CHARLES HOLGATE AND THE PUBLICITY GAME

This post originally went live on January 19th. Soonafter Charles Holgate called me up (for the 1st time!), requesting that I take it down for two reasons: 1. because I had mistakenly referred to him as an employee of Sarah Lockhart’s Ammunition dubstep conglomerate (rather than an independent publicist who works with them) and 2., because he wanted to ‘keep working the release’. Charles gave me a list of 9 “confirmed press” spots where it was to be reviewed, and told me to give him 2 weeks, during which time he would make good. He suggested that if I didn’t see proof of his work in that time, I could put the post back up. I gladly agreed.

At one point in the conversation, he said that Uproot had been received with apathy. I said “Fine! The UK is a weird market. But why can’t you produce any evidence, even a single email from a journalist in support of that story?” Charles’s response was incredible: he told me that each January he deletes all of his emails from the previous year. (akin to: the dog ate my homework)

Over the next few days, I was contacted by about half a dozen UK music writers, all saying some version of “I regularly get calls/emails from Charles and he never once mentioned Uproot .”

This confirmed my worst suspicions, but I still wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Instead of the 2 weeks he asked for, I’ve given him 7…

Unfortunately, the same process has repeated itself. I’ve sent Holgate multiple emails asking for any update on the “confirmed press” (if it was confirmed in mid-January, how come it’s not in print by mid-March?). I was repeatedly told by Charles that I’d get an update “tomorrow”.

After a few weeks of ‘tomorrow’ (well over the 2 week deadline he set for himself) and honoring our verbal agreement— here is the original post, edited to reflect his status as an independent publicist.

_________

I’d like to explain how Charles Holgate aka MC Nomad, an independent publicist best known for his work representing the Tempa/Rinse FM/FWD conglomerate, stole several thousand dollars — not from me, but from the artists I used on Uproot and the label it was released on. But before we get to that, we need to take a quick look at the publicity business.

+ + +

With all the talk about declining record sales and the near-terminal state of the music industry model as we knew it in the 90s, people rarely mention the role of publicists. Like live shows, the work of the publicists will endure even as CD sales plummet.

It’s possible – but highly difficult – to land record reviews in significant media outlets without a publicist acting as intermediary. Music PR fees vary widely – from $1000 to upwards of $5000 a month – and there’s usually a 2 month minimum. (You can, essentially, pay your way onto major TV appearances such as the David Letterman show. But those fees only make sense if you’ve got a decent product, massive fan base, great distribution, a tour to cross-promote, etc.)

That said, the work of a publicist is fairly hard to pin down. They talk to writers and editors – via email, phonecalls, drinks after work, bumping into them at shows, etc. Publicists get music writers hyped about the album, detailing its importance/awesomeness while suggesting ways it can be covered in the writer’s publication(s). They coordinate interviews. Publicists are sensitive to the marketability of any given release and tailor the campaign around that. Usually PR companies give the record label mailing address and the label does the physical mailout. One pays the publicists to follow up: “have you received the package? what did you think?…”

In a perfect world, a publicist is a cool person who helps translate the musician’s vision to the public. Their fees pays for themselves via increased CD sales, and everybody’s happy. This is often the case! In an imperfect world you get Holgate… wait, it almost never gets that bad. (More on this in a bit)

Hiring a professional publicist is a virtual necessity for any release’s visibility. But their work is intangible — How do you quantify buzz? And a publicist’s role in raising it? The only time I got reviewed in VIBE was with Gold Teeth Thief, a mix CD that was barely buyable. Lord knows I’ve never had a publicist or manager.

CHARLES HOLGATE: BAD AMMUNITION

Only three titles from my entire discography have been serviced by a publicity firm: Minesweeper Suite, Special Gunpowder, and now Uproot. For the recent CD, the label (the Agriculture) hired online PR in America (note: they didn’t do print media PR). In the UK, they hired a person named Charles Holgate. Dubstep fans may know Charles from his appearances as MC Nomad.

charles holgate mc nomad

[Tempa/FWD/RinseFM publicist Charles Holgate]

After he agreed to work for the Agriculture, Charles informed them that he was leaving Zzzonked (a PR firm) to go solo, focusing on publicity for dubstep’s cross-platform monopoly: Ammunition / FWD / Rinse FM. The first two are run by Sarah Lockhart. Ammunition is the parent company of several dubstep record labels: Tempa, Soulja, Road, Vehicle, Shelflife, Texture, Lifestyle, and Bingo. FWD has long been promoted as the dubstep night, offering the canonical dubstep experience. (Yes kids, the ‘underground’ London dubstep scene is a carefully controlled, heavily centralized machine). Rinse FM is a London pirate station. Charles and Sarah work with Rinse FM in its attempt to ‘go legit’ and enter the commercial radio market. Charles assured the Agriculture that everything would be fine despite his sudden move.

