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INDUSTRY INTERVIEW: Ashley Aron (Property Of Zack)

PropertyOfZackThis week Infectious chats with Property of Zack contributor, Ashley Aron, who works as the site’s showcase director, putting hardworking, talented bands into the spotlight each week. Aron has also held social media positions at Tumblr and Adult Swim, books shows, and even works as an A&R scout for Red Bull Records‘ Falcon. Check out our interview with Ashley below to find out how she got started, tips for booking shows, submitting to music blogs, and getting noticed by labels.

Infectious Magazine: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. How are you?

I’m great, thanks for having me!

Can you tell us a little about your background?

Sure. I’m a 20 year old average girl from southern Connecticut who just wrapped up my junior year of college at Syracuse University. I enjoy standing on the outskirts of mosh pits & every dog I’ve ever met.

You’re in the The Bandier Program at Syracuse University. Do you think going to school has helped shape your career thus far? 

Stumbling across the Bandier website was possibly the best thing to ever happen to me, and even though I fiercely fought an initial rejection from the program, it was 150% worth it. My parents were supportive of me applying to college or not, they just wanted me to have some sort of plan for my life. I knew I wanted to be involved in the music industry; it was the only thing I was really passionate about as a 17 year old graduating high school. I felt that it was the wise decision to go to school and get a formal education if I had the chance, plus college offers tons of valuable & widely applicable skills if I needed a back-up plan. There is no way we have time to explain everything I love about Bandier, but it’s led by an incredible group of faculty that genuinely care about each student, and our classroom lessons are heavily mixed with tons of hands-on experience. Even fighting against the initial rejection taught me that if I was really driven & passionate about something, I could make it happen. It’s hard to imagine how my life would have turned out if I didn’t have the amazing resources that Bandier/Syracuse have offered to me, so while school isn’t for everyone, I definitely feel it was the right choice for me in furthering a music industry career.

You started booking shows back in 2008. Can you tell us how you got started?

Initially, it was just an after-school type activity that turned into another crucial stepping stone for me. I switched high schools just before my sophomore year. My very small friend group included someone with a similar music taste – she was wearing an Alesana shirt on the first day of school, it was meant to be. We both signed up to join the student board for a small town-funded student coffeehouse where we put on events & shows. My first show featured The Dangerous Summer, Schoolboy Humor, Select Start, and a few locals. Going through the process of messaging bands, arranging details, and executing the event all by myself was rad, but one of the most fulfilling moments was looking outside and seeing over 100 people lined up around the block before doors even opened. I continued to book pretty much all throughout high school up until I graduated in 2011.

I think that booking is a lot more difficult than people realize. What advice do you have for those hoping to book a successful show, and possibly even turn a profit?

I agree – it sucks when a band drops out last minute, your show coincides with a bigger event in the area, or whatever else Murphy’s Law decides to throw your way, yet you still need to satisfy your crowd & pay your bands. My advice is to start organically and don’t get cocky. I’m more excited to support a genuine promoter with local bands than an asshole who screws people over for his own sake to bring in big names. Put on great events, treat both your band/crew members & attendees with respect, and people will come back. That buzz can turn into bigger bands coming your way – word of mouth among the scene is a major influence – and you can seriously up your game.

What is something you think most people attending local shows don’t realize?

Standing in the back with your arms crossed is boring. Are you having fun? Get into it! That’s the point of shows, right? The touring bands clearly have a lot of heart to go out on the road for weeks, so show them a good time. Also, even if all you have is spare change, don’t ignore the tip jars. Gas is expensive, plus tipping is good karma.

You’ve also held positions at Tumblr and Adult Swim, correct? Can you tell us how you got involved with those?

I have indeed. My freshman year, one of the seniors in Bandier landed a job on behalf of Superfly Entertainment to promote a big Adult Swim carnival that was coming to Syracuse. He sent out an email to the whole program looking for people to join his team, so I applied. I guess he took a chance on me as a baby freshman because I got recruited to promote the event with him. That same senior who led our team graduated and went to work with Superfly/Adult Swim again, this time for the Adult Swim Good is Good Tour. Based on my work experience from the previous year, he picked me and two other Bandier kids to be student ambassadors. It was a perfect example of being known for your good work, plus I had a ton of fun both of those semesters because we got to come up with some really creative marketing.

Tumblr was all a matter of being in the right place at the right time, literally. At South by Southwest 2013, I was at a Syracuse meet-up to watch the basketball game (#BleedOrange!). A bunch of Bandier students go every year and the meet-up is a great networking opportunity for both students & alumni alike. Someone sitting behind me mentioned they worked for Tumblr and I immediately turned around to introduce myself. Turns out the music guy at Tumblr is a Syracuse alum, and after emailing for a few weeks after SXSW, I was officially offered a spot as an intern in the Community Outreach/Events department. Working there was absolutely unreal, I think Tumblr is a fantastic platform and to work at their actual corporate HQ is a once in a lifetime experience I’m so grateful to have had.

