“Most rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.” – Frank Zappa
Earlier this week, I boarded the 07:30 train from Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen Street. From Glasgow Queen Street, I went straight to Buchanan Street Subway Station, where I bought a return ticket to Govan. Less than 20 minutes later, I arrived in Govan, and despite nearly falling up the escalator on my way out of the station – yes, there were witnesses – I emerged, unscathed, nervous and only slightly tired, into a cold and wet Glasgow morning at 08:45 on the dot.
I was in Govan because in August, I had applied to take part in the upcoming 4Talent Day in Glasgow. I’d filled out my application with little hope, but I told myself that after the inevitable rejection I’d know that I’d tried my best, and I could go ahead and try something else. So, when I got the email saying that my application had been successful, I nearly fell off my chair.
4Talent Days are organised by Channel 4 and are designed to support people over the age of 16 who want to get into the creative industries. The purpose of a 4Talent Day is to nurture and inspire people by holding workshops, talks and giving people at the bottom rung of the media ladder the chance to speak to those at the very top. It makes the creative industries accessible and as open as possible to people of all ages and backgrounds around the UK, and gives all attendees a taste of life in the media.
Beginning at 09:30, after registration opened at 08:45, the day began with talks by Channel 4’s Industry Talent Specialist, Priscilla Baffour, and Head of Creative Diversity, Stuart Cosgrove; a dedicated Northern Soul devotee who is perhaps better known to listeners in Scotland as one half of Radio Scotland’s Off The Ball.
Their speeches were inspiring and energising as Priscilla discussed Channel 4’s “content revolution” about how creating and publishing content is changing, the history of Channel 4 and what they look for in applicants. Stuart gave an uplifting speech about his journey from the deprived council estate of his childhood, to his love of Northern Soul and how his passion for the genre opened doors for him.
There were many different master classes available, from radio production to music journalism, pitching documentary and factual films, to personal branding and how to get started in film making. I chose the music journalism master class with Sid Smith, a well-respected music journalist, and a man with a real passion for King Crimson.
While I have a lot of experience of writing about the arts, I’ve only focussed on theatre and film, and I’ve been thinking about music journalism for some time. However, despite writing some very brief album reviews at the beginning of my career – I think they were around 100 words – I don’t feel confident writing about music, and I want to learn how to write about music and more importantly, how to write about music with authority.
Sid was a fantastic teacher, and as well as discussing music journalism with us, magazine circulation figures, pitching, interviewing and the music which makes us cry (mine is ‘Don’t Speak’ by No Doubt). He also brought a room full of aspiring music journalists to shame when he asked when was the last time we bought a music magazine, and collectively, we looked at our feet. He also had us listen to a piece of music called ‘Joyful Reunion’ by Sweet Billy Pilgrim before phoning the songwriter, Tim Elsenburg, and having some of us ask him questions about the song there and then.
Sid gave us all a lot of advice, and he sums it up very well in his own blog post about the 4Talent Day in Glasgow. But I would add that the clearest piece of advice that Sid, and all the other speakers gave on the day was that young creatives need to have two things: discipline and persistence.
So, if an editor doesn’t email back within a few days, call them, introduce yourself and tell them what you do in 20-25 words. Research who you’re contacting and tell them what makes you different. Also, take what you’re doing seriously, be nice, polite and develop habits. Habits and discipline will keep you going, as well building a network of contacts. As Philip Edgar-Jones, the Head of Entertainment at Sky Arts put it, “Be persistent, but patient.”
The day was so inspiring, and as well as learning a lot, and getting some really good advice, I met a number of interesting people, that I’m hoping to keep in touch with, I gave out many, many business cards and I got lots of business cards back in return. But what the 4Talent Day was really good at, was making the creative industry seem more open, and more accessible than it ever has before. There was no mention of degrees or specialist qualifications, and it made you feel like you could have that career that you’ve always dreamed of. It made you feel that there are people out there that are interested in your story, and what you have to offer.
After a long but wonderful day, I headed back to Govan Subway Station – avoiding tripping on the escalator this time – and headed back to Queen Street Station. Once there, I boarded the 18:15 train back to Edinburgh Waverley, and as soon as I arrived in Edinburgh, I got my hands on the first music magazines I’d bought in nine years; Q and MOJO, before I heading home to read, research and think about my next step.
I would highly recommend a 4Talent Day to any young creative, and who knows, for me, it could be the very beginning of a brand new adventure.