In 1987, countless girls dreamed of hanging with pop sensation Tiffany.
By 2001, most of those girls had tossed their cassettes of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and thought nothing more of the former teen icon.
Beth Martinez didn’t forget about Tiffany, though. She got a gig doing merch for the reinvented singer’s college comeback tour—and credits the experience as a catalyst for propelling her from passive music lover to passionate music rep.
Who knows what might have happened if Martinez had accepted the proffered spot on Tiffany’s tour bus? Chances are we’d be far less clued in to promising new artists on the brink of potential mega pop stardom.
These days, Martinez, who describes her younger self as “a late bloomer, in terms of contemporary music,” now has her finger on the pulse of the scene as founder and ringleader of Danger Village, a music publicity company on the rise.
Via friends’ brilliant cassette and CD playlists, Martinez soon developed a more “refined” taste for artists, including My Bloody Valentine, Neutral Milk Hotel and Built to Spill. Upon crossing the Top 40 border, she knew she wanted to have a greater role in the industry, but was less clear on how that would take shape.
“I didn’t really have any clear idea what I wanted, beyond being a PR person and having people hire me. I was kind of feeling everything out. I just wanted to get clients and get going,” Martinez says from her current home in Los Angeles. In the moments leading to Danger Village’s inception, she was living in Chicago. Through the tight-knit local scene she developed connections that helped form the core of the company’s initial roster. “I just made it known that I was doing a lot of PR,” she says. Her fee was low and business expanded organically.
To this day, Martinez is not comfortable charging a lot of money—“I wish I could do it for free”—but the housing bubble crash in 2008 forced her to truly hustle. “I had to get really aggressive. I started going to more blogs and finding new bands—I had a goal of 20 per week,” she says. “Most people just wouldn’t get back to me. They went with more established PR firms.” And Martinez wasn’t about to poach clients from other publicists.
Now, in 2013, Danger Village is doing well enough to be selective about which acts make the cut, like Clubfeet, Expensive Looks and Seapony. (Former bands have included Memoryhouse, Cloud Nothings and Fidlar.) “A lot of companies will take on as many bands as possible. I like to keep my roster super small,” she says. So how does a late bloomer turned tastemaker decide when to pass and whom to sign? According to Martinez, “songwriting is just never going to be out of style—it’s always going to be what sticks. The quality of the actual hook, melody and lyrics…any other trend like chillwave or witch house, that’s all going to come and go. Chasing trends is just a bad game to be in.” Martinez and Danger Village publicity coordinator Mark Simek scour the Internet for bands that seem to possess that magic songwriting quality and apply their own ranking system to determine which groups to approach.
Martinez admits to seeing fewer live shows than she did when starting out, choosing instead to sleep properly and focus on the daily practice of writing pitches, meeting with managers and labels and preparing for new client meetings. It’s a fantastic job, Martinez says, but “it’s frustrating because there’s not enough time in the day to hear everything—even the albums that made my year-end list I didn’t listen to more than once or twice.” It’s not unusual, either, for her to listen to nothing at all. When music is your life, it helps to occasionally tune out. “Everyone I know goes through phases where they want to quit the music industry. I was going to quit in 2008, but my ex told me, ‘All the things you’re complaining about are universal problems—you’re going to have them in any industry.’ Everyone gets burned.”
The artists keep her going, she says. And once they find a home at Danger Village, they’re more or less there to stay. “We never kick someone off our roster. If they haven’t put something out in two years, they’re still part of our roster. If they start making music we don’t like anymore, I try to be as honest but as kind as possible—if you’re honest and kind you can’t go wrong.” Martinez is sensitive to the sting of rejection as she, too, is often rebuffed by media outlets that choose to pass on coverage of particular Danger Village acts. She’s learned not to take the denial too personally, recognizing that the targets of her emails are inundated by similar requests from other publicists, record labels, tour managers and musicians promoting their work. And for every 20 or so emails Martinez sends out, at least one will likely yield a positive end result.
Keeping things from getting too personal also helps Danger Village stay on track. As much as Martinez respects and supports her clients, she has to check herself when things get too friendly. In the beginning, “there were bands that I got too close to,” she says. “When that happens a few times, you get hurt.” Plus, following the “strictly business” rule of thumb benefits everyone involved. It reminds artists to trust Martinez to do her job: “You have to make it very clear that you’re an expert, you know what you’re doing, you’ve done this a million times and that’s why they hired you.”
Adopting a fierce, no-nonsense attitude is crucial to staying afloat in the music industry—rather, in any industry—especially for women. “It’s a male-dominated world, and I think it’s important to talk about the disrespect I’ve gotten: getting hit on, really sexual text messages and a lot more overt offenses. But you have to rise above it,” Martinez says.
As a younger professional she wasn’t sure how to present herself in casual work situations, but eventually realized that letting your hair down at a rock show isn’t an invitation for sexual harassment. “I used to let it make me feel bad. I now realize that you don’t have to act any way but how you want to act—that’s how you earn respect. Women in other industries face the same harassment, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. We have to hold ourselves to the highest level.”