Periodically, HM turns its focus to industry profiles, shining a light on the behind-the-scenes personalities that make the music world go ’round. Jameson Ketchum is the proprietor behind The Cadence, Inc., a full-service public relations firm that works with bands like Emery, Sherwood and As Cities Burn. But Ketchum himself is also a prominent writer and music journalist. Joe Lengsen, the man behind The Woodsman’s Babe and former bassist for MyChildren MyBride, speaks with Ketchum about how he got to managing a firm full-time, publishing his first novel after seven years of work, and why you should always get in the trenches.
Joe Lengsen: Thanks for waiting for me. Sorry, there was so much traffic on Mulholland. I wanted to start off this whole thing by saying to you and everyone out there that you and I are good friends and we’ve known each other for many years now. So I want you to be as candid as possible and please answer these questions as if you’re just talking to me one on one. I’m honored I get to facilitate this for once. You do extensive work in the music industry as a journalist, publicist, manager, marketing strategist, and, recently, a booking agent. We are curious how you became you. What was the initial moment in your life that made you interested in music, that ultimately led to your involvement in the music industry?
Jameson Ketchum: I don’t know if I’ve ever had to pinpoint a moment, but I like that idea. I think there have been a lot of moments — even up until a few weeks ago — that continually spark my interest in the music industry. Like any music industry person, Almost Famous was always so inspiring, but I’ve realized in recent years the rule “You cannot make friends with the rock stars” holds no weight in my professional personality. I wanted to help bands because I believed in their music and liked them as people. I wanted to interview bands because I wanted to know more about the writers that were inspiring me and widening my creative scope. I remember writing out lyrics to Dashboard Confessional songs because I didn’t know how to write my own stuff yet. Somehow that felt like a good exercise. I had never heard music like his before or read lyrics that were anywhere near as poignant or relatable. (Dashboard Confessional vocalist) Chris Carrabba’s songs made you want to get your heart broken. I think that was the first time I knew I wanted to do something in the music industry and explore why music can mean so much to us.
A perfect example is the fact that I have worked with the band Fallstar since 2008. I loved what they were doing, and I loved the guys behind it; they became the band that made me want to learn the business just so I could contribute to their career. More recently, I remember watching The Used for the first time after I had finished a long conversation with (The Used vocalist) Bert McCracken and (The Used guitarist) Quinn Allman. They were playing “Box Full of Sharp Objects” and this idea just hit me so hard that I was hearing this song performed at its absolute capacity. It was being played by the composers without any help of polish or production. The song had reached its full potential in that moment and that just blew my mind. It reminded me what a privilege it is to watch your favorite bands live, let alone get to sit down with them and dissect why or how a song or album was created in the first place.
“I really only set out to be a music journalist and maybe one day get to say I met a few of my favorite artists. That goal transformed into becoming a catch-all for a lot of different avenues and artists.”
Walk us through a normal day of your job. What exactly is it that you do and what is the protocol?
It’s been hard to nail that down lately. I really only set out to be a music journalist and maybe one day get to say I met a few of my favorite artists. That goal transformed into becoming a catch-all for a lot of different avenues and artists. When I was starting out as a journalist and editor, I became familiar with how the publicity part of the process worked. I was talking to publicists and managers all day, pitching my outlet and begging for interviews with their artists. Once I began to learn what they were looking for, I fell in love with the idea of backing an artist and getting them press mentions.
If I had to make a list, I’d say I’ve been a writer, editor, owner, publicist, manager, marketer, booking agent, tour manager, overall networker and anything else a band has asked of me. I don’t like to tell one of my bands “that’s not my job”; at the very least, I want to be able to point you in the right direction or connect you with one of my resources. Having said that, my day can consist of tracking down contacts, pitching to press outlets, writing bios, writing reviews and interviews, filling in tour dates, analyzing social media and a plethora of other duties before I head out the door for an interview and a show.
Over the years, you’ve met and become friends with some very high profile artists and professionals. What was the absolute most memorable meeting or interview you’ve conducted and what was the absolute worst disaster you’ve had to endure over the years.
I’ve been really lucky. (Some of my favorite interviewees) have been so supportive, and I can say I have become genuine friends with them over the years. The several that stand out are Chris Carrabba, Jake Luhrs (August Burns Red, Heartsupport), Anthony Green (Circa Survive, Saosin) and Jason Butler (letlive.).
“I don’t like to tell one of my bands ‘that’s not my job’; at the very least, I want to be able to point you in the right direction or connect you with one of my resources.”
I can go months without speaking with Jason and I’ll randomly get a heart emoji text. He’s just a good person all the way to his core and I believe letlive. is the most important band in music today. I can easily say Carrabba is the reason I began writing and our interviews are always fascinating. I think he’s constantly figuring himself out as an artist and striving for new ways to connect. Luhrs is just a big brother. I saw him grow Heartsupport literally from day one, and it’s been amazing to see someone who has such a huge platform actually do something meaningful and helpful with it. Anthony is just the most genuinely odd guy I may have ever known. When you hear someone’s music and wish they’re as interesting in person, that’s Anthony 100%. He’s a real beatnik. Those four guys have helped me maintain my love and faith in music in so many ways.
I’ll tell you an embarrassing story. I was at Warped Tour a few years back, and my editor at the time texted me to go meet up with the rapper Machine Gun Kelly, basically just to schmooze and make the connection. I walked about 20 minutes in over 100 degree heat to find his bus parked a ways from the venue. I knew very little about MGK, so I was Googling facts about him on my way to his bus. Kelly says what’s up and we take a very gangster photo together. As we’re walking to his set, we’re just chit chatting and I ask him where he’s originally from, thinking it’s just small talk. His whole crew looked at me like I had just sneezed in their cereal. It turns out that MGK’s whole persona is based on the fact that he’s from Cleveland. It was referenced every two seconds in his set.
