For over two decades, Eric Alper has established himself as one of the most widely recognized publicists in Canada. He has represented hundreds of artists from Ray Charles to The Wiggles. For the last eight years, he’s been doing it all from home.
“….I knew I didn’t want to rent an office because I knew it was just going to be me. I wasn’t going to have a staff, ever. I wanted to do it all here and I like being at home! Whenever people say the line, ‘Go big or go home’, they seriously underestimate the value of me going home!”
Eric pointed out that many of his most important things are at home. The list included his dogs, his fridge, TV, and radio. Not to mention his vast collections of records and books.
“You’ve got to give me a really good reason why I should go out. I know I’m getting old… but like, starting a show at 11 PM on a Tuesday just doesn’t cut it for me anymore! Nothing good happens in the world when you are outside past 2 in the morning! So we need to go home. We need to have shows that start at 7 and you’re out by 9:30. You can be tucked into bed at 10 or 11 and falling asleep watching Netflix. That’s got to be the way artists have to do things.”
“Now obviously, if you’re a 21 year old pop singer or a rock star, sure! Go nuts! Start your show at midnight after seven indie bands come on, but I’m not going to be there anymore…. Now I don’t go see any shows. In fact, I really haven’t seen sunlight since, I think like, 1997.” He laughed.
A typical day for Eric involves answering a multitude of emails. As he explained, “It’s a lot of pitching to the media. So, I get up in the morning and I am ready to go by 7-7:30. I’ll set up the day on social media. From then on in, it’s just pitching to media outlets, updating the database, writing press releases, re-writing press releases and re-writing them again. I go back and forth to the artist, talking to them about their future plans with their record labels and managers and booking agents.”
When it comes to press releases, Eric often asks artists what inspires them and what their backgrounds are, and whether or not they have any relatable stories that would be newsworthy.
He also spends a lot of time coming up with different story angles rather than just stating that an artist has released something new and that people should care about it.
“Because the fact of the matter is, unless you are an A-List artist, nobody cares—which is amazing in a weird sort of way! It allows that artist to do whatever they want to do without the entire world’s eyes on them. It gives them tremendous creative leeway to do what they want to do, knowing that they don’t employ 700 people who are relying on their success or their next hit single in order to get paid.”
“Being a publicist is one of the greatest things that I’ve ever decided to do. I started—back in the day—at a record label and a booking agency and then publicity. Very, very quickly, I realized that I just wasn’t cut out for the record label side of things. I hated bookings. I just so admire people that can take an artist and throw them in the middle of a country and have 18 different directions on where to go next. When I did it, I chose every single wrong city for them to do. I was awful at it.”
“With publicity, I kind of understood it from the very beginning because I loved reading about music news! I loved reading music media. I loved stories of artists, labels and booking agents and managers and how the industry worked. I just felt that it was probably the best place for me because most publicity people that I met when I was growing up and in university had the best jobs! They went to all the shows! They had access to as many free records as possible. They gave out music for a living…. Then they went home and did the whole thing all over again every day and I loved that! I’ve kind of made it my life and my passion. So what I would want people to know is that, not only is this a really hard job sometimes, but it’s a fun job! I hope that it shows through the work that I do….”
The way that media has been published and consumed has constantly changed throughout Eric’s career. In the beginning, he recalled that concert reviews were extremely popular in print and on television:
“There was a lot more media than there is right now because of consolidation and people working from home. There is a lack of space for print media. Blogs kind of fell off to the wayside… So, before when I was going out, I was seeing the artist that I was working with every night. In most cases, two or three times during that same night, I would visit different venues. There would be a lot of media people that would just go and hang out. They would go and review shows or they would do an interview with a band right before or after sound check. ....You would see the entire industry at a hot show. Or, chances are, if it was one of the top five shows, you could be guaranteed that at least a handful of people would be there. That’s not the case anymore. Now, they’re overworked. They’re underpaid and they’re kind of like me. They don’t go out unless they know for sure that they love the band or that they’re covering it for somebody else. The media just simply doesn’t do a lot of reviews for shows anymore.”
