Based on true events experienced by The Electricity Club from involvement in websites, fanzines and publications over the years, here is a light hearted look at how following some basic steps could help your writing career prosper, either online or in print.
1 Research your questions for an interview
This will help you not to ask the same stuff that’s been printed over and over during the past however many years! And try to be a little more original than “when’s the DVD coming out?”, “how did you meet?” and “are you coming to the US?”
2 Being a fan does not give you entitlement to interview the band…
…so DO NOT complain to the editor, especially if someone with greater experience of the band has been given the assignment. No-one gets star interview at the start of their writing career… pay your dues and earn a good reputation first!
3 If your interview pitch is for a fan site of that particular band, then you are less likely to be granted an interview
This is because in the eyes of the PR, the end result would be rather preaching to the converted.
4 But if you do get the opportunity, don’t let your enthusiasm get the better of you when interviewing a band you are a fan of
You may want to know about how they came up with that obscure B-side, but don’t be so nerdy and confrontational in your questions when interviewing that they refuse to let the transcript go public afterwards!
5 Be polite in your line of questioning
An abrasive manner does not help… it is a musician you are interviewing, NOT the President of the United States
…or whether they prefer Spangles or Opal Fruits, you are not writing for Jackie!
7 You can’t know everything but if you are unsure of a band’s history and have to insert obvious questions into your interview to pad your own knowledge for the rest of the chat, then DO NOT leave those questions in the finished interview
There is nothing worse than a clueless hack with a bloated sense of ego!
8 Quote the present line-up and correct names…
…so, just to clarify, there has been no member of DEPECHE MODE called Alan Fletcher or anyone called Patrick Humphreys in OMD!
9 Ensure you spell the artist’s name correctly…
…so it is not Gary Newman, Paul Humphries or China Crises! And if the artist is male, do not use the female spelling!
10 Make sure you know what were the band line-ups for each album and era…
…so after the interview, DO NOT ask two members of the current line-up to sign a copy of the band’s debut single that they didn’t play on!
11 Try to remember why the drummer got ousted from the band before publishing a completely wrong version of events…
This is especially important when the story has been quoted in at least two official publications plus numerous magazines back in the day! If you are unsure, then it is best to say nothing!
12 Get your basic facts right!
There is nothing worse than schoolboy errors to dampen your credibility, Google and Discogs are your friends.
13 You’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts
Be aware of the distinction and learn to listen to experts because they are so-called for a reason. So just to clarify! GARY NUMAN’s appearance at Manchester Apollo in 1979… it were NOT a TUBEWAY ARMY concert! 😉
Not everything said is for publication so learn to be discreet when appropriate. This will help the artist establish a trustworthy professional relationship with you for the future.
15 Try not to keep going back to the band’s 1979’s debut LP…
…especially as it is 2014 and the band have just released their new album!
16 Just because you did a questionable recording on your mate’s portastudio back in 1991 does not mean you and the artist are kindred spirits – try to keep on topic!
So try NOT to tell the band HOW to be creative…in your opinion! The artist is not your new best buddy just because the PR arranged for you to have 20 minutes backstage!
17 Switch off your phone!
It is basic good manners if you are not using your phone to at least have it on silent when face-to-face interviewing, attending press conferences or chatting to someone live on stage in front of an audience… so be alert. And if invited to a film premiere, DO NOT arrive late; that will cause enough problems when you take your seat but there is also the distinct possibility of your phone going off ‘Trigger Happy TV’ style during the key death scene… DOH! TOO LATE!!
18 DO NOT take so long over arranging an interview and writing up the transcript that during the process, one of the original band members dies!
Deadlines are there for a reason but it is a bit unfortunate when a member of the band passes away before publication! But be sensitive as the interview will look an opportunistic cash-in if it goes out too soon afterwards.
19 DO NOT slag off the record label boss or PR of the band you are trying to get an interview with
Your comments may be witty but it will not help your cause, what with biting the hand that feeds and all that! It’s best not to take it personally when an interview pitch doesn’t come off… the band and the record label DO NOT owe it you no matter how long you have been a fan!
20 DO NOT pitch for a brief interview and then make it go on for hours…
…especially when you are not actually a journalist but a wanabee posing as a hack in order to pass your own frankly awful music onto the band!
21 Stick to the quoted interview timings…
…so do not spend most of that time doing the talking while the interviewee only gets to say an occasional “yes”, “no” and “correct”. The world does not want to read your inane chit-chat. Remember that! So keep on topic!
22 If the artist pins you to the wall while he pours out his life story, try to bring them back to the point, you are not their agony aunt
Ask how they are to be polite. But if the said artist is known for having various problems with dependency and all that lark, it maybe best to just head straight to the interview. And definitely DO NOT ask a recovering alcoholic if he’d like a rum and coke!
An hour of hissing white noise doesn’t make for good article! Ensure the dictaphone is fully operational and that the batteries are new. Insert batteries into the device BEFORE you turn up to do the interview.
24 If the editor gets in touch to find out if the interview they have arranged for you has gone ok, then have the decency to reply and let them know
The editor has spent a lot of time to co-ordinate arrangements for you, so they should not have to contact the PR to find out! Appreciate that they have given you a platform.
25 DO NOT ask the editor to put up a sound file of the interview under the guise of it being cool…
…because the real reason is that you are too lazy to transcribe and edit it!
