Time to Recognize: Your Name [HERE] Media Wants to Put Your Name In Lights
Houston has always, always had awesome, amazing bands. Screw the naysayers; it’s the honest-to-God truth. Even in the lean times, even when 99.9% of this city thought “Houston music” was pretty much ZZ Top, Destiny’s Child, and nothing else, truly great music that went far, far beyond that was still lurking out here, just below the surface.
Not to get all back-in-the-day on you, but when I first started paying attention to bands ’round these parts, way back in the mid-’90s, I continually found myself stunned and amazed at how out-and-out cool all the bands and musicians I’d run across were…and yet, they were always playing crappy (but well-loved, mind you) dive bars for little to no money, often to audiences composed solely of friends of the band and folks from other bands.
When there was press “coverage” of local music (other than the aforementioned acts, naturally), even at currently-great bastions of H-town music love like the Houston Press, it was almost always negative, and not even necessarily for a reason — long-gone Press music writer Hobart Rowland would famously talk about Houston bands once a year and slag each of the releases he’d gotten, good or bad, in about two sentences each.
That’s partly why SCR came into being in the first place; the idea was that if we could yell about bands we thought were great, people might start paying attention, and those bands might actually receive some well-deserved recognition, not only in Houston, but everywhere.
These days, things are a little different. The press is far more friendly to Houston music than it’s ever been since I’ve lived here, and that’s a great, great thing; the bands and musicians are, if anything, better than they were back when I moved here, and that blows me away. Houston music is more accessible and visible than I’d ever guessed it would be, back in the early days of the Web.
Even still, though, H-town bands rarely seem to get a mention outside of the Beltway — a handful have made ripples nationally, but by and large, the country seems content to view our big-ass city as a musical backwater to Austin.
And while part of me says, “sure, let ’em; fuck those guys, we’ll keep our music to ourselves and have a blast with it,” there’s another part of me that wants the hardworking bands and musicians here to get a long-distance high-five from the rest of the damn country, a belated recognition that, holy crap, there’s some really cool shit going on down here.
All of which is why I’ve been tremendously excited to see the rise of a small number of local efforts aimed at publicizing and promoting folks from Houston, whether it’s in the musical realm or the arts in general. I’ve started receiving more and more real-live press releases about Houston bands from Houston PR firms, and that makes me very, very happy.
Why? Well, because to my mind Houston’s always had the talent but lacked the infrastructure of a lot of other big-city music scenes. Much as I love the DIY ethic in general, if you’re in a band, you can’t necessarily do it all on your own; real-life stuff gets in the way. And until relatively recently, if you wanted help promoting yourself you had to look outside of H-town. Not these days, though — the infrastructure for getting Houston music out to the world is growing rapidly.
One of the most visible “faces” of that infrastructure, due in part to the group’s involvement in the awesome, awesome Free Press Summerfest, is Your Name [HERE] Media, a quirkily-named, shadowy collective of people who’ve sprung up over the past couple of years and worked tirelessly to promote the scene here, both in general and with specific bands/events/whatever in tow. They’re an ambitious bunch, one of only a couple of PR-type groups that seem to veer near to national indie PR companies like Fanatic, Team Clermont, or Skyscraper Media, and they make me hopeful that one of these damn days, that outside-the-Beltway recognition will happen.
With all that in mind, SCR was able to track down Brigitte Zabak, head honcho of YNH, and pester her with some questions, which she deftly either fielded or deflected, PR-flack-style.
[Ed. Note: Full disclosure time — once upon a time, Brigitte wrote for this here e-zine, along with several other places in Houston & elsewhere. Hey, that’s the kind of scene we’ve got, here; everybody knows or has worked with everybody else, it seems like…]
SCR: Who all’s involved in Your Name [HERE]?
Brigitte Zabak: YNH Media is a motley crue of really talented local individuals. The idea came to me — hi, I’m Brigitte Zabak; nice to meet you! — sometime during the winter of 2008. I reached out to a friend, Syd S., who has the same love for music that I do and who is also a brilliant writer with a sense of humor that defies all snark. Together we brought my idea to life and have been growing slowly but surely over the last couple of years.