He added that reviews don’t receive the same air play that they did 10-15 years ago. That is unless they involve artists like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran or Drake (especially when they play at large venues like Madison Square Garden).
More recently, there has been a shift in the Canadian television landscape with the cancellation of ET Canada in October 2023:
“It’s huge when you lose a national broadcast TV show like ET Canada. You really lose a piece of the star system in Canada. You lose the ability to reach a lot of people very, very quickly. The amount of jobs that were there and lost is devastating too because only a handful of people are going to find work elsewhere. It’s not like there’s a brand new television network that’s starting. Everybody’s pivoting to TikTok and social media sites….”
Today, it is easier than ever to find an email address for someone who works in the media. However, Eric acknowledged that entertainment outlets have made it increasingly difficult for new artists to be recognized.
“I still get this at least once a week, where artists think I’m going to put out a press release and suddenly I’ll snap my fingers and they’ll be on the cover of Rolling Stone. They don’t realize how heavy the competition is out there. I mean, I get anywhere from 1500-2000 press releases a week because of the radio show I do on SiriusXM. I can only imagine what a big publication gets on a daily basis….”
“The ability for me to send out a press release, for instance, certainly makes the band more legit. I think people know who I am and they know I don’t work with anybody crappy. So, even if they’ve never heard of the artist before, they know me. I hope that they would trust me enough to know that I wouldn’t give them anything that they wouldn’t like…. Wading through the really good stuff takes time, energy and effort. I think that a lot of the artists think that they’re just going to send out a press release and all of these magical things will happen—but it’s absolutely a marathon. It doesn’t happen in a day."
".…Things do happen in the first hour or two after I send a press release, but for bigger things like morning shows that have national or international coverage, you’ve got to be worthy of their attention.... They aren’t doing any publicists any favours anymore. It’s not like the old days where it was like, ‘Yeah, you want to interview this giant band? Then you have to do have to do an article about this indie band that no one’s ever heard of that’s on the roster.’”
“Now, they’ll be like, ‘Fine. We don’t care. We just won’t do a story on your big band then.’”
“….We’re all after the same eyes and ears. When an artist releases music, their competition isn’t just another artist from their city.” Alper explained that an artist has to compete with all generations and genres of music. This includes Beethoven to The Beatles, (especially since The Beatles released a new song in 2023) all the way up to current artists like Olivia Rodrigo.
Also in 2023, the Canadian government imposed a ban on sharing links to news articles and other news related media on websites like Google, Facebook and Instagram. To clarify, it is still possible to view the content on a news provider’s website (such as www.ctvlondon.ca). However, not being able to post a link to the information elsewhere has been challenging for many people.
While X (formerly known as Twitter) still makes it possible to share news and Google will soon “go back to normal”, Eric implored that it is “much, much too late” to repair the damage that has already been done.
“We can’t share anything anymore, like major news articles or being on television or radio…. We can’t share articles from outlets like The Toronto Star or The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Sun Media or Postmedia…. There are so many ramifications….When you’re an artist and you can’t share this stuff on social media—specifically on Facebook and Instagram—you can’t tell the rest of the industry how well you’re doing… in Canada.”
According to Alper, the inability to share these updates has had an impact on ticket sales. At the same time, some artists are choosing not to tour and are instead relying on their music streams to generate income.
The ban not only impacts those in the music and entertainment industries. It has also had a “disastrous” effect on all forms of news such as campus radio stations, newspapers and magazines. “No one can share the stories of up-and-coming journalists.”
“I’m so surprised that more people aren’t angry about this!” Eric continued. “I know it’s happened in Australia…. Without getting into government relations or what side of the fence I’m on, I’m just appalled that the government actually allowed this to happen! It’s astonishing to me that now we’re going to get all of our news from The US or The UK or other media sites…. We don’t even have our own voices getting seen and heard. It’s wild to me that we landed in this position and it’s still not solved….”
He added that in order for people to reach all of their followers instead of a few, Meta (the parent company of Facebook and Instagram) requires payment for that.
