nice treatment."

A different kind of music festival, featuring neither jazz nor rock, is the Newport Music Festival opera and ballet programs, as well as series of musical entertainments presented in the Newport Mansions. They are staged throughout the summer under the auspices of the Rhode Island Arts Foundation. Both the jazz festival and this opera and ballet festival are directed toward young people. Both types have counterparts throughout the country.

Students, in many cases are responsible for these serious music festivals. The role of the student press director is described in a letter to the Executive Director of the Opera Company of Boston from James Curran. (In addition to his work on this project, Mr. Curran was PR director for the Newport Music Festival.)

"Campus Opera Campaign has received an enthusiastic reception in all the greater Boston Universities, Colleges and Prep Schools..."

"The Press Conference held at the Club Casablanca gave us a very successful 'Kick off' as evidenced by the good coverage in the three major Boston Newspapers as well as the Monitor, Patriot Ledger and several specialty papers such as the Prudential News and the Beacon Hill Ledger. This paved the way for my approach to the Student newspapers including a few so called 'Radical' journals, and interest in them was genuine. The resultant coverage in nineteen College newspapers gave us an invaluable communication link to the Student body, and within a short period of time I had Twenty five Campus Representatives enrolled and actively solicitating subscriptions on the Boston Campuses..."

"As a follow up, I personally mailed out more than 1000 packets of Campaign materials and posters..."

Serious music festivals require conventional promotion. Jazz and pop festivals benefit largely from underground promotion, from the grapevine that travels from city to city and penetrates the small towns and countryside of America.

The project determines the promotion. Its appeal and the size of the budget (which customarily reflects the appeal) holds the key to what is done by the public relations director.

A standard on the American scene is the symphony orchestra. A great symphony demands remarkable promotion. An example of what is remarkable promotion is the press book for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The table of contents is an indication of its scope.

An excerpt from Boston Symphony Orchestra Short History will serve as an example of the writing in the Press Book:

"A young Yankee, in 1857, made a bold exposure of his heart. Bostonian Henry Lee Higginson wrote from Vienna to his father: 'As everyone has some object of supreme interest to himself, so I have music. It is almost my inner world; without it, I miss much, and with it I am happier and better.' Twenty four years later Mr. Higginson's supreme interest in music took unique form: he founded the Boston Symphony Orchestra."

"The first concert was held in the Boston Music Hall on October 22, 1881. The twenty concerts and the twenty public rehearsals of the first season, conducted by George Henschel, were attended by 83,359 persons. This caused Mr. Higginson to write in the Boston Advertiser, 'When last spring the general scheme for concerts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra was put forth, the grave doubt in my mind was whether they were wanted. This doubt has been dispelled by a most kindly and courteous public, and therefore the scheme will stand.'"

A press book is a tool to be used only for a long continuing project. It is adaptable and, if prepared and budgeted according to the needs of the venture, pays its way. It can save many hours of work, and reach far. As the Boston Symphony Press Book reflects the tone of Boston, so must any press book adapt to its subject.

Thus the field of music is wide open to the young man or woman with a talent for public relations. Multiple choices in the use of that talent are available to him. Any successful music venture is commercial in that an audience must be created for it, and that audience must be willing to pay. But here the analogy ends. Working with the management of a symphony orchestra is a far cry from working with a record label, or promoting the sale of musical instruments and published music. Publicizing a jazz or rock festival differs radically from publicizing an opera or ballet festival, although it happens that the audiences are in the same age bracket.

With increased leisure, and a growing disenchantment with a world built on technology, the future of music in all its forms has never been so bright. And the means for publicizing it have never been so varied. It is up to the future music oriented public relations man to reach a new public with a new tune.
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