Industry Insider: Ollie Russian – UK radio plugger and noted music blogger

February 25, 2012
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Industry Insider - Ollie Russian

Ollie Russian is Head of Radio for leading UK Music PR company, Anorak London; which specialises in PR for national print, radio, digital PR, digital marketing and social media (www.anoraklondon.com). Ollie is also an award winning blogger, and a widely acclaimed DJ who plays top London venues such as Pony, Frog, Koko, Barfly, and Islington Bar Academy. Ollie spoke with Ngawara Madison about his hectic lifestyle, the kind of bands who float his boat, and gave his advice on creating a successful blog.

Ollie Russian

Ngawara: Someone asked me about you the other day and I said you were a bit like the UK Indie Music version of Perez Hilton! Is that a fair synopsis would you say? I know you won a prestigious Evening Standard award in 2010 for your blogging…

Ollie: I’ve never heard that before! I guess there is an element to my blog and my Twitter feed that has a rather cutting aspect at times. I can be quite sarcastic about certain elements of the music industry – in particular the ridiculous hype that can often be foisted on new bands! I like to think I’m first on a lot of new acts thanks to the contacts I’ve made over the years in the industry and also due to all the hard work I do actively seeking out new acts. I think since (winning The Evening Standard’s ‘Best Blog’ award in 2010), the blog has changed slightly… it’s maybe not quite as jokey as it used to be; and this is mainly because I have a full time job now and have less time to sit around watching daytime TV, lampooning crap celebrities and musicians (laughs)!

What is the role of the the ‘Blogger’?

I think the role of the blogger within the music industry has become more and more important over the last five years in particular. There are a number of great music bloggers in the UK and the US who are real taste-makers for further media at large, as well as providing a “go to” source for A&Rs and the music industry themselves. On a small scale, blogs are acting like fanzines did in the 70’s/80’s. At their best, blogs are taking over the role of a John Peel type character, and seeking out new music; significant bloggers are being sent new music and are then showcasing the best/most interesting of these tracks to a wider audience…

How did you gather your own personal audience? It is a pretty competitive field..

I have worked in the music industry for 10 years as a radio plugger. When I started out, a new band or manager would target play on radio from the likes of Peel/Lamacq/Zane Lowe/Huw Stephens, etc in order to gain that initial exposure to drive industry buzz… and then this radio interest would then attract the attention of NME to pick up on the new act. I think more and more blogs – at least, select key blogs – are now the starting point for many acts careers. These blogs are the grass roots that feed into larger media such as radio, full online music sites, and press.

Anorak London logo

Anorak logo

For my audience, I started off targeting people within the industry that I knew. I’ve also tried to make sure that I’m not just speaking to the music industry. I want to introduce new acts I find to music fans at large. The key to maintaining an audience is finding your own voice. For me that voice is a bit sarcastic and is not too over the top or in depth. Its important to maintain quality in your posts too.

A lot of young people are passionate about the music industry and want to get involved with what they see as a cool lifestyle. What is the actual reality of your day to day life?

It’s a lot of sitting on the internet listening to demos! My day job is Head Of Radio at Anorak London. I work for acts such as Tribes, Metronomy, Michael Kiwanuka and many more. It’s basically my job to get acts played on the radio! I have a lot of meetings with producers at Radio 1, 2 and 6music; playing them new acts I’ve taken on and trying to convince them to support my acts. When I’m in the office it’s sat listening to new music by my own acts; listening to tracks submitted to Anorak or to the Blog; and then also seeking out new stuff myself. I trawl blogs religiously and have a large bank of contacts that I regularly speak to about new acts. In the evenings I’m normally off to gigs. I don’t do as many gigs as I used to (though). For example, when I was working in A&R at Atlantic Records I saw 487 bands in one year! Of the 487 I’d say only 20 or so ever got anywhere… It is a very cool job though, I get paid to listen to music and go to gigs. It’s not great on your liver though! It’s also quite hard to “turn off” and have a life outside of music. Everyone I know works in music, or plays music in some way. Sometimes I like locking the doors and not hearing anything for a few days!

Metronomy – “The Bay”:

The Industry has changed a hell of a lot over the past decade and there is more competition than ever. What kind of personality realistically stays afloat in the London Music Scene? How do you stay relevant?

