Will rock and country stars’ reliance on social media backfire? – Chuck Yarborough

June 10, 2018 GMT

Will rock and country stars’ reliance on social media backfire? – Chuck Yarborough

CLEVELAND, Ohio – It’s hard to quote someone who’s not talking.

This year, we have concerts from Kenny Chesney, Imagine Dragons, Jimmy Buffett, Slayer, Weezer and the Pixies, Wiz Khalifa, the Foo Fighters, Ozzy Osbourne, Jack White, Jason Isbell, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Dave Matthews, Shania Twain, Justin Timberlake, Phil Collins, the Eagles, Elton John, the Pretenders, Taylor Swift and Jay-Z and Beyonce.

All are newsworthy shows – fans expect to see stories about them – but none are doing tour press, which means no interviews.

That’s the dilemma of today’s music journalist. But before you start to think this is a “woe-is-me″ pity party, let me explain a little of how I see the job:

Music writers are not here to tell you who to listen to, who’s smarter, who’s more talented or any of that. The function of a music writer is to be the conduit between fan and artist or band. That’s tough to do when one side of the hose is plugged.


Go back in The Plain Dealer archives and you see all kinds of what we call “previews″ – pre-show interviews with the artists. The most famous probably is Jane Scott’s legendary chats with the Beatles. Then there’s also her friendship with David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen, among others, all of which led to stories.

I myself have interviewed everyone from Garth Brooks to Mick Jagger to Ringo Starr to Jimmy Buffett to Willie Nelson over the years. Through those interviews, I’ve been able to share not just what those people do – anybody can go online and look at a discography and see what songs so-and-so has out, how they sold, which gets the most play on streaming devices, etc. --but who those people ARE.

That is what is being lost because of this growing trend of artists and their ubiquitous “management″ to rely on their own self-serving social media teams to get their story out.

The first thing fans need to know, though, is that by and large, artists and their management hate doing interviews. When you first start out, the novelty is wonderful. “Hey, someone actually cares what I think!” And it’s a good way to build your reputation.

But more and more, we are becoming non-factors.

“You’re really at the forefront of it because that’s your job,″ said Barry Gabel, Live Nation’s local senior vice president of marketing and sponsorship sales.

“But I think for years artists have tried to control their brand and their messaging and their photos,″ said Gabel, a veteran of nearly four decades in the music business. “The fact that they can now do that with social channels makes it more difficult [for the media]. They can put out their own message, and do their own interviews . . . without having to sit in a room and do interviews.″


“Print media is slowly a dying breed,″ said one public relations owner who asked to remain anonymous. “Social media is an overnight sensation, so social media outlets are filling a gap.″

“I’m guessing performers are buying into the notion that they don’t need journalists to tell their story and that they can do it themselves through social media,″ said Ksenia Roshchakovsky, the marketing manager for Cain Park.

“It’s true that with the explosion of social media, the need for an ‘intermediary’ – i.e. a journalist – is not as vital as it was even 10 years ago,″ she said. “But they are short-sighted if they believe that not granting an interview will benefit them in the long run. It’s just plain lazy.″

Nor is it a wise business move.

“Why shut down communication with your public through ANY stream?″ Roshchakovsky asked.

Another public relations company owner who asked to remain anonymous said it’s true that artists more and more rely on their social media teams to get out the message they want. Is it a true picture of the artist or band? Possibly, but more likely not.

For those of us in the media, it’s sometimes hard to understand why an artist who’s selling 20,000 tickets to Blossom can’t find 10 or 15 minutes to “speak″ to those ticket-buying fans via a phone interview.

But that PR company owner, whose firm handles mostly hard-core and metal acts, put things in a different, more human perspective.

“Let’s not forget that since the band is about to do a ‘tour of duty’ and be on the road for the next five to 16 weeks and leave their families in a void,″ she said. Because of that, many do their best to be with significant others and children.

One thing that few people realize is the huge contradiction that exists in a performer’s life. Yes, their career and their passion puts them in front of thousands at a time. But almost to a person, they are incredibly introverted. It’s one of the surprising traits you discover when you’ve been doing this for 40 years.

Kenny Chesney is among those who this year declined to do tour press, instead suggesting that we talk to Old Dominion, the opening act he selected to go on tour with him. There is a large degree of beneficence in Chesney’s suggestion – he is without question one of the nicest people in the business – but he’s also one of the shyest.

Jim Mantel, the Radio Hall of Fame disc jockey who spent decades at WGAR, recalled Chesney’s first-ever visit to the radio station, back when he was just starting out.

“Kenny is SO shy,″ Mantel said in a Facebook post. “When he was a new artist and they brought him to the station he, had his ballcap pulled down and say in a chair in Chuck Collier’s office and didn’t say more than 25 words. The record guy did all the talking.

“After they left, Chuck and I looked at each other and wondered how he would ever get on stage in front of a crowd and sing?!″

But maybe the real problem is one another publicist who asked to remain anonymous pointed out:

“You’re asking the wrong people.″

The function of a music writer sometimes IS to introduce a listener to some artist or band they’ve not heard before. And occasionally, there are artists that we want to “break″ because we’re so impressed with them. After all, every single music writer was a music fan first.

So, rather than the Chesneys and Ozzys who are established, the publicist suggested – and perhaps rightly – that we should ignore them and focus on unknowns. New artists are trying to build a fan base. If they are wise – and have a competent team behind them – they realize the best way to do that is through the mainstream media. Like us or not, there is a reason we ARE the mainstream media.

The industry site journalism.org noted that 2016 circulation figures show about 35 million U.S. papers are bought every weekday, and about 38 million on Sundays. The Plain Dealer, which despite the woes of “a dying breed,″ publishes about 200,000 papers every Sunday, and a few less than that each day. Figure each paper gets passed around three or four times before it hits recycle bin, plus the millions of views our stories get on Cleveland.com, and that’s a lot of eyes that can serve both newbies and veterans in the biz.

And you can quote me.