Interview with Melissa Zeigler
Music is ingrained in Melissa Zeigler. She started training as a classical pianist at the age of eight and today she is Head of Publicity and Artist Development at Powderfinger Promotions. Melissa has handled bands’ booking, licensing, placement and promotion, in addition to landing album reviews at numerous international publications. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions, Melissa!
One Louder Magazine: Hi Melissa! What is Powderfinger Promotions?
Melissa Zeigler: Powderfinger Promotions is an independent radio promotions and publicity firm based in Framingham, MA, founded by David Avery in 1994. We have relationships with over 600 college, AAA, Americana, Jazz, and Jamband stations across the U.S. and Canada including terrestrial, satellite, and internet radio, plus hundreds of press contacts worldwide.
Some examples of artists we’ve worked with include: 311, String Cheese Incident, The Dresden Dolls, Charlie Hunter Trio, Esperanza Spaulding, Sixpence None The Richer, Widespread Panic, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Drive-By Truckers, Moe, Bernie Worrell [Talking Heads, Parliament-Funkadelic], Greg Ginn [Black Flag], Jimmy Destri [Blondie], Lipbone Redding, and Tim Reynolds [Dave Matthews Band].
We offer packages for national radio promotion, college radio promotion, national CD reviews, tour/show press, and we also have some ad hoc services including consulting, artist bios, and social media.
OLM: Tell us a little about Powderfinger Promotions, such as the company size, work environment/atmosphere, etc.
MZ: There are three of us here, each primarily focused on our own roles: national radio promotion [David], college radio promotion [Brian], and publicity/artist development [that’s me!], but we have a steady stream of highly qualified interns who assist, as well. We’re all very busy, but it’s a chill work environment. Music is always playing and we’re regularly engaging each other in philosophical discussions about the music industry. If you were a fly on the wall, you’d hear that much of the time the discussion sounds like a scene from the record store in the movie High Fidelity.
OLM: As the Head of Publicity and Artist Development, what does a typical work day look like for you?
MZ: My role stretches beyond a typical publicist, as about half of my day is also focused on artist consultation and development. The great aspect of my job is no day is “typical.” I could be writing press releases, calling on editors/writers of magazines/newspapers/blogs, calling TV shows to arrange performances, training clients on how to best use social media, or talking to artists about how to best market themselves…some days a combination of all of those things. Project/time management skills are a critical part of my job.
OLM: When and how did you get your start with Powderfinger Promotions? Have you always been the head of publicity or have you had other roles leading to that?
MZ: My start with Powderfinger Promotions was relatively atypical for our company. We bring in interns and most people who take a role with the company start as an intern. About a year and a half ago, David Avery called me after we’d worked together with a Boston band I was managing, The Luxury. He saw the publicity work I did for them and felt I’d be the right fit.
OLM: What were you doing before you started at Powderfinger Promotions? Have you always worked in the music industry?
MZ: Music has always been a part of my life. I was trained as a classical pianist from the age of 8, took vocal lessons in High School, then became a radio DJ in college. I haven’t always been in the music industry, though. I was a project manager in the financial industry for about 10 years. It was a soul-sucking job, so I jumped back into music managing a UK artist and a handful of Boston artists before David Avery asked me to come to Powderfinger.
OLM: Do you work strictly with Americana, Jazz and Jam Bands or do you accept submissions from other genres?
MZ: We definitely have worked with a number of Americana, jazz, and jam bands, but we work with almost every genre except for hip-hop and metal. I’ve done a great deal of work with indie rock bands and singer-songwriters in the last year.
OLM: What does a band have to do to get recognized by Powderfinger Promotions?
MZ: We get submissions from bands who are interested in working with us and we listen to everything. What we’re listening for is quality, but also whether the music works for radio and/or is it something we can pitch to our press contacts.
OLM: Do you seek out bands or do they seek you out?
MZ: I’d say it’s a combination of both. David has been in the business for a long time and we get repeat clients as well as referrals. Brian has regular contact with musicians and producers outside of Powderfinger, so he brings in new clients. I’m fairly well integrated into the Boston music scene and I’m always checking out new bands. It’s great to work with bands I’m already friends with, as well, which happens from time to time.