In addition to the two of us, we also work with other talented local photographers, writers, artists, and creative thinkers on a contract basis when a project calls for something beyond words and thoughts. Our aim is to organize an impressive collective of people that are kind enough to help us out because they support what we’re trying to do. For instance, Melissa Lonchambon — badass bassist and all around person of awesome — has helped us out tremendously with Web stuff.
The goal is to help promote local musicians by working together with as many talented, creative Houston folks as YNH can afford. This way, we’re not only helping local musicians, we’re also able to support other local talent.
Basically, we’re an established and award-winning team of evil geniuses. Fear us.
Consider yourselves feared, in that case! What’s the main focus of YNH? Is it solely on the publicity and promotion side of things?
While we have the experience to deliver a traditional promotional/publicity strategy, we strive to add a little bit more. Understanding the Houston market is really key to making any kind of splash in our cluttered social landscape, and we look for creative options that have previously never been explored in order to draw attention to our message or product. Of course, when you’re promoting a great band or event — as all YNH Media clients obviously are — getting the public the necessary information in an interesting way is just icing on the cake.
And are YNH’s services mostly meant for bands and musicians? Or is it more wide-open than that?
We’re open to anything, but working with bands/musicians/music-related events is our specialty. The Houston market abounds with unique bands, businesses, and events that need promotion. We’re music nerds, so we’re naturally drawn to anything in the ever-blossoming music scene, but our abilities know no limits.
What sort of clients have you gotten so far? Can you name any names?
Kennedy Bakery! They are truly one of the best bands we’ve stumbled across at a national or local level. Erin Rodgers, the lead singer and guitarist, is absolutely amazing. Oh, and a little event called “Free Press Summerfest“…
How choosy do you get when it comes to who you represent? I know there’re some PR firms out there who’ll promote anybody, but then there’re companies that strictly rep bands and artists they themselves love. Where does YNH fall on that divide? Along similar lines, what bands in town do you like right now? Beyond Kennedy Bakery, obviously…
YNH falls somewhere in between that spectrum. Although it’s always nice to be able to work with bands and artists that you absolutely adore, it can also be a bit limiting and not very fun. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my years of writing about music is how close-minded I could be when it came to the music I most enjoy. I used to be — though my friends may beg to differ on this point — one of those people who liked what I liked, and nothing else mattered.
Well, I still like what I like, but I can appreciate when a band/artist is truly talented — despite my opinion of the music. And if you’re a band that has genuine potential and the drive to share your music with as many people as possible, we want to help you make that happen.
As for local bands we like, just to name a few: Omotai — another client — listenlisten, The Literary Greats, Balaclavas, Buxton, The Wild Moccasins, Black Congress, Tyagaraja, Elaine Greer, Fat Tony, and Two Star Symphony. We’re constantly searching for new bands/solo artists to check out.
So, why “Your Name [HERE]”? Any significance to it?
The name was conceived on too much coffee and heaping piles of sugar; how we miss you, Café Artiste… It represents our own sense of aspiration and desire to really give Houston the credit is deserves as a wildly creative city filled with people and events that are totally unique to any urban area. We live in a transplant city where you can start fresh and create your own destiny — that sounds a little schmaltzy, but we really believe it’s true.
We can’t tell you how many times people have gone to write our name out and accidently put their name where the “[HERE]” resides. That’s exactly what we were going for. It’s empowering. Your name can be in lights, and we’d really like to help you make that happen.
Why now? Is YNH something the Houston scene’s been lacking? I know there are only a couple of other promotion-type companies in town, at least that I’m aware of…
As a handful of people might know, I had been writing about music for a few years. I tried as often as I could to write about and promote the local bands I loved, but it never seemed like enough. We have lots of friends that are in bands, and the YNH vision seemed like something they wanted and needed. I was also getting really tired of the formulaic, cookie-cutter press releases I was getting from other PR — not necessarily local — companies. They seemed so devoid of heart and passion. We grew up in Houston. My love of music was shaped by this town and we wanted to offer local bands a local option. We can come to your shows, buy you a beer and grow with you as we work together to prove that good music in Texas can be found somewhere other than Austin.
