Jason Gross is a social media maven, freelance writer/editor and founder of Perfect Sound Forever online music magazine.
Two years ago, I asked over 100 music journalists what kind of advice they would give a young writer about the biz for a series at PopMatters. Immediately forgetting what a hassle it was to get responses, I wondered what would happen if I did the same thing with a diverse group of musicians, asking them what kind of advice they would give out to a musician just starting out in the biz. Little did I know what I was in for, but hopefully this odyssey will prove instructional for other writers and music fans in general about our craft, not to mention the musicians’ world.
I regularly interviewed musicians for articles as it is so in the summer of 2010, I decided to start tacking on this question at the end of the interrogations I did- if an eager, young musician approached you and asked ‘what’s the best advice you can give me,’ what would you say to them? I pitched the idea of a series based on these responses to a national magazine and the editor said that he might be interested, saying that I could start this on ‘spec,’ meaning that I’d need to come up with some material to show him and he would see if it was worth going forward with it. Armed with that directive, I started approaching labels, managers and PR companies with this information to see if I could get a few minutes of time from each of the artists on my wish list, to ask them this one pertinent question.
Even with the prospect of getting some space in a national magazine, these gate-keepers have their own agenda and understandably so. They work for the artists so they want press for them but if this artist happens to be pushing a new album or tour or project, they want you to do a story about that first and foremost. As such, some of them insisted that I had to do a bigger story on their artists if I also wanted time with them to ask my advice question. In some cases, if I thought there was a good story to tell about their latest work, I did parlay that into a separate story that I wrote, though it wasn’t for the same magazine who wanted to see the advice piece on spec. And as a bonus, I got to ask these artists the advice question too.
Other times, I was able to speak to some of the artists without having to also do another story about them thanks to the name-power behind the magazine I was anticipating writing this for and because by then, I had a pretty good list of artists already who were participating. Sometimes the responses were a sentence or two long but poignant (McCoy Tyner, Ian Hunter, Bob Mould) and other times, the artists obviously put a LOT of thought into their responses, delivering thesis-length answers (Corin Tucker, Dave Alvin, Glenn Branca, Steve Cropper, Patterson Hood, Mike Watt). Also, the type of responses varied a lot, ranging from ‘get a real job!’ to ‘trust your heart’ to ‘find a good lawyer’ to ‘don’t trust anyone else.’ Just as with the responses that I got from the other music journalists, I believed that the lists of answers would not only be helpful to other people starting out in the field, but it would also shed some light on the responders themselves to show what they thought was most important about their work and what matters to them in the music biz.
(Needless to say, even with the backing of a big mag, I was realistic about my prospects, knowing that I wouldn’t get phone time with the likes of Dylan, Jay-Z, etc..)
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