February 18, 2020

Legendary Music Publicist Mitch Schneider on His Extensive PR Career

Mitch Schneider. Photo by Sorrell Schneider

As a then-teenaged music writer, the first public relations firm to really embrace me was a Los Angeles-based company known as the Mitch Schneider Organization. More than 20 years later, MSO has evolved into SRO – short for the Schneider/Rondan Organization– and is still handling some of music’s most influential artists, festivals and influencers.

SRO co-founder Mitch Schneider got his start within the musical realm as a freelance journalist in the 1970s. His credits included Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy, Hit Parader and Circus. Ultimately finding his way as a top-tier public relations executive, Schneider’s past and/or present PR roster has included – to name a very small grouping of clients – Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith, David Bowie, Tom Petty, Dolly Parton, Slash, The Black Crowes, David Lee Roth, Korn, Steve Aoki and the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.

Further, a testament to Schneider’s long-term influence as a publicist is how many of today’s leading publicists originally worked under Schneider.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Schneider by phone in June 2019 and below are highlights from that chat.

Being Los Angeles-based and very hands-on:

“SRO, as we’re now called, we remain a very brick and mortar… We’re on Ventura Boulevard right near Encino Avenue. Tom Petty used to live right up the street from where we now are… We’re proudly a proper office and that means when people come to the office, whether it’s me, It’s Marcee [Rondan], it’s Kelly [Walsh], it’s Andrea [Faulk] or Lyndie [Wenner] our Nashville person if she’s in Los Angeles, there’s a place to come. We have ‘think tank’ meetings. It’s not just emailing other people and they work… You get to look at them. Say we’re running up against a wall here, let’s try to brainstorm another idea of how to get somebody’s attention or just figure this out. So yeah, we’re proudly brick and mortar in the year 2019.”

His longest client relationships:

“I could tell you exactly two of them, Ozzy Osborne and Heart. Both were originally signed in the year 1987 when it was Michael Levine Public Relations before it became Levine/Schneider. Ozzy took a break of maybe around six years when ‘The Osbournes’ was on TV and things were being done in-house. But after that went off the air he came back. Heart, we were with them from ‘87 to 2001 and then they had different management… But they came back to us in the year 2016 and continue to be with us. So yeah, we’re really proud of like those kinds of long runs. Those are unique clients to work with Both are pioneers, they’re trendsetters, they’re superstars, they’re the artist and their teams know their expectations are big. So you have to be obviously you have to be OK you have to be switched on 24/7.”

On the 24/7 workflow of PR these days:

“It is a 24/7 business not only for superstars like that, but I mean it’s kind of crazy on Saturdays and Sundays. My inbox starts to fill up with photo requests from tour dates around the country or ticket requests. We don’t answer them until Monday, but it’s very much in our world that this is going on.

You see, back in the old days, before things were digital, Monday through Friday there’d be a phone call coming into the general phone number. “Hey we’d like a photo pass for Ozzy Osbourne,” and the assistant would say, “Oh let me put you on with the tour publicist.” Well now because everybody’s names are all over the Internet, I’m often the first person to get the photo request…

So the amount of bandwidth or time that that’s in your life, it just keeps increasing… Even if you’re on a Sunday just checking your device if you’re out and about, because you’re a publicist, there could be an emergency… It’s still in your brain. So it is really tough to just shut it down. That’s why I run to my guitars and because I’m also a songwriter I would say like I always joke and say, ‘It’s nights, holidays and weekends.’ So that kind of gives me sanity because I’m able to access another part of my brain.

The difficult part of running a business is in PR you’re not only wondering about your current clients and are you satisfying them. You have to wonder who are the new clients that are going to come in to replace the current ones if they will be leaving you. They might be going on hiatus for six months before they come back… You also have to stay on top of invoices, have clients paid them? Without all of that, there’s no business. So you have to be switched on in many different levels…

Everybody’s dealing with this. Obviously, it’s just not publicity… I love the music. I love the people we work with They’re really unique characters and artists and people.”

On being remembered for using multi-colored paper for MSO press releases:

“Marilyn Manson came up to our office for a meeting probably in the late 90s and we did sign him for that live album. But he said he used to be a journalist in Florida for a rock paper, I forget which one. He looked, he goes, “Oh I remember you people. You always sent your press releases out on that flashy paper…

That was kind of always my approach to publicity. What are you going to do to stand out? What are you going to do to stop the traffic? That was certainly one visual way that we tried to be at least memorable.”

