Reybee, Inc. Founder/President Rey Roldan has executed some of the most creatively successful music industry PR campaigns of the past two decades. In the latest Stars and Scars interview, Rey shares his story of growing up in the NYC music scene and becoming a journalist before transitioning over to publicity. He offers stellar advice for bands seeking PR representation as well as guidance for budding writers and publicists. Thank you, Rey!
S&S: You and I both hail from the great state of New Jersey. How did the local music scene influence you while growing up in the dirty?
Rey: You know, the NJ music scene didn’t influence me as much as the NYC music scene did. I went to my share of NJ shows, but I spent most of my time in NYC at the punk and goth clubs that don’t exist anymore, like CBGB, The Bank, Limelight, Don Hill’s, Brownies, Tramps, Wetlands. Back then, the music scene was so rich and thriving. There were venues all over NYC. These days, there are still venues around but the vibe is different. It feels less like a community. That scene though back in the day… it influenced me big time. Growing up with New Wave, punk, rock, metal, goth, and avant garde really opened my eyes to what music could be. It wasn’t as fragmented as it is today. The goths hung out at punk clubs, the rockers hung out at New Wave clubs, the metal kids went to avant garde shows. And in a lot of ways, that rich exposure to different kinds of music in NYC helped me understand and work all kinds of music today because I lived and experienced it.
S&S: Your advantage over other publicists seems to be your background in journalism, understanding the media before you ever pitched to them. How did your transition to “the other side” come about?
Rey: It was party due to finances. When I was a journalist up in Boston, I was writing for dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country but not making enough money to survive. I had a day job as copy boy at a huge mutual funds company but at night, I was a journalist… going to shows, doing interviews, and writing my stories into the wee hours of the morning and getting no more than 3-4 hours of sleep before having to go to my corporate job. All in all, I was making probably no more than $14,000 a year and living in Boston which isn’t a cheap city. That was pretty lean. So, I decided to suck it up, move back home to my parents’ house in Parsippany, NJ and try to break into the music business. Luckily, it only took me about six months of interning for free before I landed my first real job… and the rest is history.
S&S: You founded Reybee, Inc. in 2004. Were you nervous to start your own venture or confident with all the experience you had behind you?
Rey: I was and I wasn’t. I was nervous because I had no clue how to run my own company and do the business side of things. All I knew was how to do the publicity thing. I also didn’t have any idea how to attract business… but I knew that when I left the corporate world of major labels, I was going to do it all on my own terms. When you’re at a label, you are handed your projects whether you like them or not. I loved a lot of the artists I was working back then, but I also worked with a lot of bands I had no real affection for. And at the end of the day, I was just a pawn in a big game of corporate chess. The music industry had begun to crumble due to P2P piracy, and every Friday was met with a fear of getting laid off. And I hated living in that kind of fear. So, I opted to do things on my own terms, and I started Reybee. Thankfully, immediately, I got a few clients and built from there. So. the nervousness of starting my own thing turned into confidence that I can do this.
S&S: You’ve been in the game for over two decades. How have you seen PR in the music industry change over the years? Are there any aspects you miss that are no longer relevant or conversely, things you prefer about today’s landscape?
Rey: It’s changed quite a bit. Back when I started out, the term “artist development” was a very important concept. We didn’t expect out of the gate success with new releases. We built artists from the bottom up and we nurtured them for months, even years in some cases. Artist campaigns were rarely given up on so if something didn’t work, we’d try another tactic. We had lots of strategy meetings back then and we’d brainstorm. There was a lot of synergy within record companies, and artists thrived. I miss that sense of camaraderie. “Artist Development” is rarely implemented these days. Most campaigns last 3-4 months and then they end. If the project doesn’t react in that time period, it’s bad news.
I also miss the relationships between publicist and journalists. Back then, we publicists worked together with journalists. We were friends with each other and we’d often hang out, go out to dinner, drinks, hang out on weekends, party… Everyone coexisted really well ,and it was fun to meet new writers. These days, everyone is so antisocial. They don’t want to talk on the phone. They respond better via email. There were times back in the day when I’d pick up the phone and call a writer, not to pitch them, but to talk. And inevitably that conversation about their lives, the movie they just saw, their kid’s soccer game, whathaveyou, would migrate into work talk, and we’d lock in stories that way – through real human connection. These days, you send an email and if the writer doesn’t like it, that’s it. End of story. There’s no room for discussion anymore. It’s almost become antagonistic.
