Ok, I’ll speak from personal experience; most of us aren’t in the music industry because of the heaps of money piling up in our bank accounts. That means we have to work five times as hard to pat each other on the back, and thank the fine-folks behind the scenes who eat, sleep and breathe music every day, hustling to make artist’s dreams come true and bring music to our ears.
Kelly McClure is just such a hustler– a proud member of the tribe of “fan first” publicists, and recent founder of her own publicity firm, WoflieVibes, a New Orleans based company that aims to promote “independent artists of the punk, moody, goth spectrum, queer, Nola based, not Nola based variety.” “…And everything in-between,” she adds.
Having cut her teeth as a music writer, she knows what sounds good, and perhaps even more importantly, she knows the formula for sharing her passion, sending funny, bizarre and generally kick-ass press releases into the inundated inboxes of writers and editors around the country.
I had the chance to chat with Kelly about her much needed move to New Orleans, her industry role models and her process for recruiting talent. Check out the full interview below; WolfieVibes may be new to the scene, but with McClure at the helm, you can bet they’ll be around for a while.
Elmore Magazine: So, WolfieVibes is your new PR firm– congratulations! Can you give me a super quick recap of your time in the PR industry and talk a little bit about why you decided that now was the time to branch out on your own?
Kelly McClure: Well I started out as a music writer; I was a music editor for Bust Magazine and later on Vice Magazine, but while I was at Bust exchanging emails with publicists who were pitching me things, I came to learn that the publicist for K Records was leaving. I’ve always been the type of person who kind of has like 12 different jobs at one time, and it’s always hard for me to turn down an opportunity… so when I heard that, I was like, oh, this may be something that I can do! I just kind of went for it and got it, not having any prior experience really in publicity. I was able to acquire that position by telling them that, you know, it’s kind of easy to flip that page as a music writer– you get so many PR pitches and press releases that I knew what worked and what didn’t work, so I had that advantage. So I moved from New York to Olympia, and I was there at K’s for about six months, and I learned a lot working with a label that I had loved since high school, but they were kind of in a financial hardship at the time, so I ended up moving back to New York, and working for Vice.
From there I got hired on with Riot Act, and I was with them for about four years- four or five years- and that’s another female owned publicity firm, although Joan Hiller, who owned that at the time, recently retired and sold it off, but it was nice working under a very strong, seasoned woman. She’s just amazing, and taught me so much. And then from there I took a new kind of, what I thought to be larger position with a firm called Team Clermont, and I was attracted to that firm because they did radio for Sufjan Stevens, who is one of my all-time favorite musicians and I wanted to do anything that had anything to do with him [laughs]. I was with them for a little over two years, and during that time, writing and doing publicity, I almost stopped publicity to focus on writing totally, because in doing both I would hear from people, “oh, you can’t do both and here’s why.” But it never really affected me negatively, because I have always been able to firmly draw that line like here’s what I’m writing about, here’s who I do my PR for, and I feel like if you go at it that way, ethically you’re not really gonna have a problem. But I was hearing from people who were holding on to that, “you can’t do this, you can’t do that,” and something switched in my head and I was like, you know, I can do whatever I want, and I’m gonna do it by starting my own company [laughs]. So that’s what I did.
EM: So this was kind of a spontaneous decision for you, or would you say that it’s been a long time in the making?
KM: Being an only child and a Taurus, I’m kind of predisposed to be a do-it-all-myself type of person, so I feel like since I had my first job at the age of 15 I’ve been trying to work toward to goal of working for myself and being as independent as possible. I kind of have this theory, or I guess this way of life, where the less you’re doing that someone can take away from you, the better. So if you’re set up in a position where you’re working for yourself and everything is brought on by you and maintained by you, you’re kind of in the clear, and that’s kind of like the most sustainable business model- especially in this day and age- that you can be in. So I had thought about going into business for myself in some way for many years, but the idea for WolfieVibes Publicity started to solidify, I would say, about a year ago.
EM: You moved from Brooklyn to New Orleans recently, how did that fit into the puzzle—did it spark the decision to start the firm, or did it help make it easier?
KM: It was kind of interesting… I am in love with New York, I still am, and I kind of romanticized it in this way like, I’m not gonna leave New York unless it’s in a casket… everything about it appeals to me. But it’s the most expensive please in the universe to live, and I realized that my working in the different jobs that I had, it wasn’t adding up to the quality of life that I would have wanted for myself. I wanted more space, I wanted to be able to enjoy more of the city that I was never really- I didn’t have the time or the resources to be out there doing the things that I wanted to do. So I came to New Orleans for first time almost two years ago for my birthday and loved it. Saw that there was space– you could walk down the sidewalk and not be in an actual sea of people, so I went back home and then came out again to look at rental properties and see what was available, and I was able to get a house. Not buy, but rent a house, so I have so much more space now. Lessening that geographical stress on myself has helped across the board. Like I’ve actually written for more New York publications living in New Orleans than I did my whole time in New York, which is kind of strange. Because you just feel better, you have space to move around, and it’s beautiful, and also that feeling of newness just stirred up my creativity.
To better answer your question, in terms of the company, it’s been great. New Orleans is a hotbed of untapped music. People out here are savvy, but they’re not as tuned in to the internet and what’s available in terms of achieving your goals, and the fact that anything you can think of, you can do– as long as you have the internet, you can just be sitting in your living room, which is kind of what I do. The one thing that tends to come up is that people are like – ‘cause they’ve known me from different cities and working different jobs – I have to remind people where I live [laughs].
EM: Where’s Kelly now?
KM: Oh yeah…
EM: Do you see WolfieVibes as filling a niche that’s otherwise untouched in the industry?
