Publicists are responsible for getting all the latest beats out to a demanding public

Lihle Mtshali

Lihle Mtshali

Music lovers the world over wait with bated breath and with their ears glued to their radios every time news emerges that a favourite artist has released a new album.

Once the artist has completed his masterpiece in the studio, it is up to his team of marketing specialists to make sure that fans, and others who had never heard of him, have access to his art.

Publicists promote an artist's work, making people aware that the music is available and generally creating a buzz around the musician.

They are also responsible for getting as much airplay on the radio and on TV for the musician as possible.

Duncan Shelwell is a publicist and promotions specialist at Warner Music Gallo Africa. He has the enviable job of promoting the record company's international artists in South Africa, including Madonna, P Diddy and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Shelwell used to be a drummer, but because of the difficulty of making a living as a relatively unknown musician in South Africa, 18 months ago he decided to take his knowledge of music and apply it in a different context, and it has worked out well for him.

"Music has always been my passion and area of expertise and I just seem to have a natural aptitude for the job," says Shelwell.

He cites enthusiasm and a deep love and appreciation of music as the most important traits for anyone considering a career as a publicist.

Radio is the biggest part of a publicist's work, with regular visits to radio stations to make sure his artist is first in line on DJs' playlists.

The airwaves are crowded with musicians who have similar influences vying for a place to be heard and for space in people's CD collections.

Publicists must establish good relationships with people who work in the radio industry so that their artist is exposed to as many listeners as possible.

Television and other media also play a big part in the marketing of artists. A publicist must convince TV stations, production houses and print media that theirs is the music video to play, and their album the one to review.

It is an exciting job, especially because Shelwell works in the international division of his company and gets to work closely with artists who come on tour in South Africa.

He loves the fact that he has access to such a diverse range of music, knows all the music industry secrets first-hand and is responsible for producing a hit.

It is not always easy though, particularly when the record company hears something that they know is great but nobody else has heard it.

The challenge that a publicist faces is trying to convince radio and television personnel and consumers that their product is the one to have.

"In publicity, it's about taking the already finished musical product and giving it to the world and saying, 'this is amazing, you've got to listen to this'," says Shelwell.

Music enthusiasts do not, however, have to confine themselves to working for a big company.

With the South African music industry growing, and artists needing the services of someone who can get their music out there, anybody serious about local music would do well as a publicist if they understand what is happening on the streets and what people are listening to, whatever the medium.

"You can still work as a publicist independent of a big company if you're really talented at it and you have a great understanding of what needs to be done," says Shelwell.