The Future of What: Marketing Spotlight with Girlie Action Media and They Might Be Giants [Podcast + Exclusive Interview]

Vortex Music Magazine

A weekly music industry podcast for newcomers and insiders alike, The Future of What tackles important topics in the business with host Portia Sabin, president of Kill Rock Stars, and guests. This week we put a spotlight on prolific music marketing agency Girlie Action Media and its longtime client They Might Be Giants.

Music marketers have been behind some of the industry’s coolest and most conceptual ad campaigns, and are vital to an artist’s career. Over the last few decades, the fields of music marketing and PR have been reshaped to accommodate new technology and cultural values around music. Today, the two jobs often overlap. While money is most often concentrated in major label artists, independent marketing agencies like Girlie Action Media have adapted and thrived in a complicated business, working with acts from Bikini Kill to Morrissey.

After almost a decade of working in music, Felice Ecker started Girlie Action Media in 1994, at a time when “there was an infrastructure in the music industry... that could afford to hire independent firms.” In our interview, Ecker called it a “nice time to start because it was a transition in terms of the way people were perceiving artists that were not stereotypically pop artists.”

While her company’s size has fluctuated, Ecker has been successful in developing Girlie Action, in part because of her perceptiveness to the industry. Her roster includes many burgeoning and established acts like Cut Copy, Palehound, Talib Kweli and others. According to Ecker, the downfall of many independent agencies is that “they strictly work with new acts, so they have to carry massive rosters. It’s really hard to make your client shine if you’re representing 20 to 30 artists... per publicist.” Ecker has also been open to change. “If you can take the time to look at things and figure out where the need is,” Ecker believes “you can make your job work.”

Ecker’s relationship with They Might Be Giants began in the early 2000s. Last year, she worked on their acclaimed revival of the Dial-A-Song phone line from the early ‘80s. The original project was conceived to promote their local shows after TMBG’s John Flansburgh was inspired by Catholic Archdiocese of Boston’s dial-a-prayer program.

Many credit Dial-A-Song as a key plot hatched by the duo in order to get signed to a label. In our interview, Flansburgh dispels that misconception, saying that, in actuality, labels “didn’t like it.” This was mostly because the major labels wanted to “get a band in almost a fetal state, then do all of the handling, all of the image-making and sound-massaging in their development process... [Dial-A-Song] was a complete turnoff.”

Yet today, many labels would love to see more proactiveness from acts before signing them. Flansburgh advises young bands to “figure out how to hold on to the thing you’re doing and fit into the thing they’re doing.” While Flansburgh’s career has spanned over 30 years, he wants aspiring musicians to remember that even “if you’re only in a band for a year and it was all really fun, you’ve already got more to talk about than the other guy at the end of the bar.”

There’s more to Flansburgh than what made the official episode so listen to the extended, exclusive interview now!

This episode features music by:
Milagres: “The Black Table”
Hands: “Brave Motion”
Horse Feathers: “Belly of June”

Hear the full episode below and listen to The Future of What on XRAY.fm every Friday at 1pm at 107.1 FM and 91.1 FM—or subscribe on iTunes.

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