One half of the duo behind indie PR powerhouse, Big Hassle, Ken Weinstein is more likely to be found camping out at Bonnaroo (also a client) than at Shabbat services, but that doesn’t mean we don’t admire his work! Considering that he works with artists like Robert Plant, Gregg Allman, Kings of Leon, it’s a wonder we haven’t spoken to Ken sooner. So without further ado:
How did you get into PR?
Kind of an accident. I was doing any old job I could after college, trying to find my way, find something I liked. I was a crazy record collector geek and went to tons of shows. I was sort of naive about it all. I didn’t realize there was an industry behind the music. I never involved myself in that side of things. The business of music wasn’t as exposed then as it is now. At one of my odd jobs I met someone who was a music journalist. I decided I wanted to try it. So I did, writing for various NYC publications. It was 1987. I fell in love with Soul Asylum around then and they were recording “Hang Time” in NYC. They had just signed to A&M Records and their publicist was this rather JEWCY fella named Michael Krumper, now of Missing Piece. He was really nice to me and I never forgot it. A couple of years later, hating my life and my day job I called him out of the blue and asked him how I can do what he did. I wanted to get on the other side of the phone. He said he’d keep his ears open. A PR job opened up at Beggars Banquet/Thirsty Ear, he helped me get an interview there and the rest is history. I got lucky because it was a small company and I learned a ton. I didn’t get chewed up and spit out as an assistant to some ogre somewhere. I got to create my own thing from the get go. I didn’t realize till much later how this was all just pure luck.
You have one of the largest and most diverse rosters of any boutique firm out there, listing clients as renowned as Tom Petty to emerging talents like Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. You also work with projects like Fela and Rodrigo Y Gabriela, names you wouldn’t find on the rosters of other “indie” firms — do you think anything in particular is responsible for Big Hassle’s ability to build such a colorful, unique list of artists?
When my partner Jim Merlis and I started Big Hassle, we always wanted the company to be as diverse as our record collections. We both have really varied tastes and listen to so many different kinds of music in any given day. I always have been that way. And I usually just don’t like to hear one record when I find something I like. I tend to want to dig deeper, whether into a particular artist’s body of work or a certain genre. I like to study it. So I don’t know everything–far from it. But I can go deep on lots of different kinds of music. I would get bored if I just had to talk about one thing.
To that end, did growing up Jewish expose you to different styles of music from different regions? A lot of Jews in creative professions often say their parents played them things like Shlomo Carlebach right alongside The Beatles or the Stones, which I think has a big impact on people as they develop their own taste as adults…
Well my mom only played classical music in the house and car. Still does. Hasn’t changed. Even though she was a bobby sockser and loved Frank Sinatra, she found classical and stopped there. My dad is a giant opera buff, but he has more open-minded tastes. Growing up he wanted us to play him what we liked. He didn’t quite get it all, but he tried. He loved The Beatles. The person who really shaped my personal tastes was my brother. He’s 5 years older than me. So when I’m 8, he’s turning me onto Zappa, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull and Alice Cooper. Also, a few years later, TONS of jazz. He is the one who bought me U2’s Boy and Echo and The Bunnymen’s Crocodiles. It was all over after that. I was off to the races. Not sure being Jewish played into any of this, but the only thing about Hebrew school I liked was music class. I still hum the Hatikva in my head all the time. Probably one of the most beautiful melodies ever written. I don’t know the words though. And I’m always up for a big sing along of one of the big hey hey hey songs the Jews love. What is it called? Mayem? Love that. And who doesn’t love D’ayenu, I ask you?
Do you have any advice for young people trying to break into the music business?
To break into any business or really do anything in life, it sounds so corny, but it’s all about following a passion. And passion can come from anything and anywhere. When you get that feeling, look at it, feel it, own it, admit it and do something about it. As for the more practical answer, at this point in time, intern and turn people in decision-making positions on to how great, cool, tenacious, organized, smart and fun you are. Try different things in the field. It’s good to get a lot of varied experience. Find out what you love and what moves you. Have faith. You have so much more to offer than you give yourself credit for. They need you. Believe it.
The Who circa 67 – 73, The Clash circa 79 – 81, Elvis Costello circa 77 – 82, Tom Waits circa Rain Dogs, Dylan circa Oh Mercy, Cantor Gershon Sirota circa 1912.