Tag Archives: Music

The 26 Best Things About Being an Arts Journalist Today

18 May
Image by Esther Vargas, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Esther Vargas, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

1. Seeing/hearing the latest work from some of your favourite artists.

2. Discovering artists you might never have heard of through your work.

3. Meeting like-minded people, including fantastic writers and editors.

4. Creating lasting relationships with PR people, press officers and venues.

5. Being given the opportunity to meet some of the world’s best and most respected artists.

6. Having the freedom to research, write and pitch pieces daily.

7. Being able to combine your love of writing with your passion for the arts.

8. Receiving exclusive news of season launches, new ventures and coveted arts programmes before the general public.

9. Having the opportunity to experience new work.

10. Creating lasting memories of work you love (or hate).

11. Having people ask you for recommendations, because they respect your opinion.

12. Meeting talented artists who genuinely love what they do.

13. Having the chance to recognise talented artists who genuinely love what they do.

14. Seeing the world through the experiences and work of different artists and performers.

15. The pride of seeing your review quoted on a poster/DVD cover/social media/online

16. Writing about the arts, just for the love of writing about the arts.

17. The feeling of being completely absorbed in another, artificial world created by artists.

18. Being able to escape the pressures of everyday life for a few blissful hours in a cinema/theatre/venue.

19. Creating a lasting record of some of the best (and worst) work from some of the world’s best (and worst) artists.

20. Being able to champion the work that you truly love.

21. Dictating how you get to spend your time and what performances you review, because your time is precious.

22. The thrill of reading about a new project from a great artist and counting down the days until you can go to see it.

23. Planning your cultural calendar around some of the world’s best festivals, events, seasons and projects.

24. Free interval drinks (my favourite is orange juice, yes, really).

25. Press launches that serve coffee. Praise be to coffee.

26. Being thanked for writing a review/interview, or just being thanked for what you do.

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The 25 Worst Things About Being an Arts Journalist Today

12 May
Image by Thomas Leuthard, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Thomas Leuthard, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

1. Knowing that you could not exist without the arts, but the arts could exist without you on some level.

2. The realisation that you are only ever as good as our last piece, and that last article you wrote wasn’t so great.

3. Finding out what you will only ever be as good as another arts journalist’s last piece, and they really fucked up on that one.

4. The assumption that your words have killed dreams/careers/films/plays/bands stone dead.

5. The constant fear that your words have, in fact, ended the career of a promising director/actor/playwright/writer/musician.

6. The never-ending misunderstandings about what it is that you actually write about, because the umbrella term ‘the arts’ means different things to different people.

For example, if you were to mention that you’re an arts journalist in public, the chances are that somebody in the vicinity will demand your opinion on their latest painting or exhibition, which leads to an awkward conversation where you have to explain that you don’t actually review ‘visual art’, or whatever it is that they do, and that if they’d let you finish your bloody sentence then this awkward conversation would never have happened.

(Obviously, being polite, you will never say the last part of that sentence out loud, but you’ll be screaming it inside your head. Repeatedly. With lots of swear words.)

7. Knowing that you can’t always review the things that you want to, due to time, money and editorial pressure. This will sometimes lead to only the big films/plays/bands getting written about, which is neither right nor fair.

8. Downright cynicism. About everything. Ever.

9. Genuine hunger for the arts being replaced by genuine hunger for food, because you don’t have any money left after paying your bills, thanks to your meagre earnings.

10. The comments on our reviews/previews/articles. The horror. The horror.

11. Juggling your arts journalism work with another job. Sometimes two other jobs.

12. Exhaustion from having 2 or more jobs.

13. Frustration from having far too many jobs and not enough time to dedicate to arts journalism.

14. Knowing, that by not being able to spend enough time on your arts journalism work, that you are disappointing people, including yourself.

15. That nagging sensation that what you do isn’t actually journalism at all and is probably more like PR. An inkling that isn’t helped by this famous quote from George Orwell.

16. The realisation that you will never be able to write as well as George Orwell, and that he probably wouldn’t have liked you very much, anyway.

17. Finding out that a potential writing opportunity is unpaid, but will be great for your portfolio/exposure/experience, according to the editor, who gets paid to get people to work for free.

