Mastering the Hustle 14: Media Professionalism

Mastering the Hustle
Martin Douglas
All photos by Brady Harvey

KEXP, Upstream Music Fest + SummitMoPOP, and The Recording Academy have partnered together to present Mastering The Hustle: a panel discussion with six annual events, tackling a different topic to help emerging artists make better decisions earlier in their careers. Throughout the series, we’ll be discussing everything from how to get airplay, legal and licensing, healthcare for artists, and promoting your brand.

Engaging with media is practically a requirement for being a working musician in this day and age. Through the press, through social media, through podcasting and any other form modern form of engaging with people, everyone has to think about the way they interact with the public. Gone are the days of mystique when it comes to presenting yourself to the world as an artist; virtually everything people want to learn is at their fingertips with a good enough internet connection. With that comes its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and it's important to know how to navigate the world of media if you aspire toward any sort of meaningful recognition as an artist.

In the fourteenth installment of the Mastering the Hustle workshop series, a handful of luminaries of Seattle's music community convene to discuss the benefits and pitfalls of media engagement in the modern world and how to best promote your brand. Ben Secord, Director of Philanthropy and Community Engagement for Macklemore and member of the Seattle Music Commission, Jasmine Albertson, Associate Content Producer for and co-founder of Distinction Music Management, and Emily Nokes, lead singer of Tacocat and music editor of Bust Magazine discuss the best ways to navigate the public world as an artist.

Secord kicks off the panel by offering a caveat of sorts about the word "professionalism," which he feels can be a coded term and has the power to perpetuate the disparity found in the music industry, but this panel will focus on how to build your brand in a positive manner that feels authentic.

He asks the panel how they would define their brand, to which Nokes answers that she shares her brand with three other musicians, making up the quartet known as Tacocat. Collectively, they're invested in positivity, fashion, feminism, inclusion, and empowerment. Albertson notes the importance of a consistent voice and notes Distinction Music Management is very intentional in what they do as a brand. Secord asks how the role of media shapes an artist's brand and the perception of their brand. Albertson suggests intention and the art of doing everything concerning your artistry with purpose. Nokes acknowledges that everything the band does in a public-facing manner has to do with media: Videos, photos, their collective interaction with the rest of the world. It's important for Tacocat to be a unified, cogent voice, which also helps in their interactions in working with numerous people. They're not the type of band that's going to accidentally make something they hate; the intention is stressed as a motivating component of what Tacocat does as a band.

Secord notes the unique perspectives each member of the panel has within the boundaries of the music industry; Nokes is a musician in a band, Albertson writes and works in management, Secord works with young people trying to find their place in the industry. He asks the other members of the panel to define "media professionalism." After joking about how the term sounds kind of arcane, Nokes acknowledges that Tacocat is comprised of four different people, therefore while they have a collective identity, they still have individual preferences and traits. For instance, guitarist Eric Randall is really into mixed martial arts, something the band as a whole doesn't necessarily need to post about on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Cohesion is a part of professionalism.

Albertson notes "boss bitch" is a term DMM uses in their branding, which obviously may not be the most professional distinction, but it fits into their ethos of empowerment. DMM's Sasha Gonzales runs the company's Instagram, and Albertson acknowledges the great job she does in encapsulating their vibe: fun, youthful, femme. Secord goes off-script to ask how the other panelists present themselves differently in their private lives from how their public persona is cultivated. Over time, Albertson has made her personal pages reflect her professional work to reduce the stress of handling her personal life in a public forum. Nokes adds to that by noting her personal social media accounts are reflective of her other work and sometimes simply how she's feeling on a particular day about a particular subject. Secord notes that he's asked because of the inherent tension between being authentic to yourself as a person and not alienating anyone as a brand. He asks the panel how they navigate that balance.

