“Shhhh-it!”: Idolator’s Super-Secret Music Interview Series Freelances
Every week in the “Shhhh-it!” AnonIMous Super-Secret Music-Biz Interview Series (S-I!AS-SM-BIS for, uh, short) we interview a grizzled music industry veteran via the rough-and-tumble world of instant messaging. This week we bring you Windupbird, a freelancer for various online music websites as well as some print outlets. Windupbird does the music writing thing for the love, not the money, and holds down a main gig writing for business types, as many freelancers do. In this interview, Windupbird discusses editors’ unwillingness to take stands on new music, the problems with consensus, and whether music has value in people’s lives:
StumpyPete1975: ever thought about branching out into other sectors?StumpyPete1975: like food, movies, etc.Windupbird: Well, honestly, I make a lot of money writing about other stuff. I really like writing about music. I’d like to make enough so that I can write off my expenses, but it’s not going to feed my family.StumpyPete1975: that’s too badWindupbird: It’s like the bands. We have to face the fact that what we do has no real economic value anymore…but it’s still maybe worth doing.StumpyPete1975: do you think that this lack of economic value means less cultural value?Windupbird: I think that music has tremendous value to people…but that doesn’t necessarily translate into $50000 a year for anybody.
An inside look at the life of a freelancer after the jump!
StumpyPete1975: okayStumpyPete1975: freelancingStumpyPete1975: for the laypeople out thereStumpyPete1975: let’s talk about how it worksStumpyPete1975: do you get most of your work through assignments or do you pitch things to editors?Windupbird: Both. Mostly there’s a list of some sort.Windupbird: You pick what you want, but it’s not totally open.Windupbird: And then you get whatever no one else wants.StumpyPete1975: the scraps!Windupbird: Exactly. But the scraps are often the best part.StumpyPete1975: why is that?Windupbird: Well, I think everyone knows whether they’re going to like the next TVOTR or Arcade Fire.Windupbird: Where’s the adventure?StumpyPete1975: so you like the smaller under the radar stuffWindupbird: I do, except when it’s bad.StumpyPete1975: hahaStumpyPete1975: and plenty of it is!Windupbird: Yeah, but almost ALL of the major label stuff is terrible, so the odds aren’t that bad with no name bands.StumpyPete1975: do you find that editors care one way or the other about what reviews or interviews you pitch to them? or are they just looking for content?Windupbird: You’d be surprised how little contact writers have with editors, actually. most of the time, I have no idea what they’re thinking.Windupbird: But in general, yes, the online people need lots and lots of content.StumpyPete1975: I’m surprised about the lack of contactStumpyPete1975: so how do you go about getting the gigs?Windupbird: Well, mostly it’s through someone I know. And it’s not like there’s no contact, but it’s not very warm and fuzzy.Windupbird: Like at one place, the first time I hear I’ve gotten a record is when the PR person emails to ask me if I really need another copy.Windupbird: At another one, if I don’t hear back, it usually means I didn’t get the record.StumpyPete1975: do you find editors disinterested, disorganized, or just overwhelmed?Windupbird: I think they’re really busy. They tend not to make much, if any money from this. A lot of them have full-time jobs.Windupbird: You can spend your whole day answering email.StumpyPete1975: how many promo emails do you get a day?Windupbird: The ones that get through spam? 20-30StumpyPete1975: hahaStumpyPete1975: and in the spam filter?Windupbird: Lots moreStumpyPete1975: how many CDs do you get a day?Windupbird: It varies quite a bit. I think my postman saves them up. 2-3 is pretty normal, but I’ve gotten as many as 15. Other people get more.StumpyPete1975: (side story)StumpyPete1975: one time a freelancer I knowStumpyPete1975: got stuff from Girlie Action, Tag Team, and Drunk Date in the same day and his girlfriend looked at him funnyWindupbird: haha…I’m still getting weird looks for that megapuss coverStumpyPete1975: HAHA… why do all PR people have names like