10 Questions with ... Ed Bunker
November 26, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- Chief Marketing and Ideation Officer - No Problem! Marketing - West Hills, CA - August 2001 to Present
- National Director of Marketing & Sales - Squint Entertainment (through ADA) - Studio City, CA - October 1998 to August 2001
- Various Sales & Marketing Positions - BMG Distribution - May 1985 - September 1998
- Research - KLOS/Los Angeles - June 1982 - April 1985
1) What led you to a career in the music business? Who are some of your earliest mentors who gave you a shot in the business?
I started out as a Color Commentator and Statistician for Basketball games on WDEA-A in Ellsworth, ME when I was in high school. I got the radio bug from there, and when I went to college at the University of Maine/Orono, I immediately got as many air-shifts as I could. I would go on whenever they let me, as often as I could. I worked there all four years, and was the MD my junior and senior years. I met a lot of people by going to conferences in Boston and New York City, and I developed a relationship with several label reps.
A woman who worked at Will Botwin's company Side One Marketing in Los Angeles would call to do tracking, and just before I graduated from college she asked me what I was going to do. I told her that if I didn't get a job in radio in a Top 10 market right out of school that I was going to take a year off and travel around the world. She ran research at KLOS nights and weekends, and told me that while it wasn't a full time position and that I would have to get a 2nd job to survive. If I wanted to come to Los Angeles she would give me a job doing research @ KLOS. So after I graduated, I took an intensive two-week course in studio recording with Noel Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul and Mary) and packed my car and drove across country from Maine to California in three days. When I got to LA, I didn't know anyone or anything at that point! A friend of a friend let me crash on his couch, but he gave me an ultimatum: You have two-weeks to find a job and another place to live. I hustled like crazy, and ended up getting a messenger gig at CBS Radio & TV on Sunset Blvd. I'd start there at 7:00 a.m., work until 4:30 - then drive like a maniac across town to try to get to KLOS by 5pm to do research until 10 or 11 p.m. While I was at CBS, I met a bunch of the label reps that would come in to promote music to KNX (Triple A before it was called that) and then when it flipped to Top 40 as KKHR. One of my earliest mentors and a guy I will be forever grateful to is Jeff Naumann. He's one of the last great characters in music promotion. He helped me get my first Record business gig hanging posters in record stores and doing inventories with what was then RCA/A&M/Arista Distribution.
Shortly after I started it became BMG Distribution, and I was there for almost 14 years in various sales and marketing jobs. Over the years there I had so many people that helped me and mentored me, Jayne Simon, Lou Maglia, Pete Jones, Rick Bleiwess, Marc Garrett, Joe Galante, Mike Dungan and many more. In 1998, a buddy of mine who I'd first met when he managed Honeymoon Suite and then later worked at ZOO. Stephen Prendergast asked me to come work with him at a new start-up label that Steve Taylor started called Squint Entertainment. This was a chance for me to run the Sales & Marketing department, so I jumped at the chance. We broke Sixpence None The Richer with a big hit, "Kiss Me" and we also did over 100,000 units on the first Chevelle record, among others. We had a good three-year run, and then Warner Bros bought out the label and made it an A&R imprint. So I was on the beach. I interviewed for a few gigs and couldn't find anything that I really wanted so that's when I started No Problem! Marketing in 2001 and have kept the lights on (although a couple of years just barely!) ever since.
2) What areas of the music business does 'No Problem! Marketing' specialize in? What radio formats do you work your artists to?
We're a boutique company. We offer a lot of different services, because we tailor each artist's marketing plan to the best possible way to reach their target audience. We place a lot of acts in various genres with online radio, we get articles and features at the major portals for the acts we work with, we place a lot of videos with big retail brands, fitness centers, casinos, hotels, restaurants, etc. We just partnered with UNCLE promotion to place eight acts on Subway Radio's new program in 2000 stores in December and January. If it goes well (and we think it will) they will be rolling it out to all 28,000 stores nationally which would be an amazing outlet. The great thing about the program is that it's a captive audience for the 5 minutes or so that people are waiting for their sandwich to be made. They also front AND back announce the acts like radio used to do. We also get videos placed and featured both online and off. Right now, we have a lot of Country and Triple A acts through Curb that we are working, and we're working with the "Mayor of Nashville" Kirt Webster @ Webster PR on some mutually beneficial, complimentary services which is really exciting. We've also partnered this year on a lot of Rock, Urban, and AC/Pop projects with Erik Baker and his company Major Label Entertainment out of Nashville. Erik's got energy times 10, and he's a rising star in the Rock/Active Rock world. He not only works as a manager for acts like 12 Stones, Taproot, Smile Empty Soul, The Veer Union & World Fire Brigade, but he's also an independent promoter to Rock radio and handles all the Social Media for his clients. He's a social media guru! Our services complement each other so we make a great team.
