Xtra Mile answers your questions
Want us to answer your questions on...well....anything? It can be music related, about uni or school, friendships, relationships, travel, history - just give us a go and we'll attempt an answer.
For now, your friendly aunts and uncles are the Xtra Mile core team of Brad, Dani and Val, but we'll try and get some of our artists and other guests to throw some answers your way. We can't guarantee answers from specific people, so make sure your questions are clear and make sense to all of us! This should be a lot of fun and maybe even useful so don't be shy, just ask us anything.
Ask us by using this contact form. All questions will be anonymous then, so don't be afraid to ask us stuff (though if it's really weird we just won't publish it obviously...and we'll probably ignore you for a bit). You can add your name if you want though. It's up to you!
Let's kick off with some music and uni related questions from some of our followers and fans. Let the agony aunt-ing and uncle-ing BEGIN!
Taking Life Advice From Ben Marwood: Volume 1
Of all the annoying t-shirts I ever had printed, the one which by far received the most complaints was the one that said "I Will Not Take Life Advice From Ben Marwood". I stand by the sentiment – I'm now 33, I don't own a house, I'm single, I don't have any money and I'm currently on hiatus from music because I broke my own brain. But GOOD NEWS, I've decided that it's OK to take life advice from me now that 50% of music fans think I'm Ben Howard, and the font I used for my logo for years has been adopted by Ed Sheeran. It's like I'm a totally different person!
I should add that all of the stuff you're about to read is probably tongue-in-cheek, and the stuff that isn't will be obvious because it will be Serious and/or Incredibly Boring. You can yell at me if it all goes wrong but remember: I'm only doing this because I'm pretty sure I saw it on an episode of Clarissa Explains It All.
- - - - - -
1) Hi - I thought we weren't supposed to be taking life advice from Ben Marwood? I saw it written on a t-shirt and everything. Barry OT
Ha, already got you covered. This is going to be easy.
2) What happens if you put a werewolf on the moon?
It's a little known fact - because it's not written down anywhere – but werewolf fur reacts really badly to sodium and potassium. Under high concentrations, they'll catch fire instantly. Good job there's no sodium and potassium on the moon, right? Wrong! Trace elements of sodium and potassium have been detected in the Moon's atmosphere, and even though the atmosphere on the Moon is so thin it would probably count as a pretty good vacuum here on Earth, depositing your pet werewolf on the moon would eventually lead to them catching fire really, really slowly. The kind of slow-motion, all-over-fire explosion that you could probably wish upon every character in Twilight.
Of course, all of this is irrelevant because your werewolf would be unable to breathe due to lack of oxygen on the moon, so they'd probably be dead long before they caught fire about twenty minutes later. Hands off our satellite, you furry pricks.
3) When I'm done with school I want to become a journalist, preferably in the music industry. Do you have any tips /advice on getting started in the business?
Yeah, my advice is this: don't let anyone tell you journalism is a bad idea, or put you off. I used to want to be a journalist when I was in primary school, and I went with my mum to a careers fair at the local secondary school. I found a journalist and mentioned that I wanted to be one, and he basically just put me off by being a bitter hack. “Oh, but it's long hours, and it doesn't pay well, wah wah wah”, and when you're young you just want to hear: IT'S AMAZING. PLAYING WITH WORDS AND LEARNING FACTS AND BEING THE FIRST TO KNOW STUFF IS GREAT. So, yeah, if you want to be a journalist, just do it. There are plenty of ways to get yourself going – start a blog and write about issues you care about, make sure what you study involves skills that you can transfer over to journalism (anything that involves the written word, lots of essays, that kind of thing), seek out journos at careers fairs and hope you don't get a tired, charmless one who hates himself. You get the idea.
As for music journalism, eh, you can do that without any qualifications, so at least it has that going for it. Music journalism and the need for it has sharply declined over the past decade, since now someone is likely to log onto Spotify and listen to an album than trawl through a magazine looking at reviews, which is what I spent my time doing. I was lucky enough to write for a few years for Drowned In Sound when Mike Diver was writing there, and he remains my favourite journalist. I was rubbish at music journalism because I just wanted to be involved in music, and I liked writing. That's not the same as being a music journalist. One thing's for sure though, if you're looking for a career in writing then 'standard' journalism trumps music journalism in the long run.
I got this. I have done this.
First of all: don't wait until you're done with school. Start applying or appealing to your local newspapers now. If you haven't already started reviewing or writing about live shows or songs or albums or artists for a zine or blog or a website or a print magazine, start right NOW. Review the piece of music you are listening to this minute.
