FROM KROQ TO CAPITOL, HEATHER PEGGS IS A CONTORTIONIST
Heather Peggs has seen the industry from a variety of angles. An A&R Representative that started her own label below the umbrella of Atlantic/Elektra Records, Heather was also an A&R Representative for Capitol Records and currently works as an A&R Representative for Lava Records. A Career Counselor in MI's Artist & Career Services Department, Heather shared with us the story of her career thus far and offered advice to students and alumni looking to pave their own path in this industry.
How did you first land the job at KROQ and get involved in radio?
"Right out of high school I was in a community college in Pittsburgh and interned on the morning show on a local station. I wasn't paid. It was so much fun, but I wanted to move to LA so badly. I loved Pittsburgh, but it just wasn't big enough for me. I asked my Program Director in Pittsburgh what stations in Los Angeles would be the best to apply for. He gave me a list and had crossed out this station called KROQ. He said, 'Try anything but KROQ. It's the hardest station to get into, its super influential, and I've been trying to work there for years...'
"Since he said that, working at KROQ was the only thing I wanted to do. I went home that night, looked up KROQ on the internet, saw that they had Kevin & Bean, clicked around and found their email addresses. So I compiled this awesome email, but I remember my mom saying 'Come on, they're never going to read that...' So at the bottom of the email I mentioned a small personal detail about myself. I wrote - 'PS I'm a contortionist.' Then I hit SEND."
Heather was in luck. That week at KROQ, someone had been suspended. Heather's little note struck a chord. KROQ wanted to take a chance on Heather. She jumped on a plane for an interview in Los Angeles and ended up getting the job that same day.
How did you go from working in radio to A&R?
"KROQ was like my college experience, it's still my favorite job that I've had. I loved KROQ, but I came to the point where I just couldn't really grow there. I was there for about 5 and ½ years, and some people just stay there, they're lifers and I didn't want to be that.
"This was right around the time that Indie 103.1 was starting out. It was really hard to find out who was running the station, because the first two weeks were all music, no contact information, nothing. I had to really dig deep and find out who was responsible. I started hitting up the people I knew, and started sending emails constantly until someone would finally get back to me.
"When I got in touch with them, I would meet them in secret, because I was still working at KROQ. I'd meet them in the Vinyl section at Amoeba, pass them a mix and go on my way. I finally scored a few interviews and on the third interview, I actually went on my lunch break from KROQ. I didn't even know what position I was going for; I just knew that I wanted to be there.
"During a commercial break they were introducing me to Jonsey, and said, 'This is Heather, she's a contortionist...' So I replied, 'Oh, do you want to see some tricks?' So I showed Jonsey some tricks and he went back on the radio and said, 'We have this girl working for us now, her name's Heather and she's a contortionist...' Even though I was totally on my lunch break from KROQ... It was tragic. I had to go back to KROQ and quit before I was fired.
"The worst thing? I never got the job at Indie... I was crushed. I was so bummed, butI had to pick myself up and figure out what I could do. I knew that when I was at KROQ, all I wanted to do was get the songs that I thought should have been on the radio, on the radio. So people told me I should do A&R, that's what A&R is."
So how did you get the job at Capitol?
"At that time, I was scouting for Epitaph for free, just trying to make headway into A&R and the head of Epitaph, Andy Culkin, called up Ron Lafitte at Capitol on my behalf saying, 'You have to interview this girl because she's eventually going to hire me someday.' From that intro, Ron asked me if I was going to SXSW - I had never heard of SXSW before, but I said 'yes' anyways. So I spent the last of my money on a badge and a few nights in a Motel 6 in Austin. That was such a crazy experience though, because he never ended up meeting me there. It was still great, because I was in the right place at the right time so I met everybody else.
"It's just like dating someone - you have to be wanted by someone else to get the job. You could have twelve interviews and it's not until you're walking out the door taking another opportunity that they want to hire you. That's how it is for artists trying to get signed as well. You want every label to be interested, not just one. If only one is interested, they will second guess themselves. That's what happened with me at Capitol."
How would you characterize the environment at Capitol in comparison to KROQ?
"I ended up staying at Capitol for 4 years with 3 different bosses, changeover, changeover, every time there was a new president I had to interview to not get fired. It was just nerves every day, so now I work for the guy who ended up keeping me the second time around. It was crazy.
"It's hard to get anything done when you have to prove yourself over and over again. I didn't really get to do much because the company was always in flux, but I still learned so much. I have the Capitol tower tattooed on my back. Kat Von D did it. I put it on my back knowing I would be leaving soon, so now it's behind me always."
What would you say is the most important lesson you learned at KROQ?
"I learned that you have to prove yourself all the time and you have to be confident in what you do. I learned (after KROQ) that you have to have something going on outside of work. Otherwise if you lose your job, you lose your identity. So I started my own thing called Hell Ya! where I would have my own club nights hosting the bands I loved. It was a way for me to show the industry that I knew what I was talking about, even if I wasn't able to sign stuff. I would book bands like LMFAO, Katy Perry, Cold War Kids, etc. at my club nights, kind of to say 'this is what I would sign if I could.' I was almost known more for the Hell Ya! stuff than I was for working at KROQ and Capitol."
Since the days when you were starting out in radio, the industry has changed dramatically. From your perspective having seen this progression, what is your impression on how we now discover and promote artists?
"I think now it's really exciting. Back when I first started, I would go to Aaron's Records or Amoeba and I would see my people and they'd have a stack of records for me to listen to. That was so awesome, but now it's a completely different thing where I can have a million people on the Internet telling me what to listen to... So it's good and bad. It's good because there's so much available at your fingertips, but it's also bad that there's so much available. It's really hard to sift through all that, but it's also way easier to get noticed, and to make music without spending a ton of money. It's also so much easier to reach out to people you want to work with, whereas in the past you had to go through all the proper channels."
As someone in A&R how do you navigate this landscape now?
"It's really hard. I have my favorite websites that I go to and I usually check out blog aggregators. I just look at an overview of that and make sure I try to know about all of those artists.
"If I was an artist trying to get signed now, I would just try and get my music available to as many awesome blogs as possible and have it be downloaded a million times. When you give away your music for free, more and more people will know about it and more people like me will find out about it.
Also, playing out is still so important. Before I sign a band, I always want to see them live. You really still have to hone your craft, and make sure that when you are performing in front of people that you have the goods. TOURING - If you're not good at playing live, that's most of the money right there. If people can download your stuff for free, how else are you going to make money? I also still rely heavily on bookers to tell me what's up - all of the residency bands at the Bootleg Theater, the Satellite, etc. That's the stuff I always turn to; they always really have their finger on the pulse. Whereas I think I was one before, now I look to others like me to tell me what's up."
From KROQ to Capitol, Heather Peggs is a contortionist
Heather Peggs has seen the industry from a variety of angles.