In a new series launching amid the coronavirus pandemic, Billboard is asking individuals from all sectors of the music business to share stories of how they work now, with much of the world quarantined at home and unable to take in-person meetings, attend conferences or even go into the office. Submissions for the series can be sent to HowWeWorkNow@Billboard.com. Read the full series here.
This installment is with Mike Wilpizeski, senior vp of the New York-based PR firm Chart Room Media.
Mike Wilpizeski: I work out of my home office, as I have for 22 years, in Forest Hills, New York. I’m lucky, I live in a small house where there’s trees. It’s not an apartment where you’re afraid to go down and do your laundry and pick up your mail. At least we have some space out here, which is really nice. My wife is a touring musician and she’s just home all day, so that’s hard on her.
Chart Room is basically myself and Brendan Gilmartin, the founder of the company. He’s in Brooklyn, and I’m in Queens, and we communicate constantly by phone and Slack and texts and the usual ways, even video calls. I spend a lot of my time checking in on people by phone because everyone’s home. And I want to maintain those long-term relationships. Some of these folks I’ve been dealing with for decades, and I view it as an ecosystem. We’re all scared, but we’re all part of this ecosystem now.
I’ve lost some business due to the pandemic, but I feel I’ve been extremely lucky. I do work with some artists, like [trumpeter and composer] John Lake, who don’t have a lot of tour dates. So if there’s no tour dates, I still have projects. I have a project linked to Ella Fitzgerald‘s birthday that’s still happening on Saturday.
My partner and I, we’ve been recalibrating how we approach the media for some time. And this is just accelerating the process that had already begun. We spend more and more time engaging decision makers at media outlets, not just music writers. So as digital has transformed traditional media and music engagement over the last decade, we identify and form relationships with decision makers who cover or post about music-related content, like podcasters, blogs, influencers. I think that’s going to be a bigger and bigger part [of what we do after this].
After 9/11 it was similar in that people were freaked out, and when you approach [the press], you need to tread lightly and be sensitive. But they need content. A lot of the editors that I talk to, they’re looking for coronavirus-related stories. And I’ve been speaking to artists about that — about what they’re doing in the age of coronavirus. They’ve all got some great ideas in terms of live streaming. Some of them are making some decent money that way. Not just live streaming, they’ve got songs that are about self-isolation.
I’m working a project by John Lake, who has a track inspired by Chekhov’s “The Bet,” which is about self-imprisonment. It carries special significance in this new time of quarantine. I work with Chick Corea, and he live streams his rehearsals every day. They’re almost like a music history class to hear him speak.
A big part of what I do is tour press. Once their project comes out, I spend a lot of time in the setup phase. And I’m still doing that, but there’s nothing to keep the ball rolling if there’s no tour dates. [I’ve lost clients] that don’t want to release a record in the middle of this whole thing. They want more time, and their tour dates are canceled.
Print media has been contracting for years. All the alt-weeklies that have just gone belly up in the past few weeks, it’s really dramatic just seeing the careers of all these good friends go down the drain. A lot of smaller markets, a lot of smaller papers, the alt-weeklies, that’s where you get [tour] coverage. I don’t know what’s going to happen there if there’s no alt-weeklies. I mean, I’m still trying to get over when The Village Voice disappeared. I just see my database — people get taken out but not many people get put in. But I try not to focus on that.