I had the pleasure of being in the presence of Jana while I interned @ Def Jam for a 2nd summer. From my experience of lending my hand in the department, I can easily acknowledge the fact that she is an expert in her field, and a great role model for any person who had to work their way from the bottom to the top as she has … Enjoy this interview courtesy of HipHopDx.com
Industry 101: Interview With ‘VP of Publicity’ for Def Jam
Jana Fleishman is, by many accounts, one of the best people in the business…. which is tough to explain, given her larger-than-life day job of handling publicity for the world’s biggest Hip Hop and R&B artists at the world’s most famous rap label. The totally unassuming and down-to-earth Fleishman persona masks a storybook tale of hard-fought professional victories at many of this industry’s most important recording labels. What began in the early nineties as an internship has blossomed into one of the most powerful positions in urban music. Somehow, as it would appear from my brief exchange with her receptionist, she’s managed to perfect the art of publicity without becoming consumed by the public herself.
So much so that I had to convince her that I wasn’t out for personal information or juicy details about the celebrity lives that she offers for mass consumption- before she’d agree to an interview. In this installment of Industry 101, DX learns from a true media professional- Island Def Jam Publicity guru, Jana Fleishman.
HipHopDX: Technically speaking, what is your job title?
I’m VP of publicity for Island Def Jam Music Group, that’s my official title. And basically it’s getting as much electronic and print exposure as possible for the artists.
DX: Do different companies have different approaches to publicity or is there more of an industry standard?
I think that every place, umm no matter what, everybody wants as much publicity as possible. That’s sorta the bottom line. It’s just that there are different cultures at different companies.
DX: What do you mean by “different cultures”?
There’s a different way of maybe attacking the projects and just promoting it in general….It’s been so long since I’ve been anywhere else.
DX: Is publicity different than promotion?
Promotion is traditionally all radio. Also an offshoot of that is going to the club and dealing with deejays and all that. Radio is a whole different ballgame.
DX: Besides the obvious budget differences, what are some of the key differences between doing publicity for smaller artists versus the huge mega-stars?
No matter what, you’re going to go to outlets that represent your artist the best. Whenever you get a project the perfect scenario is that you assess it and say, “Where is this person’s audience?” …and you’re going to go and get that audience. Once certain artists get to a certain level you have to be a little bit more careful; a lot of times less is more when you have a larger artist, because larger artists usually [generate] larger pieces and are much more in-depth. One little thing is going to make a much larger impact. Smaller artists, you just want everywhere.
DX: How much of your work is local vs. national campaigns, and what’s the difference?
Local…the only time you’re really going to do local now is when someone is on tour. Either a tour or also wherever the song is doing really well. The Internet has changed everything. Now, even if you’re doing local press, it can usually be turned national. And then the national campaigns now are centered around the launch of a particular product or event.
DX: How is publicity impacted by all this new technology (i.e. new media…YouTube, MySpace, blogs, etc)?
The game playing field has changed completely. It really really has. Some time before, you would do an article and people would only know about it through word-of-mouth or if they actually picked up the article and read it. Now you can do a story and all of a sudden it’s on every single website. News travels in a few minutes now. And also it’s changed; if you do something now, everyone is going to know about it. Media has changed how you watch something, how you make an announcement. Before, you had to go to one big national thing, like a press conference or something like that. And we still do press conferences and everything, but now you can almost do one interview with one site and it’s picked up all over.
DX: Would you say that the labels are leading that, or are they just trying to play catch-up?
I think that people are finally catching up to the importance of online media…even just getting music out. Because there are people from a generation who have never walked into a music store, never brought a magazine. So you have to know how they’re getting their information, how they’re getting exposed to things…because clearly if they’re exposed to it and they like it and they like the person and really want to support, they’ll buy it. I think it’s just that we have to realize that you have to serve people and give them what they want. People just want information constantly.
DX: Why do “big name” artists traditionally only talk to the “big name” outlets?
I think that is slightly changing as well… I think it’s… I know this might sound crazy, but a lot of it is about time. I know what I try to do is if I have releases I love being able to do a conference call with a whole bunch of outlets. Just so everything is condensed. Also, with a lot of artists, it gets tiresome to do the same interview with 25 outlets. Especially now, in this day and age, like I said, when you do one interview, if that person can hit on the 10 questions that you know are going to be asked in every single interview, everyone already has their answers. So sometimes I go into it and say, “Okay, so what’s the difference if I do this one outlet, everybody who would read this outlet has already read it here.” There’s an audience that traditionally will read or go the same magazines and websites. So you know if you do the interview with one magazine you know that audience already read it. If that makes sense….
