FEATURE: Knowledge Is Power: A Guide for the New Journalist: Part I



Knowledge Is Power:


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A Guide for the New Journalist: Part I


ONE of the highlights of my year came last week…


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when I got to spend time chatting with BBC Radio 6 Music’s Matt Everitt. It was a meeting that came somewhat out-of-the-blue but I had recently published a piece about the station; the great work they do and how this year has been a successful and big one for them. Not only has Matt Everitt in the business for decades but he has established himself one of the best journalists in music. Everitt’s First Time series explored musicians and their earliest memories of music. I was at that meeting – not only to take the chance to speak with an experienced and fantastic journalist – but someone who was filled with great advice. During the chat, he provided insight into his world and his first interview; how one can make their way to organisations like the BBC – and how tough it can be getting there. That last point was not to put me off but provide a realistic assessment of the path to where he is. He has been working in music since he was young(er than he is now) and, over that time, made his way from trainee/aspiring journalist to a cornerstone of BBC Radio 6 Music. Now, he gets to interview musicians like Beck and Kate Bush – more on her later – but that was not how it all started for him (although he did say his first interview was with Noel Gallagher!).


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I came away from that meeting more informed and aware of what it takes to make steps in music; how much effort is involved – and how it is not all struggle and impossible. I am in a different position to many out there – so I will only be able to advise regarding journalists like me and where we need to step. I will bring in my Kate Bush example but the most important first step, if you want to work in music or journalism, is to keep an eye out for all the advertising boards and those companies you want to work for. In my case; I want to work at BBC Radio 6 Music – that is a small part of the organisation and there are few chances springing up. The best thing to do is to look at BBC Careers and keep an eye on their vacancies. You do get jobs in the relevant field but it might not be a case of waiting for that ‘dream’ role. For me, as a music journalist, there is the possibility of getting some work for a Social Media team or somewhere like Production. Unpaid work is not a luxury many of us can afford - but getting a role in a related field/job is a useful way of getting into the organisation and moving on. You can get experience working for somewhere like the BBC and always have your ear in regards other roles that occur – it is much easier getting a foot in the door when you are already outside the house.

The same logic applies to any other company you want to work for. If you want to work in print journalism then you can work for a smaller newspaper/magazine and build up a portfolio. You can dream big but it is going to take a long time to get to where you want; even if you have been writing/working in music for years and have a reputation. A good way of being noted by organisations like BBC; the biggest magazines and record labels is to build up a body of work that brings in a range of artists. I was asked (by Everitt) the artists I want to interview and feature. I mentioned Kate Bush – I shall end with her – but also listed IDLES among those I want to involve myself with. It is not always the case of sitting in hotels and recording studios. You can grab the band for a quick phone call and transcribe a conversation. Sometimes, you can grab them backstage and talk to them at a gig. If you say you are a journalist and work for a site/blog; that will give you a reason to go after the band. If you get the interview; you will have that in your pocket and can pitch it to a bigger magazine/newspaper. Getting your work published by some of the biggest outlets is a great way of making a name for yourself and getting under the spotlight of the big decision-makers. If you wanted to work for the BBC, and are a journalist, having those freelance interviews published is a good way of going about things.



The important thing to do is be realistic and keep your horizons set. Even if you have a lot of articles and pieces on a blog/another site; that does not mean there will be a bespoke job waiting for you exactly where you want to be. Keeping consistent and prolific is its own reward. You have to get out of the mindset the only way to be successful and get where you want to be is the only measure of validity. I am older than I once was and hoped I’d be further up the ladder than I am now. Looking at what I have created; I am proud of the work I have produced and realise I do not need to be on the microphone or doing the same work as Matt Everitt right now. He is ten years older than me so I figure; if it takes me ten years to get to where he is, that is not a bad start! It may seem a little depressing realising a decade is a very long time to get where you want – that can be the reality of working in the industry! There are fewer roles then there once was and some departments are integrating older jobs into one. It is more cost-effective and a lot of today’s music/media is done online – that eradicates a lot of traditional roles and new, less well-paid roles are replacing them.


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Time is the most important thing and patience is a vital commodity. People out there, like me, assume our hard work and popularity should reward itself with a job right away; one that is perfect and will see your name out there in the world. A few years ago, legendary music journalist Lisa Robinson was interviewed by Teen Vogue. She provided advice with regards interviews and trusting your own talent. A couple of great pieces of wisdom came from the article:

Don't be afraid to take risks to achieve your dream career.