that?Windupbird: To get our attention…most of us are 25 year old guys, you know.StumpyPete1975: yeahStumpyPete1975: how has the transition to online been for you?StumpyPete1975: more work? less? less pay, I’d assumeWindupbird: There’s almost no pay anywhere anymore. I mean places that pay …it’s like $20 here and there.StumpyPete1975: $20 a review?Windupbird: But in terms of the work, I’ve pretty much always had more than I can handle. There’s a hell of a lot of records out there, and lots of sites running four reviews a day.Windupbird: $20 is actually a nice chunk. I just got $30 for a 700 word article.StumpyPete1975: so there is more work than you can handle, but less money than everWindupbird: Yes. You pretty much have to want to hear the music to do this.Windupbird: Though of course you can hear the music without writing about it, too.StumpyPete1975: that’s trueStumpyPete1975: so why do you do it?Windupbird: This is such a cliche, but I really like music. I like hearing all kinds of stuff. I like talking to musicians about how they do what they do.StumpyPete1975: Eh, it’s not clicheStumpyPete1975: I used to promote to writers who I wasn’t sure liked music at allWindupbird: It’s so sappy. I feel like that girl on Blue Velvet.StumpyPete1975: um…you are so not the girl from Blue Velvet!StumpyPete1975: you probably shouldn’t compare any aspect of your life to that movieWindupbird: It’s really easy to get jaded though. It’s like 5-6 records a week, and if this week, you really hate 3 of them, it’s torture.StumpyPete1975: oh yeahStumpyPete1975: it was like that in publicityWindupbird: I betStumpyPete1975: I always say thisStumpyPete1975: but if you didn’t like some of the stuff we didStumpyPete1975: you should see the stuff we passed onWindupbird: I did. Past life where we reviewed everythingStumpyPete1975: oh yeah!StumpyPete1975: one guy last year sent us a CD with the cover printed on a printerStumpyPete1975: like a bad inkjetStumpyPete1975: some was handwrittenStumpyPete1975: only a phone number—no emailStumpyPete1975: misspelled song titlesStumpyPete1975: three songs and only one song with vocalsStumpyPete1975: it sounded like lo-fi Steve Vai but not nearly that goodStumpyPete1975: and he was sure we would love itStumpyPete1975: he didn’t even know what myspace was, bless his heart!Windupbird: I’m pretty sure I reviewed CDs from mental institutions…you know music therapy.StumpyPete1975: hahaWindupbird: The worst is the ones that are really trying to sound like commercial pop. You know, like they even have a chance. So sad.StumpyPete1975: but they are not on majors or whatever?StumpyPete1975: I always wonder about those folksWindupbird: Yeah, so conventional, so completely sold out, but absolutely nothing to show for it. That must be hell.StumpyPete1975: I knowStumpyPete1975: not many places to turn toStumpyPete1975: so besides bad CDs and the economy and suchStumpyPete1975: what is the biggest struggle?Windupbird: Time, definitely. Editors who won’t go out on a limb at all…like you know you could be first on something significant, but they hold it for six months or refuse to do it at all.StumpyPete1975: how scared are they of taking chances?Windupbird: I don’t know if they’re scared. They’d just rather cover what people are talking about now.Windupbird: It’s really not that hard to be first. What’s hard is being in 5th through 10th place.StumpyPete1975: so you like feeling on the vanguard of something?Windupbird: Well, yeah, isn’t that the point of listening to all these records?StumpyPete1975: Sure, one of themStumpyPete1975: do you find that you have a hard time getting certain types of things covered?Windupbird: You mean like certain genres?StumpyPete1975: yeah or certain types of artistsWindupbird: Well, it depends on the publication, but they’ve all got their preferred lists. One place doesn’t really do pop. Another has an Americana slant.Windupbird: That kind of thing.Windupbird: I got spoiled early on by a couple of people who would let me do whatever I wanted. I didn’t realize that wasn’t the way it worked.StumpyPete1975: I am spoiled at Idolator right now hehWindupbird: Yeah, do you have a pool table?StumpyPete1975: right next to our