Cool: She makes a living promoting her favorite bands
By Seth Rogovoy
Next month, when funkmeister George Clinton appears on the cover of bimonthly music magazine Relix -- the bible of the jam-band scene -- it will represent a significant triumph for Clinton, putting him in the rarified company of the likes of arena headliners Ben Harper, Dave Matthews, Phil Lesh and the late Jerry Garcia as the most important or influential musicians in their field.
With only six issues per year, that’s only a half-dozen opportunities to go round. Clinton knows this, and therefore he shares his triumph with the person other than the editor of Relix who is perhaps most responsible for making this happen: his publicist.
Clinton didn’t call the editors of Relix himself and suggest that they write a story about him. His publicist did. All famous musicians -- and many not-so-famous ones -- engage the services of publicists, whose job it is to get media people interested enough in their clients to do something about them. Even the Berkshire Eagle’s rock critic is inundated with daily phone calls, e-mails and packages from publicists touting their clients’ new CDs and upcoming performances, in the hopes of getting a mention, a photo, a review or a feature article run in the Eagle.
"What artists should focus on, if they have the financial wherewithal, is their art," said Ariel Hyatt, George Clinton’s publicist and the head of Ariel Publicity, in a recent phone interview from the offices of her small, independent publicity firm in New York.
"For a lot of people, it’s easier to get on stage and play their music and write songs than it is to promote themselves. What they get when they work with us is a team of people who love their music and communicates with people to tell them how much we love it."
For years, Ariel Publicity has been sending press kits for her clients to the Eagle. And Hyatt’s kits have stood out for several reasons: they are clear and well-designed (which is not always the case with professionally-produced press kits); they have a unique, consistent aesthetic (often printed on paper in colors you see nowhere else but in her mailings); and her clients, for better or worse, share an organic quality and approach in their music.
But there has always been another element that has made Hyatt’s communiques stand out -- the personal touch that comes from her longstanding connection to the Berkshires.
Though a New Yorker born-and-bred, Hyatt’s ancestral roots are in the Berkshires, where her father spent his teen-age years and where her grandparents, Bernice and Steven Hyatt, owned and ran Hyatt Hardware, a fixture of downtown Lee from the mid-1940s until 1970 or so.
"I was really fond of the video arcade in old downtown Lee," said Hyatt, who as a child came up to the Berkshires to stay with her grandparents or family friends at least once a month.
"I used to walk down there and spend as many quarters as I could get my hands on," said Hyatt, who nowadays comes up to the Berkshires to visit her parents, Gordon and Carole Hyatt, who live in Stockbridge and New York.
"H.A. Johansson’s -- when you’re a little kid, that place is magic. String, yarn, and fun crafts. And the Piccadilly had gummy bears, which was a big deal."
In her teen years, Hyatt found magic in rock clubs in New York -- CBGBs and the Ritz -- and in dance clubs like the Tunnel and Limelight.
"New York in the Eighties was an all bets, all rules are off kind of place," said Hyatt. "It was fun. I never drank or did drugs. I was just so into seeing music that it didn’t occur to me to be bad -- just to get into all the shows."
In her current job, Hyatt, 31, once again haunts New York nightclubs five nights a week or more, often for business, but sometimes just for fun.
A graduate of Clark University, Hyatt found herself back in nightclubs helping to promote her favorite bands through a circuitous route. In college, she worked for a public relations firm in the fashion industry, an experience that proved to her that "shoes didn’t get me out of bed in the morning -- music did," she said.
Out of college, she ran through a series of music-related jobs at a record store, a record label, a radio station, and at a major music industry p.r. firm where the main job was to shield its clients from the media.
Eventually, Hyatt found herself in Colorado, working for a concert promoter doing publicity. During that time she began helping out a local band on the side with its publicity. Other bands began noticing that band’s success and started calling Hyatt and asking if she could help them.
By the time she lost her job with the concert promoter, she already had two national touring acts on her roster as an independent publicist -- one of which was the popular band Acoustic Junction, which also boasted some Berkshire connections.
Ariel Publicity grew from there. She moved back to New York where she set up shop, and over the past seven years her roster has included such clients as All Mighty Senators, Bim Skala Bim, Big Ass Truck, Fathead, Mickey Hart, John Brown’s Body, Leftover Salmon, Ominous Seapods, the Slip, Particle, the Toasters, Zen Tricksters, Bernie Worrell, and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.
Ariel Publicity began with an emphasis on ska bands, and now is sought out primarily by jam bands. But Hyatt’s roster has always included other types of performers, such as neo-Hasidic singer-songwriter Neshama Carlebach, and second-generation singer-songwriters Jen Chapin, daughter of Harry Chapin, and Sally Taylor, daughter of Carly Simon and James Taylor. Until recently, Ariel Publicity handled publicity for the B.B.King Blues Club in New York; currently it works with the Tribeca Rock Club.
Last year, Hyatt founded Rock Girl Marketing with partner Melissa Rosenberg. Rock Girl takes a grassroots approach to marketing up-and-coming bands, turning bands’ hardcore fans into organized street teams for postering and fliers, internet invasions, tour support, in-store airplay, "any kind of think-outside-the-box marketing," said Hyatt.
Hyatt only works with bands she likes. And most of them don’t have very much money. "At the end of the day, we’re not making much more than minimum wage," she said. "We take on a lot of clients at one time, and doing volume helps.
"This is a labor of love. When I started it, I didn’t do it for the money. I was a music fanatic and I wanted to help people. At the end of every month somehow the rent gets paid and there’s food on the table. But we’re definitely not in this for the massive moneymaking."
Seth Rogovoy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.