KM: Yes, in so many different ways. The first one, the biggest one, is that in doing publicity for different firms, you get a lot of referrals, and you get a lot of people reaching out looking for a publicist that you have never had previous contact with. And often I found that the bands who had the budget to hire a publicist weren’t necessarily the type of bands that I would be interested in working with. Publicity can be pretty pricey, and not to talk ill of these different bands, but if a band is coming out of the blue with a $2-3,000 a month budget, they’re not gonna be the cool, raw, up and coming kind of punky band that I personally like to listen to most of the time. So this gives me the advantage to really kind of help people, which is really my main goal. And one of the things I really like about doing publicity- as bad of a rap as it sometimes gets, and I know it’s annoying for music writers to be constantly getting emails from publicists and stuff- but I think there could be a better understanding of the fact that if it’s a good publicist, someone who’s coming at it earnestly, we’re really trying to help these bands. In my case, I only work with bands that I absolutely like, like bands that I would listen to with headphones, on my phone, or while I’m showering. Music I’m really passionate about. And if someone is telling me, “I keep making these albums, but I don’t have a lot of money and I’m about ready to give up,” like “I don’t know what to do,” and I can get them on Spin or get them on Noisey, and just show them– this is what could happen– you’re really doing something for someone. I come away with this feeling of accomplishment, which I think is really good. So I would like to grow that and just offer that sense of hope, I guess, to bands that you can do stuff– you don’t have to give up.
EM: Can you talk a little bit about pulling together your initial roster of bands? Were some of them friends?
KM: There are bands that I’ve carried with me from firm to firm, cause I tend to work a lot on referrals, like I’ll work with one band and they’ll have a good experience and I’ll like them, and then they’ll have friends in bands, so it just kind of grows and grows.
Then coming here, there are a lot of really really cool- I would say punk, but that doesn’t really mean anything anymore, that’s just kind of a blanket term- but for instance, I’m working with a band called Gland, and it’s an all female band- even though that’s a term that I don’t like to use- and they are just so awesome and so fresh to hear. They don’t really sound like anything else, and they referred me to a bunch of other like-minded New Orleans bands, so I’m growing my local roster that way.
And then nationally, I’m friends with Mackenzie Scott, who’s Torres, she used to be on Riot Act, and we actually met at Joan Hiller’s wedding, and she sent me a couple of really great referrals that have yet to be announced. This one band out of Los Angeles called Lolahiko and they’re kind of synthy, gothy, I’m gonna be working with them in the fall. So it’s really familial.
EM: Aside from the artists, has anyone else been particularly instrumental in helping you pull this this together?
KM: Not… directly, in the sense that someone was helping me set up the LLC and all of the little points that had to go into making an actual company, but I definitely felt capable of doing so, like capable of taking on a feat such as starting my own company from the experience that I gained in the other firms, primarily Riot Act I would say, and just everything that I learned from Joan. Seeing someone start their own business and seeing the day to day as it’s run, you learn a lot. And if you’re really into the scene and into having a really good grasp of what you’re doing, you pay attention to that and it’s very valuable. So I feel like she will surprised to hear this, but she was definitely a chirping voice in my ear as I was setting this up.
EM: WolfieVibes is the first female owned and operated PR firm in New Orleans—have people been supportive across the board, or have you found yourself coming up against struggles as a woman in an industry that’s still pretty heavily dominated by men?
KM: It’s definitely been an interesting thing to be a part of across the board, being a woman in the music industry, which definitely can be a dude-bro club [laughs]. I think that the general feedback I’m getting is like, thank god! Especially for the bands I’m working with, that do have a primary female backing. It’s nice to have someone on your side. And nice to have someone understand what you’ve been through and what you probably will encounter as you’re out there playing live shows. Getting a beloved, highly anticipated write-up back and having it say, like, “quirky girls,” or “cheeky” — all of the disgusting phrases that people use to write about women in bands… I call that out. A lot of times if I get something– and I’m trying really hard not to name names [laughs]- but if I get back a premiere that everyone was excited about, and it comments on someone’s appearance or uses annoying, cloying phrases to describe them, I’ll point it out to the writer. Politely, without burning bridges, if I can, say, maybe there’s a better way to describe this, or, the band would really prefer to not be referred to as “all-girls,” cause that doesn’t really mean anything anymore, or it shouldn’t be.
EM: Yeah, no one’s ever written, “wow, an all-male band!”
KM: Exactly, and I would say that the only thing that tends to happen with me, because as much as I’m a business woman, and I’ve been doing this, and I know my stuff, I’m not a schmoozer really, so sometimes when I go to an event or I’m meeting someone who I’ve been emailing with for a long time, they’ll make a joke- and this has happened twenty different times- “oh, I thought I would meet you and you’d be seven feet tall or something, and you’re just this little girl.” Someone said that to me once. It’s still really hard to be taken seriously as a woman kind of in any role, but I would say especially in this one. But I certainly try!
EM: And you seem to be doing a wonderful job of it. Ok I’m gonna finish with a total soft ball– is there a story behind the name?
KM: There is, and it’s kind of embarrassing, but it’s one of those things that happens and you just run with it… when I was in high school, and I went to high school in Southern California in a town called Riverside, there was a Wednesday night street fair that we would go to after school to buy our incense and sneak our cigarettes, and there was one of those shops that has Tarot cards and mystical books, and they did psychic readings out in front during the fair. So I went and talked to a psychic or Tarot card lady or some combo of the both, and during my reading she told me, “Oh, you know, this is your first time being a human in all of your different lives. You have always previously been a dog.” Like, a wild dog. [laughing] I thought was so cool, and just sucked that into my persona.
EM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
KM: I don’t think so, I guess just the general plug… keep an eye on me. And reach out to me if you thought you could never have a publicist, but now get the inkling that you can!