Writing About Metal Is Great…But It’s Not Always Easy
As previous blog posts have demonstrated, I absolutely love being a part of the metal scene by writing for Powerplay Magazine, Ghost Cult webzine and ThisIsNotAScene website. It gives me the opportunity to offer my thoughts on a plethora of good, bad and indifferent music within this varied and exciting scene of ours. As a pitifully untalented musician, this is about the only way that I can be involved in something that I love so much. As with any good thing however, there are one or two negatives. This blog takes a look at a few of those things that drive me up the wall and offer the opportunity to press my ‘angry old man’ button, albeit in a slightly humorous, tongue-in-cheek manner I hope.
The first bugbear relates to promos. Yes, I realise that I am very lucky to be able to hear albums way in advance of their official release date. This is one of those perks that never gets tiresome I can tell you. What can ruin the whole experience though, is a promo that contains a voiceover. With the advent of digital sound files and clever watermarking, this is becoming a less frequent thorn in my side. Indeed, until last month, I had been lulled into thinking that it had died a death completely. I was wrong.
I understand the reasoning; that it puts people off pirating and illegally downloading the tracks, thus helping the record label and the bands themselves. Unfortunately though, it puts those of us off too, who have been tasked with reviewing the album. There is nothing more frustrating than a song kicking in and grabbing your attention before being momentarily muted and overlaid with a voice confirming that indeed you are listening to the new album from blah, blah, blah, out on blah, blah, blah records. Blimey. Am I? I didn’t realise. Cheers, thanks for confirming this for me.
In my opinion, it is counter-productive because it ruins the flow and destroys the pleasure that I derive from listening. ‘But you’re a professional’, I hear you cry, ‘deal with it’. Well, no, I don’t get paid and I do this as a hobby, for the love of the music alone. Therefore, I’m an amateur and can consequently waste half a review attacking this most annoying of anti-piracy devices. So, occasionally, I do just that!
Then there are the press releases. If ever there was an excuse to indulge in pure fantasy, the press release appears to be the place to do it. ‘With great pleasure, we introduce our new signing, the new Emperor!’ If that wasn’t bad enough, the fiction continues: ‘a unique and compelling blend of Emperor, Enslaved and Behemoth that will have you in raptures’. In actuality, the band are a two-a-penny clone that couldn’t out-write Emperor if their talentless hearts depended on it. I have, for the record, clearly made up these quotes up to illustrate my point. Hey, maybe with an imagination like that I could write a few of these press releases? But, sadly, my example is not far off the reality of some of these things. From time to time, they are so damn ridiculous that all you can do is laugh, mainly hysterically.
To add insult to injury, the press release will exhaust all of the superlatives in the dictionary and then forget, handily, to tell me anything factual about the band. I am not given any kind of biography, track-listing, artwork or discography. Sometimes, the press release will even omit the release date and the record label upon which it is to be released.
Still, I suppose that even this is preferable to those occasions when the album will arrive without any kind of literature at all. Normally, this is not too big a deal – the Internet is a wonderful thing and I am more than happy to carry out my own research, as it will invariably uncover some interesting nuggets of information. It does cause a problem however, when the band is, say, Japanese and there is nothing in English on the Internet to read. Then, I find myself banging my head against the desk before groping in the dark for any kind of angle for the review.
Moving away from the bread and butter of reviews, I get constantly frustrated by the lack of notice that some PR companies or record labels give for press events. Often, much to my editor’s annoyance, he will only hear about a pre-listening event or interview opportunity a few days before it is due to take place. He then has to contact his writers and hope that one of us can step in and attend. Admittedly, most of the time, these things are hastily arranged and it isn’t the fault of anyone really, just very full diaries.
Occasionally, these events are at the weekends but in the main, they are during the working week. I have a full-time job, so all of the writing that I do is in the evenings or at weekends. During the days, I am almost certainly busy with my career. It seems that some people within the industry either don’t realise this or don’t care. To be fair, a lot of them will bend over backwards to accommodate me, but why is the event always on a Tuesday, mid-afternoon and why am I only hearing about it three or four days in advance? Fortunately, my job allows a certain amount of flexibility and it is rare that I have to pass up these opportunities, but that’s not the point.
As an extension to this point and linking with my recent blog about living in the middle of nowhere, it seems that these events always take place in London. Unless the band in question happens to tour locally and I am able to meet and interview them at the venue, I am forced to make the trip to London yet again.
I remember chatting to a record label rep prior to an interview in a central London hotel one midweek afternoon and I was asked if I had travelled far. I replied that I had travelled about two hours from Ipswich. Not only was there a blank expression to indicate that the rep had no idea where Ipswich was (fair enough I suppose), there was a tone of amazement regarding the length of my journey. It is genuinely as if anything outside Zone 6 of the London Underground is a foreign clime. When the same person then found out that I have travelled and would not get paid, they nearly fell off their chair. As I said, I do this for the love of the music. I would love to get paid one day, but for the moment, it isn’t possible.
Realising that I have whinged on quite a bit, I will make this the last moan in this post: having to make the phone call to the musician myself. It is true that I can claim the cost of the call back from the record label or PR company but this can be a real faff and it is the principle that irks me. The musician is getting the exposure via the interview. Aside from being given the pleasure of speaking to a hero, I get nothing out of the interview except a deadline and stress (see previous blog) and yet, I am required to make the call. To me, this is unacceptable and where possible, I refuse. But, at the end of the day, I want to speak to the artist and so, if I’m left with no other option, I will pick up the handset and dial. It shouldn’t be that way though.
As I said at the beginning of this blog, I love my hobby and I understand the privilege that goes with it. I’d not change the vast majority of experiences for anything, but occasionally it helps to get these little gripes off my chest. Thanks for reading, I shall now disengage my ‘angry old man’ button!