OLM: What is the relationship between Powderfinger Promotions and the band? In other words, what can bands expect from you and what do you expect from bands?
MZ: The artist/Powderfinger relationship is a partnership. We need to know what’s going on [is there a new show coming up, a video about to be released?] so we can drive success for that client and we recommend clients give a quick thank you to stations that have been playing their album or publications that have written about them. It’s critical that we have an honest relationship with clients. We’re providing feedback before we kick off a campaign that can affect the success of that artist and I want clients to tell me what their expectations are from the campaign up front to ensure we’re all on the same page.
OLM: Who are your three favorite current Powderfinger Promotions artists and why? Who are your three favorite Powderfinger Promotions artists from the past and why?
MZ: I’m looking at a HUGE stack of CDs on my desk and picking favorites is so tough, primarily because picking my favorite artists isn’t just about the music. I’ve worked with some bigger name artists like Tim Reynolds [Dave Matthews Band], Jimmy Destri [Blondie], and Bernie Worrell [P-Funk], but I’ve also worked with up and coming artists promoting their debut EP. My favorite artists are the ones who are fun to work with, are responsive, and we engage in focused planning to bring about their success.
OLM: Are there any bands that you would you like to sign to Powderfinger Promotions? Which bands and why?
MZ: There are so many amazing local Boston artists that I would LOVE to work with both because they’re friends of mine, but also because they’re excruciatingly talented like Aloud, Animal Talk, The Blackboard Nails, Cask Mouse, The Crushing Low, Mary Lou Lord, Old Jack…I could go on and on.
OLM: Powderfinger Promotions will celebrate their 20-year anniversary in two years. What strides has the company made since 1994 and what can the company do to be even better in the future?
MZ: Powderfinger started as a one-man operation with David Avery using his kitchen pantry as an office to promote a friend’s 3-song 7” vinyl release to college radio. Things went well right from the start, and prominent local bands soon started showing up with new releases looking for college radio promotion. But it became clear that some of the music we were promoting could cross over into other formats like jazz, jamband, Americana, singer-songwriter rock, folk, and New World radio. So, we moved into community (and some commercial) radio and quickly became known for promoting new releases that did well at several formats.
Things grew and David had to hire a couple of people to help keep up, which lead to finding a “real” office space. With radio success came a demand for publicity, for tour dates and new release reviews, so we launched a publicity department. When the new media revolution started to take off we branched off into satellite and internet radio, viral publicity, and social media marketing. At first it seemed like these new tech tools might replace the old tools, but as it turns out, the new tools are an enhancement that gives us new ways to reach people along with more traditional means.
To be better in the future we need to do what we’ve always done, which is to stay on top of what’s going on out there and constantly looking for new and real ways to promote music without getting overly seduced by the sometimes frenzied tech hype. Just because something seems hip, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to do much for your band. We need methods and tools that work, whether they’re old school or cutting edge.
OLM: What are some of your hobbies? What do you like to do when not working?
MZ: I love to cook and very seriously considered culinary arts school at various points in my life. I go out to see live music almost every weekend. I’m a photographer (both professionally and as a hobby). I do a lot of live music photography. I have to multi-task. I’m also a mom of two, so that keeps me exceptionally busy.
OLM: The desert island question: if you were stranded on a desert island and could take the collected works of five artists, who would the five be?
MZ: Damn, I was afraid you’d ask me this one…there are a few artists I haven’t been able to get enough of lately like Dawes and Band of Skulls, but I’d have to select artists that have stood the test of time with me throughout my life: Bob Dylan, Zeppelin, The Stone Roses, Radiohead, and Miles Davis.
OLM: Who are your guilty listening pleasures?
MZ: Def Leppard [I wore out my Hysteria tape], Journey, Steely Dan, Duran Duran, and George Michael…[I should probably hide my head in shame now].
OLM: How can people find out more information about Powderfinger Promotions?