Interview with Nan Lewis (Entertainment Works)
Nan Lewis is a hard lady to convince to be interviewed. She puts EW’s clients first, so thanks, Nan, for talking with me. I recently talked with Reggae archivist and author Roger Steffens, who had this to say about Nan: “Nan Lewis is one of the most professional publicists in Reggae music. Helping the artists, and her attention to detail, is exemplary.”
“PROMOTING REGGAE MUSIC AND ITS MAKERS™”
Nan, you started Entertainment Works back in 1989 and built it into a rock solid agency that has always represented incredible talent. Can you tell me about the early years of the agency?
Entertainment Works was the spin-off of Nancy Lewis Public Relations, the PR agency I opened in 1983 after I left Manhattan; it was then, living in Durham, N.C., that I first heard Reggae music.
In mid-1989, now a professional publicist for 15 years, I went dancing with friends; Uprising, a Reggae band based in Baltimore (Maryland), was performing – and they were good. I talked to the band between sets and asked why there were no write-ups in the local entertainment paper or announcements on the college radio station. After the show and more conversation, they asked me to manage their PR and publicity; I said yes, and moved to Baltimore. And that was the beginning of Entertainment Works.
Other bands and artists saw that Uprising was getting lots of publicity – feature articles, radio airplay and interviews, and more gigs, too. (The band taught me how to book.) Soon, EW represented several regional bands and artists, including Black Sheep and Unity, both based in Washington, D.C. As EW’s reputation grew, the agency was approached by other Reggae artists from around the world. Throughout the 90s, EW managed PR campaigns for Clinton Fearon (formerly with The Gladiators, based in Seattle), Jahstice (Bermuda), Jah Levi (based in Oregon), Jerri Jheto (from Nigeria, based in L.A.), Ras Midas (from JA, based in California), Nasio Fontaine (from Dominica, based in N.Y.C), Lazah Current (from JA, based in Toronto), Errol Blackwood (from JA, based in Toronto), Winston Grennan (JA, based in Upstate N.Y.), and others.
EW also represented other music genres; the agency’s roster included Rock And Roll Hall of Fame’s Bernie Worrell, the co-founder of Parliament Funkadelic and formerly with The Talking Heads… Friends of Distinction, the R&B group with Gold Records “Grazin’ In The Grass” and “Going In Circles”… The Angels, the “girl group” with the 1963 #1 Billboard hit song, “My Boyfriend’s Back.” But my first love has always been roots rock Reggae music…
What services does EW provide?
EW specializes in marketing, public relations, publicity, and media relations – but I do have a well-rounded background in all aspects of marketing. As the Marketing & PR Director of several companies and a number of renown performance arts venues, I’ve been responsible for advertising, the production of radio and TV spots, newspaper and magazine ads, Internet banners… overseen the management of city-wide events with 15 bands over five days, 50 vendors, and 50,000 attendees… and I’ve coordinated all aspects of media interviews for celebrities ranging from Jerry Lewis to Jerry Seinfeld, Travis Tritt to Theodore Bikel (Fiddler On The Roof), and many other renown actors and entertainers.
In a nutshell, a publicist provides the media with a consistent and professional image of their client – the marketing term is “branding”- and pitches story ideas to the media, specifically to produce positive editorial publicity. The “pitch” must be brief and provide the information needed for the media to decide whether (or not) to cover the artist, the new album, or the concert.
A publicist must be persistent, professional, and polite; it helps to have an outgoing personality – and a sense of humor. Patience is essential: it can take months, sometimes years!, to secure editorial publicity.
Your office is in Florida. Does it matter where you are based?
Nope! As long as I have access to the Internet and a Post Office, EW is open.
Do you see the industry more organized today than when you first created EW?
That’s a tough one! Remember, EW opened when email and websites were fairly new. When EW re-opened in 2012, I was able to re-connect (via social media) with people that I’d worked with throughout the 90s. It was wonderful that I didn’t need to introduce myself or EW; it was, simply, “This is Nan…” – and equally wonderful that people consistently said they were glad EW was back.
Keeping track of one’s thousands of connections and the resultant dozens and dozens and dozens of simultaneously “in progress” interviews can become daunting – at least for me! My Facebook® friends have seen more than a few posts where I’ve said, “I need a clone!”
Although I can’t judge the “organization” of the entire Reggae music industry, I can say that social media has truly made Mother Earth a global village. So, accepting that social media has made it easier to communicate… that one has an immediate and tangible record of one’s communications… and that being able to communicate more efficiently helps one be more organized, I’d have to say that the answer to your question could be yes. Is this an confusing enough answer? (Laughs.)
When you approach a potential client, what qualities are you looking for?
Word Of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) is the best PR there is… From its beginning, EW earned a solid reputation as a professional, dependable, hardworking, and pro-artist agency; artists have consistently contacted the agency, not the other way around. To work with a client, naturally, I have to like the music – and I’m a roots rock Reggae fan. And I’m old school and old-fashioned: no computer-generated rhythms, auto-tuned vocals. No profanity, rudeness. The artist is told, right from the git-go, that EW will not tolerate forgotten “informal chats” or missed interviews. Failing to keep appointments reflects on the artist, of course and, as well, on EW – which affects other clients. Naturally, mutual respect is vital.
You are now primarily representing roots rock Reggae legend RAS MIDAS…
EW is honored to be the Booking and PR Agency of Record for Ras Midas. Ras Midas retained EW. in 1990 to manage his PR campaign – we’ve known each other a long time. He was living in California at the time, and was planning a U.S. tour; EW picked up his bookings in Chicago and booked shows to Maine, to the Carolinas, and then to Colorado. We met in person at a concert in Baltimore. Since EW clients have been based all over the globe, we don’t always get to meet. EW continued to represent Ras Midas throughout the 90s.
I retired from the music industry in mid-2001, moved to Florida, and ended up the Marketing & PR Manager of the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. Ras Midas and I had stayed in touch over the years and, in early 2012, Ras Midas asked if I would re-open EW and represent him again. I said yes.
Congratulations on the success of Ras Midas’ “re-presentation” of “Rastaman In Exile.” How is the global response to this historic project?
Fantastic! “Rastaman In Exile” is receiving excellent reviews, radio airplay and requests for interviews continue to increase. The CD, remixed and remastered with two bonus tracks, was released in October 2016 – eight months ago – continues to garner international coverage.
Ras Midas was the featured artist in the April 2017 World Edition of IRIE Magazine. He has been featured in top Reggae music websites including ReggaeStory.de (Germany), Reggae.be (Belgium), EventiReggae.it and reggaediscography.blogspot.com (both in Italy). Since Rastaman In Exile’s release, Ras Midas has been selected as the “International Artist of the Month” and his songs have been chosen as the “International Track of the Month” by several radio stations. Many Reggae sites have selected Ras Midas as their “Featured Artist of the Month.” He is currently (July 2017) featured as the “International Artist of the Month” on www.RastFM.com; the RastFM team has created an in-depth mixtape – nearly two hours – showcasing Ras Midas’s music over four decades, with segments of interviews, comments from Ras Midas intertwined with the songs. It’s wonderful; Ras Midas deserves this recognition…
Right now, there are at least 40 radio and print media interviews “in the mix;” I don’t want to count how many as it would make me nervous! (Laughs.) No, not really; I truly love what I do!
Will Ras Midas be touring again as a result?
Of course! Ras Midas and EW are assembling a team to coordinate the “Rastaman In Exile Tour” for Autumn 2017/Winter 2018.
Any plans to represent other artists at this time?
Not at the present time. Should EW expand in the future, the agency would concentrate on the development and management of Marketing/PR campaigns for artists, their new single/album releases, and concert tours. No booking or tour management, other than for Ras Midas.