S&S: Your team recently set up an interview for us with The Rocket Summer. How and when did you get connected with Bryce?
Rey: I’ve known about The Rocket Summer for about a decade. Bryce and I have crossed paths in the past, and we almost worked together a few times. When Bryce reached out to me with his latest studio album Zoetic, he told me that it was a very different record than what I’d expect. And when I listened to it, I was pretty blown away. I called him immediately and said, “Sign me up.”
S&S: What are some of your favorite campaigns you’ve spearheaded and why?
Rey: This is a tough one because I’m proud of a majority of the campaigns I worked on. The Squirrel Nut Zippers’ first album The Inevitable Squirrel Nut Zippers was great to work because we spearheaded a whole new genre of Hot Jazz. We were able to make that square peg fit into a round hole, and the band blew up. Another was Dresden Dolls. I worked their first two albums and it was the same deal – we ushered in a whole new genre with Punk Cabaret and made it popular. There’s a whole slew of artists and projects I loved working with, like Duran Duran, Dashboard Confessional, Sting, Brooks & Dunn, O Brother Where Art Thou, Hanson… I’ve been pretty lucky in my career.
S&S: What has been the proudest moment of your career thus far?
Rey: This is a tough one. Taking Britney Spears from zero to 15 million albums sold was pretty special. Being Yellowcard’s publicist from their return from hiatus to their unfortunate break-up and beyond (I’m still working with Ryan Key) is something I’m proud of. Just being in the industry as long as I’ve been in it is an achievement in and of itself.
S&S: What goals do you have for the future of Reybee?
Rey: My goals for Reybee are pretty modest. I just want to keep working great music. I heavily curate my roster, and my team helps me keep the quality of artists on the up and up. There are some writers who tell me that when they get an email from us, they immediately open it and check out the project because they know we are careful in who we sign. And that makes me really happy. I just want to keep on pushing great music. If I can continue doing that, then my future will write itself.
S&S: Though we haven’t met in person, what I gather is you have an independent spirit and love to champion hard working bands. What advice would you give to young musicians seeking PR representation?
Rey: Research, research, research. If you’re looking for a publicist, don’t just take their word for it. Ask journalists at all levels from bloggers to online sites to newspapers to magazine editors. Find out their reputation and see if these editors and writers know who they are. That shows how deep their relationships are with the press. And be careful of publicists who want to change the world… or whose only recommendations come from bloggers but no upper-level editors. And Google the press that their current clients have gotten.
But most importantly, only hire a publicist when it’s time to hire a publicist. If you’re just starting out, do the first round of publicity yourself. Work the local press. Get write-ups in the local paper and blogs. Have a bit of experience doing interviews. So when you hire a publicist, they’re not starting from scratch. Get some press under your belt, even if it’s just a few write-ups.
Any good and honest publicist will tell you the same. You should hire a publicist when you already have a foundation of local press to build on. The biggest mistake I see is when a band comes to me asking for representation when they don’t have any press to their name yet. At that stage, they’re just throwing money away by hiring a publicist.
And if you’re looking to hire a publicist around a new album or release, remember lead time. Most good publicists demand two to three months lead time before an album’s release (smaller releases like EPs and singles have shorter lead times). Lead time will sometimes make or break a successful campaign.
S&S: In a similar vein, what advice would you give to a budding journalist or hopeful publicist?
Rey: For budding journalists, do a LOT of reading of your fellow writers. Go to a magazine rack and read album reviews, features, news items, etc. Understand the structure of good writing. Understand the difference between being a blogger and a journalist (it’s a BIG difference), and choose which one you want to be. If you opt for the former, be sure to form strong opinions and stick to them. Don’t sway just because someone left a negative comment. Stick to your convictions. If you opt to be a journalist, get to know journalistic ethics and learn how to be objective when needed. And know how to be investigative and resourceful. If you don’t check your facts properly, you’re not a true journalist. There are too many people who fancy themselves journalists but they are, in fact, bloggers.
Hopeful publicists? Don’t think you know how to do publicity because you know how to write a press release. Publicity takes a lot of training and strategy. Work or intern for a publicist who has REAL experience working with high-level clients. Ask a lot of questions and get to know who’s who in the world of journalism. A good publicist can answer questions like “Who’s the reviews editor at Billboard?” or “Who books CONAN?” without hesitation. A great publicist can rattle off their email address or phone number. Someone once said to me, “A publicist is only as good as his/her database.” I countered that with, “A publicist is only good if that database is memorized.”