Do you think having had these internships and experiences has benefited you in carving a path in this industry?

YES!! Internships/volunteer gigs are so crucial! It’s important to start small and work your way up, making internships the perfect way to get started. You can learn a lot just by sitting in on a meeting or shadowing your boss as they work through a tough project. Taking on an unpaid internship is the ultimate way of saying “hey, I may be new to this business, but I am here learn as much as possible.” Knowing how everything works is something you can only learn from starting all the way at the bottom. Plus, when you’re at the bottom of the ladder, you learn what it’s like to do the grunt work and feel under-appreciated. When you one day work your way to the top, you’ll learn to genuinely appreciate every job that everyone does – including the intern.

What has been the most rewarding experience working in this industry?

In high school, I got myself an intern/assistant gig with a local management company. We were putting on a battle of the bands, and my boss left me in charge as he stepped out for a minute. Doors were just about to open and there were band members mixed with girlfriends mixed with venue staff, and I needed to make sure everyone had checked in & had their hand stamped. I stood up on the stage and politely yelled at everyone [if it’s possible to do such a thing] to please come check in with me at the ticket table. Everyone instantly turned around to pay attention and promptly made their way over to the table so I could stamp their hands. I know that seems really menial and dumb, but having everyone listen to me when shit needed to get done was so incredibly gratifying, I can’t even describe it. It was truly remarkable to feel as if I was running everything like a boss, even if it was just to get everyone’s hand stamped.

What advice do you have for bands submitting to online outlets?

Since my main gig at POZ is being the receiving end for band submissions, here’s my advice for anyone looking to pitch their band online:

-Send out emails individually. If I see I’ve been BCC’d on a giant listserv message starting with “Dear Editor,” it’s a huge turn off. Do your homework on the outlet in question and pitch your band as one that will do well on that site specifically. For example, sending a hip-hop artist to POZ, who primarily covers a lot of pop-punk/hardcore/indie/etc., isn’t gonna work.

-Read the submission guidelines. Different outlets will ask for different things, but be sure to include the basic information about your band (name/city/genre), a bit of your experience (notable festival dates, significant tours, upcoming music, name drop of the opening spot for a popular artist, etc.), and your social media links so we can check out your music & online presence.

-Spell check and use proper grammar/formatting. It just makes you look sloppy if you don’t know how to break up paragraphs or use apostrophes.

-Speaking of spelling, be sure to spell the recipient’s name correctly! My name and the name of the blog I write for are both in my email address, but you would not believe the amount of people who still write to “Ashely” at “Property of Zach.” We have a team-wide rule that if our names are spelled wrong in the email, it gets immediately deleted.

-Unless it is specifically requested, do NOT send attachments. The last thing I want to do is download individual MP3s from each submission, it’s annoying to keep track of. You want the recipient to make as few clicks as possible to access your music.

As a woman in the music industry, do you think we’re still facing sexism, and what do you think can be done to alleviate it?

I think it is still a problem for sure. I got the chance to meet Martin Atkins at SXSW 2012 and when I mentioned my struggles as a young girl attempting to break into the industry, he put it best: “Out here, it’s 2012. On the road, it’s 1974.” I’ve also had my fair share of band dudes I’ve met via attending/booking shows who later turn into full-on creeps, attempting to get nudes while they’re on the road or whatever other childish antics. I’m down to be your friend/colleague, but I’m not your play thing. Part of the problem is that a lot of people are set in their ways and think that the music biz is still a male-dominated playground where girls are primarily groupies. There are female superstars in every facet of the industry: Lisa Brownlee [manager for both Warped/The AP tours], Mariel Loveland [from Candy Hearts], Lynn Gunn [from PVRIS], Natalie Dickinson [owner of wearethekidsblog.com], and so many more. Once people see the amazing work these badass babes are doing, they better shut up and realize that women are just as worthy as any man in the business.

Among your many (and I do mean many!) talents you’re also an A&R scout for Falcon, funded by Red Bull Records.What do you look for in unsigned talent?

Aw thanks, haha I just try to keep myself busy. Falcon is my first real taste of legitimate A&R work, and it’s been a lot of trial & error to satisfy our label guy. A lot of people think that scouting out an artist means finding the underground band with a few demos who has “a whole lot of potential,” but that’s not the case. Potential is important, but we look for a solid foundation of social media presence, shows/tours, and – above all – their music. Of course, live performance is another key factor as well; did they engage the audience? Were people singing along or buying their merch after? Did they sound as good as their recordings? Consider us scouting out a “proof of concept,” making sure that what this artist doing is working and that people are listening before we truly consider them.

What is the process of scouting like?

