How to break into the German music market – Mind Scan: Andrew Campbell

Joona Nuutinen and Andrew Campbell talked about the benefits of working with a music promotion company instead of self-promoting, how publishers and media companies like to get approached and the history of Gordeon Music.

J: Hey Andrew, who are you and what’s your profession?

A: I am a manager, publisher, PR manager working in the music business for nearly 30 years now. It started in 1990 at Sony Music. In 1992 I opened up my own business, starting with a PR company, later on management, publishing, label services and so on. Before that I was a journalist, working as a foreign correspondent in East Berlin, even though I am from West Berlin. I went through the unification process, very interesting times.

J: Did you ever consider a career as a journalist?

Actually I wanted to. This is how I actually became a part of the music business, because I was writing for different magazines, newspapers – mainly cultural and political stuff. I also ran my own photo agency at that time, as well as a TV show. It was a metal show called Riff Raff. Then, at one point of working as a journalist, Sony Music came to me and asked if I wanted to join them as a PR person and go to the other side of the river.

J: So you took the chance…

A: Yeah, I mean this was a pretty cool offer. This was a time when CBS just got bought by Sony. They had these great bands like Pearl Jam, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Michael Jackson, Michael Bolton, Mariah Carey and many other huge artists. I think it was a great honor for me to join them at that moment.

J: So how did they find you?

A: They promoted me. I was writing interviews of certain Sony bands, when the rock product manager called me and asked what I thought about the idea of becoming a PR manager, and I said ”Yeah, why not”. And of course they offered me pretty good money – this was the time when you could still earn some really cool money. The choice was between being a poor journalist and being the PR manager of Sony, which was a well-paid job, so I said ”Okay!”.

How did you end up founding your own company?

A: The whole music industry struggled in the beginning of the nineties. Everybody was thinking about restructuring the company, and the first step at Sony was to divide the company into a national department and an international department. The national department at that time was practically German schlager, and I was a long-haired metalhead, and everybody thought that I wasn’t going to make it into German schlager right away, and I said ”fuck you, I’m never going to promote German schlager”. And all my colleagues at the time, who had already worked at Sony for years, were chosen for the position. I was the rookie, so I was going to get fired first. Then I decided that I’m better than Sony, and I can do better PR than Sony, so I just opened up my own company and wanted to show everybody who’s the real cool guy in this world. We joined forces with a friend of mine who was working at a radio station at the time and opened up Gordeon Music.

J: Who was your first customer?

A: My first customer was a band called Jonas Jinx from Hannover. I worked with them for one album.

J: You seem to have a weak spot for Scandinavian artists. How did that come about?

A: Somehow we got involved in the whole Finnish rock/metal scene very early on. We started to work for HIM when the first release was taking place; we did Apocalyptica, Nightwish, Tarja, Within Temptation… Practically all big rock/metal bands from Finland went through our office. Music & Media in Tampere was next to Midem, it was the first music conference I ever went to – I think I missed the first one or two conferences. Since then I got really involved in the Finnish/Scandinavian/Baltic music scene. Now I’m managing two bands from Finland, Lovex and Rain Diary, as well as two Swedish bands, Siena Root and Alice in Videoland.

J: Germany is known for its love for physical albums and magazines. How drastically has this changed in the last couple of years? Is digital taking over?

A: Not really. In Germany, we’ve changed a bit but the market share of physical products is still about 65%. We didn’t have Spotify until two years ago. Spotify is now starting to take over, but interestingly it hasn’t had much effect on the physical sales; it has affected the digital sales more. People switch from iTunes to Spotify and use it to listen to the music, but then go to the store to buy the album on vinyl or CD. Of course total sales have drastically gone down, if you compare them to, say, fifteen years ago. Still, it’s a very strong market and if you want to release something in Germany, you have to do a physical release.

Also, it’s interesting that if you compare the market to other countries, we practically don’t know the EP format. When you do a PR campaign, you can use an EP as a single for the radios, as a sample of an upcoming release, but the media will always ask ”When will the album be out?” and wait to do a review, an interview or a feature until the album is out, which is quite different from the other European countries, where it’s normal to release something every six months.

J: What about the role of music videos?

A: Of course music videos are super important, and also all kinds of social media activities around your music are getting more and more important. You should take care of your Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat accounts and be active there. It is a very important thing to have a lot of visual content, as well as singles and stuff.

J: Do you coach your artists to do social media? Do they need to be coached?

A: Some of them definitely need to be coached, yes, but we don’t coach them in our company. There are specialists who take care of it. Generally, It is really important; many artists still don’t understand the importance of social media or what kind of content to publish. It’s not only done by posting about music but also about life and what you’re doing. People want to be as close as possible to you. Even if you go to the store to buy new shoes, they want to be cool and hip and need to know what kind of shoes you’re buying, because they may want to buy the same kind of shoes. It’s all about building the relationship between the fan and the artist.

J: You’ve worked with some big names in the past. Can you share a few unforgettable memories from your journey?

A: Of course! I went on tour with Michael Jackson, which is probably a pretty amazing thing, even though by that time he was ”just an artist”. I met practically the whole Jackson family besides Janet; I worked with Latoya, Jermaine and Michael. I personally met Michael twice. I also worked with the Rolling Stones, Michael Bolton, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne and Public Enemy. When I started at Sony Music, there was this weird band from Seattle called Pearl Jam, and practically nobody believed in this band. My product manager came to me and said, ”Look, there’s this track called Alive, do whatever you want with it”, and then Alive became a worldwide number one hit. But when I started working with Pearl Jam, nobody knew about them nor this track!

J: So you’ve contributed to the success of the track?

A: A little bit, I think. Another funny story: I worked for Samantha Fox, who was one of the book models of the 90s that were really everywhere. Every man was into Samantha Fox and everyone’s dream was to meet her once. I was on tour with her, and at some point she asked me to go to the sauna with her. I thought ”wow, that’s going to be fucking great, men will love or hate me for this…” and told her yeah, sure, let’s meet at the sauna. So I came down to the sauna, and it was pretty dark in there. For Germans it’s, first of all, totally normal to be in a mixed sauna, and second of all, you are naked. So, you know, I took off my towel and was naked, and Samantha was sitting in there, but she was wearing a bathing suit because she’s British… It was a little bit like, ”oookay…” It was the dream of the time come true – but I hope she had fun.

J: I’m sure she had. So, which projects are you most proud of and why?

A: That’s a tough question. I’ve went through so many bands and genres in my career that it would be hard to pick out one.

J: Is there something you weren’t familiar with before so you had to learn a lot during the project?

A: One thing that was pretty interesting was this genre we had called the Hamburger Schule, the school of Hamburg. Many bands like Die Sterne and Tocotronic rose in the 90s and became really successful. I hated those bands – I didn’t understand them at all. But I was clever enough, if I can say so, to ask my younger colleagues if they thought it was cool. They said ”yeah, it’s definitely cool, you have to work with them!” And I was like, if you say so, I’ll believe you. We ended up becoming really successful with all these bands and the couple of labels that hired us for PR. It worked out really well. It’s an interesting point that sometimes it’s good to listen to other people even if you’re not really sure whether something is good or not. It was a learning experience, because when you’ve been in the music business for a long time, you think you’re really clever and know everything about everybody.

J: What about now – do you think you know everything by now?

A: No, and I’m smart enough to understand that sometimes it’s better to listen to the next generation. If they say that it’s good, then it’s worthwhile to go for it.

Who do you have in your team? What kind of skills do they have that you don’t?

A: A good question! I mean, I have every skill that’s important to have, obviously! In Germany, there practically is no university for learning PR. There are some courses now, but none of them are really close enough to the real world. So I just try to find people who are interested in music and the music business. Some of them might already have some experience because they’ve booked a band that they’re friends with, or have worked for a small radio station, or whatever – we try to look for those people, and transfer our knowledge to them and build our own next generation.

