Having been a music journalist for over a decade now for publications great and not so great, there are a few things I’ve picked up along the way that may be helpful for you, a person who is in a band, to hear. Maybe you’re not in a band and you just like to read words about music and bands and making words about bands making music. You can read this too!
Strangely, many bands don’t like to be interviewed. Talking to a band about their own music is like talking to a window about the light it lets into the room.
The reason this disdain for being interviewed is strange is because it’s a wonderful miracle that anyone anywhere in the world gives a shit about your ‘creative process.’ And yet, bands need to be interviewed, because otherwise no one would know about them outside of their insular scene, so they submit themselves to the process.
It’s a delicate balance, you see.
This doesn’t apply for their first few interviews, during which bands are typically enthusiastic.
The absolute worst time to interview a band is just as they’ve begun the ascent to the next rung of industry fame. Often times the band and the journalist knows this is imminent before the wider public does. The band in this situation assumes the attitude of the more famous band that they’re about to be before they get there. It’s the perfect storm of a dearth of experience and the standoffishness of hypothetical celebrity.
The best time is as the descent has just begun, because now press attention is starting to look pretty good again and they’re likely to put in more effort.
One reason bands don’t like to be interviewed is because writers like me often ask the same questions that the interviewer from the last national website/regional newspaper/industry magazine just asked, oftentimes 15 minutes before when they were on another phoner.
This is somewhat understandable.
There are only so many questions you can ask a person who plays a guitar or programs a computer about the specific steps they took to get from the point one day where they were standing in a quiet room that somehow transformed into room in which a song now existed.
Trust me, if there were some new exciting set of questions yet to be discovered out there they would have been by now. A lot of people do this job. Those questions aren’t coming. Accept this.
Think of it this way: there are only so many chords. You’ve arranged them into slightly different order. This is what the music journalist does with words.
Perhaps we could agree to ask different questions of every band if you’d agree to not pass off the same stock quote to every query?
Another thing bands don’t like is when you say they sound like the thing they sound like. This is called “lazy.”
One thing you don’t hear from, say, chefs, is that it’s lazy for food critics to talk about the ingredients in their dishes. If you don’t want people to point it out, don’t use guitar cilantro in your song recipe.
Like it or not, you exist in a long developing narrative of music history. You are the sum of what came before you. Comparisons aren’t just inevitable, it would be irresponsible to ignore them.
If enough people write that you sound like another band that you didn’t think you sounded like, guess what? You sound like that band.
At its core, music journalism is just people pretending to write about a band in order to write about themselves so people pretending to read about bands can read about themselves.
People are more interesting than music, but songs are more important than bands.
Bands are soap, songs are the idea of cleanliness.
Another thing you’ll occasionally hear from ‘mad’ musicians is that people who have no experience writing songs shouldn’t criticize their work.
This is fair, as long as they agree that they have no business engaging in media criticism until they’ve graduated from J school and published a few dozen articles.
It would be nice if your art was allowed to speak for itself. You are a musician after all, and sometimes you might feel the song has told the whole story. You can avoid talking about your music if you are a widely successful artist who doesn’t need the press, or a precious genius for whom not talking about the music is ‘your thing.’
You’re probably not either of those things.
That’s okay though. You’re probably still pretty good!
What you are in this interaction here, this one where I called you up to ask about your influences, and how you met, and how you feel about your place in the larger industry context, is a salesperson. We can argue about whether or not this is an unfortunate symptom of the contemporary state of the business, but it’s a fact.
You know why bands with a gimmick or a weird backstory, or some inherent drama get so much more attention? Because those are stories.
“A band put out a record” is not a story.
Make a story up if you want. Most of us probably aren’t going to bother checking up on it.
Do not mistake the fact that you’re being interviewed as evidence that you are a good band who deserve to be interviewed.
There is so much space to fill. So much space.
Stereotype to the contrary, music writers actually love music. There is no greater joy for the music writer than to share a band that they’re enamored with with their readers. This is why they got into the business in the first place.
We want to help you.
Help us help you.