3) What is the role of the Marketing/publicity agent in today's music business?
For me - I'm always trying to find the best way to connect the artists I work for with the audience they are trying to reach - and help them grow that audience so they can generate enough revenue to sustain themselves. It's an incredibly noisy marketplace right now: All these wonderful new digital tools that were supposed to "level the playing field" have in fact made it exponentially more difficult to break through and rise above the noise to get noticed. I try to place the music, video, and artist's story in as many meaningful places as possible - because it's such a fragmented media marketplace. It's incredibly difficult and expensive to reach a mass audience anymore - so you need to be in a lot of places so that cumulatively you give the artist the best chance for a fan to discover and hear the music. Once you've done that, the hope is that the music will move the fan enough to buy a download, a t-shirt, or a ticket to a show. We also hope that through our efforts the artist can get a placement with a TV show, Film, or Ad Agency.
4) What do you feel is the most important issue facing the recording artist and small labels in the current business environment?
Without question it's generating enough revenue to keep the lights on. It's so much harder to make money from just recorded music these days, so everyone has to do more with less. You have to keep your overhead down, and then generate cash flow wherever you can through touring, merch, licensing and syncs, and streaming revenue where you can get it. You have to be open to everything, and attached to nothing to survive. It's an ever evolving marketplace so you have to change and grow with it.
5) With terrestrial radio tightening up their playlists these days, have you found that satellite radio and the Internet are more open to exposing new artists?
Absolutely - I've been betting my business on it! Don't get me wrong, I still LOVE our partners at terrestrial radio and they are still very, very important as far as driving big results for artists. But because so many are owned by large companies that have specific revenue goals they have to meet month to month to keep the shareholders happy, they can't take as many chances as they used to. So that opens the doors for companies that we work with like Sirius/XM, AOL, iHeartradio, Music Choice; Pandora, Radio.com, RDIO, Spotify, Yahoo Music, Video Detective/IVA and the various Townsquare sites to become music discovery destinations for new and developing artists.
A recent NPD study showed that more than 140 million people in the US are listening to online radio at least five hours per week and I think that's only going to grow. You're also seeing that reflected in how songs chart now through Big Champagne, Billboard, and Next Big Sound. Mobile, Online, Satellite and other non-traditional outlets are going to continue to grow in importance for music discovery and artist development. We're going to be there to support that and grow with them!
6) Who are some other artists you're working with now?
I've been fortunate enough to work with one of the smartest marketing guys in Nashville at Curb Records like Jeff Tuerff. Since James Brown has gone to his great reward, JT is "THE hardest workin' man in showbiz!"
I've been working Lee Brice who is KILLING it and just had his 2nd #1 single, along with Rodney Atkins, Tim McGraw, Heidi Newfield, Rachel Holder, Plumb, an awesome young singer/songwriter named Marie Miller whose new song "You're Not Alone" is testing through the roof with females 16-34. We have a GREAT new act called Sweetwater Rain that sounds like a cross between Lady Antebellum and Kings of Leon. We are really proud of the fact that we have the #2 highest rated song at the Rock format at AOL Radio this year with The Veer Union "Bitter End." We're also working a hot young band from Minneapolis called "3 Pill Morning." They are touring with 12 Stones who are on fire right now with the track "Psycho" at Active Rock and are selling out clubs across the U.S. We've just started working World Fire Brigade - which is the lead singer of Fuel and the lead singer of Smile Empty Soul's new side project. They've sold more than 10 million records collectively. We've also worked Phil Collen of Def Leppard's side project Manraze, a band from Los Angeles called Oedipus that writes amazing songs, and Evan Seinfeld (Ex-Biohazard, HBO's "Oz) and Rusty Coones band Attika7. Rusty has a recurring role on this season of "Sons of Anarchy" and is President of a local chapter of Hell's Angels. So that ain't dull!
We brought by an act to All Access last week that we're really excited about, the Aaron Hendra Project. AHP are opening 40 dates for Oscar Winner/Comedienne Monique's tour starting in January, and the team behind AHP has put together an impressive 3 million + media impressions in the last couple of months. We'll be going after Aaron's track "Alive' at AC in the first quarter. We also brought by The Villains to the Malibu Mother ship who are a band from Atlanta that has the funkiest, most catchy-as-hell song I've heard this year "Cadillac". We're going to Hot AC with a new Villains track - "Rainy Day Girl" in January, and at the risk of sounding "old school, "it's a SMASH!" And last but not least is a smooth R&B trio from Oklahoma City called Meant2B. Their new Christmas song "Home For The Holidays" is starting to get some traction, and they are coming with a new single "Down" featuring Yung Joc and Ray Lavender in early February which is destined to be a club smash and will make 2013 their best year yet!
