These blog entries are becoming more and more frequent and I have no idea why. The last thing I'm thinking about is shouting an extra 1,000 words in to the abyss every week, but somehow here we are again. And always Sundays, too, what's with that? I think it's just that mad Sunday evening contemplation cloud that will have you questioning your own existence while mentally preparing yourself for the week.
I was up until 8am this morning reading through the depths of my email inbox, hoping to find something that would trigger some kind of creative/spiritual epiphany.
Among the hordes of payday loan confirmations and desperate pleas to editors from years past, I stumbled across an old email thread (from around 2011) that read like so:
To confirm, your interview will take place at 11:45am tomorrow and you will call me. My mobile no is [x].
I have also enclosed the press release below for your information.
Please can you also send me an email confirming you will not ask personal questions or questions about [x].
To which I responded:
Yes, I can confirm that I will not be asking any personal questions or questions relating to [x].
Looking forward to it!
At the time I clearly hadn’t thought much about it.
"Looking forward to it!" - Who even am I?
I'm aware that this is hardly the find of the century; a PR requesting that you don't ask questions about sensitive topics. Just promote the single and be gone, we get it. But I find myself so unwilling to bow down to this stuff today that it slightly scares me to see how willing I was to compromise early on.
Why was I so complicit?
What was I trying to achieve?
Ultimately the interview turned out to be dead, but everyone went home happy; apart from the person who wrote it and the people who would eventually read it of course. But who cares about them anyway.
Today, when it comes to creating anything, I have a very simple ethos: honesty is king. The greatest work comes from a willingness to reach in to the depths of your soul and risk the possibility of being vulnerable to criticism. If you’re a writer in the midst of working on a feature right now, ask yourself this: where was the idea born? Did it start from an email from a PR asking you to promote their act, or was it because you felt a genuine need to express an opinion? There is nothing wrong with building strong relationships with your industry peers and working with like-minded people but, from where I'm sitting, we're losing sight of the real task at hand. External forces are influencing the coverage of the music too much and writers are becoming too afraid to lose their guest list spots or ruffle a few feathers to do their jobs properly. When it’s all said and done, who is serving the reader with the truth?
All too often, writers are getting caught in the trap of saying things to fill space. When they’re then criticised for said statement, they either aren’t able to see what’s wrong, or unable to explain why they said it in the first place. We see it time and time again. People are out here just saying stuff for the sake of it. This is true for artists as much as it is writers; never underestimate the power of your words. Every sentence you write should come from a place of absolute honesty. The problem is, very few people share this opinion.
Now, as with everything, the truth is subjective. It’s not always going to ring true to everyone but as long as you’re speaking your own truth, you should always be safe in the knowledge that you’re doing the right thing. If criticised, you can then enter in to an informed debate on a subject you've thought deeply on.
There is naturally a commercial expectation to be met. If you want to pay your bills from this stuff, this is something we're all accountable to. But do the quality levels really need to be anywhere near as low as they appear to be? Let's be real, out of all of the independent media companies providing an editorial service in the UK, what was the last meaningful piece you read that wasn't just filler with an iTunes link at the bottom?
In my experience, it’s a much longer road, but there is a way to achieve the same growth in numbers while keeping the integrity of your output intact - and all the while minimising the exploitation of free labour that’s becoming an all too frequent occurrence. Think about it, how can an industry sustain itself when it’s propped up on such weak foundations? Unpaid workers are an inevitability when there is such a huge demand to get in to any industry, but the onus is on the platforms to not take advantage of the people's blind willingness and work with them to add value to both themselves and their craft.
The digital space is so reactionary, for everyone involved. The thirst for page views creates an endless need for labour to meet the demand and create the content. Subsequently, the default business model is built around groups of unpaid writers creating as much content as humanly possible - and PR’s, that are often moonlighting as writers themselves (some of which are amazing btw, no shade), filling in the blanks where needed. This dilutes the value of the written word down to nil.
Yes, we’re all under resourced. Yes, we’re all trying our best to get that new Chip diss on our platform quicker than our competitors (the struggle is realllll *Durty Goodz voice*) But, beyond this, what else are we trying to do here? There is so much talent being wasted. Aside from the hordes of students looking for guest list and a few selfies with artists before they graduate and disappear, for the few genuine souls left behind that are willing to dedicate their lives to documenting this music, is pressuring them to do a one-listen review of an album sent in from a PR you owe a favour to really stimulating them enough to be the best they can be?
As traditional media crumbles, and our own homegrown platforms attempt to define themselves amongst this new landscape, it’s only right we start to build a genuinely informed ethic around what we’re doing creatively. We’re not big media. Many of our most gifted writers aren’t coming from institutions any more; they’re self-taught. However, with that, comes a lack of infrastructure around the collective values we all abide by.
Is there a standard we're all aiming for? Or are we just running around trying to be quicker than our competitors, no matter the cost? By this logic we've reduced ourselves down to the same level as the people that spend every waking hour of the day writing "FIRST!" under YouTube comments.
This is who we've become.