The worst by far is myChildren myBride. (Just kidding!) Normally I wouldn’t name names, but since we all know how it turned out for Ian Watkins of Lostprophets, I will say my interview with him took place a few months before he was arrested, and he was nothing but irritating (Editor’s Note: Watkins pled guilty to 13 charges, including the attempted rape of a child under 13). Ironically, I was interviewing him for XXXChurch at the time, and, needless to say, he did not take that interview very seriously, laughing and giving immature answers throughout. There are certain interviews I can look at in hindsight and see differently now that the subject’s reputation has changed, such as Watkins or (As I Lay Dying vocalist) Tim Lambesis. I’ve been very fortunate. So far.
Throughout your career thus far, do you feel you have intentionally filtered your work intake to a specific genre or community? Is there anything that you decline or is there anything that you are inclined to take on?
It certainly all started in the Christian music and Warped Tour-type scenes. It was just the music I grew up with and the music I felt had the most impact on me. I’ve come close to working with hip-hop acts and more pop radio type stuff, but I’ve mostly stayed in those original lanes. I wouldn’t be opposed to expanding, I’d just want to make sure I had the knowledge to really help the client. I wouldn’t be opposed to working with a country artist, I just wouldn’t know the world well enough!
“The payoff to me is seeing a band do well and get the attention I feel like they deserve. That’s why I take on a new band in the first place.”
What is it that you are looking for in this line of work? What is it that you get out of this? A farmer works because there is an obvious cause and effect; he plants seeds and somethings grows. A comedian tells jokes and receives laughs. Is there something you are searching for in yourself?
Getting deep! That’s a great question, actually, and something that’s been on my mind lately. The payoff to me is seeing a band do well and get the attention I feel like they deserve. That’s why I take on a new band in the first place. It is because I see potential and I believe they have earned the right to be talked about. It sounds cheesy, but I really do get a high from helping out artists who just need that extra leg up.
Your job includes a lot of emailing, pitching and communication to media, record labels, managers, production companies, booking agents, and more. How did you learn to communicate with these people? How did you learn to work efficiently with these people?
It’s a constant learning process because some people are laid back and love their work and others are just all business and want to know what you can do for them. Both methods are justifiable, in some sense. At the same time, I would hope we all got into this because we were kids who loved music more than anything. I certainly don’t always please everyone or get the answers I want. My goal is to have a reputation as someone who is not only valuable but also easy to work with. I know my favorite contacts and the contacts that are mutually beneficial are the ones that are flexible and light on their feet, the ones who truly still love their work.
Under The Cadence, do you find yourself prone to working with artists that are spiritual? Is this a matter to you at all?
Nope! It used to be that way, as it was just the scene I was more accustomed to, but it’s not true nowadays. I will say, however, I wouldn’t be too keen on working with a band who put out what I consider dumb content, such as the fad of putting swear words or demonic stuff on every merch item. That has nothing to do with not taking a band based on spirituality; I just think it’s stupid.
I’ve been working with the BC Music roster (stemming from the Bad Christian group) for about a year now, and I think the conversation that is taking place within that world is really fascinating, whether you consider yourself spiritual or not. I think what Matt Carter is doing is extremely innovative and inspiring.
You’ve done a lot this far in your life. You’ve experienced a lot. You’re a writer; I understand you just released your first literary work, Echo Boom. Is there something you are interested in tackling next?
Aw, thanks for mentioning that little engine that couldn’t. Echo Boom is a fictional story I’ve been writing off and on since about 2008. It felt great to finally complete it and put it out last year. I think it was my outlet for non-music related writing. When I was finishing it up at the end of 2015, I thought I was going to continue writing fiction and putting out short stories nonstop, especially after some encouragement from Chuck Palahniuk. So far, I have not found any further inspiration for writing fiction. It’s something I love very much, but at this time, I believe I put so many of my favorite ideas and anecdotes in Echo Boom that the well is just very dry.
“Fake it ’til you make it. Discover your passion then find a way to get paid for it. Just do it. You do just have to start. No one is going to give you the green light.”
I’m very interested in other avenues, such as movie reviews, comedy, and script writing. A few friends and I even wrote a full spec script for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and I still find myself jotting down little jokes in my phone as if I’m going to perform standup one day. It’s really important to explore other avenues within your skill set. I should probably jump on the podcast train soon too, don’t you think?
Please give advice to other people that are interested in starting a career in the PR field or the industry. Also, please give advice to musicians and artists that are looking to do the same.
Fake it ’til you make it. Discover your passion then find a way to get paid for it. Just do it. Everybody wang chung tonight. In all honesty, you do just have to start. No one is going to give you the green light, so find a local band and be their advocate. Ask them what they need, what their goals are, what they feel like they’re lacking, etc. If you’re more analytical, put together a business plan for yourself and set out some monthly and yearly goals.
I will say that I’ve seen the difference between someone going to school for public relations and doing everything by the book compared to someone like me who has worked in the local scene, toured in a smelly van and really gotten their hands dirty. Experience conquers everything. When I was in college, I remember asking the great Chad Johnson who he would hire if he had the choice between hiring someone with their degree versus someone who had already lived the band life, and he said — hands down — the person with actual experience. I think I dropped out of school the next week (laughs).
The Cadence, Inc. was posted on May 26, 2016 for HM Magazine and authored by David Stagg.