saunaStumpyPete1975: and our masseuse, IvanWindupbird: Awesome. We have free latte on Friday.StumpyPete1975: sweet!StumpyPete1975: so the economy has to be weighing heavily on youWindupbird: No, I never made any money off this stuff, so it doesn’t really matter that it’s less now.Windupbird: If you want to write about music, you have to have a job. At least now you do…maybe you didn’t before.StumpyPete1975: wowStumpyPete1975: ever thought about branching out into other sectors?StumpyPete1975: like food, movies, etc.Windupbird: Well, honestly, I make a lot of money writing about other stuff. I really like writing about music. I’d like to make enough so that I can write off my expenses, but it’s not going to feed my family.StumpyPete1975: that’s too badWindupbird: It’s like the bands. We have to face the fact that what we do has no real economic value anymore…but it’s still maybe worth doing.StumpyPete1975: do you think that this lack of economic value means less cultural value?Windupbird: I think that music has tremendous value to people…but that doesn’t necessarily translate into $50000 a year for anybody.StumpyPete1975: but ultimately, as society devalues it monetarily, do you see it having less of an impact on their lives?Windupbird: The thing that’s doing well is live performance. people still pay for that, and I think that’s probably what music’s all about. It’s an experience that you share with other people, you know.StumpyPete1975: sure, but the recorded side is very important, too, at least to meStumpyPete1975: and that’s where it costs a lot of moneyWindupbird: You mean to make the records. Cos I’m always talking to bands that record for $50.StumpyPete1975: hahaStumpyPete1975: well, they like to say thatStumpyPete1975: but big sounding records?StumpyPete1975: I don’t think they exist for thatStumpyPete1975: you have mics, computers, equipment, etc.StumpyPete1975: that they may already haveStumpyPete1975: but that stuff costs a lot of moneyStumpyPete1975: so “$50” might mean 5000StumpyPete1975: I love home recording but I’m not sure it’s all that there can be, you know?Windupbird: I just did an interview with a young artist who had the works, in terms of recording skill and equipment…but the best songs are the ones where it sounds like just her in a room.StumpyPete1975: that happens a lotStumpyPete1975: Occam’s RazorStumpyPete1975: simplest line between two pointsStumpyPete1975: so how did you get into this writing thing?Windupbird: I started “writing” when I was 7. I’ve always written stuff. The music happened after 9/11. My main gig had stopped and I was bored, and I sent some samples to a website. I got this box of CDs in the mail a few weeks later.StumpyPete1975: what changed at 9/11?StumpyPete1975: your main gig slowed down?Windupbird: My living comes from Wall StreetStumpyPete1975: ahaWindupbird: And didn’t you hear, everything changedStumpyPete1975: I never forgotStumpyPete1975: so, what do you think about bloggers?StumpyPete1975: competition?StumpyPete1975: colleagues?Windupbird: Some of them are fantastic. I really like Raven Sings the Blues, for instance…Windupbird: I think they’re definitely competition, though. Anybody with a good ear is competition. Anybody who can write is competition. But there’s nothing wrong with competition.StumpyPete1975: it keeps you on your toesStumpyPete1975: Anything else that you love/hate about the job?Windupbird: I think the sort of shallowness of it…the looking to see what other people are doing…the unwillingness to go way the hell out on a limb.Windupbird: It’s just music…how wrong can you be anyway? Why not go with your gut?StumpyPete1975: yeahStumpyPete1975: my top ten of the year rarely includes anything I see anywhere else!Windupbird: me tooStumpyPete1975: and I’m amazed that EVERYBODY seems to agree and says things like “it was a bad year for music”StumpyPete1975: what a ludicrous statementStumpyPete1975: so many records releasedStumpyPete1975: I’m sure it wasn’t all crappy!Windupbird: I think some people’s job is to capture the consensus. I pity those people. The consensus is usually awful.
Are you a grizzled music industry veteran that wants to go anonIMous with us? Email us at tipsATidolatorDOTcom.