As a 27-year-old PR aficionado in New York, Nina Lee strives to diversify the music industry and champion the voices on her roster. With nine years of experience across music labels, PR companies, and college internships, she has proven the importance of networking and perseverance. Recently promoted to the Director of Publicity at Shore Fire Media, she’s been apart of press campaigns for Joji, Soulection, Berhana, Masego, Caroline Vreeland, and VanJess, amongst others. We spoke with Lee to get an idea of what it takes to get an artist on the radar, the value of trying on different hats within an industry, and why you should 100% reach out to your career role model (but not without doing your research first!)
This interview took place over the phone between Ella in Brooklyn and Nina Lee in Pittsburgh.
EJ: How did you get to where you are today?
NL: After I graduated high school, I moved from California to go to NYU. It was definitely one of those situations where I thought I wanted to do one thing, but I didn't really know what that thing entailed.
Broadcast Journalism felt like an easy answer at the time, a decision. At NYU, you have to declare a double major for journalism. I ended up choosing Linguistics as my other major. College taught me how to critically think, how to phrase what I want to say in the proper way, and how to maintain relationships. I definitely went into college with music as a personal passion, and sometimes NYC is about being at the right place at the right time.
I had this pretty harmless work-study job at NYU’s law school with an entertainment/media team that hosted events with notable people coming through. They put together different functions and handled everything from the catering to guest list and seating. One of the catering heads also worked at Jones Beach, the venue a few hours out in Long Island. The public commute is 2 hours, but I trekked out for a Florence + the Machine concert my freshman year, started an innocuous music conversation with strangers who happened to be desperate for an intern, I was 18.
Lots of the time, the job description is a vague “hard worker and a go-getter,” there wasn't a really firm job description given. I mean, they had huge flagship acts like Katy Perry and Swedish House Mafia, it was 2011. All throughout college I interned at major labels, but have been now at an agency for over five years. I couldn’t be happier with the autonomy and the platform and resources to work the creative I feel passionately about.
Being in New York, everyone's on top of each other doing a million things. Working at restaurants was also a formative part of my earlier stint in the city. If you’re open to it, you can meet people you’ll know for the rest of your life. I worked at a Mexican joint in the West Village. My second home now, an Italian spot in Nolita. I also dabbled in a bit of fashion PR. I had to try it.
I can’t stress how important relationships are, especially in this industry. I built and fostered relationships with those that I admired. When I was graduating from college, I looked to those relationships for some clarity. Those relationships are what led me to my first job, and pretty much a beginning to lots of things – new responsibilities, new friendships, new tasks – all of the above.
And that's when you started at Press Here?
I was at Press Here for a few years, and I worked with Carleen Donovan instagram.com/donovanpublicrelations/?hl=en, and I really owe so much to her. She whipped me into shape. I’ve always been organized, but she taught me how to apply myself. I had to think quickly on my feet and be able to juggle, with precision, a gazillion things at once.
One thing led to another and I knew it was time to leave and spread my wings; that's when I started at Shore Fire Media shorefire.com.
Transitioning into your current position. What does your current role consist of?
If you were to split my overall tasks into a pie chart, it would be four parts – each part changing shape daily.
Pitching: pitching sales, writers, TV bookers, producers, podcast producers on your artist, the product, the venue, or festival.
Writing: writing the pitches and press releases, and helping your artist put together a bio on the work that they're putting out.
Research: figuring out who's going to be able to champion your artists. Maybe you have an artist that sounds similar or lies in the same range as another artist who has kind of already made strides in the press world. It’s up to you to find the right editors, contributors, freelancers, etc.
Spending Time With Your Artist: I'd say 90% of my roster are musicians (along with album campaigns, rollouts, tours, etc.) You go back and forth of how close you want to get to the artists because sometimes, that's what the manager is there for; to be the liaison between you and someone that you're working with. But I think knowing your artist’s interests, what they're reading, the media that they're consuming, and just being able to kind of understand them as a human being overall is going to help you do your job much better.
What are the different positions that exist within the office?
I want to preface it by saying that there are a lot of different titles between coordinator, and junior, and senior, etc -- but even just between different companies those roles could mean completely different things. Typically how it works is that there is a junior coordinator position, and most accounts have a junior publicist, some type of senior/director publicist, and then there is a vice president on the project.
Everyone on the team is involved and everyone’s ideas and thoughts matter – even on projects where it may not outwardly look that way. You have to be a swiss army knife. You have to be diligent about doing your research, properly vetting all situations and suggestions.
And within that research, a lot of it is networking, going to events, concerts, and signings, etc. Being out.
That’s a big part of it. There's the actual “PR” aspect of the job, but there's also the discovery part. Starting from the ground up, and championing those emerging artists -- that's something I love so much about what I do.
Networking and relationships are a big part of the position, of course. People need to be able to trust your taste and judgment.
For most of the people that you represent, would you say that they seek you out or is it the other way around?
It’s both! A lot of the time, there are different agents or labels that you've worked with in the past; the ones you’ve kind of already “proved” yourself to. But I think there's also a lot of times where you're just a fan of an artist and want to help champion what they’re doing.
Sometimes you'll just get random requests that end up being artists you really want to work with. And then there are also times where you’ll encounter requests that you don't feel comfortable delivering on -- and in no way because they aren’t talented or bright – but just because it might not be the right fit.
How many people do you typically have on your roster?
I'd say it ranges between 15-20ish. It really just depends.
I'm lucky enough to have a great team working with me. I would never be able to do it on my own.
Is there a specific project you feel really fondly about?
I love all my clients equally. <3
One of the projects I hold really dearly is Masego (linkhttps://www.instagram.com/masego/?hl=en). When I started with him, he already had a pretty robust fan base and was selling out tours. But being able to help share his music and tell the story behind his debut album...it was just really fun to see it all unravel while also coming together in a way.
What advice do you have for someone that's emerging in your field?
Go out, and take meetings, and have conversations with as many people as possible. It can be intimidating to reach out to a senior A&R exec or a senior agent that's been around for a while, but I think the drive and persistence to set meetings with people you admire -- there's nothing really like it, and they'll remember you. And they might want to help you or connect you with the right people. This seems obvious, but I mean it!
Do your best to not burn any bridges, especially when our job is so dependent on the relationships (most importantly with writers, editors, and bookers). Everyone deserves respect in their role.
Maybe you can't go get a coffee with someone right now, but you can email. This might be a better time than ever, especially when a lot of people are having now to kind of reconsider their career paths.
Yes, and make sure to do your research before you reach out. You can tell people how great they are and how much you love them, but being able to cite a specific example of something you've read or done your research on is much more impressive than just having a blanket over-enthusiasm for someone.
As a lot of work structures have shifted and are continuing to shift, how are you staying grounded?
I think the little things, taking walks, making sure that you're taking care of your physical and mental self. I think it's a bit of a misconception thinking that because we're all home and we have all this time that everyone's going to be more productive.
Just take care of yourself and if you're not feeling it, take a step away from the computer. Set boundaries. There are more important things :)
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Images Courtesy of Julian Dakdouk and Nina Lee