Second of all: write goddamnit, write. Just write. All the time. And read goddamnit, read. All the time. Read music journalism from sources as diverse as Rolling Stone to Jerry Thacker/Everett True's blog. Don't just stick to the NME or Kerrang! or whatever you like reading. Read newspapers and websites, zines and glossies. Read interviews, reviews, columns, rants, everything.
Third of all: Get to know how journalism works. Take a course - you don't necessarily need a degree to do it (especially music journalism) but it will help to do an NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists)-endorsed course. Ben is right; music journalism is not a career any more. But you can still do it and make some money while also doing other aspects of journalism or different angles. But you need some sort of training which may include legal issues, public affairs, shorthand, social media, digital and print writing, research, PR relationships and lots more.
I had the wonderful opportunity to teach primary school children about journalism while encouraging them into creating their own school newspaper. I always thought of myself as fairly jaded after quite a few years of not achiveing quite the level I wanted and mostly very low pay, but I had so much fun building enthusiasm for these kids that I realised how noble, enjoyable and awesome a profession journalism can be. The negativity and derision around it - suspicion, invasion of privacy - is offset by the achievements of those who've plunged into investigation, and the danger a lot of journalists face - death threats, threats of violence, and actual physical danger while in the field are all possibilities. You can be in a warzone or simply a cartoonist whose work has offended someone. Yet the work that comes out of this is essential to people's lives. Major (and minor) stories keep us informed and awake to what is really going on in our world and in our countries, and they are often delivered after tonnes of research, interviews, risk and little reward. Yes there are cheap shots and shortcuts that are often the focus (mostly in tabloids) but there's a hell of a lot of amazing work out there.
And yes, it's not easy. There ARE long hours. It is hard work and it is extremely competitive. We are mostly alcoholics and most likely to commit suicide in terms of percentage of workforce. But it is rewarding, fun, your work will be seen by many, and it can be vindicating. Music journalism isn't quite any of that (except fun) but is a good place to practice your writing as well as applying integrity and values as vigorously as you can. If you keep hold of honesty and don't sway from your belief in yourself, it will hold you in good stead for future assignments.
Don't be discouraged or dissuaded but also don't kid yourself. I've moved from music journalism, both editorial and freelance, to lots of different writing assignments and offices, in semi-related fields and in corporate hellholes. But then I was always more interested in being a writer than a journalist. Yet I have huge admiration for any one who takes it on and throws themselves into it. So do. It's unlikely you'll regret it. If you ever want to ask any other questions, don't hesitate to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will help however I can. I know more about music journalism than other forms, but I have plenty of friends in the field too who I can ask for answers. All the best! I hope it goes well for you.
4) Ben - what is your favourite irrational number - Pi, phi, or e? X
Woah now. This got sexy in a hurry. This is like choosing a favourite between three similarly excellent people, where one's a brilliant artist (phi), one rambles on and on forever but is really handy at helping you calculate the volume of a sponge cake (pi) but the social outcast is always the winner to me. It refuses to differentiate and won't integrate that well. It can stand up for itself. I choose e. Also, my absolute favourite thing about maths is that e ^ (i x pi) is equal to -1. That's just crazy. Two irrational numbers and an imaginary one resulting in an integer. Take a bow, e. This question has made me feel abnormal and I think I need a lie down.
5) What do you do to find new music when the stuff you're currently listening to stops tickling your fancy?
In many ways I'm pretty lucky because I host a (mostly) new music podcast once a month, so I have a great excuse (also a requirement) to keep looking for new music all the time and I have no option but to make time. Without it, I'm not sure how often I'd go looking for new music. Instead, I'm hooked – I rarely seem to listen to music I know I love, and seem to be on some kind of ceaseless quest to find new stuff all the time. For the podcast I'll check the Radio 1 playlist to see what's popular, then the tracklistings from their flagship alternative show (which was Zane Lowe, but god knows what it is now), then I'll go through the album charts, indie albums and breakers charts for the past month to see what's snuck out since the last time I did a podcast, then it's onto hype machine, then the playlist for recent shows by John Richards on KEXP (my favourite show on my favourite station), then the KEXP blog for new release news and free Song Of The Day downloads, then Pitchfork for any stragglers (though it's normally stories like “<insert hipster band> streams the sound of them crossing a road”) and a quick roundup of UK music sites like Louder Than War. It's a fun adventure.
When I'm not doing that and it's stuff for more personal use, I keep a folder on my desktop of Things To Listen To which is full of mp3s people have sent me, or stuff I've downloaded from Noisetrade, or samplers that record labels give away. I make sure to have at least ten mp3s from that folder on my Walkman every time I leave the house, so wherever I go I've got at least ten songs I'm not familiar with in my pocket. Also, I have a huuuge pile of CDs in my house that I've bought and never listened to, mostly promo CDs from collectors fairs and that kind of thing, so I'm slowly making my way through them whilst seemingly never getting to the bottom. It's a never-ending search but that's part of the fun.
6) My band doesn't really fit into any definitive genres, and as such, we find it a bit hard to get gigs around our local scene (which is notoriously cliquey). Not many promoters in my town fancy booking an alternative-punk act. I don't want us to change the sound to sound like something that everyone else is doing. Should we just disregard them and carry on by ourselves?
I think most local scenes are quite cliquey – it seems to happen everywhere apart from big cities (and probably also in some big cities). The one we have in Reading is a little different than it used to be because a lot of our venues shut down six or seven years ago and took our touring circuit with it, and even though other venues have sprung up in their place over time there's not quite that level of opportunity for local acts to mingle with touring acts which is how you really gain experience and network.
So, I sympathise if you're an act not getting the opportunities to shine in your hometown, but thankfully we live in the internet age. Whilst you're not doing gigs, make sure to practice like crazy, get good, record songs, make videos and get the word out yourselves, and you can always try hiring a venue and putting your own night on if you can afford it. Then you can book yourselves! Invite your friends and local promoters. Or, go looking for shows in the next town over, or the next. As long as you keep busy, then you're not wasting time.
7) When will Iggy Pop?
8) I saw one of my friends cheating on her boyfriend at a bar. Nothing too terrible, but they left together. Her boyfriend is a really nice guy, and I know they are still together. Should I tell him, or is this none of my business?
Wow. My first thought was definitely, “you need to go back in time and stop yourself from being in that bar”. Sometimes shit like this happens and you accidentally find yourself in the middle, and it's even worse if you're really English like me, because then you feel guilty for knowing anything at all, and generally find yourself being sorry that you were somehow involved when really you're not. This is not your problem to solve.
For me, the clue is in the way you asked the question: this girl is your friend. Her boyfriend is a nice guy but their relationship is not your responsibility. If you need to talk to anyone, if she is actually your friend then you should talk to her, not to him. Who knows, maybe she'd be grateful of someone to talk to about it. You're not going to know unless you ask and then, like me, probably apologise for no reason 20 times for knowing about it.
Really though, don't tell him. It would be a pretty horrible way for him to find out and she'd escape having to tell him herself, which as we all know is by far the most fun part of cheating on a loved one.
9) What is the capital of East Timor?
E, and then later, T.
10) How can I stop getting injured at shows? I've had concussions and a range of injuries. A couple of black eyes and countless bruises, usually from the mosh pit or being at the front surrounded by a bunch of guys. I still wanna go in the mosh pits and be at the front, I'm not short or anything, there's just usually people a bit bigger than me, even though they take care and pick me up if and when I fall, I still wake up the next morning in a lot of pain. Is there a way to avoid this? I was genuinely considering shin pads the amount of bruises on my legs :P Or should I just suck it up and deal with the aftermath? ^.^
Yikes. I guess what you can do depends on what you're doing “wrong”, and generally if it's the actions of other people that are causing your carnage, maybe full body armour is your only hope. I've never had to be a girl down the front of a gig so I have no idea how different it is to guys, but my strategy is always to hang around at the back of a pit for the first few songs until the more reckless kids have burned themselves out, or identify the people who are mostly likely to do you damage and stay the hell away. Also, mosh with a friend! Maybe the extra set of eyes will help you not be repeatedly punched in the head. Don't do this at the expense of having fun though – fun is the only reason to pit. Why else you would throw yourself at randomly-punching strangers?
11) Fancy a shag?
Well, I mean, maybe? It all depends on what you mean: the haircut? A work of art by Josh Agle? Do you want to take me for some early 20th century swing dancing? Are you buying me a cormorant? I'm not sure how legal it is to do a trade in those but it might be cool. Anyway, please reply by return.
12) Would you like a cup of tea?
Yes please, mum.
13) I can't find a job in my field... or ANY field, for that matter. I don't really feel like being a prostitute. What would you guys do?
I'll be honest – I haven't been unemployed since 2009 and times might have changed since then, but my advice would be just to apply for every job you could stand doing. It's said that it's easier to find a job if you're currently employed and that seems to be true, so if you're tired of holding out for a position in your field the best thing you could do is take a job outside of it and then when one does come up in your field, pounce on it. Don't give up applying for stuff even if you just get knocked back (I was applying for at least three a day, every day for four months), and I'd probably aim for stuff which will give you experience that you can transfer into your chosen field (look for similar traits, etc), but it's hard. Explore the three main avenues: join employment agencies, apply for jobs yourself using local press/recruitment websites and also put the word out amongst your working friends just in case their places are hiring. Do all three! Eventually it'll come good.
Good choice on not being a prostitute though. I hear the money's okay but the hours really mess your social life up. No offence, prostitutes.
Ben's is a good answer. Additionally, if you have any particular skills or talents that could get you some cash, definitely try using them to sell stuff to people. For example, I (and many, many others) have often supplemented full or part-time income with freelance writing or editing, and that also goes for when I don't have any full or part-time work. It may not be enough to live on, but it at least won't be nothing. Think outside the box. People I know sell paintings, paint sets, house removals, simple web design work, making jewelry and other crafts. Perhaps even do these things for free to gain experience and add to your CV to improve your chances of getting employed. It's tough and can be dispiriting, but keep up your efforts and you'll get there. Once you've got something, things do indeed seem to get easier if only because confidence is higher.
14) I get the sense that my girlfriend really wants children (we have been together for two years and are still young). I am still undecided. I don't want to waste her time if we want different things, but I love her very much. How do I bring this up without hurting her?
First up: I admire that you'd ask this question. Children is a damn difficult topic to get your head around if you don't know if you want them. A tiny person I helped create is growing inside someone? It's like sci-fi. In many ways it's easy to deal with if you definitely do or don't want them because at least then you have a definite stance, so not being sure can be tough because holding an actual conversation about it with someone who's really really sure can feel a bit like playing darts whilst blindfolded. The fact is: you're not sure. You aren't wasting her time if you aren't sure, you'd only be wasting her time if she wanted children and you definitely didn't but you told her you did. If it bothers you that much, have a conversation about it the next time you think it's appropriate. If she is so keen on children, she'll probably slip children into conversation sometime, so you could always approach it then. I mean, don't just sit down with the intention of having a major, life-changing conversation about it because that's making far too big a deal out of what is probably a common problem in a lot of relationships.
In the meantime, don't feel pressured to make up your mind. I'm 33 and I could still go either way, and I don't think that's unnatural for men. I feel like we're almost unreasonably lucky as a gender in that respect, because in the most cases our window for having children is much larger, and we're not even the gender who has to house them for nine ridiculous months. Where was I? Oh yeah, you love your girlfriend. Two years together and being young is not the stage to worry about it, it's the stage to enjoy each other's company. And hey, you might change. Five years ago I couldn't give a crap if the girl I was with was any good with children, and now I'm more or less mid-thirties, and seeing a girl who's good with kids lights a little fire in me. Things change. People change. Somewhere in this rambling response is the answer to your question, maybe.
15) What is your favourite video game/video game series of all time and why?
Yikes. Talking of rambling responses, we'll do this one by exclusion. There are a lot of game series that start out really well and then bad decisions send them down the pan. Case in point: I'm a huge horror fan and found the first few Resident Evil games genuinely terrifying, but fast forward to today and they've swapped horror for standard zombie shooting with some suggestions of racism somewhere in the middle. That is not a good game series. My favourite survival horror game is Silent Hill 2, which was so full of dread and helplessness that it was a relief every time you'd reach for the Off button. However, the franchise sold itself out by alienating the original creators and making sub-standard games that just weren't scary. So, that's off the list, even if the next one looks truly terrifying.
I've recently been playing a lot of Walking Dead, the Telltale series, and that's really good but is more like an interactive movie so I feel like it doesn't quite match up to some of the efforts of, say, X-com. The original turn-based strategy X-com game on the Playstation was what I played instead of revising for my GCSEs, and the recent relaunch under 2KGames was great, but there have been so many sub-par X-com games in between that couldn't decide what they wanted to be that I feel like if I said X-com was my favourite video game series I'd probably make myself feel bad. I mean, two great games don't make a good series, right Batman fans? Arkham City and Asylum were superb, but the prequel that they shipped to a different company was shit, which is a shame because I would have loved to have pledged allegiance to something other than predictable Grand Theft Auto.
But that would be crazy, because Grand Theft Auto is the best video game series of all-time. It's gone from being a top-down carnage-a-thon to a series of games which have defined a whole genre. With the most recent four main GTA games, Rockstar have created an interactive world which brings out something new every time, and the sheer amount of man-hours that go into something like that is astonishing. The whole thing, the attention to detail especially, is beautiful. I enjoyed the game series a lot before I started spending time in the States, but it was only when I got there that I realised that the GTA world isn't just a funny alternate America, it's so close to the actual America it's ridiculous, from the colour that the streetlights give off, to the radio stations and ridiculous propaganda/ads. It's the beauty and tragedy of city life pressed onto a disc, albeit a life where you can punch a hooker and run off, and inexplicably be wanted by the police and the army, steal a tank, run away successfully and yet never get recognised again ever.
It's not perfect, that's for sure, but every game is a huge event. For my money, the recent GTA V was not as good as GTA IV, but I'm not sure I'm any judge because I thought GTA: San Andreas was better than Vice City, which regularly gets me ridiculed. Also, the story in IV is the most compelling for me. I'm going to be quiet now because none of you asked for any of this.
Time for tea.
And none of you asked me at all, but I'll answer because I like videogames.
The Legend of Zelda is the most obvious for me. 17 games strong (and for those who know what all of this means: ALttP = MM > OoT > SS > LA > WW > TP > LoZ > MC > PH > AoL > FSA - haven't played ALBW, OoA/OoS or ST and FSA would be higher if played as multiplayer). Adventure, puzzling and swordplay and magic and history, all in a wonderful franchise that is very often excellent. The series of Mario games is a fairly obvious winner too, with Super Mario Galaxy 2 basically finishing the platforming genre for me - that's it, perfection achieved. Metroid Prime is a fine trilogy that completely vindicated Nintendo's decision to transfer to a first-person perspective for a traditionally 2D platforming action adventure series, themselves lodged an excellent series of games although the 2D/3D experiment Other M was in serious danger of ruining its almost perfect record - not because of the gameplay necessarily, but because of the complete reduction of one of the strongest female badasses in gaming. There has rarely been a flawless set of games, but if I could join Half-Life and Portal games, and their add-ons and episodes together through their tentative storyline link, those may win over all. But I don't think any series of games has affected me as much as the entire Zelda franchise, as flawed as some of the games are.
It's been a while since we last answered your questions. So here are some answers that these poor people have been hanging on for. We want to do better, so please send us any questions you like that you think we can answer. As a special treat, the next time we do this (depending on the questions we get) we will have special guest Ben Marwood helping us answer the questions.
To be clear, these questions should not be specifically for Ben (though he might respond to a personal email, if you're very nice), but just whatever questions you want answered about life, music, creativity, love...anything!
Please keep sending us questions at the contact form, anonymously if you want. We'll choose questions based on how we feel on the day. So, sit back and enjoy (BUT ALSO LEARN) some of our incredible wisdom, why don't you?
1) I've been playing live regularly as a solo acoustic artist for a few years now, alongside releasing my own material. As much as I enjoy it and put everything I've got into it, I still don't feel like I'm making as much progress in the industry as I'd like to be. Playing and writing is something I'm incredibly passionate about and music is something I don't ever want to give up. But do you have any advice for 'struggling' musicians out there who are finding it difficult to get themselves heard?
The key bit of your query is “I don’t ever want to give up”. Then don’t. If you love it this much, then you’ll never have to. But the truth is, this industry is hard. Read our Esmé Patterson interview, especially this bit: “"It's a hard road. It's an unforgiving and brutal and difficult path to choose. And rewarding and beautiful and ecstatic. Make sure you absolutely have to do it and that it's in your heart, that it's the path of your soul. Otherwise, it'll rip you apart. It's got to be your passion and it's got to be the thing that you MUST do because it's very hard and unforgiving.” That is true of any hugely competitive career where you want to become a success.
Probably the best thing is to use this time of being “under the radar” to continually improve your craft - you will always improve if you strive to do that - learn as much as possible, and gradually build your own fanbase. Network, talk to other musicians and support each other live. Take advice from all comers. Learn all aspects of putting on a live show, of recording songs, of playing and rehearsing. Learn how to build a simple website, and utilise all the tools at your disposal - social media, blog platforms, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, etc. Build your own identity at your own pace, alongside the songs you are writing and performing. Don’t be afraid of criticism. Take it and learn it. Slowly, surely, you’ll begin to make progress, hopefully in the direction you want. Be patient, work very hard, and, most importantly, do your best to enjoy all of it. You’ll get there, wherever there is. Don’t give up before you’ve had a chance to shine.
2) I'm getting to know a musician maybe with the intent of dating him (he's totally gorgeous and so nice). The only thing is, he's perpetually on tour and is based a good couple of hundred miles away from where I live. We talk online and stuff, but for a number of reasons I can't really actually see him more than when he plays shows near where I live. I really want it to work between us and I know that I'm going to have to make some compromises if I do end up in a relationship with him. Has anyone got any tips a) starting an actual relationship with someone I don't see all that often, b) for long distance relationships and c) things we can do in the limited time we have together?
Do you actually like them or just the IDEA of them? It can be very easy to feel like you know someone deeply, when you only know them casually, due to the art they make that you consume. I’d say make sure you really know them, and they really know you before taking any further steps. Sometimes it’s best just to have a friendship with people, see if you can deal with them being far away from you frequently while still keeping in touch regularly.
Remember though, whatever happens: love is fleeting, but things....things are forever.
Long distance is HARD. Regardless of career, if the person you intend to have a relationship with is always far away, you need to have had some solid dating experience and time together. There’s no foundations in a relationship built solely on shifting sands. As Val says, friendship can perhaps go the right way; don’t give yourself acres of worry because of hundreds of miles.
3) Myself and a group of pals are putting on a gig for the first time, in a proper venue and with semi-established local bands and all, for charity within the next couple months. Any advice on marketing it and getting the word out to as many people as possible?
Social media is your friend. It’s amazing how many people you can reach with it, and the network you can build through Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. Figure out who your audience is, or who you want them to be. Get the bands and venue to tag you and your event in their own social postings. Use hashtags. Create graphics. Post those online where your audience could see, have the bands repost and share them. Then print some of those graphics and hang them around town - in the local cafes, record shops, college / university campuses, or wherever you think your audience might be.
4) I want to travel more for gigs, but my friends aren't as into the idea. Should I just do it myself? How do I get over the awkwardness of flying solo at a gig AND in a new city?
Oh I love this! I travel alone to about half the gigs I go to. First things first - have you ever attended a local gig on your own? If you haven’t this will help you get over your fear of the awkwardness. It’s really only awkward in between sets because there’s nothing on the stage to occupy you. You can either use this time to catch up on your phones’ notifications, or just start chatting to those around you in the crowd. You’re all there for the same reasons - you like music, and in particular at least one of the bands playing that night. Comment about the set you’ve just watched or the set you’re anticipating, to no one in particular and usually people will turn around and chat with you. If not, maybe you’re just standing by people who hate friendship! Move a bit in the crowd and try again. Once the bands are on stage you don’t need anyone else there really, just sing along and have fun. Stay as long as you want afterwards without having to worry about other people and then head home.
If you survived your first local solo gig, and you didn’t completely hate it, you can now safely consider traveling for a gig alone. How are you getting there? Train, bus, plane, driving? These are all things to consider. Are you staying overnight - if so, are you getting a hotel or hostel? Or do you know someone in that new city who might let you crash with them? Is your friend in that city not a fan of the band you want to see? Then maybe you can buy them a ticket in and take them as a “thank you” gift of sorts for letting you stay with them. One thing I frequently do is find new friends in online communities, like on Tumblr, Facebook or forums. Then when I travel alone, I have these new friends I can meet up for the gig and often they’ll let me stay by them for the night. This then becomes a tradition / addiction - because the next time a tour rolls along I’ll want to revisit that city to see my new friends again AND see a great gig.
Either way, if there is something you really want to go to - I would 100% say go. You’re only going to regret it if you don’t! Don’t let other people hold you back.
Basically what Val says because she is the best. I’ve been to the majority of gigs in my life on my own. It’s a combination of friends not liking the bands, not being available, and me being forever alone. You’re there for the music first and foremost, but you will inevitably interact with people wherever you are. You’ll sing, dance, and embrace together. You might talk, you might exchange details and start life long friendships. Or you might just have an amazing time by yourself. Your friends might start getting jealous and want to join in with all the fun you’re having. Travelling and going to gigs is something you’ll never regret doing. So do it. Write about it. Take photos. Document it. Become penpals with people far away. Connect. It’s the most fun you can have with a packed room of people.
1) Advice for someone who's entering their last year of high school and is torn between going to uni for something 'stable' that they find relatively interesting (eg. forensics) and going in for a music business course that they're really passionate about instead? is it worth taking the risk?
Anything you’re passionate about is worth the risk. The old adage “you don’t know until you try” is just so true. But feel free to explore why you think it’s a good idea. Is the course really what you want? Or are you looking for a way into the industry? If you know the course is for you, where will it lead? Is THAT what you want? Question all aspects of it. Do the same for the “stable” course (nothing is truly stable any more - especially forensics, which way more people study than actually get jobs - FACT. Damn that CSI show's popularity!). In the meantime, why not try getting some experience in music if you haven’t already? This is easier to do with music than with whatever you consider stable, and you might find that you can do music without a course and do something else you like too at the same time. See how it plays out. But make sure that you follow whatever you love as far as you can without breaking yourself - financially, physically and mentally.
I agree it’s great to follow your passion, however also be wary about a pure music business degree. These, at least in the USA, can sometimes only be found in private universities - AKA more expensive to attend! Instead, you could get any variety of majors and apply that to a job within the industry. Regular business degrees are always translatable, same with communications, media studies, psychology, etc. Like Brad said, try out music related work first, too, if you can. Find a work study / internship opportunity, volunteer, do freelance work, join a street team… there’s surprisingly a lot of ways for you to dip your feet in the water and see what you like and if this industry is for you. If your heart is in it 100%, you’re bound to do well.
2) I've recently been thinking about looking for a job somewhere in the music business once I finish university (not as an artist I'm not that talented!), any advice for looking for jobs on a label or anywhere else in the business?
Have you been doing anything in music at all while at uni? If not, start doing stuff now! Any idea what aspect you’re considering? It’s a big business, but everything is fairly joined up. Some work will lead to other types within the same industry (within reason - being a journo or PR will not make you an engineer, obviously). I guess there’s two popular sides really - the music and performing side (musicians, technicians, producers, instrument-makers), and the marketing side (PR, journalism, management, promotion, pluggers). Which do you want to do most? Then, just contact everyone and show some enthusiasm. Get DIY.
There’s even more that Brad didn’t mention! The music industry also needs accountants, lawyers, administrators. Look at specific labels' websites for a 'career' tab, sometimes they post new job openings and, depending on the size of the company, there could be a massive amount in a variety of fields. Enthusiasm works wonders. People notice when you give a shit about something.
3) Hi! I'm a huge fan of music and could use some advice on how to start working in the music industry! I've heard that it's all about connections but I obviously don't have any yet? Should I just give up and be an accountant like my mom wants?
First of all, don’t ever do what your mom wants. She might be pissed at first, but later when you’re doing something you love and are really happy, she’ll be grinning and applauding, at least on the inside. Anyway, yes, it is about connections, a bit. But these are things you can start collecting and gathering (like Pokémon) at any time. Like now. The main thing is enthusiasm, energy, excitement about the area you want to work in.
From my personal experience, I knew I only wanted to write - that's it - but I also loved music. I found a publication which was looking for writers and I asked them if I could get involved. They said yes, and I started giving them stuff on bands I liked, reviews and suchlike. From there, I started finding out who I had to get in touch with to talk to bands and review gigs and albums. I met a certain PR through this process (someone I know, love, and actually work alongside today), met one of my favourite bands of that time and interviewed them. But I did this independently, with only the backup that I might be able to get the feature into the magazine. Basically, initial contact can turn into a working relationship and then friendship and then more work. Contacts beget contacts. But you will always start with - as do most people - zero. Once you have your first opening, and you’re good at what you do or at least enthusiastic enough to learn, you’ll enter a whole new world.
One last thing - treat everyone you meet and do business alongside with respect, manners and stay humble. You may suddenly find yourself becoming really good at what you do but don't ever let that get to your head. Remain honest and polite. People will remember you for that - or for your awful attitude if you decide to go that route, and that will only ruin your chances of getting much further in the future. Just be a good person really.
4) I have tickets to see my favourite artist next month and I'm really hoping to meet them!! but i'm also really nervous and will probably end up forgetting everything I want to say. How do i not embarrass myself?
Take a deep breath. I 100% understand. You spend your days listening to this musician, following them online, and building a connection to what they put out. It can be overwhelming when their tour finally reaches your city and you might get a chance encounter after the show. Taking that deep breath is really important.
First, remember that while many artists will meet with fans after a show, it is not a requirement. Your ticket guarantees you entry to a concert, and the only obligation the musician has to you is to perform to the best of their abilities - anything extra is a bonus! So it’s amazing and awesome when they come out to say hi to fans, but don’t get upset if they don’t. Even if they usually do, things come up, even musicians have off nights when they just need a break. Don’t get mad, try to be understanding.
Second, and this ties in with my last point a little, remember that the artists are actual, regular people just like you and me. It’s overwhelming for you because you have built up such strong feelings about what they create, and they appreciate that so much! You are the reason they get to tour and make music! But going up to them and forgetting that they are real people is dangerous, as sometimes fans cross boundaries they wouldn’t normally cross with any other stranger. You know about them, and feel this connection, but it’s likely you’re a stranger to the artist. Don’t overstep personal space, and be polite! They usually enjoy hearing about how much you like what they do, they’ll usually take photos with you and sign whatever you want. But remember to ask, to be patient and wait your turn if there are many other fans around, and to treat them with the same respect you’d give to anyone else you’re meeting for the first time.
Being nervous is completely normal, and if you’re afraid you’ll forget what you want to say try rehearsing it in your head, or write it down and give it to the artist after a show so they can read all your thoughts later, that way you can just try to get a photo. Lastly, I’d say to be mindful of your fellow fans who are also with you waiting to meet this artist. Know when your time is done, say your piece, ask for a photo or signature and then make room for your comrades in musical fandom to have their moments as well. Musicians don’t need to be this scary thing in your head, they’re just like you and me. Have fun!
5) I'm young and just starting uni. I know I want to do something with music, but I'm not sure what yet. How do I start?
Ask yourself: “What do you love about music? What interests you in it?” Then ask yourself: “What skills do you already have, or are looking to develop?” Do you adore music, and you’re also really good at maths? Maybe you could end up being an accountant or future CFO of a record label. Or you’re always the first of your friends to find something new to listen to? Maybe you should look into A&R. Are you persuasive and outgoing? Maybe music marketing is the route for you. It’s a lot like other job searches, what do you do well, and what do you like to do? Then figure out how to incorporate that into the music world. Once you have an inkling of what you might like to do, try interning or volunteering with a company to test the waters further and see if you like that combination. If you do - great! Keep at it! If not, try again!
I agree with Val - it's mostly about working out what you can do and enjoy doing. I explained in another answer above that I've basically only ever wanted to write and work out how I can do that to a) do that related to things I love and appreciate and b) make money. Find your skill, your passion outside of music and then see if you can apply that to music. You may already have something and not realised you can use it in a music-orientated context. Artist? How about gig posters and album artwork? Or photography for press shoots and live shows? Perhaps you want to make short films; how about storytelling via video? Maybe you enjoy counting and rational maths - if there's people musicians and labels and companies need right now, it's financial experts (and this is important) WITH a love and understanding for the art. It pays to be dispassionate, but not at the expense of every little creative nuance.
There's a whole world of things you can do within music. But it all comes down to one thing - what is it you can bring to it first, not what it can bring to you.
6) How do I go from aspiring journalist to doing PR for artists?
Well the short answer is: it can be a straightforward process in terms of your skill set since a lot of what you do as a journalist - writing about music, going to gigs, sorting interviews, photos, deadlines etc. are transferable to doing PR - just on the other side of things. The tricky bit, I guess, as with anything really, is how do you land the job?
As a music journalist, you are probably in touch with PRs on a regular basis by now; on their mailing list, at gigs with them, maybe there are some you’re quite pal-y with? It's worth chatting to the ones you know a bit and get some feelers out there; enquire about any internships they might offer. Work experience is where a lot of people start. It’s where I started and it's difficult making ends meet at first so not always a valid option but it can often lead to a more full time thing if you fit in, work hard and learn quickly, so that's something to consider. There are a lot of independent PR companies that are a small team and often need an extra pair of hands during busy times. There are also the bigger companies that often do large events and festivals who may be looking for help throughout the summer when they’re busy, which would all be excellent experience.
When I started 11 years ago, there were a lot more print music magazines and therefore more choice for PRs to get their artists coverage. Now, I would strongly recommend gaining experience in both online and print press. There is a lot of crossover for publications that have both a print and online presence (NME, Kerrang, Guardian etc.) and more scope creatively when dealing with online in terms of sessions, podcasts, galleries and such that you can secure for your artists.
Doing PR also opens doors for other roles within the promotional world in the music industry. Radio and TV plugging, marketing etc. So, if you’re interested in learning more about how the industry works, how album campaigns are structured and playing a part in a band or artist’s career, then PR is a great job to do. Oh and there’s also travel, aftershow parties, guestlists, festivals, backstages, gigs and fun to be had too!
One thing I might add is that you explore why you want to do this. A journalist, despite having a very similar skill set to a PR, is a very different role to a PR. You are on opposite sides though you do work together for the same goal more often than not. What was it that made you decide PR is for you? The time to be impartial and unbiased is over once you become a PR. You are in it to hype, promote, and push these acts and events that (hiopefully!) you adore. I think this is important to consider - you probably have - because it isn't a soft transition. It's a very different style and atmosphere and while you'll be dealing with lots of the same people, the dynamic changes. OR you can be like us here at XMR and ignore such dynamics and get on with the job of enjoying yourself, working hard, and being honest. Good luck with the shift!
Like the advice on offer? Then come ask us stuff anonymously (or with your name) via this contact form. We'll publish everything here, so bookmark the page. Let us help you (or at least, make you laugh if we can't).