“Shhhh-it!”: Idolator’s Super-Secret Music Interview Series Freelances

Dec 18th, 2008 // 14 Comments

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 bad
Windupbird: 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: okay
StumpyPete1975: freelancing
StumpyPete1975: for the laypeople out there
StumpyPete1975: let’s talk about how it works
StumpyPete1975: 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 stuff
Windupbird: I do, except when it’s bad.
StumpyPete1975: haha
StumpyPete1975: 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 contact
StumpyPete1975: 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? 20-30
StumpyPete1975: haha
StumpyPete1975: and in the spam filter?
Windupbird: Lots more
StumpyPete1975: 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 know
StumpyPete1975: got stuff from Girlie Action, Tag Team, and Drunk Date in the same day and his girlfriend looked at him funny
Windupbird: haha…I’m still getting weird looks for that megapuss cover
StumpyPete1975: 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: yeah
StumpyPete1975: how has the transition to online been for you?
StumpyPete1975: more work? less? less pay, I’d assume
Windupbird: 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 ever
Windupbird: 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 true
StumpyPete1975: 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 cliche
StumpyPete1975: I used to promote to writers who I wasn’t sure liked music at all
Windupbird: 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 movie
Windupbird: 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 yeah
StumpyPete1975: it was like that in publicity
Windupbird: I bet
StumpyPete1975: I always say this
StumpyPete1975: but if you didn’t like some of the stuff we did
StumpyPete1975: you should see the stuff we passed on
Windupbird: I did. Past life where we reviewed everything
StumpyPete1975: oh yeah!
StumpyPete1975: one guy last year sent us a CD with the cover printed on a printer
StumpyPete1975: like a bad inkjet
StumpyPete1975: some was handwritten
StumpyPete1975: only a phone number—no email
StumpyPete1975: misspelled song titles
StumpyPete1975: three songs and only one song with vocals
StumpyPete1975: it sounded like lo-fi Steve Vai but not nearly that good
StumpyPete1975: and he was sure we would love it
StumpyPete1975: 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: haha
Windupbird: 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 folks
Windupbird: Yeah, so conventional, so completely sold out, but absolutely nothing to show for it. That must be hell.
StumpyPete1975: I know
StumpyPete1975: not many places to turn to
StumpyPete1975: so besides bad CDs and the economy and such
StumpyPete1975: 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 them
StumpyPete1975: 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 artists
Windupbird: 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
heh
Windupbird: Yeah, do you have a pool table?
StumpyPete1975: right next to our sauna
StumpyPete1975: and our masseuse, Ivan
Windupbird: Awesome. We have free latte on Friday.
StumpyPete1975: sweet!
StumpyPete1975: so the economy has to be weighing heavily on you
Windupbird: 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: wow
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 bad
Windupbird: 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 me
StumpyPete1975: and that’s where it costs a lot of money
Windupbird: You mean to make the records. Cos I’m always talking to bands that record for $50.
StumpyPete1975: haha
StumpyPete1975: well, they like to say that
StumpyPete1975: but big sounding records?
StumpyPete1975: I don’t think they exist for that
StumpyPete1975: you have mics, computers, equipment, etc.
StumpyPete1975: that they may already have
StumpyPete1975: but that stuff costs a lot of money
StumpyPete1975: so “$50″ might mean 5000
StumpyPete1975: 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 lot
StumpyPete1975: Occam’s Razor
StumpyPete1975: simplest line between two points
StumpyPete1975: 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 Street
StumpyPete1975: aha
Windupbird: And didn’t you hear, everything changed
StumpyPete1975: I never forgot
StumpyPete1975: 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 toes
StumpyPete1975: 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: yeah
StumpyPete1975: my top ten of the year rarely includes anything I see anywhere else!
Windupbird: me too
StumpyPete1975: and I’m amazed that EVERYBODY seems to agree and says things like “it was a bad year for music”
StumpyPete1975: what a ludicrous statement
StumpyPete1975: so many records released
StumpyPete1975: 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.

