The Buzz Maker: Music Publicist Joelle May

Photo: Kenneth Locke

One of my favourite music publicists is Vancouver-based Joelle May, the founder of Mod May Promotions. Joelle is charming, energetic, and completely committed to promoting her clients. We recently sat down to discuss her start as a music publicist, how she chooses artists to work with, and career goals.

CG: When did you first decide you wanted to be a publicist?

JM: I guess it would have been in 2007, when I first discovered there was a job called music publicist. I had been in the oil and gas industry in Calgary for about 10 years up until that point. I can’t believe that I lasted that long as I never intended on being there in the first place. When I found out that music publicist was a job I knew that was the job I had been looking for.

CG: Was it your initial love for music that drew you into the industry?

JM: Yes. I’ve always been into music. I had lots of friends that were in bands and I also had friends that were in media. When I discovered that you could be the connector between those two I gave it all up. I sold my house in Calgary, moved into my camper van for a year and I toured with bands across Canada.

CG: Did you do any schooling or are you pretty much self-taught?

JM: I am pretty much self-taught. I’ve often thought I should go back and get a degree, but I’ve been doing this for long enough now that I think it just might be a waste of my time.

CG: And waste of your money. Don’t do it!

JM: Hahaha! I did have a really good mentor — she had tons of connections and was well versed in the industry. She ended up handing me a couple clients because she had more than she could handle at the time and it kind of went from there.

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CG: When did you move to Vancouver?

JM: I moved to Vancouver in 2010.

CG: I’m assuming in the beginning, before you moved to Vancouver, you worked with mostly artists from Alberta?

JM: Mostly from Alberta, a couple from Saskatchewan, a couple from BC. Even when I was in Alberta I started taking on BC clients. In the western provinces a lot of bands know each other because this is our touring zone. It all started for me with word of mouth and referrals. I haven’t had to actually market myself that much which is kind of hilarious considering part of what I do is marketing.

CG: Did you decide to move to Vancouver because you thought there would be more work here?

JM: Partially, but mostly because I couldn’t stand Calgary winters anymore. I’ve also had a lot of connection to Vancouver throughout my whole life. My dad’s family is all out here and so it wasn’t unfamiliar. I had a lot of friends here. But no -30 degree weather was a good enough motivator to leave Calgary.

CG: I’m from Toronto. Our winters can be pretty brutal too. I understand wanting to experience milder winters… the mountains and the ocean.

JM: And there is a great scene here.

CG: Absolutely. I like it because it’s small and it seems like everyone knows everyone. There is this comradery I find. I mean there are people that are kind of clicky too, but you find that in any big city.

JM: That’s true.

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Joelle with Stephen Fearing

CG: When did you officially start Mod May Promotions?

JM: Mod May became official in 2008 when I registered the business name. It’s a stupid name and I’m going to change it soon. Hahaha! I’ve been meaning to change it all along, but the short story is it’s actually my name. My name is Joelle May, but my middle name is Maude. Instead of spelling it M.A.U.D.E I spelled it M.O.D., like modern and I called it Mod May. I told a friend of mine that I was going to name my company Mod May and she said, “That’s great. I love it. You can lengthen it to Modern Mayhem.” And I thought that name was so much better! Hahaha! But I’ve been sitting on that name for so long now. I’ve registered the domain and business name but I haven’t changed anything over or gotten a new logo designed. But the new name of the company will be Modern Mayhem Media.

CG: I do like the new name.

JM: It’s better.

CG: Who do you currently have on your roster? What do you look for in artists to work with?

JM: My criteria is basically I have to love it. I have to get behind it because I’m telling other people to love it and I don’t want to be lying. People will see through that. I’m not very good at lying… Haahaha!

Right now I have a Vancouver band called Petunia and the Vipers, Petunia is an amazing vocalist. They are a western swing, rockabilly sounding group. I keep getting phone calls from labels for them so who knows they may be about to blow up.

Skye Wallace, who used to live here in Vancouver, but moved out to Toronto last year. She just released a new single that was produced by Jim Bryson. That’s doing really well. She used to be dark folk but the move to Toronto has definitely affected her music because it’s suddenly become this spirited punk, indie, rock stuff. I’m really liking where her music is going.

Kaïa Kater, who is the daughter of a friend of mine — Tamara. Kaïa is a young woman who has an amazing voice and also plays the banjo. You listen to her music and you sit there gape mouthed.

CG: I will have to check her out.

JM: She’s really awesome. There’s also Sophia Danai, who is a pop soul R&B artist locally here in Vancouver. She is my first foray into that genre of music, but I really love her music. I also work with The Hearts, who are a pop band from Edmonton. Double Fuzz is a rock and roll band from Calgary. I work with so many great artists…

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Joelle with Jimmie Vaughn

CG: What are your career goals as a music publicist?

JM: I used to have a goal of getting a band on David Letterman, but I never did that before he retired… Hahaha!

CG: Oh no! That’s too bad.

JM: I would like to be the top publicist in Canada. I know I’m among the higher ranks and that’s really cool to me.  And it would definitely be amazing if I was solely responsible for the large break of a band.

CG: Can you give me a quick run through on what your average day is like.

JM: Basically, I get up in the morning and finally after avoiding it for an hour or so I will sit down at my computer… Hahaha! Usually I get up, stand in the garden, drink my coffee, and kind of look at plants for about an hour. I need some earth before I do computer screen all day. But first thing is usually responding to whatever emails are in my inbox — interview requests and pitches I deal with first. After 2pm in Vancouver there is no point in continuing to write to Toronto that day. I work my pitches from east to west through the afternoon. If I have any time left, usually I work on prepping materials, writing press releases, bios, putting together EPKs, filling out spreadsheets, doing reports and invoices.

I’m really bad at sitting on the computer all day. For a decade in oil and gas that’s what I did — sit in front of a computer all day. When I started my own business, I needed to have flexibility and freedom. This is one of the reasons why I’m doing this.

CG: Flexibility and freedom sounds lovely.

JM: Yes, but I definitely need to be available and on it with being a publicist, but I can still kind of flex my day around. If I need to take a beach afternoon, I’ll do that on a Friday — I will be like, “Sorry guys, I’m packing up at noon today!”

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