On also sending out 8 x 10 photos with the multi-colored paper for a lasting impression:

“Let’s say Tom Petty got his star on Hollywood Boulevard, we made sure that we made 8 x 10’s of it… Back then things weren’t being transferred digitally so much, or maybe was just the beginnings of it… I’ve had people come up and say, ‘Mitch, I saved an 8 x 10 you sent me.’ Whether it was David Bowie getting his star on the Boulevard or whatever media event that we were doing that we felt we should put it into the packages.”

Mitch Schneider. Photo by Sorrell Schneider

Choosing to work with music-related projects:

“Back in Levine… We not only handled Ozzy Osbourne and David Bowie but we handled Sandra Bernhard, Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Kinison, Bobcat Goldthwait and more… I handled those comics when comics were being called the new rock & roll. Certainly, Sam Kinison when he was on the cover of ‘Rolling Stone’ definitely underlined that. But as we were heading into the early to mid-90s and then MSO forms in February ’95, I do make the conscious decision that we only want to work with musicians because things had become more and definitely more niche. There were more media outlets you were dealing with.
So when MSO formed we decided to move into Sherman Oaks which made sense for us because a lot of musicians were recording in Studio City and North Hollywood. Most musicians were rehearsing in North Hollywood. So when we’ve been out to cover interviews or just have meetings, it was often at bands’ rehearsal spaces or recording studios. So that was a big deal because we moved someplace where it’s like, ‘We don’t handle actors or actresses. We are music.’ So MSO definitely kicked off that new era for us and next year will mark the 25th year in the business.”

What memorabilia he has kept over the years:

“There’s a million things I could have kept. Like one of the things I love to keep is band touring itinerary books. For instance, if you’re on tour and you’re a member of Depeche Mode, you have your tour book. It says what time the bus leaves. It says all of that information and publicists and agents got those. We still get them digitally but we used to get them and I have them with David Bowie, Depeche Mode, Ozzy, Heart, Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac and so on and so forth…

So I saved a lot of those but not all of them. I think the one thing that I have been the best about saving are those the glossy ‘all access’ passes, which is a good reminder of all the tours and artists that I’ve worked with and sometimes I’ll just put my hand into sort of the bucket where I have that and I’ll just pick it up… ‘Oh, I remember I actually did go to that show when they launched that tour and I was there for opening night because we did publicity…’

I don’t save print press releases. I did save if they were like classic press releases but no, can’t save everything There’s the old saying, ‘You can’t take it with you when you go.’ But I saved enough.”

His last words for the kids:

“I know it’s a cliche but I always try to subscribe to that philosophy of ‘not taking no for an answer.’ I mean, I was a rock critic before I became a publicist and you really have to make your own space. What I did was when I was growing up, I think I was like 17 or 18, I went to see Lou Reed at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey because I grew up in the Bronx and it was after ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal’ the live album came out. So he was doing shows that were based upon that period. And I was so motivated by it that I wrote a review of it although I didn’t have an assignment and I sent it to ‘Good Times’ in Long Island.
Glen Brunman would later go on to be a big head of Epic Records on the West Coast He dug what I wrote and he ran it and he said, ‘Would you like to review records?’ And I said ‘Sure,’ so he started sending me albums. So I started to write for ‘Good Times’ and then I became an editor there. Richard Branciforte obviously is the publisher and top editor but he had me there for about a year, that would have been I think ‘75 or ’76. So I was editing and that was exciting.

So that’s really an example to really illustrate. Nobody asked me but I saw it and I said the show was incredible and I was so inspired that I just sent a review. So I would tell anybody if you want to become a publicist, you should probably start your own website, go out, review shows and if you’re interviewing for a job as a publicist, somebody might go, ‘Wow this person is really sharp, they started their own website, they were reviewing shows, they have an understanding of music and the live presentation.’ You stand a better chance of getting a gig as a junior publicist if you are a writer and if you are a writer who created their own website or blog…

Imagine yourself there. I mean, it’s creative visualization or you know whatever new age phrase you want to put on it, but that’s it. If you keep at it… There’s a combination of skill and luck, but it’s one of the things if you want to win at blackjack, you have to be seated at the blackjack table… So you have to put yourself in the environment in which you want to thrive or be a part of. I guess that’s kind of like my philosophy in life.”

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