You’ve got to be really dedicated to what you want to do. It can take a long time to get that perfect job, and in the meantime you need to do everything you can to get yourself out there and recognised. It may mean taking on unpaid internships; you need to get out and go to gigs; you need to meet promoters; you need to meet bands; you need to work out how to blag into shows for free; you need to set up a music blog; and you need to introduce yourself to industry people you meet at gigs. Basically be on everything and be everywhere!

Do you have advice for young bloggers out there trying to get their blogs read and subscribed to?

For music blogs it’s all about content. Writing about huge acts might get you more hits than writing about Dog and The Dicks who’ve yet to play their first ever gig! [laughs] Work out what you want to focus on before you start! Get your blog up on hypem.com, promote it on Twitter/Facebook etc, etc. Get signed up to online PR mailing lists, and try and get exclusive content…

How about Twitter? You tweet quite often. What are the advantages of Twitter over Facebook, or vice-versa? What other social media outlets do you use?

I like Twitter as a quick way to engage with an audience and a way to seek out new people. If you write a good piece about a band and they RT it then that’s a great way of getting your blog out there! Facebook is a more personal thing I think. I don’t really use much else to be honest!

You promote a number of club nights and bands. How can a band get onto one of your bills at the barfly? What are you looking for in your acts?

Well I’ve started to wind-down the live gigs this year, I’ll be doing a couple of things at this year’s Great Escape Festival and maybe some special one off shows. The best way to flag your band up is to drop me an email with a demo. It helps if you’ve read the blog and fit with the type of music I like. Its pretty unlikely I’ll be putting on a death metal band!

Bands need fans in order to secure a great gig, but they need that gig in order to obtain the audience. Whats your advice to bands trying to book ‘that golden gig’? How can bands and promoters meet in the middle?

Bands have no excuse to be lazy – they need to work their asses off to get the right gig! They need to record a decent demo, which is now SO much easier to do then even 5 years ago; then they need to get their name out there. They should be blog savvy and interact with music blogs, send their stuff out, look into getting featured on places like Amazingradio and BBC Introducing. I’d also stress the importance of researching gigs. Venues have different promoters doing different nights; so its important to research what nights put on music similar to yours, and go down and check out the nights. Go make friends with the promoter, build your own scene and try and get noticed! Obviously if you live out in the sticks it’s harder than being in a big city like London or Manchester, in that case building your name via blogs etc. can be really helpful to get those key gigs further afield.

Ollie Russian DJing

Ollie DJ'ing

A lot of people are in the dark as to how money is made these days! You  have a popular website – do you work with affiliates for site sponsorship or does a Blogger’s income mainly come from work they do on the side? Obviously a social media presence is going to aid social promotion of everything else you do…

I don’t get a pay from my blog! I don’t know many bloggers who do. I know a lot who work in other areas of the music industry though, or DJ or put on their own nights, which can all help build up a blogs reputation as well as bringing in a little cash.

If someone has the entire history of the music industry in their head and a brilliant website, but zero presence in real life; can they be successful in the Music Industry? A kind of Sims persona.. or do you think that we still live very much in a human world, where “face to face” contact and social charm are important?

As a musical artist I’d say no, not in a conventional sense. I think there could be a way to exist like that and make a living but it would be very hard to start off just playing on Youtube and releasing music solely that way and then maintain it for a career. Face to face contact is still SO important. Music sales are declining year on year, but the live music sector is steady, if not growing! I think that says a lot…. However in other areas that’s perfectly possible, Perez Hilton to some degree started like that, or look at the success of a blog like Hipster Run Off.

Which bands do you predict will be the big breakout stars for 2012? Who will have that commercial success of say, Rizzle Kicks, and Ed Sheeran? Any frontrunners in your opinion?

Michael Kiwanuka, definitely; Lianna La Havas maybe; and a dance act called Rudimental have got some huge tunes! Then names like Post War Years, John Newman, Josh Kumra, Dot JR and Disclosure.

© Ngawara Madison, Music Vice

Michael Kiwanuka – “Home Again”:

Internet links:
Ollie Russian
Ollie on Twitter

Anorak London

Rudimental ft. Natalie May – “Sexy Sexy”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfv44lEzOLU
Post War Years: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeYA4LcwdnM
John Newman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wc_GOhCCKg

 

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