Words: Ben Myers
From a financial perspective, freelance music journalism is a terrible profession. Rates are no higher than when I first got paid for a review back in 1996 (though I was writing for fanzines before that). And that's if you get paid at all. If you work full (or even more) time you can hope to make a minimum wage at best. There's no pension, no paid holiday leave here, baby. And having contributed to publications such as Time Out, Q, Mojo, Bizarre, Kerrang!, Alternative Press, Plan B, The Guardian, Arena, Shortlist etc., and published seven books, I still regularly have to sell possessions or turn to relatives for loans in order to make my rent. It's not uncommon not to be paid for six or nine months, or to have to take legal action to get it, and the rule is the bigger the company, the darker the Kafkaesque nightmare you will find yourself immersed in.
But then again it's not really a profession; it's doing something you love most of the time. And when it's good, it's great. The best job in the world. You get free music, free drinks and sometimes free world travel. You get to meet your heroes, only to discover they're more neurotic or unstable than you are.
I believe that if you love something you should be willing to swim through a sea shit for it – to a point, anyway. So, work for free to get started. Help editors at magazines and websites out; make yourself indispensable, but not an irritant. Help bands. Help promoters. Help anyone. But more than anything – more than music – you should love writing. Every day I get out of bed and I write. About 10 per cent of it gets published. The rest is practice. The rest is necessary to preserving my sanity.
But – here's the contradiction – don't give it all away for free either, otherwise you can devalue yourself. If a restaurateur decides to give away all his food, everyone will love and respect him but his business will be closed within a week. Also, be warned: the internet has made it harder rather than easier to be a journalist right now. Simply expressing an opinion on your blog does not make you a journalist any more than cutting your arm with a blade makes you a surgeon. You are a typist. But it's at least good place to start. Be persistent, nurture you own style. Never be impartial. Commit to your own opinions.
The only other real piece of advice I could offer is this: don't be a twat. Be nice. You are only a music journalist; in the grand scheme of things, you are nothing. Nothing. You help make fish and chip wrappers, that's all. You are glorified manufacturer of toilet paper. Be a twat and you'll get terrible interviews from bands. Be nice though, and they might ask for you next time they're in town. Then the next time. Then they might ask you to write their life story. I think budding writers have a tendency to read music critics and think you have to be a cocky little arrogant snot to 'make it' in the 'music business', when in fact it works the other way. If you are an arsehole you won't get far.
I'll give you a real life example: as a naive work-experience boy I was treated badly by one editor at a magazine. I'd had very few dealings with him, yet on my final day he went out of his way to belittle me and make me feel worthless. That just made me more determined. Within a year I had his desk, his job, and I kept all his mail too. Not long after that we appeared on a TV programme together and he couldn't have been friendlier: "Hey, great to see you again, man!", all of that crap. But I never forgot the way he treated me. Then, a few months later, I got to know a student on work experience who was doing the same role I had the previous year. I went out of my way to speak to him, gave him some CDs and we got on well; exactly the treatment I had got from Everett True when I was doing work experience for him at Melody Maker in 1996, in fact. Within five years the student had risen up through the ranks and became editor of a rival magazine, one I was then freelancing for. Imagine how badly things could have turned out if I had been arsehole back when he was that timid intern who everyone else ignored. I'd have been out of work.
Swings and roundabout. Be nice to everyone you meet. Read lots of books. Don't take yourself too seriously. Enjoy life, if you can. Keep writing.
And never, ever, ever, ever give up.