18. Knowing that your bank will not actually take payment in the form of exposure in lieu of actual cash, even though you assured them that said exposure could lead to paid work “…in the future”.

19. Seeing that other, inexperienced writers will take that unpaid work, thus enabling those companies that can and should pay their workers get away with not paying them.

20. Repeatedly and mysteriously dropping off press distribution lists, which means that you have to sign up to the same press distribution list every few months.

21. Missing exclusives and other important news because you are no longer on said press distribution list for some reason.

22. Being added to distribution lists that you most certainly didn’t sign up to, because someone got hold of your email address.

23. Receiving a badly written, poorly researched and completely unsuitable PR from a PR company, and knowing that the person that wrote it makes at least twice your yearly salary.

24. Your publication running out of budget.

25. Your publication running out of space, because they have to sell more ads now.

I Spent Record Store Day in a Queue and it Wasn’t So Bad

21 Apr
Vinyl Record image by Dennis Brekke, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Vinyl Record image by Dennis Brekke, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

I’m standing in a queue in the heart of the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, surrounded by music fans, waiting for the Avalanche Records stall to start trading at 11am. We’ve formed an orderly queue, some have bags from another local record store, others have handwritten lists of all the records they want to buy.

The man behind me chain smoked while he chatted to his son about the history of vinyl; they’d already been to a handful of record shops that day, and they really wanted a copy of the Nirvana record. Somewhere behind them, I heard the faint cry of some teenage girls; they were after something by One Direction. Ahead of me, passing tourists stopped and stared at our motley queue, or hovered worryingly close to the closed entrance to the marquee.

It was 10:30am and this was just the beginning of Record Store Day 2014.

Now in its seventh year, Record Store Day aims to celebrate local and independent record shops by releasing limited edition and exclusive new releases by some of the world’s most influential artists, but only on vinyl. This year, participating shops sold an eclectic range of albums by a diverse and celebrated collection of artists, including Nirvana, David Bowie, Grace Jones, Dinosaur Jr, Dead Kennedys and um, One Direction.

But there was only one album that I wanted this year: Gill Scott-Heron’s posthumous release, Nothing New. Comprised of stripped-down versions and new recordings of some of his most well-known songs and poems, it was a must-have for Scott-Heron fans. His work had a profound impact on me. I had to have this album. No, I needed to have this album.

Back in the queue, I spotted a man wearing a long black coat and sunglasses standing in front of the man ahead of me. I didn’t recall seeing him when I had joined the queue nearly half an hour before. My mind raced with possible explanations; the most obvious of which was that this bastard must have skipped the queue somehow. In true British style, I give him as many dirty looks as I could while his back was turned. That’ll teach the Blatant Queue Skipping bastard. Somewhere behind me, the One Direction fans were getting restless, one complained of sore feet, another complained about having to wait at all.

It was 10:55am, and I still had no idea if I’d get the record I wanted.

One of the reasons that Record Store Day works is the limited nature of it. This year, around 600 different albums were made available, but the number of albums by individual artists varied, and not every singly participating shop would get every single Record Store Day release. Avalanche Records had already confirmed some of the titles they would be selling the night before, but Nothing New wasn’t named in their list, so I had to risk it.

I knew that there were three other participating shops within walking distance of the Grassmarket, with a fourth a short bus journey away, so I knew that if Avalanche didn’t have it, there were four other shops that just might. Besides, at that point, I’d been in the queue for half an hour, and I wasn’t giving up yet.

Eventually the doors opened, the queue eased forward a few feet, and then stopped. Nobody moved for another ten minutes, which didn’t please the One Direction fans somewhere behind me; who decided to send one of their number into the tent to ask about their much-wanted record. She emerged quickly saying there was “None left”. They moaned and groaned as they shambled away, as one of them muttered “It’s just not FAIR!” Their dreams were shattered. Good.

I edged ever closer to the door, as the men in front of me, including the Blatant Queue Skipping Bastard anxiously milled around, shifting their weight awkwardly from foot to foot. They blocked my view of the door without realising. A woman left the tent and asked her companion why people are queueing, oblivious to the many signs proclaiming that it was RECORD STORE DAY.