J: So basically, you give instructions and then people specialize in different areas?

A: Yeah.

J: Are there any new artists, big or small, that you’d like to work with?

A: It’s hard to say. Our company gets a lot of requests every day, and I focus on listening to new music and looking into what could be interesting. I don’t really have time to think beyond that and go ”okay, well, this could be an interesting project”, because I already have enough interesting projects with cool music on my table. Obviously, some of the music might work and a lot doesn’t work – it’s no big secret when you run a PR company that probably 80% of the artists you work with will not make it. But this is not because you’re doing a bad job; it’s always a question of personal taste, and if the taste of the music editor is simply different from yours, there’s nothing you can do.

How do you evaluate an artist? What are the questions you ask them?

A: It’s not so much about questions. If I like some music, I’ll check whether I see commercial potential in the artist. After that I will dig deeper. But the artist needs to either catch my interest or have an amazing marketing concept behind them. It’s not so much about the music as it’s about a fitting marketing idea that can really work.

J: So you immediately form some sort of plan in your mind?

A: Yeah, as soon as it catches my interest somehow. It can be the vibe of the music, or anything. I don’t specialize in any specific genre; I don’t only like rock music or hip hop or metal, or say that it has to come from the Baltics or wherever. The music just needs to kick me, in a way.

J: In Tallinn Music Week, for example, there are many artists that have been around for a very short time, and to me it seems like some artists aren’t really in it for a long run. Is that something you have noticed?

A: I don’t know so much about Tallinn Music Week, but in general… The problem with new artists is that a lot of them don’t focus on one project. They are more like, ”we play in five bands and will see what’s gonna happen”. And that’s stupid. You have to focus on one thing, because you cannot tour with five different bands. At the end of the day, you can only tour with one band, and will only get signed with one band. And if you really want to approach a label, you have to make up your mind before that, because nobody will invest in something where it’s not 100% secure that this investment will return in a couple of years. You should focus on one thing, and when you get successful with that one thing, you can still do side projects or whatever. From my point of view, this jumping from one band to the next or running four bands at the same time is bullshit.

J: What is the best thing about your job? What do you enjoy the most?

A: Traveling. I love to travel – of course it’s exhausting, and the older I get, the more exhausting it is. But I really like to meet and talk to people, and learn about new music and visit other countries to understand how they work. I could go from one conference to another all the time just to enjoy cool new music, and of course to get at least a little taste of what these countries are like. There’s so much interesting stuff to explore. So yeah, that’s probably what I like the most.

J: Where are you going next?

A: Next I’m gonna go to MUSEXPO in LA. Then I’m gonna come back, stay in Berlin for two weeks, and leave again to a music conference in Mexico – I have no idea what the name of the conference is, but I got invited. That will definitely be an interesting experience. I’ve never been to Mexico, and it will hopefully give me insight to the Central and South American music market, which I’ve never really got close to before. After that, I’m gonna go to Midem in Cannes. Those are the next three steps.

J: Are you planning to return to Music & Media in Tampere?

A: I will definitely be there, for sure. I mean, it’s always number one on my schedule.

J: Have you ever spoken at music conferences?

A: Yes, about different topics.

J: What would you like to talk about this year if you were asked to?

A: One important thing that music conferences often miss is talking about PR. All the conferences very much focus on live business, how to find a record deal, management… But publishing and the importance of publishing and PR are either not mentioned at all or not mentioned enough. I don’t think anything can happen without good, proper PR, and you can spend so much money in the wrong way if you don’t know how to do PR the right way in a certain country. And, I think, in terms of publishing, a lot of bands and musicians are still so afraid of publishing and have the impression that publishers steal their music, which is total bullshit. When you explain it to them and show them what the real revenue of a publisher is, many people go ”oh, wow, I didn’t know that – you only earn this much less”. Then they get much more open about what publishers are really doing and how much they earn, and also understand why publishers don’t want to pay huge advances anymore. It becomes obvious to them that it’s then not possible to recoup that money anymore, and, of course, nobody will just throw money around because it’s fun.

