Radio promotion company Skateboard Marketing celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Mainly focusing on loud rock and metal bands, Skateboard works with both major labels and independent artists alike. Although the music industry, specifically radio, has changed greatly in the past 20 years, many of the ways to go about promoting bands are still the same. CMJ spoke with Munsey Ricci, the owner of Skateboard, about what he’s learned in two decades of promotions.

How did Skateboard Marketing get started?
We started Skateboard Marketing Ltd. with the perception of the independent artist and the independent metal artist. Back then, there were a lot of bands that needed the support of radio but couldn’t get it. The major label bands reigned on the metal charts, so the smaller bands always seemed to be overlooked. And we wound up getting a lot of love for a lot of smaller bands at this format. Prior to that, I was at PolyGram Records, but the company restructured after I was there for two and a half years and a lot of people wound up leaving. So, with all of the staff changes, that gave me the ideal opportunity to do what I wanted to do, and that was to have my own company. So here it is 20 years later, and we’re still doing the same thing we were doing when we started. It’s great.

When you first started, how did you go about finding bands and artists to work with?
A lot of the former staff I worked with at PolyGram either left the company or moved on when the new president came in, and they all ended up working at other labels. I worked with them internally, so they came to us for all of their radio. That’s where it started with all of the major label stuff. All of the independent labels just knew of me from being a label guy, and it was just word of mouth. That’s where most of the independent stuff came from. Stuff just started showing up at the office, the phone started ringing with people saying, “Hey, I heard you did a good job with this record. What can you do with ours?” And from there, it was all word of mouth.

How have your marketing strategies changed since you started the company?
It’s not the same industry it was back then. We kind of had to redefine the whole business model for the company, so I just moved a few things around, cut budgets here without taking away from over there, and we were able to maintain. Instead of dealing with a label, you’re dealing directly with the band. You’re dealing more one-on-one, and it’s more hands-on with the band. A lot more independent artists are taking control of their music. Now with iTunes and Rhapsody, bands can put a record out and not have a record company. They’re not going sell the kind of units that we’re going sell if they’re signed to the label. But with the new system, that’s how we structured it—to deal directly with the process and help the process along a little bit to redefine it. It’s not going stay this way forever, either. The economy is going to get better, eventually congress will do something about file-sharing, and sales will go back up, which will give labels a little more flexibility. It’s just a matter of time, that’s all.

Are there any bands that have been with you since the beginning?
We’ve handled Motörhead’s radio promotion since 1992; we’ve handled Overkill since 1992 as well. We’ve worked with Iron Maiden and Judas Priest since ’94, ’95, as well as Testament and Black Sabbath. It’s nice to see that we’ve been able to consistently maintain a good presence at radio with the bands that we’ve handled since day one. I’m pretty happy about that, and it’s good for our staff, too. Ralph Pinsker has been with us for two years now. He’s my right-hand guy. He’s got a lot of compassion for what he does, and it’s a good asset for us. It’s good to have that one-on-one working relationship with bands directly, which, at the end of the day, is really what it’s all about; your relationship and making sure it happens, and having the record company and band feel very comfortable with the job that you’re doing.

How do you think working specifically with radio has changed over the years, either with college radio or just radio in general?
Well, college radio has changed. But with metal radio, it’s new people, but it’s still the same—it’s metal. So now you stop and look at a band from 10 years ago; a lot of those bands are still making records today, and radio is still embracing it. College radio as a whole is breaking new bands. Because commercial radio, especially the commercial metal shows, some don’t get on something until it starts happening. College is going be there, because that’s what they’re all about. It’s their band, and that’s what I like about it. It gives you the diversity and freedom to at least give a band a new start and see whether you can really blow it up. If you can’t blow a band up, it doesn’t mean the band’s not going to happen. It just means it didn’t happen on the first record. You have to make a new record and try again, mold a career for the band. One of the only ways to try and do that is college radio.

What are some of your plans for Skateboard in the future? Any big changes coming up?
I built the company with the whole perception of, “Let’s get radio airplay for new artists as well as traditional and heritage bands.” But I found a system that worked, and my philosophy is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The system’s working, and it’s working for radio. Radio embraces our bands, we help radio. The industry embraces us, we embrace them, and it’s one big, happy family. Eventually, further in the future, I’ve had other ideas. I wanted to open up a record store, but obviously with the current economy, now is just not the time. But if sales go back up and things start to work, eventually I would like to open a retail outlet and do things a little differently. But on the promotion side, this is what we do. This is what we focus on, and I try not to deviate from that. It kind of takes you away from doing what you need to do.

Skateboard Marketing will throw another invite-only open bar and radio showcase for radio and industry members during this year’s CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival.