I love music. I would argue that I have the ability to love all music (except for country… sorry, ex-girlfriend!), although some would argue that they think that I have absolutely no sense of taste when it comes to music (see: my pie chart).
And somehow, I wound up a music journalist for a print publication (amongst other things, anyway) and an editor for an online publication (take a guess as to what that might be – and if you haven’t figured it out by now, drink the first thing you find underneath your kitchen sink).
I have interviewed famous people (and not-so-famous people) about their bands and I have a blast doing so because I make it fun for them. I would ask them questions like, “Do you think homeless people hate knock-knock jokes?” or “What smell would you NOT want your shampoo to smell like?” and other such unprofessional absurdities to facilitate the more important (and significantly more appropriate) questions.
And, while being a music journalist and a music editor are fun gigs, there came a point when I stopped liking being the former for a bit.
In particular, I stopped liking the unprofessionalism exhibited by bands.
Every time I got on either Gmail or Facebook – which is all the time – and because I leave my browsing windows open because I’m an idiot, I would hear the usual Gmail/Facebook Chat ‘blip’/'poink’ sound.
IMer: “Hey, I was wondering if you would write about [insert name of IMer's band here].”
Jom: “What are you doing?”
IMer: “Playing a show at [insert name of stupid bar].”
Jom: “Are you releasing a CD?”
Jom: “Is the gig for charity?”
IMer: “No, it’s just a show and I was thinking you could do an article on it.”
It’s at this point that I have to explain that, while the print publication I work for is very event-centric, events have to be unique.
And I don’t want to sound like a total dick to people who make ill-informed requests like this, so I try to empathize with them by saying something along the lines of how we’re all in local bands and how we play gigs all the time, but playing gigs alone doesn’t make you or your band special.
It’s my policy to write about gigs that are unique, so, in my mind, gigs are unique if and only if:
1) You are releasing a new LP or EP
2) You are releasing a new DVD
3) You are helping raise money to benefit a charity or cause
4) You are opening for a big-time, nationally and/or internationally-recognized artist
I tend to use this same philosophy when it comes to featuring albums on Sputnikmusic. Sorry, but just because you discovered Fruity Loops and are using the USB microphone from Rock Band to record your “noise” doesn’t mean you are entitled to being acknowledged for something any gelatinous troglodyte can do. We’re interested in acquiring MORE readers by featuring significant releases from acclaimed artists that matter, not drive newcomers away by spotlighting your bullshit. Find another site that might actually give a shit.
In my experience, bands don’t seem to understand that, in the world of limited print space in print publications, unique events are the kind of things print publications want to write about. Personally, it also helps the market not be over-saturated with homogeneous nonsense.
When I finally have a reason to write about a band, some bands like to never call me back, respond to my e-mails, or have photos when I ask for them. It’s not really disrespectful; it’s just fucking annoying.
So, here’s my advice, upon my hiatus from music journalism for the time being, to bands looking to get interviewed:
- Remember that people who are writing about music generally like music and want to interview you, but can’t interview your entire band. I will explain this later.
- Consider timing your request for an interview with something cool you’re doing (PROTIP: see the numbered list above; e.g. releasing a CD, playing a big charity gig). Simply playing a gig isn’t newsworthy when so many bands are playing gigs every month.
- Consider a publication’s lead time. Don’t wait until a week before the festivities. A print magazine I wrote for when I was at university has a lead time of two months, while the one I currently write for has a four week lead time. As soon as you know when your big event is going to occur, write a press release. Do you suck at writing? Get a friend to do it for you. You gotta know somebody who can bail you out. Then take this person to the bar or out to lunch.
- Your press releases should contain the usual questions – who, what, where, when, why, and how much – and send them to the correct editors to all of the publications you think might cover you. From here, only follow-up once. Pestering is annoying. If someone tells you he/she already has that publication’s editorial calendar filled out, don’t e-mail other people that work there unless you like to piss your free time away. This goes for bills, too – don’t ask to jump on a bill that’s already full – you’re going to drive the person organizing the event bonkers. All told, if you send out a good press release in a timely manner and follow-up once, you will most likely receive a couple responses.
