Amateur Music and Public Relations

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Festivals and symphony orchestras are only a part of the broad field of music in the United States today. Amateur music the playing of instruments in schools and homes declined steadily in the first half of this century. Its end began with the advent of the player piano and intensified through radio and television. The home ceased to be the center of American life. The parlor concert became a part of history.

Public relations had a major part in helping to revive the amateur music industry. This is a classic example of what public relations can be used to do. In 1947 the National Association of Music Merchants financed a conference designed to look into ways to:
  1. Make the public music conscious.

  2. Make parents and educators realize the personal benefits of self made music as a form of expression.

  3. Develop an active demand for music as a basic subject in all schools.

  4. Stimulate community and school groups to work for increased musical activity on all levels.
These objectives were outlined by Philip Lesly, who was engaged as public relations director for the American Music Conference, and who earned the name, the Music Man.

The future public relations counselor should know that what first drew Philip Lesly's attention to the amateur music industry were statistics. Statistics showed that this was the only important industry whose sales declined in the recovery years of 1939-41.

The need for public relations must exist; then the PR man can move in and try to correct the situation. Some industries cannot be revived. But music and the making of music is essential to a culture. The fact that the American people had grown lazy and lacked the motivation and dedication to learn to play an instrument was, Lesly decided, something to try to change. The proof that he was right lies in the exploding music instrument business and music publishing business.

This technique of reviving a dying industry through pub he relations requires a combination of persistence and "creative intelligence." Philip Lesly developed interesting stories and gradually the "ground swell began." Early stories were headlined: "Musical Instruments Provide Fun," "Musical Instruments Help to Mold Better Pupils," "Never Too Late To Make Music," "Amateur Music Makers Range From Tots to Senior Citizens" and "Never Shot? Why Not Go On a Toot?"

Realizing that these stories were written several decades ago and that it was an up hill fight getting them printed, it is interesting to note that now Billboard, the International Music Record Tape Newsweekly, devotes a section to musical instruments.

Gradually, in response to the spade work done by Mr. Lesly through the American Music Conference, editors and writers came asking for material; and some subjects were, and continue to be, re worked. This means that one story can be written in as many as fifteen different ways for fifteen different audiences such as teachers, the financial press, woman's page editors, music trade papers, publications for young people, etc.

Mr. Lesly later established the American Music Conference Advertising Awards Competition. This honored the best uses of music as a theme in ads for non musical products and services. The success of this campaign to make a greater and wider use of music commercially is evident today when the great songs of the past are being adapted to the use of radio and television advertising. The thrill of recognition that comes with the use of a famous song has become a great sales device for every kind of product.

Amateur music would have come back anyway. But this doesn't downgrade Mr. Lesly's feat which was to change the recreational habits of a 190 million people nation. The musical instrument industry and music publishing both benefitted immeasurably from his efforts.

The top public relations people are fortune tellers who can look into the future. Music and music making belong in the fabric of every country. The United States didn't outgrow music, nor did it supplant it with technology. But for a while there was no time or place for amateur music. Philip Lesly helped it surface. Today music is joining forces with technology to produce such instruments as the Moog Synthesizer. At the same time the player piano has been reborn and music rolls are creating new traffic and new buyers in the stores with their repertoire of Standard, Pop, Rock, Classical, Blues, Ragtime, Dixieland ... "with lyrics printed on rolls for sing along fun."

"Publicity has come of age in the music business." Liberty UA's director of publicity, quoted in Billboard, is talking about the record business the promotion of artists and their records. This phase of the music industry, records and now tape, outstrips all other phases in dollar volume. Marty Hoffman notes that radio, once the main exposure outlet for records, no longer can be counted on. "Tight formats and restricted playlists" are keeping many new records off the air and forcing the record companies to seek other means of exposure. Also, the tremendous growth of the industry has made each company more competitive. One of the most logical and economically sound ways to answer competition is with promotion. The record company, says Hoffman, is generally regarded as the "most glamorous segment of show business." Records, he states, are "not only a major entertainment medium but also an important aspect of communications and world culture." A glamorous product, with the plus value of artist personality, has always taken to promotion. Now, the big business impact of conglomerate ownership, acquisition and mergers have made record company ownership more identity conscious, and resulted in an exploitation of the product image.

There are other reasons as well for increased promotion of records and record labels. "Today," claims Liberty/UA's director of publicity, "we are marketing our product to a far more sophisticated buyer. He may be younger, but he's happier. He wants a more pleasing sound. With so called protest songs making up so much of the hit material and with recording artists becoming more and more involved as social forces, the young record buyer is demanding in print elaboration of what his favorite artists are saying through their music."

Other factors credited by Marty Hoffman as contributing to the importance of publicity in today's record market (as told in Billboard) are:
  1. The rise of the independent producer.

  2. Changing marketing patterns.

  3. The expansion of the disk artist into other fields.
Deals between tire independent producer and the record company often contain large promotional commitments. The producer needs to "maintain his image... and the company needs to attract producers and hold onto the talent it controls."

Ways of marketing in the record industry have changed dramatically. In the old days small retail outlets called "mom and pop" stores were widespread. They bought records "according to individual neighborhood preferences, or to their own musical tastes, whereas today's large volume users want concise, timely information at the trade level in order to more intelligently merchandise their outlets." Also, newspaper and magazine reviews can bring people into the store to buy a particular record.

As for the change over from the old time recording artist to the new one, Mr. Hoffman had this to say: "There was a time when anyone who made records wanted to be a movie star. Now all the movie stars want to record ... for some it's an ego trip, for some the fulfillment of earlier ambitions denied; yet there it is artists making a quarter of a million dollars a picture or vast weekly sums at a Las Vegas casino  and their overriding concern is whether or not their disk is getting airplay and reviews. Their concern is a legitimate one if put in perspective. A hit record helps a television show's ratings, can multiply a film's box office take or skyrocket a nightclub performer's paycheck."
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