Přemysl Štěpánek: The visual aspect must play like the performer’s music

17 July 2021, 1:00
Přemysl Štěpánek: The visual aspect must play like the performer’s music

Thirty-one years. It has been exactly that long since the founding of the Brno-based Indies label, which has released hundreds of albums of Czech music during its existence. PR Manager Přemysl Štěpánek takes care of the promotion of one of the current successors, the Indies Scope label. Apart from the current state of the label, we also discussed the way of promoting Czech artists, his dramaturgical plan for the Brno Music Marathon Festival and the representation of the Hungarian Sziget Festival in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

You work at the Indies Scope label – how is it doing at the moment, after the COVID hiatus?

Publishing is doing well, unlike other music industries during the pandemic. We could release stuff all the time, it was not a big limitation for us. We managed to create quite a lot of interesting music. As opposed to the freezing of concert activity and booking, but even that is slowly picking up.

How are gala release parties going? Did you move dates, or did you just cancel them?

In terms of gigs, we are agents for only a small part of the artists who release in our country. We release about ten to fifteen albums a year, and even twenty albums if we are successful. However, we provide booking for less than ten musicians or bands. At the moment, I think most bands that released an album during the coronavirus crisis won’t even do gala parties for albums – doing it a year after release doesn’t make much sense. At most for those who managed to release their work this spring during the lockdown.

You are the programmer of the alternative stage at Brno Music Marathon Festival. How did you join the Brno festival?

I met the festival director, David Dittrich, at the Cannes fair. He had a great vision of how Brno could be helped and how it could be developed culturally, which I found interesting. We started to be more in touch with each other and when the festival came up, I got involved.

What do you enjoy about the festival?

I am very glad that something like this exists. From my point of view, Brno hasn’t had a big worthwhile festival for a long time. I’m not a Brno native and when I moved here I was surprised how dead the city is in the summer time. This has gradually changed in recent years, and the event has helped to revive Brno.

 

Indies Scope has quite a rich programme at the festival, divided into two days. What idea do you want to convey to the visitors?

The basic idea is to have local performers complemented by those from more distant parts of the country. Then come two topics. Friday night has a “blues-pub” feel based on an original song. A good intersection of both approaches is Jan Fic, who will play with his band led by Martin Kyšperský. Next will be Mirek Kemel, who is mostly a singer-songwriter, but the band gives him a bluesy edge. The new project Kolektivní Halucinace will also be presented. The evening will end with Band of Heysek, which is pure blues. Saturday focuses on the female voice accompanied by acoustic instruments. Helena Vedralová starts with the band Muziga. Then there is a very special project involving an original fusion of Horňácká muzika Petra Mičky (Petr Mička’s Horňácká muzika) & smyčcové kvarteto Jiřího Pospíšila (Jiří Pospíšil’s String Quartet). Guests, including singer Veronika Malatincová, will also be present. This show has only made a few appearances so far, I’m very curious about it myself. The cherry on top is Tara Fuki – a cello duo and great female singers at the same time.

Do you already have an idea of what you would like to offer visitors next year?

Of course it will depend on the new albums we have released or are preparing. Like David Pomahač or Zuby Nehty.

You are a PR manager – is it difficult to combine the promotion of individual artists? Do you have any promotional “framework” for the label you are in? 

Indies Scope is an independent and small label. There are five of us on the team, including booking, graphics and other positions. Of course, we communicate with everyone what their vision and purpose is and try to help them realize it. We try to fully respect the author’s intention and not to transform the artists’ idea in any way. So every album goes through a certain “process” of promotion, but it also adapts to the project and genre.

Do you think Czech artists know how to promote themselves?

It’s a very individual thing. Either the bands are good at it and enjoy it, or they don’t like it and that’s why they are unsuccessful on social media. Today’s promo is often built on sharing the behind-the-scenes of personal life. But not everyone is comfortable with that. One must also have a feel for and knowledge of the virtual environment to know what works and how it works. Generally promotion is a kind of subjective game that often costs a lot of money.

 

So what do you see as the most common mistake?

