Tips for the Modern Music Journalist
by Anil Prasad
Back in 1994, I founded Innerviews, the first online music magazine. It just celebrated its 20th anniversary. During those 20 years, I’ve learned a lot about the sleazy world that is the music industry. I’ve also learned a whole lot more about the quixotic universe of being a music journalist. It’s a rather farcical lifestyle.
Essentially, most music journalists are “professional beggars” in 2014, taking scraps of ideas thrown at them by public relations and music industry people. There’s a mostly negative, yet symbiotic relationship between these entities. I largely chose to bail from that construct with Innerviews from the get go. In doing so, I made a lot of friends—mostly artists themselves. I also made a lot of enemies—mostly music industry people who couldn’t stand the idea of a free-thinking music journalist with balls, unwilling to play the game.
So, I’ve put together a number of what I consider to be critical tips for being a modern music journalist who is unwilling to bow down to music industry “powers that be.”
Tip #1: Don’t ask for stuff unless you’re going to do something with it
Never ask for something unless you will actually write about it. Otherwise, you will be perpetually hassled by a label or publicist. It isn’t worth the price to just get a free album or ticket. If you’re not writing about it and you want it, just buy it. I assure you life will be better this way.
Tip #2: Publicists and labels are not your friends
These people are doing a job. They are hired to generate press hits and social posts. You are under no obligation to respond or cave in to any demands.
Tip #3: If there’s a string attached, say no
If a publicist or label tries to bundle coverage of one thing with another (For instance, “You can interview X, if you also interview Y”), walk away. You are dealing with an amateur who is not worth your time.
Tip #4: Publicists and labels need you more than you need them
They may attempt to play a power game in which they throw you scraps or require painful negotiation for something. It’s not worth it. Your dignity is worth more than a $10 album or a $50 concert ticket. Just walk away and ignore them. Buy your own ticket or album. You’ll be a better person for it.
Tip #5: Superstar interviews aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be
In fact, they are typically the most boring, predictable, pretentious, and painful experiences imaginable. You are better off spending your time on someone that actually wants to speak with you.
Tip #6: Say what you think—always
Be totally, utterly unafraid of what people think of you. Don’t worry about offending publicists, labels, or even musicians. You will earn much more respect by telling it like it is than groveling because someone won’t send you a free album or ticket because you called them on their bullshit.
Tip #7: Don’t waste time on music you don’t care about
If you have no emotional investment in the artist, why spend the hours covering them? Music journalism pays nothing, even at the top end. If you want some idiot editor or publisher who can barely spell their name calling the shots on who you talk to, why not work at Starbucks instead? At least you’ll get benefits and coffee — and make a whole lot more money.
Tip #8: Most music magazines are run by assholes
I mean 95% of them. Maybe you can use one as a springboard. But things are worse than they ever have been. The editors are mostly dire, laughable pieces of work more invested in protecting their Aeron chair than they are in discovering important music. There are a handful of honorable media outlets left. Find them and create your own network.
Tip #9: Don’t assume a publicist or label has an artist’s best interests at heart
Often, they don’t. If you are trying to contact an artist with a legitimate opportunity and can’t get anywhere with the publicist or label, circumvent them entirely and go straight to the artist. You would be surprised at how high a percentage of artists answer their own Facebook and website email, including some of the biggest names imaginable.
Anil Prasad is the editor and founder of Innerviews: Music Without Borders. Learn more at: innerviews.org