It was nearly 11:25. The two men ahead of the Blatant Queue Skipping Bastard chat to the guy behind the stall. They chat for a little too long, and everyone else started to grow restless.

Suddenly, they left. Blatant Queue Skipping Bastard followed soon after, because they didn’t have his record. I smiled at the taste of  sweet, beautiful justice. The man ahead of me is then sent on his way with a brief shake of the stall owner’s head. I was at the front of the queue, oh the joy! The power!

“Hello”, I said. “Do you have Nothing New by Gil Scott-Heron?”

He thought for a minute, and then wordlessly turned and began searching through a large stack of records behind him. He leafed through them quickly, going back and forth, starting at the beginning, getting to the middle and then starting at the beginning again. I didn’t know what the record looked like, but I looked for a familiar colour, or design to point out to him. Nothing.

It was 11:32am. He was still searching. On the other side of the stall, I was growing increasingly anxious. Would they have it?

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he pulled a plain record from the stack, turned, smiled and handed it to me.

“Sorry about that, I was looking out for the name Gil Scott-Heron.” He said and pointed at the quite small font crediting Scott-Heron.

I thanked him profusely and paid. I walked, no, I strutted past the queue that seemed to have swelled and grown in number over the last hour. I walked past people who craned their necks to see what I’d managed to get. I smiled.

It was 11:45am and life was good.

Trash’s 20 Arts Criticism Tenets

15 Jan
Image by GabeWW, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by HeyGabe, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

1. Sit down and shut the fuck up.

2. Your phone is not important during a performance.

3. Separate your personal feelings about an artist from their work. Love the art, hate the artist.

4. Write for the reader.

5. Listen to criticism of your work, but brush off the abuse.

6. Stay humble, no one wants to work with an asshole.

7. Be passionate about your work.

8. Fact check, fact check, oh dear Lord, fact check.

9. The only thing that should restrict your review is the word count.

10. A good critic can work around any word count,.

11. Going to a performance with an open mind and no expectations can lead to great experiences.

12. Remember that a review is not a stagnant piece of prose; it is a fluid work, it adapts, evolves and grows as you do.

13. Resisting change is futile.

14. Refusing to travel to “the regions” to see “regional work” will be your downfall.

15. Pay attention to what you’re reviewing; an alarming amount of ‘critics’ don’t.

16. Don’t write about yourself; the reader wants to read about the show, not your memories.

17. However, if you have a very relevant story to share, then by all means, share it. Just make sure that it’s relevant to the piece.

18. If you attempt to write a review that spends more time discussing how attractive or unattractive you find the actors in the piece, then you shouldn’t be a journalist, let alone a reviewer.

19. Try to keep on top of your emails, because some people will only email you once.

20. Don’t draw attention to yourself while you’re working. It’s off-putting to performers and it makes you look like a tool.

The 10 Commandments of the Successful Critic

15 Jun
Candle by clemetchene used under a Creative Commons License

Candle by clemetchene used under a Creative Commons License

1. I am the Editor, thy employer. Thou shalt turn up to the performance/show/film/gig that thou art reviewing on time, wherein thou shalt be able to arrive calm, content and able to review the piece in question.

2. Thou shalt research the work that thou art reviewing, be it the previous work of the performers/actors/director/writer, so that thou shalt know what thou is talking about, and won’t give the impression that thou art talking out of thy ass.

3. Thou shalt act as a respectable member of thy’s publication team when reviewing. This includes not overdoing it with the free alcohol and then embarrassing oneself because of said alcohol.

4. Thou shalt file copy on time and within the word limit.

5. Thou shalt not steal work from another writer, be they living or dead and pass it off as thine own. Plagiarism will be discovered, and thou will only set thyself back by ripping off the intellectual property of others.

6. Thou shalt be respectful to venue staff, including FOH staff, PR people and press officers.

7. Thou shalt write about more than the performance; thou shalt consider the cultural, political, social and historical context of a piece. Criticism must move beyond the tired “It looked nice, it was acted well” narrative.

8. Thou shalt write with brevity and clarity; why write a 20 word filler sentence when a simple 10 words will do?

9. Thou shalt proofread thy’s own work before sending it to thou’s editor.

10. Thou shalt be prepared to listen to constructive criticism of thine work, and thou shalt take this criticism to heart.

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