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At the beginning of the semester of his news writing class at USC, Ray Alba revealed his aspirations of working in the music industry. At the end of the semester, a classmate, who interned at Interscope Records, offered to pass Ray’s resume along to the label for summer opportunities.
“I went in for an interview and literally got an internship when I was 19 years old in the publicity department at Interscope and I haven’t left there since,” Ray says.
Though his early responsibilities consisted of making copies and answering phones, he was determined to stand out.
“If I walked into that building and they told me to make copies, I would make the best copies I could. If I had to go get food, I would go get lunch as quick as I could for them.”
Over time, he worked his way up to handling tour press, and smaller press coverage for Soulja Boy. His first attempt at leading a press campaign with Yelawolf’s sophomore album, Radioactive. But the trajectory of his career elevated when he got the opportunity to take the reins for Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City.
Since then, Ray has worked closely on Top Dawg Entertainment releases (including orchestrating Kendrick Lamar’s latest Vanity Fair cover), as well as acts such as Rae Sremmurd, DaBaby, and other acts under Interscope’s urban umbrella.
Landing effective press coverage for an artist won’t work with a one-size-fits-all approach. Ray strategically plots out which outlets will serve each artist, taking into consideration the audience, timing, and long-term goals.
“When you’re first starting with a lot of the newer acts, you have to establish them amongst the press,” Ray explains. “There are a core of outlets you go to. You deal with HotNewHipHop, you go to Noisey, you try to get into Fader, you do the XXL’s […] You just want to establish a base for [the artists] so that when people start to search their names, stuff comes up.”
Ray’s latest task has been curating press looks for Charlotte rapper DaBaby. As DaBaby’s music continues to rise in popularity, Ray looks to expand his appeal beyond the traditional hip-hop outlets with features in The New York Times, LA Times, Vulture, or Rolling Stone.
Ray prefers to work with those who have a clear vision for what magazines, websites and/or late-night TV spots they want to be featured on. Some expectations may not be feasible at the current moment, but he doesn’t shy away from having transparent, open, and honest conversations with artists, their teams, and others in his circle.
“I’m not overly friendly,” he admits. “I’m really blunt, and straightforward, but it works in my favor when I’m juxtaposed against the rest of the industry.”
The definition of success for a publicist in the music business is oftentimes determined by the amount of consistent coverage and positive reviews a client receives. But Ray has a different viewpoint of success when he focuses inward.
“People want to tie success to your salary. That comes with being good at your job, but that’s not really a measure of success. As long as I can continue to be valuable, provide insight, and know that I can have an impact, I’ll consider myself successful.”