Brian Bumbery likes to babysit, beg, wait and kiss ass. This top-notch publicist, who is the founder of Los Angeles-based BB Gun Press, has made a name for himself in this entertainment driven city and cut-throat industry. He hasn’t always been on top though, Bumbery has moved his way up the ranks bouncing from different agencies and labels to get to where he is today.
Bumbery knows what it takes to help his clients make the best impression possible and to get the most positive word out about an artist’s message. He stopped by Raleigh Studios Monday to talk to the Semester in Los Angeles students about his expertise and what it takes to nail it.
Brian, tell us what you do.
I’m a publicist. And I actually dropped out of college believe it or not. I had a crazy childhood. I started working at a music trade magazine called Rock Pool where the owner ran it into the ground. I jumped from there to a record label called Mute Records where I was making below minimum wage, could’ve qualified for food stamps. I just really grew in the business and began my first agency at 22 taking on clients the agency I worked for didn’t want to take on. I went back to a record label, back to my own agency then in 2002 I went to Warner Bros. Records. That’s where my career really blew up. I ended up being restructured out when the music industry started to constrict and really mitigate their contracts. I wouldn’t do that, so I was fired. I then started my own agency [BB Gun Press], which was about four years ago. And now, here I am. But every step along the way I feel like I was able to learn something that I was able to apply.
What is the most important role of a publicist.
My role as a publicist is changing every day because of technology. As time has progressed, yes I’m still a mouthpiece for these bands, but in time technology has allowed it where I could take a lesser role – i.e. social media – these bands have millions of followers so it’s sometimes more effective for them to push out their own message. Or I can take a greater role for those who don’t know what they want to say. The most important role of a publicist is when you take an artist and sit with them and you help them articulate their story and the points they want to get across and then broadcast them out.
Who all do you represent?
All kinds of music like The Band Perry, Metallica, Muse, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetics, but we can also do corporate events with Citi Bank and Pandora. Really anything that moves us. It can be a book, an artist – we’ve worked with fine arts, sculptors, painters – it’s more so the medium. If you look at something and it draws you and you love it and you’re passionate about it, I’d work with them.
How often are you seeking out who you would like to represent and how often are you being asked?
I don’t normally seek out because a lot of people have publicists already. We call that “flirting with each others clients”. I don’t want to do that. Ultimately if you start doing that, someone will come along and take yours. To me it’s just a bad way of doing business.
How are your roles similar or different from the band manager?
Generally the publicist is the closest person to the artist or celebrity, you’re there everyday working with these people from a business side. The band manager of course manages their entire lives such as schedule, tour, and travel. The manager might get 5 am phone calls everyday of the week, we may only get them twice. But we work very closely with them because you are the first person to help create a message or tell the story of the particular project they are working on.
How has your job changed with the increase presence of social media?
It’s become easier and more difficult. The easier bit comes from social media when bands can just post whenever. If there is a quote that needs to get out you can just instantly put it out there. It’s difficult in the sense that people are misreporting information and not caring about the correction but rather the first thing that was reported. So the most difficult would be policing the internet for wrong information.
Would you rather represent someone in the public eye or someone who is not receiving that much publicity?
I’d much rather work with someone in the public eye. Example, I work with Green Day so I was working with Billy Joe when he had his melt down on stage. When that happened I said “We have to tell the truth, there’s something wrong here”. We can lie about it all we want, the more we lie about it though the more it’s going to keep coming back. So the next day we just issued a statement that said he was seeking treatment for substance abuse then it was over. I wouldn’t work with someone like a Lindsay Lohan who is being dishonest with their issues. But if you’re working with someone and you can guide them because they trust you and know that you’ll help guide their career. I’d much rather take one of those.
Who is your biggest role model?
Lorraine! (laughter). But seriously she was one for me. And I still do look up to Lorraine. I remember I was on a job and we hadn’t met yet. I had to write something and Lorraine just said to me “write what you feel”. That to me was the ultimate. When you’re writing pitch letters you’re writing in hopes that they’re listening to the music or watching the films, so writing what you’re able to feel people can feel the sincerity of that and the honesty that comes with that. So that was a big one for me, that definitely changed my life.
Bumbery side noted that anymore in this business no takes you under their wing. At the time he was starting there wasn’t really anyone to guide him along. Anymore it’s such a thankless business. People feel threatened so they won’t take you under their wing as they might more in other businesses. He went on to say that some of the best advice he was given was to hire someone smarter than yourself. You will learn a lot more from them and they will keep you on your toes. If you look around in this business you’ll see people hire someone just below them and then they stay at that point forever.
Looking where you came from and where you are now, where do you plan to be?
I feel like I can always do better. Am I proud of myself? Yes. But there’s always room for improvement. As I’ve taken on more managerial roles I feel if I’m not doing well in that part then the pride will go away. Where do i want to go? I don’t know, I feel like I’m at that cross roads right now. There’s only so many albums you can do where it’s the same thing over and over again. So right now I’m trying to think about ‘Okay, where do I want to go? What do I want to do? How do I want to do it? What’s it going to take to get me there’ sort of thing.
What kind of mentality do you need [going into this business]?
You have to have thick skin. You’re going to be told no. An you are going to be told yes. There will be days you will have three really good things were it’s a “Yes! Yes! Yes!”, call it a day after that. Because it all goes down the drain from there. But ultimately don’t take anything personally, and likewise don’t do anything that will give anyone a reason to have a personal issue with you. But also be honest. Honesty is really key. And don’t have a hidden agenda.
Who is your favorite band?
My favorite band of all time is The Cure. I’ve loved them since I was 13 and it’s the only artist I will never meet because I don’t want to lose Robert Smith [vocals / guitarist]. I was standing next to him one time and had the chance to meet him and I said no and left. He’s my idol and I don’t want to lose that iconic image when I meet him and realize he’s a normal dude. I just don’t want to lose that excitement. I don’t ever really lose my cool. But with The Cure that music really drove me through my adolescent depression, so speaking to me on that deeper soul level was really like, Wow. To lose that and feel like he’s just a normal dude like you and me would really bum me out.