Undoubtedly, with the advent of the internet, mp3’s, Napster, iTunes, Spotify, various streaming services, and more, the business of recorded music has been turned on its ear in the last 20 years. Record companies’ role in bringing music to the people has changed considerably. Physical and digital sales have diminished, and artists now have a bevy of vehicles with which to deliver new music straight to the ears of fans across the globe.
But the glory days of the music business, as depicted in films and TV, such as The Idolmaker, That Thing You Do, and the recent HBO series Vinyl, were real and undeniable. Record men loomed large and could often make or break careers on a whim. But the promo men and women, the heart and soul of the star maker machinery behind the popular song, worked in over drive to expose music to the masses through the radio airwaves of America.
But alas, true promo types have now become an endangered species. Lucky for us, we still know a few, and even luckier for you, some of them are willing to share their stories right here “Where Music Meets the Soul.”
Up first, and over the next couple of weeks, Jon Scott, former promo maven for ABC, MCA, MusicVision and more, shares with us excerpts from his yet to be published memoirs about life as a promo man, who was instrumental in breaking the careers of Tom Petty and many others. We begin with the book’s foreward, penned by none other than John Mellencamp….
JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP, 1960’S
Back in the early ‘70’s, radio was a magical place and music meant everything to so many people. Everyone was in a band or wanted to be in a band, or wanted to be a DJ, or just anything to touch the music somehow. There was a line of work that the general public never knew anything about. The guys that did this line of work were called Promo Men.
What in the world is a Promo Man? That was my first question. What did these guys actually do? There were all kinds of these guys: local, regional, national; ones that worked hard, some who barely did anything, some that just hung around and drank, and some that knew more about music than any 10 guys should know. But, the one thing they all did, was at one time or another, they all loved the music. This bunch of yahoos was willing to do anything to get what they loved on the radio, and then, through radio, reach the general public. When I say do anything, I mean they would do anything. They made deals, trading one artist against another. They promised gifts and trips and dinners, sometimes even wild, illicit, sexual parties (at least that’s what I heard). You name it, and a Promo Man could get their hands on it, if they needed to. Why… because, at the end of the day, it was for the love of music. Of course, there were egos involved, and money, and the relationships a promo guy would have with a certain artist, or the dislike of a certain artist, but even then it still came down to the music.
Jon Scott, one of the guys writing this book, was the first national promotion director that I, a 22-year-old beginner from the middle of nowhere, had ever met. He and a regional promotion director actually believed in me. Imagine that, a stranger saw promise in what I was just barely learning how to do. He believed so much… he lost his job or quit his job; over some unknown kid like me with not too good of a record, mind you; that had just been put out, that nobody else in the world even remotely believed in. Imagine that. I will always feel an attachment to Jon, although I have not seen or spoken to him in many years. I am grateful for all he taught me about the music business, about other artists and what they were doing, and how to behave in a radio station (in my case, that didn’t always take). I am grateful for the immense amount of work that he did on my behalf and others.
Promo Men…we’ll never see this kind of person again. All the good promotion guys are gone. They all died out or got too old or moved on to someplace better. But, the work they did will not be forgotten or unnoticed, because we are still dancing and singing to the songs that these people introduced us to, through their hard work and effort, that helped shape American culture. Yes, these monkeys called Promotion Men did the business that provided the music that became the ambience and the backdrop of all our lives. They should never be forgotten.
Thank you very much, Jon Scott.