The Life & Times of A Metal Magazine Writer
Yesterday, I blogged about how I came to be involved in the metal music scene as a writer. Today, I would like to take a bit of time to flesh things out and give you all a little insight into the world of a magazine writer. And, no, it’s not all parties and freebies, I can tell you!
Powerplay is a monthly magazine and usually hits the stores in the last few days of every month. It is usually somewhere towards the beginning of the second week of each month that we receive albums to review, giving us about two weeks to listen, research, write and submit our pieces.
In the beginning, about six years ago, all the albums would arrive in the post, with a few of them having been ripped onto disc by the editor. However, about a year or so ago, this changed and now the vast bulk of promos arrive via email in mp3 format. As a lover of CDs and ‘proper’ promos, I occasionally bemoan this change but I do understand the practicalities behind the decision. In fact, in many ways it is quicker and more convenient. The biggest problem though is the quality of the music, as we are having to review albums in a manner inconsistent and often inferior to the real thing. Nevertheless, we get on with it and do our best! You can still tell though, whether the album has been well-produced or if it resembles a wasp in a biscuit tin.
I began by getting approximately 3-4 discs per month but for some reason, the volume quickly began to increase. I’d like to think it’s because the editor loves my style and unique turn of phrase. Realistically though, I suspect that, having hit most of my deadlines, I became a victim of my own punctuality and reliability! I now regularly receive upwards of 10 albums each and every month. Occasionally, this can be quite stressful as I desperately try to give each album a fair few listens before passing judgement. I think that there have only been a couple of occasions where the content has been so bad that I couldn’t bear a second spin. Conversely, some albums get played repeatedly for two weeks solid.
Then, there are the live reviews and interviews on top.
Live reviews can be a challenge for several reasons. With a full-time job and living over an hour from London, it’s not always easy logistically. One perk is that I will get into the gig for free on a press pass but invariably this is off-set by having to bomb down the motorway and race to the venue like a nutter. The other payback is that I’m often ask to take photographs. I’m no photographer; I don’t have the instinct or the equipment and I find it extremely stressful being in the photo-pit, dashing about looking for the perfect shot. I do my best, but I’d much rather leave that to the pros. Mind you, getting so close to your heroes can be cool sometimes! Putting together an interesting review of a live show can be tough sometimes too – how many times can you write something different and engaging about 4 or 5 guys with long hair standing on a stage playing metal?
My favourite part of the job is conducting interviews. Very occasionally, I have to resort to email interviews where I submit a set of questions and await the answers. These I absolutely detest as the content is almost always disappointing. I much prefer telephone conversations where you can follow a natural flow and feed off the answers as they are given. Better still are face-to-face interviews as you also have the benefit of judging body language and facial expressions. You can tell if you’ve hit a nerve or if the interviewee is engaged in a particular subject. In my opinion, these face-to-face chats always yield the best interviews. Plus, I get to actually meet the artists and pose for cheesy photographs. Usually, I can never remember the journey home as I’m on a high from meeting my heroes and I float away in a kind of warm, fuzzy bubble!
Normally, a request will come to me by email from my editor midway through the reviews period and will usually be phrased in the following way: ‘Matt, fancy chatting to Zakk Wylde?’ Errm…let me think…. These relaxed and casually-worded emails have led to some of the best and most privileged experiences of my life; meeting Zakk Wyle in his hotel suite, boarding the Soilwork and Lacuna Coil tour buses, interviewing Katatonia in their dressing room prior to a gig or being the only journalist sitting in on an advance playback of a Tarja Turunen album, with Tarja listening beside me in the studio. Money cannot buy experiences like this.
Even more occasionally, a record label (mainly Nuclear Blast to be honest) will invite journalists from all over Europe for a listening session, either at their HQ in Germany or at the relevant studio. These tend to be organized at very short notice, are extremely tiring but are a lot of fun. Kamelot and Symphony X are notable examples. But it’s not just the meeting of the bands that is exciting, it’s also the meeting of other journalists too, many of whom are now counted as friends.
The transcribing can be a chore but if the interview has gone well, I really enjoy listening back to it, all the while thinking about what will make a good quote or how I can link one apparently disparate thought to another. I find that regardless of the raw material you have, it will sound dull and boring if the article doesn’t flow properly. Another reason why I dislike email interviews!
So, in a nutshell, that’s it! Easy huh?! I hope I haven’t put any budding writers off – that certainly wasn’t my intention because it might be a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun.