Chloé El-Sayegh publicist

Behind the pandemic: Being a publicist in uncertain times

“We’ve been pushing through to support our local scene and the response has been phenomenal.”

The week before confinement began in March, Montreal music publicist and festival promoter Chloé El-Sayegh was preparing to move to London and had interviews lined up with Spotify and AEG, but 2020 had other plans for her, as it did for the rest of us.

My plane ticket was scheduled two days after the airport shutdown here in Montreal,” and so that plan was kind of cancelled, she says. When the pandemic started, I had no more job because of my move, but also because of the whole live industry shutdown. Live music was my only real professional experience.”

At only 26 years old, Chloé might be young, but she has been working in the Montreal music industry for quite a long time. She began worker for the defunct Tempo Mag as a writer and photographer as well as managing contributors and media requests, and moved on to work with Evenko for many years. Starting in their promo teams, she spent a summer working on fan activations with the head of Osheaga’s marketing at the time, Pat Sandrin. She then moved on to the head office as a marketing assistant. She stayed with them for nearly five years, leaving as a marketing specialist.

“I was leading all the club shows in terms of marketing and media relations, managed marketing for ’77 Montreal and Heavy Montreal, the company’s punk and heavy metal festivals, and I was just coming off spending the summer producing artist content for Osheaga and the other Evenko festivals.”

Chloé travelled for a year, trying to figure out what was her next move. When she came back, she moved on to work as a freelance merch rep while focusing on moving to London, a dream of hers. When this didn’t happen, she turned around and landed work as a publicist for Bonsound, one of Montreal’s most prominent indie record labels, a role she’s excited about. Today, she can’t believe what has been going in the industry, especially in Montreal.

“The next time I attend a show of an artist I like, I will be so grateful and will appreciate it so much more.”

—Chloé El-Sayegh

“It’s tough to not have shows right now. It’s so central to the city. Everyone has been working around it very creatively, but it definitely made things more complicated for artists and their teams. When the pandemic hit, a lot of people thought that it was going to last a month, maybe two, so they pushed [music releases] back. What we are seeing now, months later as we’re being hit with the second wave, major events are still getting cancelled and no knowledge of when we’ll be able to host shows again, are artists who had pushed back releases deciding to go ahead and try to get their music out before December hits. It’s been a busy fall, despite having no possibility to tour in support of [new music], so that’s encouraging, but it was bound to be even busier without the pandemic.”

2020 was shaping to be one of the greatest years in regards to live music and shows. With band reunions, new releases and music coming out, the momentum has been cut short by the pandemic, leaving fans disappointed. Even with the hard losses experienced by the industry, Chloé notes that everyone has been trying to be creative in Montreal.

“Bar de Courcelle in St-Henri did open mics all summer at the Georges Étienne Vanier Park as a way of reintroducing a live music component into people’s lives. POP Montreal did socially distanced shows on rooftops! Even if the industry is hurting, people in our city are trying to make the best of it. I think everyone is gaining a new appreciation for live shows right now. Personally, the next time I attend a show of an artist I like, I will be so grateful and will appreciate it so much more.”

According to Chloé, the travel restriction ban, even with its major downsides, could be beneficial for our local scene. She mentions that without international tours passing through the city, our music experience will depend on local acts, making space for them to get more recognition from the public.

“If we are able to get back to live music in the next couple of months, the core of that experience will depend on our local scene. It will be important to show up and support everyone, on stage and off stage, who helps make it so great. Hopefully radio and TV shows will keep turning to our local artists and help shine a light on their talent.”

“Songs that are being put out today will have an impact on people for years to come because they will always be associated with this weird period of our lives.”

—Chloé El-Sayegh

Even if she’s quite positive for the local scene, Chloé has experienced drastic changes in her work. Her position at Bonsound has proven to be stimulating, but with the current situation, everything has changed. As a publicist, she is usually tasked with going on TV shows, talking to radio hosts, doing extensive press tours, planning album launches and exchanging with different industry actors. Now, she has to organize Zoom interviews, plan social content and call researchers instead of meeting them face-to-face. This makes it harder for her to sense the response and feelings the general public has towards her artists.

“Without the possibility of live shows and interactions, a lot more focus needs to go into how you position yourself online. We have to think about what voice to use on social media, the pictures, the feeling and energy we want to associate to the artist. The human aspect is completely drawn out. I booked one in-person interview for an artist I work with since I started and it was outside which was fun, but all the rest is done virtually.”

Chloé remarks that for some artists, the pandemic will have long-lasting effects. According to her, artists live with their music and it weighs on them to hang onto their songs before releasing them, so the forced pause might have been difficult for some to navigate. One thing is for sure: songs that are being put out right now are defining this very crucial time.

“It’s in their DNA now. Songs that are being put out today will have an impact on people for years to come because they will always be associated with this weird period of our lives.”

Chloé is hopeful. Seeing how the industry is standing together and how fans are actually trying to help artists is encouraging. Merch sales have gone up, and initiatives have been created, such as Bandcamp waving fees on the first Friday of every month. Even if the losses are enormous and that the industry might change forever, Montreal’s very tight-knit music community is standing together and pushing the local scene forward.

“Music has been anchored so deep in our roots. We’ve been pushing through to support our local scene and the response has been phenomenal. The problem is that it’s not only the artists that are going through those tough times, it’s also the music technicians, the agents, all those behind-the-scenes people that have niche experiences. Once this is done, we will need to find better ways to work together in order to come back stronger.”

By the end of our discussion, she takes a long pause and mentions missing the people that shape the Montreal scene. When asked what she is missing the most, Chloé ends on this surprising note with a shy laugh.

“It’s so dumb, but I wish I had a guestlist to prep…” ■

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