Michelle McDevitt took whatever opportunities came her way when she was trying to get into the music industry. After graduating from the University of California–Santa Cruz, and before co-founding and serving as president of PR firm Audible Treats, she dabbled with the idea of becoming a producer.
The music industry in the San Francisco Bay Area was non-existent at the time, but Michelle managed to land an internship at a studio. The internship was less than ideal. Rather than learning board operations and recording techniques, she was stuck doing clerical work alongside the studio owner’s wife.
“Most people might throw in the towel and say f*** it, I’m gonna do exactly what I set out to do,” she said. “But I was OK with being humble about it and whatever I could do to get in, I would do. I did a lot of grunt work at the job for about a year.”
Michelle soon moved to New York to enroll in NYU’s music business program. The transition allowed her to gain hands-on experience that eventually lead her towards a career as a publicist.
In addition to serving as a professor at NYU, Michelle built a full-service public relations company focusing on earning online and print features for their clients such as Action Bronson, Maxo Kream, Bhad Bhabie and more.
For The Students sat down with Michelle to walk through her journey, learn from her lessons, and ask for advice. Our interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What are the positives and drawbacks to going to school to learn about the music industry?
I really think it comes down to your personality type. If you are the “Diddy-type” – he went Howard [University] but also hustled his way to getting jobs in New York. The urban legend is that he would take Amtrak back and forth between DC and New York, and he didn’t have a fare to pay for the train ride. When they were collecting tickets, he would go hide in the bathroom so that he could evade the fare. He just went and knocked on a bunch of doors and kind of forced his way into the industry.
If you are that type, you don’t need to go to school at all. You can just kind of hustle your way into opportunities. I’m not that way. I like formal paths and I liked school. For me, having more structure, having a network, having a support system was more comfortable for me to get into the industry.
In addition to Audible Treats, you also teach at NYU. Does it take having multiple hustles in order to survive in the business?
I think in the beginning it helps to be a jack of all trades because that’s just how you have to get by. Once you get into a place where you’re getting really busy on one trek and you can’t afford time-wise to do everything yourself, that’s what I consider to be a good problem.
Doing too much can be detrimental to success. Stick with what you’re good at and build that out. You don’t have to be everything to everybody. You don’t have to be an expert on everything. Find out what you’re really good at, concentrate on that, and build a team around your deficits.
What does it take to become a successful publicist?
Public relations is actually a very easy thing to get started in because there are very few barriers to entry. It’s a service-based industry, so it doesn’t cost you anything to get into it. I think what weeds people out in the end is that your work ethic has to be incredibly high.
It’s not an easy job in the sense of getting results. You have to be able to accept a lot of no’s or being ignored a lot, so your ego can’t be that fragile. You have to be meticulously organized in terms of getting your contacts together and what you want to service, when and how. You have to also be really conscious about how you want to frame your artists so they’re unique and different than everyone else out there.
You have to be OK with having your wins private. If you thrive off being in front of the camera, then being a publicist shouldn’t be your job. Your job is to be the best cheerleader for somebody else. Your job is to be the best number two for the number one.
Looking back, what type of advice would you give yourself when you were first beginning your career?
Staying open-minded about what opportunities come your way and being really open to learning from everyone and anyone. Talk to a lot of people, ask for informational meetings from people in positions you’re curious about. Also, be respectful of people’s time, and approach them in a professional manner. Always be professional in every interaction that you have.
Even if you’re in a small city or a city that doesn’t necessarily have a big music industry presence, go and meet with the people who are in the music industry in that city and ask to take them out for lunch or coffee, and be really humble and curious and open and honest and friendly. If you make a mistake, people will respect you if apologize, and then you move on.
How do you define success?
For me, it’s not a money thing. There’s a personal satisfaction in knowing that I’ve lived my life in a stand-up way. I’ve been able to carve out my business and have always been true to myself and true to my clients. I’ve never done anything shady. I’ve done right by everybody. I’ve made mistakes and I have apologized for the mistakes I’ve made. It’s not about the awards for me. It’s about doing good work with good people, and seeing our clients do well. That’s personally satisfying.