- Have a band photo, and if you don’t have a photo, GET ONE. I cannot stress this enough. The same rule applies to the press release thing – if you don’t have any friends who secretly wish they could be photographers for National Geographic or some shitty targeted-at-teenagers magazine, jump on Craigslist and reward the person who helps you out with food and/or beer. Also, when you send the photo, include the photo credits and all contact information. If you take too long to do this, you might get cut out of the publication or relegated to the Internet, where nobody will see you.
- Return all phone calls and e-mails, and be on time to all of your appointments. If you think professionalism isn’t necessary in the music world, you should go back to working drive-thru somewhere, because nothing drives me (and other journalists) insane than people who disrespect my/our time. YOU are the one who wants the interview, so YOU are responsible for fulfilling your obligations.
- Don’t bring every single one of your bandmates to your appointments. The reason for this is simple: it’s bloody impossible to include quotes from every single bandmate when the text limit in the print publication is a whopping three-hundred words. Your appointment can be held at a bar, but don’t be hammered, and don’t have a fight with your significant other on the phone when I’m conducting the interview (PROTIP: put your phone on silent so that you are not distracted by such frivolities). If you can’t be everywhere at once (which is normal and expected), choose one or two people to speak on behalf of you/your band for every interview. You do not always have to pick the same person/people, but he/she/they should be as reliable as you, assuming you understand this so far.
- Come up with a word to describe your band live other than “energetic” without resorting to the goddamn thesaurus.
A lot of the time, not getting good quotes is the journalist’s fault because he or she isn’t interested in what you have to say, but please, DON’T be afraid to get into conversations about your music. Force these people to do their fucking jobs! However, DO be afraid – be very, very afraid – of giving very short, generic answers without allowing room for expansion, because that makes for a lazy interview, lazy reporting, and a lazy story. You are probably a pretty interesting person, and the more you talk, the better my story gets. The best example I can give:
- Bring a copy of your music to the interview or make it accessible digitally. Do not suggest to the journalist that he/she buy it from iTunes. It’s fucking insulting when bands ask me to buy their music in order to review it.
- Never talk shit about other bands. Talk about YOUR band and/or about positive interactions you’ve had with your music scene and fellow bands. I suggest this for two reasons: 1) people who read about how positive you are will be more inclined to want to put you on their bill or have you play at their charity gig, and 2) it doesn’t make you look like a fucking asshole.
- If you have weird spelling, you need to spell out stuff in the interview. You should probably do this anyway. Fact-checking fails a lot when I can’t find you on MySpace, Facebook, PureVolume, or Google. While errors like these are most certainly the journalist’s fault for being a lazy schmuck, you can play your part in preventing such oversights.
- Don’t insult someone like me by saying you’ll only do e-mail interviews. For example, let’s say an interviewer took something you said about your band in an e-mail interview, picked something that made you sound like a total jackass, and used it in her piece. And just because this happened to you once, you think all music journalists are talentless bitches and out to make their interviewees look bad for kicks. Not only is this a stupid train of thought and makes you sound cognitively-impaired, but it’s also pretty fucking rude to go in to future interviews thinking that this next person is out to get you. Not every interview is going to go well, either (more on this next).
I do everything I can – and sometimes go out of my way to do so – to represent people positively, even if they spend twenty minutes talking about something redonkulous, like who leaked Hayley Williams’ tits onto the Internet or why they are grossed out by feet.
If you feel that you’re getting an unfair interview or are getting fucked over somehow, call their shit out and move on to the next interview (but keep in mind not to hold every other writer accountable for the one person who can’t do his/her job. Believe me when I say that lots of people try real hard to do positive stuff)!
Anyway, that’s about it. I feel like all of this is common sense, but sometimes, people need things spelled out to them. The Cliffnotes of all this:
1) Don’t ask to be interviewed if you aren’t doing anything special
2) Don’t be unprofessional
3) Do your homework before initiating contact with publications
4) Don’t be generic or boring
5) Do have fun. Your hobby/career is awesome. Reflect that!