  1. Al Shipley

    “I think some people’s job is to capture the consensus. I pity those people. The consensus is usually awful.”

    haha seriously

  2. MayhemintheHood

    This guy seems like he’d fit right in at Idolator, with comments like “Yeah, but almost ALL of the major label stuff is terrible, so the odds aren’t that bad with no name bands” as well as the last line of the interview. Funny stuff.

    Interesting read, as always. It kind of makes me curious about what the contributors for Idolator do besides the stuff for this site. I assume Maura’s main gig is Idolator, but are the rest of you guys writing stuff elsewhere(Kate Richardson I know of, because you’ve shown stuff she’s done for LA Weekly, but the rest I have no clue).

  3. Lucas Jensen

    @MayhemintheHood: Maybe we should have a Meet Your Idolators feature. I’m a mostly retired publicist and grad student in the roller coaster thrill ride field of Instructional Design and Development. I can recite whole swaths of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan from memory.

    Kirk, I’ve done more than kill you. I’ve hurt you. And I’m going to keep on hurting you. I’m going to leave you as you left me–as you left her. Buried alive in the center of a dead planet. Buried alive.

    KKKKKKHHHHHHHAAAAANNNNNN!
    KKKKKKHHHHHHHAAAAANNNNNN!

  4. Lucas Jensen

    @Al Shipley: In your face, Consensus!

  5. Maura Johnston

    @MayhemintheHood: i actually disagree with that statement though. one of the things i mourn this year is the demise of the critically championed, yet mostly ignored, major-label album. it’s not like there aren’t examples of it in our countdown, even — the solange record, the panic at the disco record. but they get overlooked because of blanket ‘this all sucks’ attitudes like that one (and usually in favor of Crap That Means It Like The Goddamn Fleet Foxes). it’s a bummer and i actually think it’s made the pop landscape a lot less interesting.

  6. Lucas Jensen

    @Maura Johnston: Yeah, I don’t think the crap ratio is that different from majors to indies. There seem to be more good indie records but that’s just because there are more of them. I don’t think the ratio is that different.

  7. MayhemintheHood

    @Maura Johnston: Maura, I like youre “Crap That Means It” line. I know what you’re talking about, and I seriously would like to hear about a good album from a major that is mostly ignored(I like The Bronx a lot, so maybe in my opinion their new album could fall under that description) as well. I think a lot of it has to do with the lack of an “underground” feeling to anything anymore, as well as the attitude you talk about.

  8. Chris Molanphy

    If you want to write about music, you have to have a job. At least now you do…maybe you didn’t before.

    No, you always have needed another job. Been doing this since the early ’90s. Never made a full living at it.

    [Closes Idolator window, goes back to editing financial-services press release.]

  9. Maura Johnston

    @MayhemintheHood: i have to listen to the bronx’s new record for sure.

    i think there is still a lot of “corporate rock”-borne snobbery on the part of writers when it comes to rock releases. maybe it’s the last vestigial remnant of the ’90s? it’s kind of fascinating to me that so much of the rock that has been widely hailed by other critics this year is simultaneously introverted and conservative, because that just seems like a deadly/deadly boring combination to me unless you can do it really, really well.

  10. MayhemintheHood

    The Bronx record is good. So is The 88′s album is pretty good too, but I’m not sure if that has gotten critical reception, but it definitely seems to be under the radar. Island Records is probably my favorite major, and they usually seem to have at least a couple good albums a year that most people never hear.

  11. MayhemintheHood

    Too much coffee this morning has ruined my writing skills.

  12. the rich girls are weeping

    Woah, hands up: How many other music writers have day jobs writing about finance? I know of a few others, always thought it was funny, but this trend is more widespread than I realized?

    Additionally, I’m sorry, but I feel like the old “anything released from a major is crap” is turning into “anything released from a powerhouse indie is crap”.

  13. Chris N.

    “THIS is Ceti Alpha V!”

  14. Lucas Jensen

    @Chris N.: Yes. “You…I never forget a face.” Continuity error!

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