Welcome to our Industry Insider series, where we talk to experts from all levels of the music biz to learn what they do, what they look for in artists, and what they advise as far as setting yourself up for success.
Judy Miller Silverman, owner of Motormouthmedia, is a PR veteran with twenty-plus years under her belt. Her portfolio is a who’s-who of the underground music scene—Thundercat, Bon Iver, and Autechre, to name a few—for whom Motormouth has worked events, record releases, and beyond. Motormouth’s rep is second to none because they reliably kill it when it comes to drumming up valuable online copy and column inches for their clients. We reached out to Silverman to discuss the paths she’s explored, and what makes for a successful band in her eyes.
Spotify for Artists: Describe what you do, and give us the short story of how you got there.
Judy Miller Silverman: I run a boutique PR agency, and we’ve always focused on promoting left-of-center music and projects. We work with albums and bands, events, festivals, brands, and even museums and art institutions, pitching their projects for media coverage. I started really getting into music around 14 or 15. My friend’s mom was cool enough to drive us to some concerts from the burbs to LA; she took us to Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, and The Cult shows. By the time we were 16, we were sneaking out to shows at underground clubs and using fake IDs. By the time I made it to college, I had started writing for fanzines and music magazines. It was at that point that I started getting contacted by publicists. They would add me to mailing lists and mail me cassettes and records and call me or use my AOL email to invite me to shows. I thought what they did was the coolest thing.
[So] in college, I majored in PR and continued to write until I took my first internship at Mercury Records in Los Angeles. In the 90s I took a job at RCA Records in New York City as an associate director of PR, where I spent about a year. [Then] a friend connected me with a publicist named Brian Bumbery, and he had just started Motormouth on his own, and we got on so well I moved back to LA and came in as a partner. It was a scary endeavor, but he was an electronic-music specialist and we both had a big love for weird underground stuff. Within a year our small company was doing well—we were putting away money and working on interesting projects, when he decided to leave for a new job, and left the company to me. I took it over and continued the legacy, building the roster over the years to reflect what we had started—my own tastes, and [Motormouth] really got heavily involved in the early leftfield electronic music and indie music scene.
Is there an artist that inspired you to pursue this as a career?
I don’t think any one artist sparked my career. The things I liked were kind of out there—like Soft Cell, Bauhaus, and Joy Division—and I started researching how [they] came to be and how they ended up in magazines. This was early on, when I was still pretty young. I would read all the liner notes and read books on the music business and bands, since a lot of the things I was interested in were pre-internet. I read Spin cover-to-cover when it launched. I hung around our local indie record store and dug through the import sections and asked a lot of questions. In retrospect, it took a lot of leg work to figure things out and a lot of letter-writing—actual mailed letters—to magazines I wanted to write for and of course later, potential employers.
So what do you look for in an artist you want to work with?
We choose to work with artists because we like them. We are passionate! We like to defy genres and have worked deep within electronic, indie, R&B, hip-hop, world, Latin, and other micro-genres over the years. [We ask]: What does it sound like? Which of us here likes this, and do we think we can do good things? We might also look at socials, label, streams, fanbase, and other metrics—but almost always, that’s not the reason we choose to work with artists. We also have long-lasting relationships with labels and managers and agents we trust to refer great projects to us as well.
We love art and music, and when art meets music. [And] we take a particular interest in working with strong and cool women, always a blessing. I always really loved Patti Smith and [got] to work with her and Kevin Shields on *The Coral Sea*, which was lovely. Not everyone on staff always likes the same things, and that’s great too—I always want people to find what they love and have a niche. It has to be good and have press appeal– any number of intangibles like a band’s style, having truly original music, creating music under a set of circumstances that were unique or just being interesting or with an interesting back story.
What's the biggest tool at an artist's disposal in 2019 from your perspective?
I think artists can do so much more for themselves in this era. When I started, there were no blogs and internet, and we had to do research and call people and mail music and play to get seen because you couldn’t send music digitally. Now, information to succeed is freely accessible. You can find the editors, the people who do playlists, the labels, the managers. The problem is, too many artists are pushing forward too fast, expecting immediate results and not getting out there and playing and touring and working in the DIY realm long enough.
What's the best advice you have for any artist just starting out?
My best advice is: Do every single thing you can for yourself before hiring a publicist, and don’t email a publicist saying you are unsigned and want to get press to attract a label- that’s cart before horse. Promote your work locally and when you have a project to push, we’re here for you.