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Op-Ed: So you want to be a music journalist? Here are 20 tips to start

The Paramount
The Paramount. Photo by Amy Vivinetto.
The Paramount. Photo by Amy Vivinetto.

So, you want to be a music journalist? This music journalist shares the following 20 tips for hopefuls who wish to become music and entertainment journalists. These tips are arranged in no particular order.

No. 1. Start early. Get your “feet wet” with journalism experience in your junior high school, high school or college newspaper.

No. 2. As an aspiring journalist, always keep a portfolio (track record) of all your articles (printed out or online), to show to managers and publicists the events you have covered and people you have featured, especially if they ask you for samples of your written work. Looking back, that is the best way to see your growth as a writer and be the lifelong, reflective learner.

No. 3. Learn to be punctual. Get to your scheduled interviews at least 30 minutes in advance. That shows true professionalism. Nobody ever wants to wait for a late journalist or interviewer.

No. 4. If you are travelling long distance to cover or review an event, always call the venue the day of, to make sure everything is still in effect. The last thing you need to find out about is a last minute cancellation. Postponements and cancellations happen all the time, especially due to poor weather conditions.

No. 5. Always e-mail, fax or snail mail a copy of the published interview/article/podcast /link to the person that set up that certain interview/review for you. That shows true professionalism.

No. 6. Focus your interview on what that particular person is promoting at a certain time, whether it is an album, movie, tour, concert, or show, etc. Save other questions towards the end of the interview. Try to avoid hostile questions. Let TMZ ask those. For the most part, most people want to talk about the current moment and the future, and not so much the past.

No. 7. As hard as it may be, try to get your interview or article written within 48 to 72 hours (two to three days) from when it happened. That way, it is still fresh on a journalist’s mind. The longer one waits, the harder it is to write about it as accurately as possible, and recall about all the facts.

No. 8. If you are doing an interview over the phone, always ask for permission to tape the conversation, that will help you with the transcription process for accuracy, and if any quote ever gets questioned, you have proof that it was said, and remember it’s the person’s words, not yours. Most people are comfortable having their voices taped, 99 percent of the time.

No. 9. Since technology does not always work 100 percent of the time, also take written notes during your interview, in case your audio recorder malfunctions. Always carry a notepad, pen or paper, and back-up batteries, for the audio recorder and/or camera. That way, you have a back-up of the conversation.

No. 10. Always try to be gentle with your interview subjects. I treat the people I interview the way I wish to be treated. If one wants/needs to ask a difficult/sensitive/hostile question, always save it for the last one, since by then, one would have gotten everything else that they needed for the story, and the worst thing they can happen is that they won’t receive an answer for that question. Other than that, the key is to treat them with kindness. Any artist that didn’t treat me with kindness never got a follow-up interview with me.

No. 11. Try to go outside the box. Do research on your interview subject, and try to find a different story angle than your fellow journalists, since if one only goes by the artist’s bio and fact sheet, most will have the same story give or take. Always ask artists what inspires them and their artistry. Most of them love to open up about that. That makes your journalistic work stand out.

No. 12. Be the empathetic journalist. I always tell people that I am the Anti-TMZ journalist. Try to be sensitive and aware of the fact that artists/celebs are people too. Show empathy towards them and their feelings. Try to refrain from asking sensitive questions about their family members and former relationships (or anything that heeds gossip). Keep it professional. That way, they are more comfortable to opening up to you, and spill their guts to you.

No. 13. Always try to keep interview within allotted time that you are granted by manager, artist or publicist (12 to 20 minutes max). Trust me, you can get tons of information in that time. That amount of time with an artist has always sufficed for me. Artists are busy, and journalists are busy. Be respectful and mindful of each other’s time. With me, I am quick and to the point. The last thing I ever want to hear is “one more question” or “last question” from the agent on the line, so I do my best for it to not get to that point (I am done with my questions, way before the time limit).

No. 14. Always remember that a journalist/writer is only as good as his or her reading audience. Use language that is easy to read and understand (not too difficult vocabulary words in your articles), otherwise you will lose people’s attention and their interest.

No. 15. Report the facts as honestly and accurately as you possibly can. If you feel a certain way about a topic, provide backing evidence (reasons and details). Integrity is what makes writers and journalists stand out.

No. 16. As hard as it may be, try to keep your journalistic writing as objective (free from bias) as possible, especially when it comes to topics related to politics. Try to narrate/write the facts as objectively as possible, as they occurred, without taking a certain side.

No. 17. If you want to reach out for an interview, always try to reach out to a publicist and/or manager, first, as opposed to the artist). They are the gatekeepers to the artists that they rep. The only exception is if the artist is independent and handles his or her own publicity themselves.

No. 18. For journalists that are also photographers, it is preferable that you use the press photos that publicists send you, to avoid any conflicts with the artists and their management/PR teams. That way, their image is always presented in the best way possible.

No. 19. If you must use photos of your own, always run them by the publicists. Send them several photos that you took at the event, and then, have them pick ones the ones they like best. For photo approval purposes. That way, nobody gets in trouble, in the event that one does not like a photograph that was taken.

No. 20. Always try to satisfy the artists, managers and publicists, in regard to typos, edit or correction requests, or misinformation in article. If an article is able to be edited online, after publishing, try to correct any typos that they might find afterwards (within reason).

Markos Papadatos
Written By

Markos Papadatos is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for Music News. Papadatos is a Greek-American journalist and educator that has authored over 18,000 original articles over the past 16 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a six-time consecutive "Best of Long Island" winner, and in the past three years, he was honored as the "Best Long Island Personality" in Arts & Entertainment, an honor that has gone to Billy Joel six times.

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