And then also time is…I don’t think anyone can imagine until they’re in the middle of a project and they’re personally involved in it can see how it just becomes really draining. I feel bad; sometimes I’ve been evil and packed a whole day and forgot to schedule in lunch. And it just gets to be a lot, especially when an artist is releasing an album and, if you can imagine, the person gets up at 5 am and then does a morning television show and then goes to radio and then does whatever interviews and then goes to an in-store and then goes to do more radio at night, and in the middle of that you’re shooting videos and doing rehearsals) and you’re getting on planes.…everyone is human. I think sometimes we forget that. It’s like, “You have to do this and we have to do that,” and the person is like, “I haven’t slept more than two hours a night for the past 3 weeks.” You need you’re health; without your health, you’re useless to everybody.
DX: That makes a lot of sense… not forgetting the human factor.
Right. It’s very easy to forget that. You’re thinking, “Oh we’re going to get this and the person is going to be everywhere, and it’s going be great,” and the person is just sitting there like, “Umm, hi” and nodding off during interviews, or as soon as they hit the car cause they know they only have 45 minutes till they get to the next spot. As hard as I’ll work when I go along with someone on a promo trip, I don’t have to have to smile in peoples’ faces. I don’t have to be smart. You know? I don’t have to say the right thing. With a lack of sleep and a lack of food and not taking care of yourself, it just wears on a person. I know I kinda went off on a tangent with that question, but I think that with the repetition of the same questions and the same interviews the Internet has changed everything cause now you can do one thing and everyone will know the answers to those 10 questions.
DX: I think every writer has had the experience of having time with an artist and being excited and energetic about an interview; only to have the artist talk as if they’ve had the same conversation 18 times in the last hour.
Right! That’s the thing. A lot of people, [with] a lot of interviews don’t really make anything their own. It’s kinda weird…there’s nothing worse than when you put an artist on with somebody and they’re only asking questions that are answered already in the biography. It’s like “Can you expand just a little bit more…find something that is a little bit more interesting?” And then people want to complain because the artist is not energetic, or they gave a bland interview or something. But all of a sudden artist isn’t thinking anymore… “My inspiration was blah blah blah, the first time I ever performed was blah blah blah, I would love to collaborate with blah blah blah, here’s what you can expect on my album, blah blah blah.” [Laughs] Basically, I just wrapped up 70% of the interviews that are going to take place.
DX: [Laughs] What’s your perspective on the overall quality/integrity reflected in hip hop journalism these days?
I know this is going to sound really politically correct, but I think that in everything you have your really talented people, and you have people who just don’t do their homework, and are coasting and think that things are very easy. I think that we’re in a day and age where anybody can become anything. A lot of people don’t do research and don’t put time and effort into really seeing what is good journalism, or what is good sentence structure. There’s a lot more people in writing now, than ever before. There are people that are not necessarily trained in writing. Sometimes it can be very very entertaining, but not exactly journalism.
DX: Well-said. When it comes to Hip Hop, how much of a global market is there? I mean I know Glastonbury was huge, etc, but outside of umm…
The usual suspects?
DX: Yes! Perfect…let’s call them the usual suspects…
DX: Outside of the usual suspects, how much of a publicity blip do American artists make on a global scale?
It’s still not there. I think in certain other countries they just have a different aesthetic. They just like different things. So you’re not going to see the excitement over someone who’s more of a “hardcore rapper”. Or anything like that. Europe has a different sensibility. They still like their dance music lets say. They still like more pop-leaning things. And they like their celebrities. Nothing is automatic over there when it comes to Hip Hop, it really isn’t. You can be a huge artist but if your album doesn’t have very honestly a pop sound to it that they can really get into or sing along with to fit into their sensibilities it doesn’t matter how big of a star they think you are; you’re still not selling. They don’t buy just to buy. They definitely can be a fan of a song. I feel like if you’re a fan of a song, people should buy the album. However, if there’s no song that fits into that pop sensibility, they’re like, “Oh okay, that’s cool… but we’re not gonna buy it. W still love you but no thank you.”
DX: What projects are you working on now?
It’s kinda weird cause its just ever-going, its jut on-going with everyone that I do work with. I’m the in-house person for LL [Cool J], I do Ne-Yo [click to read], Rhianna, and I’m always working with Jay-Z [click to read]. Oh, and Ludacris [click to read], Redman and Method Man.
DX: When do you sleep?
[Laughs] It’s not that bad anymore…it’s an ongoing thing, definitely.