"I would tell any young person who's trying to get a job in an industry they love that they have to take a risk. Even if it means financial hardship, do whatever you have to do to make it work. In 1969, I was a substitute teacher in Harlem right after I graduated from school. I never took a journalism class, but I started doing [radio host and newspaper columnist] Richard Robinson's filing for $25 a week. Three months after I met him, he asked me to quit my teaching job and work for him full-time—for a third of what I was making as a sub. My mother told it me I was crazy, but I said, 'You know what? I love music, I'm going to take this risk, and we'll see what happens.' It opened a door to the world of rock 'n' roll and allowed everything else to happen."



Trust your gut to recognize exceptional talent.

"Trust your instinct! If you're really passionate about something, you'll produce the best columns, or stories, or reviews, or whatever you're writing. When I found Led Zeppelin, everybody I knew thought they were a cheesy heavy metal band. But I thought, wow, they've got all these different influences in their music that they've blended into what I thought was a very majestic sound. Here we are, 40 years later, and they're considered one of the greatest bands in the world. The first time I ever met Michael Jackson—he said he was 10, but he was really 12 because the Motown people thought it would sound cuter if he was younger—at his house in Encino, he was the most adorable, unbelievably brilliant, enthusiastic child”.

An interesting article, published on the BBC website, gave some tips for aspiring journalists – it can be applied to those coming through or people, like me, who are a few years down the line:

3) Get loads of work experience
This is one of the dirty little secrets of all journalism – it’s a very middle-class business, for the most part because it runs on ‘internships’, i.e. free (or cheap) labour. A friend of a friend is now a heavy hitter on a national paper but he started out at the nationals by working for another, without pay. That’s an extreme example, but he is extremely successful. 



Alexi Duggins has his own TV column in Time Out and more recently became their go-to guy for grime. But before that he was an intern at the Itchy City guides, eventually rising to the post of Features Editor in a young company that put a premium on talent over experience. However he had also been Editor of the London Student in 2004-5. So basically, writing a few articles in your student rag isn’t going to cut it (and neither is just having a degree or even the increasingly common journalism postgrads). Learn by doing, for anyone who will let you – try websites / magazines / blogs… which brings us on to…

6) Don’t give up the day job
Most people in music journalism have a day job – often in music PR, but many just have a straight office gig (I’ve certainly done my time here). Staff jobs are increasingly hard to come by and freelancing for a living can be brutal – chasing money is not fun and doesn’t always lead to success, plus getting paid when so many people write for free is getting ever more difficult.

I’ve recently done bits of PR work and even branched out into doing some technology articles - so cultivate a list of interests, because the more things you can write about, the more employable you are. But for someone starting out, be prepared to write in your leisure time – if you love it enough, you’ll make the sacrifice.


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Those are a couple of sources that provide guidance but, if you want to make a big impression, the first steps are doing your research. Get onto search engines and look at all the articles that give advice about how to interview musicians. These are important guides in order to get a  great piece and set yourself aside from the competition. Arming yourself with that knowledge means you will stand in the mind of artists; they will recommend you to others and, before you know it, people will come to you! If you are starting out – and want to be a blogger/journalist – doing that preparation and research means you can build contacts and get a jump on things. Get work experience with local papers/sites and, even if it is unpaid; it will provide useful experience and look good on the C.V. If you are, like me, quite a few years into music; you will want to aim high and grab for bigger things. I will write another piece that provides steps, sites and interviews with people who all in the industry and have worked their way to where they are now. The most important thing is to have ambition and never assume you cannot achieve what you want in the business. It is harder to get into big positions but there are side-steps and ways you can get one step further; being bold and proactive means you are always working up to where you want to be.



I will end this by talking about something going on right now. I am aiming to get an interview with Kate Bush before February. Her debut album, The Kick Inside, came out in 1978 so, seeing as its fortieth anniversary is around the corner - that urge to get an interview is huge. I spoke with Matt Everitt and he asked me who the one musician is I dream of interviewing (excuse my grammar there!) and I said ‘Kate Bush’. I have emailed her people and will await their response. I am expecting a refusal and an obvious decline but you can never say what will happen. Even if/when I get that rejection; it has been good aiming high and setting my sights somewhere huge. Getting an interview like that would open doors so it is understandable I have been a bit excited and intense. I hope I can grab an interview with IDLES and secure some time with the guys. Whatever you position in music – and however far up you want to go – there are ways to achieve what you want. It may take a long time to get there but that does not mean you need to be defeatist and assume it will not happen at all. If you make focused and consistent steps; keep looking out for those great jobs and opportunities then you are arming yourself with all you need to achieve that…


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CAREER in music.