Whether she’s on a whirlwind tour of Japan with MuchMusic and musicians Broken Social Scene and Metric or working behind the scenes at the Olympics in Whistler, Joanne Setterington’s career has taken her around the world.
As the founder of media and entertainment public relations company Indoor Recess, Setterington has worked with a notable list of clients including Arcade Fire, Billy Connolly, Death From Above 1979, Sarah McLachlan, Wintersleep and the Polaris Music Prize and Sony Music.
“One of the taglines that we’ve used is we make rock stars shine,” Setterington says from a coffee shop at Queen Street E. and Jones Avenue near her home. “We’ve moved more into comedians and authors too. We make people know about you or whoever that artist is, whether that’s TV media, print media or online or the blog world.”
It was as a student at Western University that Setterington first caught the music bug, after a roommate couldn’t make it to an interview for the school paper and she filled in last minute.
“She came into my room and was like, ‘I’m sick’ and I pulled my nose out of my history book,” she says. “It was The Watchmen from Winnipeg and I went to see them, I interviewed them and then I started doing some work for the paper regularly…. [I realized] this was really fun and I was a good writer so that kind of lends itself well to getting into this.”
Although she’s been running Indoor Recess for over a decade, she didn’t plan on being a publicist until a school assignment led to a short-term gig at a record company.
Since forming the company in 2002, it has grown from her working out of a rooming house in the Annex, where she got her first break handling Blue Rodeo’s Stardust Picnic, to having four full-time publicists and one part time staffer.
“I didn’t have a business plan. I sort of said this was a happy accident,” she says. “I don’t ever feel like this is a job, it’s just sort of what I do and being able to work for yourself in the capacity that I do, I just wake up and this is what I do.”
As for the secret to her success, she attributes it to her absolute fear of having to get a “real job.”
“Our jobs are so broad, one day we’re up at 6 a.m., one day we’re out until 2 a.m., we work weekends so I like the fact that we can all work from our houses,” she says. “It gives people that ability to still have a life. I kind of feel like it has meshed itself with my life.”
When it comes to choosing artists to represent, she says the Indoor Recess team narrows down clients if they like them as people or for their music.
“Interestingly, you can make either one of those things work but one of those things has to work,” she says. “If you can get both that’s always great and we’re blessed that that happens a lot but it’s really important because as a publicist we’re with the artist or client a lot.”
Being close with clients also means they often know the good news, such as someone landing a spot on Saturday Night Live, or the bad news, such as when Sum 41 were stuck in the Congo, before anyone else.
“They were trapped in this hotel in Bukavu and I can remember their manager calling and telling me that this had happened and I started crying,” she says. “I’m like they’re being shot at in a hotel right now in the middle of the Congo and being angry, scared, upset and nervous for them and then waiting because they were trying to keep it quiet as long as possible because they didn’t want anyone online over there, especially the rebel army to read that this was a band that had some kind of notoriety because they’d make handsome hostages.”
Reflecting back on her career, she pinpoints some of the defining moments as helping Nickleback breakout with “Leader of Men,” the Stardust Picnic and working with Metric and Sum 41.
“I cut my teeth on Sum 41 for sure,” she says. “They hadn’t really broken yet when I started working with them and I worked with them for 11 years. There were lots of things that I did not know how to do when I was working with them. Thank god for them because they really were patient.”
One of the reasons why she started her own company was to have the ability to do things like write more creative press releases and marketing pushes like promoting a month long Hollerado tour where the band played everyday in seven cities across North America.
“They literally played Boston, New York, Montreal, Toronto, it wasn’t just Toronto, Scarborough, Brampton,” she says. “It was like eight hour drives and they did it for all 28 days straight and hit each place four times. That got some great pickup.”
Over the years Setterington has had many long-term clients including working with Hugh Dillon from his days of fronting the band The Headstones to his acting career on TV shows like Flashpoint and says having that loyalty with her clients has been one of the best parts of the job.
Another highlight has been her involvement with charities like MusiCounts, a music education charity that helps keep music alive in schools across Canada by ensuring kids have access to music programs.
Flipping through several all access passes from years working with many artists and tours; she pauses on a badge from the 2010 Winter Olympics, recalling how she looked over the bands that performed during a concert series called Whistler Live.
“It was nice to see that side of it, to see sport be so important, the main theme of the whole thing and music, how it still had such an importance. It was still music that drew people into the square all the time,” she says. “It was also fun being in the grocery store and standing behind the entire Russian bobsledding team or athletes from all around the world working out on bikes next to you.”
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