I met Charles Holgate aka MC Nomad in London this July. We ate pasta and discussed Uproot. He seemed professional. I went away content. Then Charles disappeared. After being paid-in-full for his services and and receiving the promo CDs, he simply stopped returning our emails. Complete silence. (During an album’s promotional campaign, it’s normal to have at least several email interchanges with the publicist each week).

I began to worry – not a single sign of interest had come from the UK. This is highly unusual. The UK boasts what is probably the world’s highest per-capita number of electronic music fans. (Perhaps it’s John Peel’s legacy.) I was getting interview requests from the Czech Republic, Italy, Mexico – yet nothing at all from the UK. In early October Charles Holgate broke his silence, promising a “full update” in a few days. Nothing arrived. In early November Charles Holgate promised a “full update” in a few days. Nothing arrived. No response to emails, no returning phone calls. It was obvious we’d been had, but I hoped he was honest enough to explain why, and either start working or give back the remaining copies.

I decided to give him a call on December 17th. Connection! Once he heard it was me, Charles began stammering… He told me he had received 100 copies (the label had sent him 200-300 CDs). He kept stammering. He promised to email an update by 1pm the next day. Nothing arrived. Two weeks ago Holgate sent us the long-awaited “update” (only 6 months late!) in which he took responsibility for the Pitchfork review and two mentions (not reviews) on UK websites that I’m in direct contact with. Charles blamed his lack of results on end-of-year holidays (remember, we started working with him in July). He apologized. He promised weekly updates. Since then, nothing.

charles holgate MC Nomad1

[MC Nomad on the mic]

I’m outing Charles Holgate because I don’t want this to happen to any other labels or artists. It’s more severe than the typical lazy publicist or unpromotable release. If he hadn’t been stammering like a fool when I asked him what was going on, I might’ve given Charles the benefit of the doubt. Why? Because this is the first time I’ve been dicked over in the music business. In general, the independent music scene is very self-supportive and honest and open-minded.

For the record, this was not my money spent — I mean stolen. I received a flat producer’s fee for Uproot– any profits made are to be split 50/50 between the record label and the artists on the mix.

So yes, a publicist who works with Ammunition/FWD/Rinse FM torpedoed the project in the UK. I have no reason to believe that Ammunition knew about Holgate’s activities; I mention Ammunition because most know him for his work representing them (and as MC Nomad on Rinse FM, etc). By snatching the label’s money and several hundred of its CDs in exchange for silence and inept lies, Charles Holgate has robbed the artists on Uproot and the label that was cool enough to release it in the first place (most labels hate mix CDs since the licensing is expensive and requires a mountain of paperwork).

Instead of UK publicity paying for itself via increased sales/visibility, there is a big black hole. ‘MC Nomad’ buried Uproot! (the irony is not lost on me.) Usually UK distros will send a few copies to key media sources, but since Charles Holgate was contracted to do just that, the distro didn’t perform their standard basic mail-out. Result: few or no UK media sources received the mix.

If you are in the UK, I suggest that you ask him for a copy. Charles Holgate should have several hundred Uproots occupying space in his London flat.

30 thoughts on “CHARLES HOLGATE AND THE PUBLICITY GAME

  1. For the record Charles PRed our album in the UK (Dusk + Blackdown’s “Margin Music”). He did a good job, resulting in the album being in the Observer top 50 albums of the year, The Wire top 20 and more.

  2. ^^ Yeah but Blackdown, that doesn’t mean the guys not in the wrong. I’m sure he’s a very talented publicist but the point is he fucked someone over. Big time!

    Personally I find it very sad to hear this. Its not a good look for MC Nomad, or Ammunition, Rinse & FWD . These are huge players responsible for shaping Dubstep and I can’t help think that they’ve dragged the scene through the mud on the way to bank.

  3. Hey Jace, sorry this happened, it’s a terrible feeling to have, the screwed-ness, and I hope that you eventually achieve some kind of payback. But thanks for writing this: you’ve motivated me to finally out our UK distributor (Impetus Records), who stopped returning our calls and emails after they owed us a couple thousand bucks…no surrender indeed….

  4. And for the record, Blackdown works with Rinse/Ammunition so it’s logical that the company would help or honour its contract with one of it’s *own staff*.

    Sounds awful, sorry to hear of this.

    But what goes round…

  5. I’m a British music journalist and I deal with Charles on almost a weekly basis. He’s a very professional publicist and works with some great clients. I received the album in question and didn’t review because I wasn’t very impressed with it. Such is life…. It sounds like you’ve got a case of injured ego and you’re looking for someone to blame.

    And why bring Ammunition in to your argument with Charles? They aren’t even involved in this from what I can see. Again, jealousy rearing it’s ugly head??

  6. a British music journalist who doesn’t know the difference between “its” and “it’s”? not buying any of that beccy.

  7. From someone whose been on both sides of this before -

    -any kind of pr/promo money is hit or miss and for every time it works it goes wrong twice.

    -I’m a fan of yours and I didn’t realise your record was out. and i live in the uk

    -i can’t say it’s ever a very good idea to publicly “out” someone in this way, particularly with a crew that,who faults aside, have done a lot for the spirit and momentum of “underground dance music” in this country over the last few years.

  8. @ cbmc – after googling, it turns out that beccy not only is a british music journalist but writes for the guardian. so maybe instead of being sceptical of her authenticity, you should have googled her first? unless it’s not really beccy… but i think it probably is, and i’m glad that someone who did receive the lp has given a reason why they didn’t review it.
    i don’t see what ammunition/forward or sarah lockhart have to do with it, and for me it changes what might have been a semi legitimate complaint (after reading the coments by beccy blackdown etc i doubt it but i’m open minded) to a childish frustrated jab at what you consider to be the goliath to your david. and, er, please ignore spelling/grammar mistakes.

  9. I was just about to say… google me you foolish boy, but thanks for getting there first scfl. I am now heading back to college to brush up on my grammar (eek) :-)

  10. Great post.
    I love the Beccy posts “Google me”! She seems like one of the kind of idiot “journalists” you saw a lot of a few years ago when (name drop alert) I used to work for The Face. Keen to be on the scene and try and hype non-event ideas and useless acts to the broadsheets because they thought they were dead underground and cool. Living off daddies money and interning at crap mags and stuff because they think it’s “cool”. Newsflash – actually doing stuff is good, reflected glory through associating with real creative people is lame at best. I could mention many more people like this, but that would just be getting petty!
    The “how music PR thing works” thing could do with much more outing to be honest. Things like the BBC artists to watch in 2009 list are just lists of the artists who’ve had the most daft PR hype – please see Lady Gaga and La Roux for more info.
    But then arguments about it are probably pointless anyway, the whole things fucked with too many lazy pigs with their noses in the trough to get any better anyway.

  11. Hey. I wrote the Pitchfork review. I just checked the Gmail account that my Pitchfork address re-directs to, and there’s not a single message in there from Charles Holgate. Everything with a mention of “DJ Rupture” has come from either Terrorbird or Agriculture. (I’ve never deleted a single email from this account.) Beyond that, I live in the UK and never received an Uproot promo. Bottom line: I defy Charles to prove that he contacted me in any way. Dude’s lying.

  12. Beccy, then why is Charles stammering, hanging up, not replying to emails, calls etc?

    If he sent you the CD that should be on the spreadsheet that he sends back and he should say “I sent the CD to Beccy, followed up with her and she declined to review it”. Giving him the benefit of the doubt maybe he’s professional for everyone else or for his in-house stuff for Ammo but if he’s accepting money to work on something he should at least be prepared to document that nobody likes it and that’s why it’s not getting reviewed.

    As a publicist I would think that would be standard operating procedure to prevent exactly a scenario like this.

    And as far as Ammo’s involvement, this guy is on their publicity staff, by definition he represents them. If he does something shitty like this and craps on someone’s head, like it or not, he’s doing it in association with them. This is especially true if it’s a dubstep project and they happen to be the biggest dubstep business in the world. Please note that Rupture did not accuse Ammo of anything besides employing this person who fucked him over. My guess is that Charles is currently stammering on the phone with Sarah Lockhart and explaining to her why he created a big smelly mess and dragged her company’s name through the dirt.

  13. Oh dear.
    “Living off daddies money and interning at crap mags and stuff because they think it’s “cool”.”

    It’s incredibly rude of you (Meep) to call me an idiot. I don’t know you and I was expressing my personal experience and opinion on the subject above. Please don’t make assumptions about who I am and what my personal background is.

  14. i love you americans with your self righteous customers always right mentality.

    isnt it possible that no body felt like giving the mix any coverage?

  15. If you’re paying a publicist, you expect them to report back that “nobody felt like giving the mix any coverage”. They’re supposed to chase up the mailout and report back reactions, good or bad. Their relationship with writers should be good enough that they can get honest reactions. This doesn’t seem to have happened in this case.

