Sunday, May 13, 2012

How I Got Here (sort of)

It was a busy, busy week gone by, starting with the fun. show that launched the previous weekend (May 4), and for which I did a slideshow review for On Wednesday and Friday, I saw excellent concerts by Feist and Avett Brothers, respectively, and reports on those shall follow shortly.

In the meantime, here's an odd little something else I wrote...

Earlier this week, I received an email from a lovely young woman I know from the local music community (we've judged together at the Jammin Java Mid-Atlantic Band Battles), asking if I'd answer some questions for a 6th grader who wanted to know about being a "music critic" for a school project. It's always nice to be asked, if a bit disconcerting. Who am I to give career advice when what I do is barely a job, let alone a career?

Anyway, I played it straight. (When she asked, "What advise (sic) would you have for someone like me who is considering becoming a critic?" I was tempted to answer, "Don't," but that wouldn't be nice, would it?) And here's what I said, FWIW.  Remember, I was writing for a 6th grader, so hold the snark.

Hey Allyson
Thanks for your interest.

1. What made you interested in being a critic?  It wasn't so much that I wanted to be a critic. The word "criticize" sounds mean, anyway. I like to think that I share enthusiasm for the things I love and explain why I don't love other things. I have always loved music, but don't play an instrument. Writing about music gives me the opportunity (or the excuse!) to learn about and write about something that means a lot to me.

2. In one word how you would describe a typical day at work?

3. Where do you spend most of the day at work? When I'm not at a concert, I usually work at home.

4. What kind of training does your job require? There isn't really formal training, but you have to be able to write, so I'm grateful to my English teachers. Because I work for myself, I have to pay attention to basic business stuff like accounting and invoicing, to be sure I get paid!

5. Do you like your job?  There are few things more exciting to me than getting to talk to a musician I admire, or being in the photo pit, taking pictures at a concert. I'm not sure I'd call it a job; I call it my "paying hobby." Unless you're on the staff of a major magazine or a news outlet with a music section, the money isn't much. I have other writing jobs for other types of clients that pay more, but I write about music because I love to do it.

6. What is the best part of your job? Sometimes I'll discover a band or a singer early in his/her/their career and write a review or a feature that helps to expose them to a wider audience. It's gratifying to play even a small part in helping a talented person succeed.

7. Have you had any funny experiences while working?  I laughed at the end of an interview with a tough-talking, party-loving, girl-chasing metal musician when he asked quietly, "can I get a copy of this article to show my mom?" At a festival show, the manager of a band I was writing about (Sugarcult) invited me onstage - with a bunch of other people - to sing along on "I Wanna Be Sedated." And I had a band from Chicago (called Troubled Hubble) live in my basement for a week while they were recording an album in a local studio.

8. What advise would you have for someone like me who is considering becoming a critic? Don't expect to make a lot of money. If that happens, it's a bonus. Do it because you enjoy it. Write down your thoughts about the music you listen to, and the concerts you go to (take pictures if you're into it and the club allows it)...maybe start a blog. When you write something you really like, pass it around so that people can see it. Show it to the band via their web site or twitter account, send it a music web site you enjoy reading. You may have to write "on spec" (for free) at first but you can get paying jobs once you've gotten published a few times.

P.S. use spell check and proof read. Your question has the word "advise" but you meant to say "advice."     ;-) 

9. When did you become a critic?  I was in college when I went to my first punk rock concert. I was so overwhelmed by the energy - and volume! - of the music, that I went home and wrote about it. I sent that story to a local paper and they liked it. It was too long after the show for them to print it as a review, but they asked me to do other reviews for them and that was the beginning.

10. What is your favorite type of show or performance to review?
  I like all kinds of music, but my favorite styles are alternative rock - Death Cab for Cutie, fun., Elbow, Spoon, Avett Brothers - and singer/songwriters like Elvis Costello, Feist,'s hard to pick just a few. I used to enjoy writing about big arena festivals (if I could get up close in the press area) but now I really like going to small clubs where you are naturally up close to the music.

I wasn't emailing directly to the student (the emails went through my music biz friend) but I referred Allyson to this web site and for further info. So, Allyson, if you wander over here and read this, I hope the project went well!

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Having a fun. Weekend

This is Nate Ruess, lead singer of fun. (The band's name, BTW, is not specifically intended to drive copy editors crazy, with its lowercase beginning and unnecessary punctuation. I read just today that it's that way to differentiate them from a Swedish metal band.)

The band played a triumphant set at The 9:30 Club on Friday, the second of two sold-out nights, coming about two and a half years after I saw them play the much smaller Jammin Java. (You can see pics and a set list from the J2 show here, she said, shamelessly plugging her other web site.) A longer discussion of the show, along with more pics, will go up at my examiner Concert Photography column tomorrow (if I'm good), but I just wanted to let you CPF pals know that I'm not dead.