26 DO NOT say you are from a ‘quality web publication’ when all you are really going to do is post the interview on your Facebook page…
You will be found out! If you are pitching for an interview, the PR needs to know you have a valid platform for it.
27 DO NOT accept a review pass and then not review the gig…
There is no such thing as being able to “blag free tickets”. As unbelievable it may seem, there is usually a reason why the majority of the people are on the guest list! And if the band do list you and give you time for a chat at the aftershow, at least have the decency to thank them.
28 DO NOT attempt to review a gig having never bothered to attend…
…it does show!
29 No-one wants to know the keyboard player scratched their nose in a gig review!
No, seriously, they don’t!
30 DO NOT attempt a gig review where your partner and best mate also get their say
People want to know whether the band played their first single and a lesser known album track plus whether they were any good. They DO NOT want to see a three way conversation about who has seen the band most! And people are NOT interested in what the journey to the venue was like either!
31 DO NOT submit the gig review a month after the gig has happened
People have short memories – it’s past!
A good photo is a good photo whether it is taken with an SLR or a Canon Ixus50… focus, compose, tone and crop! And no, blurred photos DO NOT add atmosphere! But also ensure there are no infringed copyrights if the photograph incorporates the band’s light show 😉
33 Be aware female artists in particular can be very sensitive about the way they look in photos
Even the most attractive ladies can have a bad hair day or appear to look half asleep when snapped at the wrong moment. And shooting upwards only exaggerates double chins on even the leanest of souls. You are not doing an artist any favours by posting these photos. Think about whether the photo is actually good or not!
34 Be realistic about what you can achieve
Flaunt your abilities but also know your limitations… less can mean more! So it is best not suggest doing a monthly column for a publication when you can barely meet the deadlines for the one article per quarter you are doing at the moment!
35 DO NOT keep missing deadlines…
When an interview is to plug a show or tour, it helps to submit the transcript BEFORE the event takes place! And if you miss deadlines once too often, the editor will eventually have enough! To do it with one publication can be unfortunate but with two!!!??
Ok, you have a distinct market but try NOT to barrel roll all your subjects into a single niche. This is particularly inappropriate when asking an act about “their 80s heyday” when in fact, their heyday was actually between 1974-79!!
37 DO NOT keep using the term ’80s’ as a description for music when the editor has actually told you several times not to!
There is more than one way to say how a song with a synthesizer sounds!
38 Posting up Soundcloud files on your blog and going “This is a song, now here’s another…” is NOT journalism
Neither is cutting and pasting a press release word-for-word!
39 DO NOT cut and paste from another blog’s article…
…because you will be found out eventually!
40 Quotes for a feature from archive press coverage are acceptable, but DO NOT pad your article out with them
People might rightly accuse you of laziness and you will get yourself into greater hot water if you try to imply the quotes are recent.
41 An album review should read like a story, not a shopping list…
…so “this is a fast one, this is a slow one, this one sounds like Simple Minds, this one is the most electronic… it’s the album of the year” does not count as a review!
42 Ensure you have indeed distinguished correctly between the guitar and what is actually the synth solo
It does help to know what instruments sound like… and not all instruments made of brass are trumpets! And make sure you can tell your tape recorders from your drum machines…
43 DO NOT spend a year slagging off a whole genre of music – and then post gushing praise on one band that’s part of that genre simply on the basis that they’re the most successful band in a particular territory!
It’s very inconsistent! What you did there… the public sees it!
…this is especially inappropriate when the editor has offered a platform for you to feature one of your favourite bands, but you have been too lazy to write about them!
45 DO NOT have a go at the editor for not covering an event that you’re not prepared to go yourself
The editor’s decision is final – always. DO NOT think you know their publication best… you are a cog of a far bigger machine!
46 Learn how to use “there” and “their”
Plus “its” and it’s”, and “your” and “you’re”…
47 DO NOT dress like a tramp when rocking up to an event that prides itself on dressing well
This is particularly important if you’re pitching for an interview and advance of the album. First impressions DO count! And if you do get an advance of the album, DO NOT go on about it on Facebook!
48 A 10,000 word article on a one hit wonder is pushing it a bit
You may think they are the great lost act of their generation but the public probably doesn’t… this is likely to be WHY they are a one hit wonder!
49 DO NOT invent a new feature series for the publication without consulting the editor first…
It doesn’t matter how much you think that lost one hit wonder needs another platform to gain more recognition…
50 When the editor says you can exceed the word count of 1000, they actually mean maybe another 50 – 100 words…
…so a 4,000 synopsis is NOT acceptable! Edit and edit again!
You will be hung and you will NEVER get an interview or a review pass for the band concerned again… EVER!
52 DO NOT announce you have an interview with a famous artist on your social networks and poll people for possible questions to use in the interview
The impression you will give is that you are actually bragging and have no intention of using the polled questions. OR, you are clueless and therefore, have no idea what to ask your subject!
53 Actually, maybe it’s best NOT to say that you are interviewing a famous artist before it’s happened at all…
…because you will look a bit of an idiot if it doesn’t come off for whatever reason!
54 Emotion, personification, setting the scene and alliteration with imagery…
…it’s what they teach Primary school pupils in creative writing; aspiring adult journalists could do a lot worse than to try some of the same.
55 Other blogs and publications are available
People DO NOT have to read what you write, so DO NOT complain when they don’t! 😉
Text by Chi Ming Lai and Ian Ferguson
16th April 2014, updated 21st August 2015