Honestly, a lot of it is seeing what my friends are listening to. Even if I wasn’t in Falcon, if my friend who goes to Belmont [in Nashville] posts on Facebook about this great indie-pop band she saw one weekend, then I’m gonna check it out. A lot of my friends from all over the country are involved in music, so it’s like having an ear to the ground in each of their local scenes – this is where Spotify and other social music tools, such as last.fm or Hype Machine, come in real handy. There have also been a couple gems who have submitted their stuff on POZ that I ended up pitching to Falcon, which I think is rad. Lastly, I try to scout out bands at any shows/festivals I go to. While searching for a food truck at SXSW this past spring, I stumbled into a free showcase and found an artist our label guy called “a dark horse” when I pitched them. You can find a diamond in the rough anywhere, really. You’ve got to act fast, though. One act I found [and was SUPER stoked on] announced they were signing to a major label just weeks after I’d found them, which was a huge bummer, but you never know what labels are eyeing the same acts you are.

What is one question that you don’t think is asked nearly enough that you’d like to offer insight on?

Hmm, this is actually a tough one. I think young adults trying to get into the business are sometimes too hyper focused on one small aspect: “I really want to do merch on Warped!” or “How can I book shows for [specific venue]?” I was totally guilty of this as well, and I think people should not ask “how can I do [one very niche job]?” but rather “what other experiences should I gain before attempting to get into [niche job]?” This reminds me of something my Bandier director told me right before I started my freshman year, “be so busy you can hardly come up for air.” I think that’s why I’ve jumped at almost every opportunity; I want to do everything, experience everything, and be at least semi-knowledgeable in everything before I figure out where I really fit into this business. Did I know anything about A&R before applying to Falcon? Hell no! Do I know some stuff about it now? Yes. Just try out/ask questions about everything you possibly can. This will give you a better feel for where you want to end up. Trust me, what you thought you wanted to do at age 15 is likely not what you will end up doing at age 25. Any experience is one you can learn from – even if it’s a horrible experience, you at least learned what not to do, right? – and that knowledge will likely come into play at some point in your career.

Property of Zack is pretty well known in the industry. What do you think sets it apart from all the other music blogs out there?

I’ve been following POZ on Tumblr since 2009/10, when I first created my own Tumblr account. Ever since then, it’s been my go-to source for music within the “Warped” scene, which is the scene where I felt the most at home. It was very clear to me that POZ’s writers were super passionate about every aspect of this scene, which I can confirm is absolutely true after being on board with the team for six months now. They’ve really grown their Tumblr following into an empire, not just in regards to social media [currently on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, last.fm, and even a POZ merch store], but as a brand. POZ has also sponsored a solid number of tours/festivals, making their presence known both with their readers and the bands involved.

What do you think it takes to be successful in this space, regardless of specific job title?

Do what you are supposed to do, and do it well, even if you think your job is something menial. If you’re the best at it, people will take notice. Be passionate and always aim to improve yourself. This industry is constantly evolving, so you should be, too!

What advice would you like to pass along to those looking to get into the music industry?

-“Fake it ’til you make it” – don’t know something? Try it out anyway. I had never really done much music journalism before my gig at POZ or A&R work before Falcon, but now I’ve got a solid foundation of skills in both areas just by diving in headfirst.

-“You can have whatever you’re willing to struggle for” – nothing comes easy, that’s just a fact of life. Know that you will put on a lot of failed shows, miss a ton of great concerts, deal with some seriously inflated egos, and get blamed for stuff that simply isn’t your fault. Grow a thick skin and learn to take away a lesson from each road bump you encounter.

-“Sleeping with band dudes doesn’t make you famous” – courtesy of the All Time Low poster I’ve had on my wall since Bamboozle 2009. Ladies, if you wanna get that touring band dude D, go for it, but please don’t consider it a legitimate career path.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received regarding the industry?

“It’s never what you know, it’s who you know.” If I wrote a music industry bible, this would replace “amen.” The idea of the industry being smaller than you think, is one I’ve read about since high school, but just now as a rising senior in college am I actually starting to see the scope of how fucking true that is. Everyone knows everyone in this business, it’s six degrees of separation [usually less] like you would not even believe. Growing your network is incredibly important because everyone knows someone that you want to know, regardless of what area of the business you’re hoping to get into. This network of people is crucial, so you should be constantly expanding yours. Whether you’re trying to find an internship/job, booking a band in an area you’re unfamiliar with, or just in need of some advice, everyone you know will have something to offer. Plus, you never know when an opportunity will come up with one of these people that they think you’d be perfect for.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks to anyone who read this, that’s pretty cool of you. Let’s keep in touch and stuff! You can email me at ashley.nicole@propertyofzack.com or tweet at me @ashleyoverdrive. And of course, a big shout out to Angela/Infectious, thank you so much for having me!

 

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Angela Mastrogiacomo

Founder of Infectious Magazine & Muddy Paw Public Relations. Lover of passion, ice cream, and books.

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