7) What was the most difficult project you've ever worked that finally broke through?
Probably Sixpence None The Richer. It took us the better part of two years to finally break through. We had to overcome the whole "Christian Artist" tag and we truly built it "brick by brick." It was a lot of small wins that cumulatively over time added up to a #1 Top 40 hit!
8) Do you track which songs the audience is downloading? What trends have you noticed in your research?
We follow and track wherever we can access the data. The things that I see over and over again, and it may seem obvious is that the more overall media exposure an artist has, downloads generally spike within the four weeks around peak exposure, and then generally fall pretty quickly. The other thing I see a lot is if a track really resonates and gets passed around virally, downloads explode and then recede with amazing speed. Tracks don't have nearly as long a "legs" as they used to and I'm a bit concerned about what that might mean for enduring catalogs going forward.
9) What can artists be doing with their radio station web sites or social media portals to drive more music fans to these sites?
Artists HAVE to constantly engage with their fans. They have to either be interacting or offering new content on a regular basis to keep fans coming back. They also need to engage new fans. Artists need to be constantly taking new photos and posting to Instagram, or recording short video bits from the studio and the road to keep it fresh and fun. If a station is playing your song, then you should be working hand-in-glove with the station webmaster and/or marketing/promotion director on contests and free downloads of live takes, acoustic tracks, etc. in exchange for a working email address or mobile phone number. That way the station and the band can win through ongoing engagement with that fan. If you're only engaging your fans during new release cycles, you're going to lose. It has to be an ongoing process.
10) What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
There are a few things that I've learned: A). Tell the truth and be honest; B). if you make a mistake admit it, do whatever you can to make it right, learn from it, and then move on. C). Don't do things just for money in the short term because there is almost always long-term pain that comes from it. D). There are no shortcuts and there is no substitute for long hours and hard work.
What do you do in your spare time?
I walk and lift weights to relieve stress; I'm a voracious reader of biographies, business books and Horror fiction. I like smart, scripted TV series and I watch lots of documentaries and Indie movies. I used to love trout fishing but I haven't had the time in the last few years. I'm going to try to get up to the Owens Valley this spring and get back into it.
Apple, Amazon, Spotify, and many others have recently introduced music in "The Cloud." What effect will these new music services have on the radio and music industries?
I think that if you're a road warrior and need to access music/video/documents etc., then there can be a benefit to storing things in the cloud that you can access with any device from anywhere. I do know that for me personally. I will NEVER put anything in the cloud of a personal nature or that would hurt me if it were lost because it will never be 100% secure. Any sensitive business or financial documents I'd be reticent to store in the cloud.
How would you compare the challenges and/or the advantages between working at an independent label versus a major label?
At an indie you usually have to wear more than one hat, so you get to do more without rigid parameters to your job. You can be nimble and react more quickly to changes in the marketplace. But you have to do more with less resources. The advantage to a Major is having the critical mass and clout to get big things done. You've got serious leverage to work with which can be an advantage. The big disadvantage that I see is the politics which slow down or derail things. It takes longer for the organization to make changes quickly.
What are some of the artists we might find on your MP3 player?
It's pretty Eclectic with lots of Hard Rock and Country, a little Disco, and some Comedy. I listen every day for 90 minutes or so while I'm at the gym. This week I uploaded the New Steel Panther British Invasion live, World Fire Brigade, ZZ Ward, Blackberry Smoke, Elvis Monroe, Army of Freshman, Issa, Kiss, Songs of Anarchy Soundtrack, and Slash to my MP3 player.
What creative ideas are you using to promote your new artists?
Lately it's been non-traditional exposure like Subway radio, exposing music to people where they are, instead of trying to get to them where we wish they were.
What singer/performer/artist really inspires you and why?
There are two: My favorite singer of all time is Paul Rodgers from Free/Bad Company. His voice was and is so powerful and soulful! The emotion was so tangible you could really feel it in every note. He's also the only music artist I was so star-struck by I couldn't go up to and shake his hand to meet him. I was completely overwhelmed and chickened out. And Maynard James Keenan from Tool, Puscifer, and A Perfect Circle. I was there at the beginning of Tool and got to be part of that great ride. He's a really deep person, and very, very smart which I found really refreshing. I got to spend some quality time with him, including one debauched night in Las Vegas. Tool was really starting to take off and they sold out the Huntington Theatre. Afterwards, I took him out and we hit every Strip Club in Vegas and consumed a couple of gallons of booze (or at least I did!) I spent about $2000.00 that night, and we ended the night driving the wrong way through a McDonald's Drive Through to get some breakfast at 6:00 am!