J: What would you recommend artists to do about PR themselves, before approaching a PR agency? Or is it even wise?

A: I would always work with a PR agency, simply because a lot of media doesn’t want to get approached by artists. They want to talk to people whom they trust and who have certain knowledge about their format. I would never work without a PR agency. Some are expensive, some are not, but you need their approach to get to media, and you won’t get it if you try to call the music editor on your own. I’m also skeptical about online offers where you pay a certain amount of money and then they offer to spread you on certain blogs. I mean, they might work out from time to time, but I think they’re trying to steal money from artists by a generated digital system with no human relationships behind it. Maybe there are some serious portals like this that post music on a couple of good blogs, but in general it’s tricky. It’s not worth the money. I checked out one system, and they charged ten euros for 48 hours. The first three times, nobody picked up the artist. We did it six or seven times, and then one pretty cool Spotify playlist took the song – but in the end, is it really worthwhile to spend a hundred and fifty euros until you reach the point where it starts to return the investment… I don’t know, I think it’s much better if you have personal contact.

How do you maintain your personal network of professionals?

A: I try to sleep with everybody. No – that was a joke, okay. I like to take part in conferences. They give you the opportunity to meet people you’ve already met before so you can refresh the relationship, and then you’ll of course meet new people as well. But you really have to do your homework, because just going to a conference without having a clue about the delegates makes no sense. Some conferences will take time; when I went to Midem the first time, I didn’t know anybody, and it’s a conference where people aren’t that open, so I was lucky that somebody took me by hand and introduced me to people. You have to do it like three or four years in a row, and then you’ll have your first group of people whom you can talk to and follow up on. It can take time, and in this case it’s also expensive until you have a good network going on. It’s definitely an investment.

J: Are there any other ways to expand your network? Do you strategically find some people whom you want to meet?

A: You should always do all kinds of matchmaking and speed meeting sessions. When you’re in a panel, go to the panelist afterwards, try to grab their business card and invite them for beer. Some of them will say ”yes”, some will say ”no” – it depends on the country. For example, in the States it’s already a challenge to get the business card because none of the panelists want to give one. It’s more about trying to figure out how to convince somebody to give you their contact details. But it’s super important to be there, maybe stay a bit later afterwards and do follow-up meetings… Then you may get to the point of having a network going.

J: So you need to get to know people so they can introduce you to other people…

A: It’s a growing thing, so they would at one point say: ”Hey, this is Andrew! Just go meet him if you need PR!” This just happened to me – I was sitting with one guy from Finland and he introduced me to a girl who’s a project manager and, and he said: ”I know you’re doing this campaign, so if you need somebody, talk to each other.” So sometimes you get new work opportunities without actively doing anything, you’re just sitting there and drinking a beer. This is important, because when you have a network, people know you and like you and respect you, and sometimes things happen on their own.

J: Does the conversation continue on social media?

A: No. I mean, it really depends on the country. In Russia, for example, I know that a lot of the conversation happens on VK, which is the Russian Facebook; my partner in St. Petersburg has told me that everything works through VK. In Germany, we are more mail-orientated. We may use Facebook a little, but you mainly do all your stuff via e-mail. And in other countries, it’s about picking up the phone.

J: What about Twitter?

A: I don’t know… In the States, it’s much more about talking on the phone and meeting people in person. But always follow the rule: never more than fifteen minutes. You don’t want to waste anybody’s time. After ten to fifteen minutes, they start to have the impression that you’re stalling their time.

J: I have one more question: Is there any particular release that you’re looking forward to hearing in 2017?

A: The release of my particular interest was Depeche Mode’s new album, which is already out. I don’t know what other album I should anticipate – maybe there’ll be some other cool stuff coming up, but right now… I had my joy moment already!

J: Thank you for the interview!

A: No problem, thanks a lot for having me here!

Interview transcribed by Annu Savtchenko.

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