Beth Blenz-Clucas is the owner of Sugar Mountain PR, a children’s music publicity firm based in Portland, Ore. She represents the top names in family music, specifically the kindie (kid + indie) genre. I've had the pleasure of working for Beth for the past two years and she has taught me everything I know about music publicity and what it takes to secure media coverage for musicians.
She was nice enough to do this Q&A with me and talk about her experience in the industry and creative solutions in an evolving media landscape.
Beth Blenz-Clucas (right in blue), owner of Sugar Mountain PR, with her family musician clients in New York at a pre-Grammy networking lunch. Photo by Richard Clucas.
Q: Your publicity services are sought after by family artists across the country and you have to be selective about who you take on. How do you know when you want to represent a certain artist? Do your potential clients need to meet a certain criteria before you sign on with them? Or do they have an x-factor? Maybe both?
A: That's a very flattering assessment! I love working in the family music genre. The people involved are endlessly creative, and I'm convinced that their music is important for kids. I'm sort of on a mission to promote the idea that children's music can be every bit as wonderful and worthy of respect as children's literature. Strangely, music for kids doesn't get as much attention as books for kids. My mission, every day, is to chip away at the ignorant notion that children's music is sub-par in any way!
So, I think that has helped me when I choose clients and when I decide when it's worth the an artist's time and treasure to hire a publicist. Firstly, I have to LOVE the music and the artist. Secondly, I have to look at how prepared they are to stand alongside so many artists who are doing amazing work in this field. The artist today has to have it together -- not only their music, but their production, their visuals, their touring schedule, and so many other things that have to go into building a presence. I do look to see if the artist already has a fan following. And the "x-factor" is a big plus.
The artist also has to have a good sense of who they are as musicians and as personalities. Do they also have a sense that they must appeal to the parents/teachers as well as the kids? Sometimes an artist goes too far the other way. The music is super indie-cool, but I can't imagine any kid digging it.
I'm lucky to have so many great clients to work with. New prospects really have to prove to me that they're ready for PR, and I have to be able to say "WOW!" when I hear the music and see them in action -- with kids!
Beth with client, Lisa Loeb, this year's Grammy winner in the "Best Children's Album" category. Photo by Richard Clucas.
Q: You have been the owner of Sugar Mountain PR now for more than 20 years, right? How has music publicity changed in that span of time? What are some new challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
A: Yep, I've been at this for awhile. When I started, "the Internet" and iTunes were really new ideas. The idea that a musician didn't have to have a label to release and album was a new concept. For awhile, things were all fresh and new for the media, too.
There was a big resurgence of media interest and a flowering of new indie music for kids, starting at about 1999 (the peak year for CD sales, by the way). It was really pretty easy, if I had a good project /artist to share, to get the media to pay attention and really do some great coverage. Today, the challenge for music publicists (and musicians) is that everyone wants to get music for free. Streaming is really cutting in to artists' income, and not many of the new crop of parents is willing to purchase any music, let alone whole albums.
So, we have had to be creative. The music biz is certainly in flux, and I think the trend is away from the album. Singles are more important, just like they were in the 1940s and '50s. And, artists have to come up with all kinds of alternative ways to make a living, and so I try to help my clients network in areas beyond the media outreach that we do.
Beth and me on the Red Carpet at the 2018 Grammy Awards getting ready to escort four of her nominated clients.
Q: Your clients are consistently Grammy nominees and winners. I know you have said before that sometimes new clients want to hire you because they think you are the secret sauce to a Grammy nomination. How do you set realistic expectations from the get-go? On the other hand, how does it feel to play a major part in a musician's nomination or win for the highest honor in the music industry?
A: Yeah, that's a good thing and a challenging thing. I just know how to pick 'em! My longtime clients are really excellent music-makers. The GRAMMYs provide a wonderful recognition of excellence in children's album making, but they are not the be-all and end-all. Clients who have won GRAMMYs haven't seen a corresponding big jump in income as a result. It's back to the grind of performing, engaging with fans and getting out there to pound the pavement, even for the winners and nominees!
I make sure to tell all of my artists that while a GRAMMY is a wonderful honor from your peers, there are so many other ways you can effectively reach your fans. Engage with and build up your fans! That's the most important thing in music marketing right now.
Beth and 2018 Grammy nominees, Tommy Sheppard and Kaitlin McGaw of The Alphabet Rockers. Photo by Richard Clucas.
Q: In PR sometimes you have to get creative in order to make your clients stand out among all the hundreds of pitches out there. What is one of your creative pitches or solutions that serves as a shining example of breaking through the clutter to achieve media coverage?
A: Oh, that's tough, and it is becoming tougher to get the really big major media hits. Journalists are always looking for trends, not necessarily news about one individual children's music artist. I'm finding success with some major parenting sites when I offer themed playlists -- holidays, Valentine's Day, summer road trips and the like.
My playlists on Soundcloud seem to get some traction. Also, journalists like context -- how does this new artist fit into the history of children's music? We had some luck with an Ella Jenkins birthday tribute a few years back, where we booked interviews and radio pieces with some of today's artists. And more recently, we helped a Billboard writer gather testimonial quotes about Mister Rogers for an anniversary piece.
Q: While you have team members that help you out, you are largely a one-woman show at Sugar Mountain PR. What is your favorite part about being your own boss and what advice do you have to aspiring PR professionals that may want to start their own firm?
A: It does take a lot of hard work, and you have to be self-motivated. I get up every day, set some goals, and also keep my long-term goals in mind all of the time. It's a juggling act when a whole bunch of clients want to release their albums at the same time. Spring (like, now!) and fall (around September, right before the GRAMMY entry deadline) are both insanely busy times. I am constantly shifting gears and playing triage while making sure I deliver on all of my promises to clients. It is harder than it sounds!
Beth and me at last year's Sugar Mountain PR Holiday lunch. Photo by SMPR team member, Peggy Gansberg.
To learn more about Sugar Mountain PR, visit sugarmountainpr.com and follow Beth on Twitter at @BethBC.