“….They’re not a non-profit organization. They want to get money too. So now you’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. Now you have to pay to reach your followers on their platform, but it’s rightfully so. You are a guest in their house….”
On the bright side, Eric has found a way to make social media more enjoyable. For years, he has been asking music related questions every day on X, Facebook and other websites. For him, it’s a way to connect with his followers, but it’s also an opportunity to revisit music he might have forgotten about or to discover music he’s never heard before.
“….I just know that people love talking about themselves. I know that people love to share things. So the more that I was asking questions, the more I was finding some really amazing artists and bands and albums and songs that I didn’t know! So I just kept asking them. That’s all it really is. It’s not used to screen data. It’s fun and I don’t care if I’ve asked the same question three times a year…. For me, it was just a chance to have some fun and get people talking about something other than politics or some awful stuff that’s going on in the world.”
When asked to answer his question, “Which artists shaped the way you view the world?”
Alper replied, “Definitely R.E.M.! R.E.M. led me more to politics and art and the meaning of lyrics….”
He explained that the music video for “Shiny Happy People” taught him how to be upfront. Whereas the music video for “Fall On Me” taught him that it’s okay to be vague and that you don’t always have to explain yourself. Interestingly, R.E.M. doesn’t appear in the “Fall On Me” video. Although the band eventually signed with Warner Bros. Records, Alper thought that they were always “brilliant” and were able to maintain the spirit of an independent band.
They had “success solely on their own terms. That’s what they were able to do throughout their entire career. They started and continued with good intentions and they broke up with the best of intentions…. They shaped my thoughts of what an artist could be more than any other band that’s out there.”
Aside from answering thousands of emails and navigating social media, Eric stated that one of the most challenging aspects of his career has been “not taking things personally”.
“I think there’s blame that I will absolutely take as human being for when something doesn’t go the way that I planned it. ….Sometimes people are mad at themselves, not necessarily you. They have their own things that they are going through and their own expectations. It makes things a little bit easier doing this day to day, knowing that I’m relying on my talent as a writer and my ability to get things done and to be organized….”
“….The word ‘try’ is interesting to me because I think you need to try as many things as possible to see what works. If it doesn’t work, it may not be the actual idea, it just might be the timing. It might be the wrong type of song….”
For example, he suggested that it might be a bad idea to release a sad song in the summer, or to put out an album on the same day as Taylor Swift. On the other hand, it might be a great idea to release music on Christmas day because many people will be at home and already listening to music with their families.
“….Maybe it just comes down to luck.” Eric continued. “If you talk to any artist that has ever had a hit—if you catch them in a really quiet, honest moment—most of them will say they had no idea that song was going to be massive. Or they will say that they wrote it in 10 minutes….”
“Mariah Carey and her team of songwriters might have written ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ in 10 or 15 minutes, but it took her 10 or 15 years to get to that point…. The Bee Gees wrote half of Saturday Night Fever in one afternoon, but they were already going at it for 20 years in order to figure out how to get to that state and actually write something like that. You could write a song in 10 minutes and it could be the worst song ever written or it could be the biggest hit you’ll be singing for the next 70 years of your life. So sometimes things happen….”
For 2024, Eric Alper mentioned that he is looking forward to the “mental reset” that comes with a new year. “Starting off the New Year always feels amazing to me, because I’m a fool for it. I always have all of these things I’m going to do and all of these things are going to get better, but by like, March I settle into what I’ve already been doing.”
That being said, Eric will always love music and reading and he encouraged anyone wishing to follow in his footsteps to do the same:
“….The more you know about the industry, the more you’re going to be better off. You’ve got the entire knowledge of the free world at your fingertips through Google. So you know, keep reading. Read things like Billboard Magazine and Music Worldwide. Be so enthusiastic and so positive about what you’re doing because music is a wonderful thing! Not only does music heal, music saves people. Without music, life would be incredibly boring. Know that you’re doing a bit of a service to people by getting really good music out there that you love!”
For more information, please visit www.thatericalper.com.
Photo courtesy of Eric Alper.
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