Since EW re-opened, I continue to arrange interviews for former clients as a professional courtesy. I also send my artist friends links to new radio stations and DJs. EW has always shared connections; what goes around, comes around.
In the course of your career, you’ve worked with so many legends! Can you rattle off some names?
I knew you’d ask this! (Laughs.) In addition to the artists I’ve mentioned, EW has worked with Aaron Silk, Black Sheep, Carroll Thomas, Tony Anthony, Rohan Lee, Winston Francis, Sophia Brown, Triston Palma, and Asham Band – the best backing band in Europe. Back in the 90s EW booked some shows for Toots & The Maytals, Israel Vibrations, Steel Pulse, and coordinated PR campaigns for Jah Warrior Records, Peter Broggs (RIP), Prince Alla. I worked with George Michailow, Fast Lane International – bar-none one of the best booking agents around. I recall being at several recording sessions with Toots, at Lenny Shillingford’s Rocket Recording Studio (Manhattan) and at several recording sessions with Jim Fox at Lion & Fox Recording Studios in Washington, DC. And I was very fortunate to know Papa Pilgrim (RIP), founder of Reggae Ambassadors Worldwide; EW is RAW #72. I was honored to have been chosen for RAW’s first Board of Directors, serving as PR Coordinator for about seven years. I’ve known and worked with Reggae historian Roger Steffens since the early 90s. I couldn’t begin to name all the artists I’ve become friends with over the decades, or list the hundreds and hundreds of DJs, journalists, photographers, booking agents, and promoters I’ve worked with!
You’ve worked with many artistes who have transitioned to Mt. Zion. It’s necessary to recognize and celebrate artistes while they trod Creation. Any thoughts on this?
I was fortunate to know and to have worked with some amazing artists, including Winston Grennan, Lynn Taitt, Ras Pidow, King Bravo, Lord Tanamo, Mikey Dread, Tommy McCook, Lloyd Brevett, Roland Alphonso… These artists were the creators of the music, and they deserve respect. I’m delighted to see so many radio stations including shows featuring foundation music, roots music. And it’s nice to see that lots of young DJs are very knowledgeable about the history of Reggae music, and that they are giving the foundation artists the recognition they deserve.
Personally, I have so many great memories… rehearsals, recording sessions, watching concerts from the side of the stage, shared meals, bands camped out at my house, and traveling many (many) miles in tour buses… (Laughs.)
You have massive experience in the Reggae music industry. What path do you see King’s Music going in?
I hope that authentic roots rock Reggae music will become more appreciated, as it was back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. I would love the mainstream media, commercial radio, giving Reggae music more recognition.
Reggae music is indeed an international; it seems like Europe is brimming with activity in all aspects of the industry with solid results.
Yes, I agree. Looking at tour posters on Facebook®, it’s easy to see that roots Reggae continues to be very popular in Europe, South America, and Japan. A quick Google® search shows that six of the top 13 Reggae festivals are in Europe.
California, actually the West Coast in general, continues to support Reggae music. Southeast Florida has a solid Reggae scene, and there are pockets around the U.S., like Austin, Texas, New York City. But Reggae, and now I’m talking about roots rock Reggae, seems to be more popular in Europe. Hopefully, the pendulum will swing to include the U.S. again.
What is the future vision of Entertainment Works?
I’ll stick to EW’s slogan, “Promoting Reggae Music and Its Makers™. That includes growing media relationships… coordinating concert tours for Ras Midas… and maybe expanding the agency in the future. Here it is, 28 years later, and I’m still here, promoting roots rock Reggae music.
Thank you, Nan, for your time and your undeniable devotion and contribution to the continuation of King’s Music and its makers.
My pleasure, Robert! Thanks also to you; without journalists like you, I would be unable to do my job. I am the one setting up the interviews for EW clients, so I’m not used to being interviewed – this was fun!