Exploring the role of a publicist in a jazz musician’s career

Jamming & Learning

Volume 118, No. 4April, 2018

PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE: Jazz Mentors 14 featured top publicists Jason Harman Byrne, Lydia Liebman and Matt Merewitz. Photos: Walter Karling

“What does a publicist do?” was the question posed by the 14th Jazz Mentors event, held in late February. On hand to discuss the role of a publicist in the career of a jazz artist were Lydia Liebman, Matt Merewitz and Jason Paul Harman Byrne. Over 50 eager attendees participated in this highly informative discussion that ran the gamut from traditional publicity campaigns to the benefits of social media.

Jason Paul Harman Byrne’s Red Cat Publicity (launched in January 2005) boasts a client list composed of the upper echelon in modern jazz, including Anat Cohen, Andreas Varady, Mark Guiliana, Ben Wendel, Dayna Stephens, Gilad Hekselman, Joe Locke and others. An experienced musician, Bryne is also an effective press agent for artists wishing to expand their awareness and audience, thereby furthering their careers.

All three panelists agreed that an artist needs to have an interesting story that the publicist can use in promotion. But how does an artist create an intriguing narrative? Byrne offered one solution.  “I often ask artists to write about their compositions,” he said. “You’d be surprised to know that a lot of interesting information can come from doing that. The publicist has to be armed with every piece of ammunition they can get, in addition to compelling music.”

Lydia Liebman, who suggested this particular panel discussion, is the president of Lydia Liebman Promotions, founded in 2010. Since taking on Danilo Perez’s Berklee Global Jazz Institute as her first client, Lydia has gone on to promote the albums and tours of an impressive array of artists, including Mark Whitfield, Brandee Younger, Scott Tixier, Brian Lynch, Helen Sung and Dave Liebman.

As the evening’s discussion ensued, the importance of social media quickly took center stage. Liebman used one of her high-profile clients to exemplify the power of social media. She referred to The Baylor Project, a husband-and-wife duo that was nominated for Grammys both in the R&B and jazz categories. Liebman said, “By using social media to post multiple clips of their personal lives at home, on the road or at a gig, they have developed an increasingly loyal fan base – fans who come to their shows.”

Matt Merewitz is the founder of Fully Altered Media, a standard-bearing PR and social media firm. He began his professional career at DL Media in Philadelphia, working with artists and labels such as Jason Moran, Aaron Parks, Frank Foster, Cryptogramophone Records and Marsalis Music. He has since represented top artists, labels and institutions, including Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Dave Holland, Nels Cline and the NYC Winter Jazzfest among others.

Speaking frankly about the state of music, Merewitz informed the audience, “Music is given short shrift in our mainstream culture and is not on par with books, TV and film. It therefore becomes vital for a publicist to create a compelling narrative for an up-and-coming artist in order to compete. That can be accomplished with targeted, creative advertising, Facebook exposure and vehicles like Instagram stories.”

Byrne stressed the value of using video. “What I like to do is an ‘album teaser,’” he said. “I film the artist as they produce a few of their new songs and have them talk about the process and any upcoming events. Video becomes a great marketing tool.”

This was seconded by Liebman. She mentioned “video premiers” where outlets such as NPR provide a platform for listeners to get a taste of an artist’s upcoming album. She added, “These are a simple and effective way to create a buzz.”

During the Q&A, an audience member asked how is it possible to find the time to manage all these different social media promotions?

Wayne Shorter’s publicist Jesse Markowitz was in the audience and answered the question this way. “The old days of meticulously crafted material are over,” he said. “Today, it doesn’t have to be professionally done. Whatever you have, post it on social media and get it out there. The public wants to see you and what you’re doing.”

Jazz Mentors 14, led and hosted by the Council for Living Music in partnership with Local 802, was held in the Local 802 club room. The Jazz Mentors programming is made possible in part due to support from the New York City Council. The series is free of charge and open to Local 802 members, students and the general public. Attendees are privy to a wealth of information from top business professionals in the jazz field – tips that others could only get by paying for a consultation. That alone is reason to take advantage of these valuable panel discussions.

We look forward to seeing you at the next Jazz Mentors. The date of the next event will be posted at