So, in summary — it’s all about the summary — the idea for YNH was kind of born out of frustration and a desire to shake things up a bit. We were sick and tired of outstanding local bands not receiving due credit for their work, plain and simple. It’s important to note though that we know plenty of really awesome individuals who help to promote the local music scene and we have great respect for their dedication and commitment.
Not to start a PR-firm beef or anything, but do you think there’s anybody around who’s doing what YNH is doing right now?
To be honest, the reason we started YNH back in 2008 was because we weren’t aware of other companies with our focus. I know there are lots of other PR/Marketing firms in town, and many of them do incredible work, but I was not aware of any that specifically focus on working with Houston musicians exclusively. Feel free to prove us wrong, though! We’d love to know of other companies who do what we’re trying to accomplish.
I was getting so frustrated seeing local bands go outside of the city to get PR help, and spent some time asking around to see if something like YNH was even necessary for Houston. Those I spoke with seemed enthusiastic about the concept, so we made it happen.
I will say that I know plenty of individuals that work their butts off to help the local music scene and we have a ridiculous amount of respect for all the hard work they do for our city.
What are you currently working on?
Sorry — top secret. Lips are zipped.
Aw, c’mon…nothing? Not even a hint? No awesome-amazing bands coming down the pipe, as it were? I swear, I won’t pester you for details on the next Summerfest lineup…
And we appreciate that! Give us a little time, and things will be revealed when the time is right. [grin]
Got anything big coming up? What are y’all planning for on down the road? How big’s this thing going to get?
Imagine Godzilla and a blue whale had a baby, and that baby went on chemistry.com and met a giant balloon from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that escaped from NYC in search of a warmer climate. After two years of dating, and three months of living together, those two get married and have a baby, which not only sets a record at the hospital, but also the world record for size, breadth, and awesomeness. That’s how big this is going to get.
Whoa. Okay, that’s pretty huge. Any schemes for your own showcase night or clothing line or anything oddball like that?
We’d love to do a showcase night at some point this year, and that’s definitely a goal for 2011. We’ve had a conversation or two with some other local folks about collaborations of this magnitude. Fingers crossed! We like oddball, so anything is possible at this point.
How was it helping with Summerfest again this year? I imagine the torrential downpour made things interesting…
Being native Houstonians, you’d think we’d be used to random bursts of endless rain, right? It most definitely made for an interesting, hot, sweaty, sticky afternoon. At one point there were about 20 of us crammed under a tent trying to stay dry and still get things done. Yay, teamwork!
Honestly though, working with Summerfest is like a dream come true. We can’t begin to tell you how awesome it is to be a part of something of this caliber and are so grateful for the opportunity. We learned a lot from the first year, and it made things go much more smoothly this past summer. It’s been great getting to meet local press and helping to ensure they get what they need to cover the event the way the need/want to. I knew my type A personality would come in handy for something!
Since you were pretty closely involved in it, I wanted to ask a question about Summerfest that’s been bouncing around in my head, if you don’t mind: why has it worked, when all these other festivals seem to be crashing and burning? I mean, Ghoulsfest reportedly tanked, as did that Texas Heat festival in downtown, and I seem to recall others besides — why do you think Summerfest has worked so spectacularly well so far?
Well, I can’t speak for other festivals in town, but from my perspective — and I speak only for myself — Summerfest seems to work because of the passion and the drive behind those who are organizing and making it happen. They took a huge risk bringing something like Summerfest to Houston and that, in and of itself, contributes to its awesome. They work collaboratively with a lot of different organizations, artists and companies.
You’re not just seeing local bands playing on stage, you’re participating in real-time art projects, eating from local vendors, and doing it from the comfort of, metaphorically, your backyard. Summerfest seems to work, in my opinion, because it’s always been a concerted local effort, and people have a vested interest in seeing it thrive. I’m sure it also didn’t hurt that ticket prices were super affordable and the lineups have been diverse and chock-full of some really incredible artists that Houston doesn’t get to see often. END
Photos by Natalie Johnston.