Will Runzel, Founder Of Fifth Agency, On Mechanics Of Musician Promotion

PPromotion is a brutal profession. Personally I’ve witnessed a few friends take a shot in the dark down this route, only to result in having 100% of them move onto other professions, but once in a while you meet an individual who defied the statistics.

I had the pleasure talking to Will Runzel, who just two years after graduating from Indiana University had founded the successful promotion company, Fifth Agency, known for touring famed names like Mike Posner, Big Sean, Steve Aoki, Twista and Sam Adams. Adding to his successes, Fifth Agency recently formed a partnership with the Prime Social Group and he’s transitioning into a new chapter in his career after accepting a personal offer to work with Steve Aoki and Dim Mak Records.

With experiences in tote, Will offered a forthcoming perspective into the promotion side of the industry to reveal the fast paced and not so glamorous inner workings that should keep musicians on their toes.

Will Runzel

How did you get into promotion after you graduated in 2009 and how have you worked your way up in such a short time to found your own company, Fifth Agency?

I started promoting nightclubs in Florence, Italy when I ran out of money studying abroad. The free drinks that came with the job really offset a lot of expenses. I pretended to be a booking agent (what I had conjured in my head), and actually had some success booking my buddy’s bands locally in Bloomington, IN while in school at Indiana University.

One of the guys asked me if I could promote his Saturday night event and I took it from 50 people to 500 people in 7 days (thanks to flyering the Wisconsin-Indiana tailgating party, at which all the Wisconsin people showed up and gave us momentum). Then I filed my LLC and took Mike Posner on his first Midwest tour by implementing promotional strategies that I created myself. Fifth Agency turned two years old on March 9 of this year and then a few weeks later, the Prime Social Group absorbed us.

What musicians have you promoted for?

Jeremih, Mike Posner, Digitalism, Big Sean, Curren$y, Steve Aoki, Twista, Sam Adams, and some others…

How did you even find the connections to start promoting the larger names like Twista and Aoki?

Just email the agent. There is a database. You just have to come off as professional with a plan in mind, a budget and everything all spelled out neatly, and they’ll respond.

You blog for MostlyJunkFood.com about your own experiences as a promoter, and you’ve been dishing out some great advice, but in college you studied sports writing? How did you transition from a lover of sports to a lover of music?

I think I am a lover of both. Unfortunately I have now limited my fanship to just professional sports (NBA and NFL), I just don’t have time for college sports anymore. I just love writing. I’ve written short stories and poetry and I feel like I could write in most genres. If given the information, I can formulate something concise about any topic. And to me, that’s the way non-fiction should be written; to compact all the necessary information while developing an image for the reader in the least amount of words.

What are you looking forward to pursuing in the near future? Where would you like to be in your career a few years down the road?

I have a job offer on the table from Steve Aoki himself. By the time this is published I will probably be on my way to California, or developing a massive tour for Prime Social Group through the Midwest.

I’ve seen you walking around the stage, darting from musician to DJ to tech person, what’s really going on behind the scenes? How much coordination is necessary to manage a concert?

Well, you got the sound guy and the mics, the different artists who need to be taken care of, making sure the door guy isn’t stealing from you, making sure the girl at the front whose ticket won’t scan is telling the truth, keeping dehydrated people from passing out, making sure your green room is clean for the artist, making sure the artist has everything they need, making sure all the people on your guest list get in, making sure the press has their passes, making sure no one is back stage when they are not supposed to be, coordinating all of this with security, making sure the venue owner is happy, keeping the show on time so my headliner doesn’t get cut off for curfew, and of course I have to slip in a drink or two so my head isn’t throbbing from the speakers.

Would you say that the music industry’ glitz and glamour is just an image that fans and listeners portray?

Yeah, 100%. I can name at least 5 rappers who live in one bedroom, dirty ass apartments in downtown LA. And these guys are supposed to be “big” rappers.

Why do you think that is?

Perception is reality.

Would you suggest that musicians promote themselves around their own home town or is that setting oneself up for being pigeonholed?

It’s a must, if you can’t take your hometown by storm as soon as you make a concerted push, you might as well just stop there.

How important is touring vs. radio time vs. blogs? What do you believe is the most effective?

You should do what you can. Blogs mean you need a PR company and great content. Shows mean either you know the guy throwing it, you paid to get on, or you are already big enough to have a draw in other cities and thus an asset to the promoters who set up tours like we do. You have to pay for radio time. You can get a few plays just from knowing a few people, but if you want to stay in the Top 40 radio charts you have to pay for that.

What would you suggest is the best means of promoting yourself as a musician?

This all depends on how much money you have, read this article for more information: Friday Runzel-ism: How to Make it in the Music Industry.

Would you suggest that musicians should pay to open for a well known musician? Would you say that it’s worth it?

Like I said, perception is reality. I would generally say no, but if you’ve made a push in your hometown and it almost looks natural that you should be opening for a Snoop Dogg or whatever, pay the $500, if your hometown shows you love, the crowd will go wild for your set and the promoter will think, “Maybe we should put this guy on the bill next time.”

What are a couple of marketing strategies that you use to promote musicians, and a strategy that musicians without a PR person or promoter can implement?

Be your own PR. Write press releases. Make cheap, viral videos (easier said than done) for your songs, and write PERSONAL emails to the people who run blogs by asking them if they will check out your video. That’s what I would do.

How important is it to target the college demographic as you are doing now? Would that be the first demographic that you would suggest a band target in their first tour?

That’s not for me to say. I started this business in college so I know the college demographic, but if I am a band or a band manager, I would be interacting with and identifying where your fans are, and why they are fans.

What would you suggest musicians do to find out about the go-to venues in specific cities?

Ask the kids. See what acts are performing in a certain city, and see where they are going. For example, big hip hop group A goes to venue B. Small rock band C goes to venue D, etc.

What social media sites do you use to listen to musicians? How do you feel about Myspace?

Myspace had a shot and they blew it completely. Myspace was holding on in 2006 and it needed to be completely redone and they had a shot. They waited until 2010 for their facelift and botched it on all accounts. I like to say “find your niche and fill it.” Myspace was never going to compete with Facebook for world dominance of home page status, they should have made it simple for people to listen to music and interact with fans and have an easy to find section for every detail of a musician (tour dates, music, photos, etc). They will however, remain a standard that all musicians need, but as you see now they will never be updated like how Facebook pages and websites are updated. Facebook swept that rug out from under them.

Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?

Go get some money and call me.

Francis Bea is a New Yorker turned Chicago co-founder of Musefy.com (in development) and writes Musefy’s blog Musebox.