Nokes says, "Human beings are weird, and all the time we're feeling different things that don't necessarily have to go on the internet at the second we're feeling it." It's a matter of expressing your genuine feelings as a person being authentic. When Albertson has a very strong feeling, she'll write it down in her notes and if she ends up reading it back or finding it and feeling strongly about its impact, she will post it. Nokes acknowledges how although the internet is quick and often provokes reactionary responses, it's different from having an in-person conversation with them.

Secord mentions bringing up the idea of cultivating your persona not from a conservative, risk-management standpoint, but also for the positive effects. "Nobody's going to get excited about following a band on social media where all they get is, 'Our video is out now!'" He notes fans are more engaged when they are witness to an artist's personality. Nokes agrees it is a positive component of social media; she remembers getting an Ace of Base CD and studying photos as well as reading liner notes to learn more about the band, to unlock the mystery, so to speak. She applauds writers Lindy West and Samantha Irby, as well as Kathleen Hanna. "I feel like musicians have a lot more issues with privacy at a certain point, so it can get kind of dicey," she says. Albertson holds Mitski's social media presence and public persona in high regard, on the local level, she praises Andrew Vait of SISTERS and Little Wins as far as artists who use their platform for positivity, opening a dialogue about musicians and mental health.

In a question directed to Nokes, Secord asks about a conversation they had in the green room about an incident in North Carolina, to which Nokes tells a story about Tacocat playing a show in the state right around the time the gendered bathroom debate intensified there and how it impedes transgender rights. There was a boycott going around urging bands not to play shows in North Carolina. Nokes remembers being sent the petition and immediately rebuffing it. "The people we play music for, our community, I would never want to take away a show and punish them because they live in North Carolina," she says. "We [were] playing a queer venue that has never had signs on the bathroom [door] anyway." Tacocat ended up playing the North Carolina show and donated all their merchandise proceeds for the night to Trans Lifeline, along with writing a statement explaining why they did and why supporting organizations that directly help transgender people is important.

Secord then asks for the panel to explain to younger artists why their conduct in the public space matters. Albertson notes there are many different kinds of people involved in the music industry. Treating people who interact with them with respect is essential. Nokes adds that she's been disappointed by people who can make great music but treat people badly, or go to restaurants without tipping, or publicly support known abusers like Woody Allen. "There's a lot of bad behavior out there," Nokes says. "And it really impacts what people think about you."

Albertson notes it's important to know your limitations. "If you know you're not able to respond to emails on time, find someone who can," she says. "Because all these things come back to you." There are many components to being a professional; timeliness and respect are key. Sometimes entitlement is a result of a growing profile in the scene, so it's vital to respect the people working for venues and publications. Albertson shares her experiences talking to artists for DMM, trying to figure out the things the artists being represented are into, the general tone of their social media presence, the things they enjoy.

In the eleven years since Tacocat formed, Nokes thinks about having to print out maps for the first few tours because smartphone GPS wasn't a thing at the time. She feels luckier to have grown up in a time where social media didn't exist, just because of how angrier she felt back then.

Secord notes we live in an age where, because social media gives us an instant platform to express what's on our minds, it has created call-out culture and asks the other panelists to offer their definition. Nokes defines it as using social media to confront a person with problematic behavior, while Albertson agrees. Secord then asks if either Nokes or Albertson have experienced call-out culture directly. The latter says absolutely and ended up being a situation where the person who called her out almost immediately took it back. Albertson says the problem with call-out culture is that it's too reactionary and that approaching someone privately might be better for both parties to better understand each other. Nokes points out that it was an idea that started in good faith, giving everyone including marginalized groups a voice, but the tone comes from a place of scorched earth mentality; the opportunity to create a constructive discourse becomes weaponized.

Albertson is asked by Secord about cancel culture, and Albertson acknowledges the two sides: On one hand, it's about keeping spaces safe, but on the other, we as a community don't know what to do with these people who have been "canceled." Rehabilitation is not something we as a culture really talk about; we're quicker to cancel than we are to educate each other.


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