I have personal experience with Thom Artway, for whom I am an agent in my business, PR STAGE. We were preparing materials for a promotional event in England and several times we got back his promo photos, saying that they were just not good and didn’t capture Thom. Photos that were enough for our country. We asked how they wanted us to do it. They sent us a photo of Justin Bieber, which, on the other hand, did not seem to be exactly our form. We did not understand what made it better. “Can you tell from it what genre Justin sings? Do you know where you would classify him, based on the photo?” This is information that must be obvious at a glance. A lot of artists style and transform themselves in different ways until it doesn’t correspond with their work at all. I think that’s a mistake. It takes the interplay and understanding of the performers and the people involved in the promotion – from photographers, graphic designers, copywriters and others. A good visual aspect and promotion is a long hard run.

Last May, the Soundczech office organized a workshop on live promo video. How to shoot it properly, what is its content?

It depends on who you’re making the video for. The most important thing for event programmers is to see on video how the band interacts with the audience and how the audience reacts to them. We discussed this with Dušan Svíba from Colours Meeting and Barbora Šubrtová from Metronome festival. We agreed that when we get a concert video with a studio recording, it seems like the band can’t play live. What is important to us is the audience and the authenticity of the moment. In that case, the video quality may not be from the hands of a professional. People don’t necessarily have to jump, it’s enough that you can tell that they’re quiet and they can feel the music. And again, we return to the previous question. From both the photo and the video you should be able to tell what kind of band it is, what kind of music it plays and what kind of music it is. Not only for the organizers, but also for the audience.

Where did the idea to start PR STAGE – your project – come from?

I met Milan Páleš, the owner of the Indies Scope label, in 1996 when I was doing my diploma thesis for the label. After six years, I started working there. And in 2012, Milan came up with the idea that he wanted to take the next year off. That meant I would have less work, so I was looking for what I could do without competing with the label. As fate would have it, I went to Hungary for the Sziget Festival in the summer and found out that it has almost no promotion in the Czech Republic. So I approached the organizers with my offer of cooperation. They got back to me and said that they were just forming an international team and were interested.

As they say, the right place at the right time.

Exactly. But I had to set up a company to be able to deal with foreign contracts and so on. That is why PR STAGE was created. We started with Sziget and gradually acquired other festivals like Balaton Sound and Exit. To this we added Slovakia. In addition, we went to conferences and trade fairs, where we thought about how to make the most of all the contacts and information. That’s why we invented the Czech Fresh project for trips of Czech performers abroad. They organized a year zero and then one year with all the pomp and circumstance. When the Soundczech export office was established and we had no reason to continue Czech Fresh.

Thanks to Czech Fresh you met singer Thom Artway, whom you currently represent, right?

Yes. We met at the first official event, which was a competition. Mark Bennet, an agent from the international agency United Talents, had worked with us by then. Thom succeeded in the finale. The fact that we would be representing him was certainly not the goal of the competition at the time. However, at that time he parted ways with his management and we got together because of the obligations arising from the competition. But I’m glad of it; it’s a great and pleasant cooperation.

PR Stage is the exclusive agent of the Hungarian Sziget Festival in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. How hard is it to get the right to promote it?

I presented a plan as I would see it, they approved it with the understanding that they could only provide a portion. We made a deal eventually. But the first year in 2013 was very tough, we started the promotion with a delay and only fifty tickets were sold. Which, since my paycheck depended on the number of tickets sold, basically just paid my round-trip ticket and accommodation. Everything else was for free. But the very next year was better, the success rate curve increased.

To what extent do you have a freedom to decide? In the sense of where does your responsibility for adequate promo begin?

Sziget is a big brand, the boundaries are precise, everyone has to follow them. My freedom is that I can promote the festival in a different way than what is planned from the headquarters. So it depends on the creativity of the agent.

Do you have information about how the festival is promoted in other countries? Do you share this information with your colleagues?

Before the coronavirus crisis came along, during my time with Sziget we had three international promoter meetings where this information was circulated. It is interesting, however, that in nearby Poland there is not as much interest in the festival as one would expect. On the other hand, most visitors come from Belgium and the Netherlands, in some years up to fifteen thousand people. A lot of fans came from Germany and France. It’s interesting to follow this and find out what works where in promotion and why.

You represent the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Do you see a difference in those countries’ approach to Sziget?

Yes, it’s because of our location. Slovaks have a shorter driving distance. They can leave their jobs, go to a concert and go home at midnight. Czechs, on the other hand, buy multi-day tickets.

The interview was conducted in cooperation with Frontman magazine.

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