Chuff Media is a regional music PR company whose roster is an array of big shots and up-and-comers alike. They were kind enough to assist with our Buzz Culture project last month, and as part of that Jason Machlab spoke to Warren Higgins, Chuff’s founder.
In your own words, what is Chuff Media, and what can they do for an artist?
Chuff Media is a regional and touring PR company. There’s two types of media: national and regional. Magazines and things which you can get in any newsagent across the country would be your national media; we tend to deal with regional media, on behalf of record labels and bands that are touring, so when someone comes to play in Cardiff for instance, we would be the people that chat with Buzz or the Western Mail, so that they’re aware that the artist is coming and then can look for preview opportunities, interviews, look to seek reviewers, photographers.
We do that for artists when they tour and release records, because there are publications that will review records as well. We don’t look after The Sun or NME, we’ll look after Buzz or The Crack in Newcastle, media in Scotland or Northern Ireland. We’re another cog in the big promotion wheel, essentially.
What are the signs that what you’re doing is working?
Well, ticket sales are one of the big metrics. Say you’ve been gearing towards a big tour announcement: there’s a radio interview, an interview for Buzz that’s out for the month and online, it’s in the newspaper – it’s about helping people to connect the dots. Then when the tickets come on sale, if there’s a spike we can say “oh, that’s when that ran,” or “that’s when that interview happened”.
It’s also part of a larger picture of putting an artist into your subconscious. There’s radio things, TV things, marketing: everyone’s doing their part in their areas. We want to get to the stage where everywhere you’re looking – but not looking – you’re coming into contact with a song, or an interview with the artist; artwork, a poster. It’s about putting the artist in your head.
What sort of artist excites you then, professionally and personally?
Personally, I was always a rock kid. My scene was the mid-90s: Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Nirvana. Then I got heavily into clubs and dance music. But I just kind of appreciated a good song, you know what I mean? I didn’t want to be limited, and with the artists that we look after at Chuff, you’ll see that we’re quite broad in terms of genres. Why can’t you be a great rapper and be on the same company roster as a country act or a rock band?
As long as you’re dealing with every campaign differently and every artist differently, as long as you’ve got the passion for what it is that you’re doing – that’s what I appreciate more in artists, the passion that comes out and makes a track sound fantastic. Doesn’t matter what genre it is. I love listening to new stuff.
If it’s good music it’s good music, right?
Exactly. A good song will find its way out there. There’s only so much you can throw at something, force down people’s throats. If they have a listen, and don’t like it, what can you do? You can only go with your gut, and that’s what a lot of the music industry is.
We’ll work with a lot of bands from the very beginning, before they have record deals – whether it’s their management reaching out to us, or us approaching them at a gig and finding out what’s happening – and it’ll be because they’ll have songs where we’ll go “those are fantastic, there’s something there so… let’s help them!” If it works out well, hopefully we’ll have contributed to that and they’ll then take us with them.
Seeing an artist progress from the beginning is great, like Sea Girls [pictured, top] for example. We were working with the band for a year and a half, two years before they were signed to Polydor, and it was fantastic to be a part of that. We’re there helping the band out when they’re playing in small venues in Lincoln or Hull – from a handful of people, up to Academy-sized tours. It’s overlooked: a part that people don’t really think about, outside of the immediate industry or the immediate team. It’s just nice to have the little satisfaction of being part of that.
So how has the process of promoting an artist changed because of the pandemic? What are the significant challenges?
Obviously, one of the big challenges has been the lack of touring. This has the knock-on effect of venues not being open, a lack of any entertainment whatsoever – and What’s On journalists have been reassigned or furloughed. The What’s On pages themselves have shrunk down or disappeared altogether because there’s nothing to write about. We’ve hit a bit of a wall. A lot of writers were furloughed very early on; it’s been an effort to sort of re-find who the people are to talk with, and if publications are still wanting to do anything.
Now it’s very much about being reliant on working record reviews and record features, and it’s been great for that, because over the last few years the space for publications to do features has shrunk. They’ll say, “we need that local angle,” or “we’ll also have ten other things we have to cover,” whereas in the pandemic, they have some space to fill. Some people were like, “Fantastic, let’s run an album feature for an artist, let’s have a bit of a chat again.” It was nice in that respect – it kind of went back to the old ways of feature-based entertainment writing. But the hardest part has been the shrinking of the pool of publications and media that we would normally tap into for an artist.
As we’ve seen, you’re back to promoting gigs for this year. Is the industry forecasting good things for the future of live music?
It’s hesitant. I think the summer will be interesting. You’ve got people talking about festivals in smaller numbers, the government saying about the end of June [in England]: people are hopeful. As soon as that roadmap was announced, we were starting to get a lot of calls and emails: “alright, yeah, we’re thinking of touring in the autumn.” Everyone had been going, “let’s just move it to the back end of 2022 just to be safe, we’ve already had to move it twice.”
Venues have had time to work out the whole health and safety aspect, and I guess people have got clever with touring and how they can make that affordable with what could be some reduced numbers at venues. There’s hope, but I think there’s a bit of a difference between a 500-2000 capacity venue and 100,000 people in a field. To what extent we’re gonna get to the latter… maybe that will have to be 2022? That’s just a super-spreader event waiting to happen. The smaller numbers, I think, could be a lot more manageable.
But like I say, there’s hope out there! People are looking to put gigs on, and I know with a lot of venues it’s now a fight to find a routing that’s going to work for you in 2022. Should be a bumper year! You’ll be spoiled for choice.
A lot of stuff has changed since the start of the pandemic. As we come out of it, will the media industry go back to normal? Or have some things changed permanently?
I don’t know if it will go back to normal as such. There’s been talk of major newspaper groups closing a lot of their regional offices and putting them into hubs. Advertising revenue went down for a lot of media and therefore they’ve had to cut costs. I guess one of the effects is gonna be smaller editorial teams, less options for what you can put in terms of entertainment content, and a lot more concentration on online. Centralised editorial teams, so maybe someone in Birmingham is going to be writing about the news in Northampton. I don’t know if that’s the case, but there’ll be less regionality for sure.
And what about live music? Will it go back to normal?
It’ll get better. But if we’ve seen anything, it’s that things can change rather quickly. But the vaccine’s hopefully doing its job, and once we do all that and continue to be a bit careful, there shouldn’t be any issues, should there?
There’s definitely a light at the end of the tunnel, but we’ve got to make sure to do everything just right, not rush it. If we have to lock everything down again because we got restless, that’s going to be devastating. It already has been for so many people in the industry on all sides, not just media. If there’s another lockdown it’ll be up to Christmas or something daft like that, and that will just be devastating for so many more people.
Can the live industry survive another lockdown?
It would, but who’s gonna be there to work it when it come back? You read the stories of people that have retrained as delivery drivers, or turned to new jobs. How keen are they to come back if it’s all still a bit dodgy? “I’ve given up a paid job to come back and do what I love to do, but it could all shut down again in a month and I’ll be off for a year.” Especially with the lack of support they’ve received from the government: there’s no safety net, is there? There’s gonna be so much of that playing on people’s minds.
words JASON MACHLAB photos DANNY NORTH
Discover how our brand new learning experience is giving young people in Wales the skills they need to get ahead