  16. Without wanting to reiterate much of what Matt Shadetek (and /rupture) has already said, collated responses are what you pay a publicist for. Charles Holgate may well have contacted journalists about ‘Uproot’, but over the past 6 months he’s provided no evidence of this. Beccy Lindon saying she received the album but didn’t want to cover it doesn’t explain away Mr Holgate’s lack of professionalism (to put it mildly) when dealing with /rupture and The Agriculture – there should be records of everyone contacted, whether they wanted to cover the release or not. As someone who has had a lot of contact with publicists over the years, I’d agree that accepting money for work that you cannot prove you have actually done is tantamount to theft.

  17. if you ever meet Jace you’ll see he’s one of the most easy going guys ever. he’s not someone who goes around slagging people. if I read he wants to throw mud on some publicist, without reading further I’d assume it’s well justified. No doubt this Holgate guy will be spinning his version of it to the people he talks to, which will hopefully will result in some of them checking out the post, and along the way get to see what the guy on the other side of the story is about, and make up their own minds. and maybe even check out the tracks in question.

  18. lot of industry people sounding off here

    im not in the industry but this is my opinion

    holgate reps who he works for. at the least i hope ammo contacts rupture and attempts to smooth things out for the sake of creative relations. i doubt you’ll see your payments to holgate again, because thats how stammering flakes tend to work, but at the least, everyone has to do their part to clean up the wreckage the guy left. uk/american/wherever music scenes may seem big but in actuality, the world is very small. this comment log proves it.

    the last thing i want to say is this.

    this was educational and fun to read, but, public air-outs are sort of a double-edged sword. this seems like it should be between rupture and ammo. putting holgate’s name out there, even as a warning, is tacky. imagine if the guy got flaky cuz he disappeared into a drug haze or emotional problems. keep it private. the creative community has to work hand-in-hand to sort things out. not fingerpoint.

    PEACE, SHOUTOUTS TO MY FAMILY AND GOD

  19. +1 on the tacky comment. Not sure the public finger pointing will accomplish much for either side.

    That journo Beccy Lindon comes across as a real TWAT though. Homegirl writes about terrible ‘indie’ bands/music (and poorly). Yeah Beccy I did ‘google you’, and your writing is amateur hour / unreadable drivel.

    The Ammo / Rinse / Tempa conglomerate does make for a boring scene these days in London. If anything, this post highlights just how regimented London’s supposedly ‘underground’ scene really is.

    FWD, as a night, has been better lately (thanks to cross-breeding with funky, grime etc., but it still feels pretty ‘inside’ and establishment. Kind of like a dubstep fraternity.

    PS- Get some real DJs on Rinse. Producers talking and playing tunes is AIR. No one on Rinse can mix these days (except Spyro, good looks), to just chat loads of shit while putting on one record after another (blackdown you’re guilty of this), is boring as f#ck. What happened to real-deal mixing on the radio? Dead art form? Get more people like Grevious Angel, Bok Bok, Spyro, H.U.D. etc. into the mix. Those are DJs.

  20. I thought of this article as very interesting. Although it can be a dangerous move to put someone into the spotlight like this, this post has been a real eye-opener to me as far as music industry business works.
    I agree with Saul saying that maybe mr. Holgate was in a bad place personally and for that reason you shouldn’t put this up for the public to read, but the timespan in which this affair took place is way too long for it to be an excuse. And even then, we’re all human and things like this can be sorted out even after a long period of time, at least when both parties can communicate properly.

    Most of the time these things happen behind closed doors and up ‘n coming producers just don’t know about it. Writing a post like this gives people a good insight about music promotion and what to look out for, so they can make a better informed decision of their own.

  21. blackdown will of course not say anything about ammunition, as hes a scene insider, who works very closely with all the people involved here and any criticism of anyone mentioned would no doubt be negative for him, so hes never going to really say anything that honest about what he feels (and of course charles would make sure he promoted that not exactly great dusk/blackdown album! theyre all from ‘the scene’!). blackdown obv knows his stuff but he can never really be a proper music journalist due to his close ties with everyone. other people sticking up for charles prob are just mates with him, so theyre of course going to do the same. youre never going to get honesty when theres so much politics involved, esp from a scene as insular as this one. its a good record though, so it could have done better i think. what happened most likely is that charles probably just fucked up and didnt bother doing much with the album in the uk, then tried to backpeddle when found guilty. he probably thought no one would find out. it happens in PR. this just happens to have been made public. which might be tacky, yes, but its still an eye opener.

  22. all I can say is DAMN ZUN. & wow!

    oh and that I have worked for and may currently work amongst “creative agencies”, “experiential marketing companies”, “magazines”, etc etc ..

    publicists communicate, it’s what they do. not communicating with your CLIENT is not how business works.

    either /Rupture is blacklisted by powers bigger than the dubstep elite over there or MC Nomad didn’t do his job. it’s plain to see
    save the greed, backstabbing, and greed for “majors”

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