Rolling Music Writers' Thread

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We have this argument all the time in the newsroom – that's why notebooks will never go out of fashion.

when i was a daily beat reporter, i almost never taped anything. just notepad and pen. when you're writing short news articles you can get everything you need that way, and it's a lot faster. but when i started writing longer-form stuff, especially profiles where you really want to give a sense of a person's voice, how they talk and think, i eventually realized i really needed recordings. and one thing i've found is that no matter how good you are at note-taking, you very rarely get direct quotes accurate at anything past about two sentences. you can get the meaning of them right -- and as long as you do that, almost nobody will complain about being misquoted -- but you're going to lose or change some words. (i guess i should say "i" instead of "you," because some people are probably better at word-for-word recall than me. but i bet most people can't accurately write down more than a few sentences at a time while also conducting an interview.)

hellzapoppa (tipsy mothra), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 15:24 (4 years ago) Permalink

That's all true. We've had the other extreme here, though: students walking into offices, plunking down a tape recorder in front of a source, and sitting back, not taking a single note. Tape recorders work best when used as an archive or quasi-database, from which you can pluck information as needed.

Hell is other people. In an ILE film forum. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 15:27 (4 years ago) Permalink

i bet most people can't accurately write down more than a few sentences at a time while also conducting an interview

well exactly - i'm sure i'd be capable of it but to get the best interview i pretty much want to be wholly focused on what the interviewee's saying, listening out for interesting hooks or details that i can pick up on, and if half my mind and one of my hands is concerned with transcribing accurately and legibly, that's not going to happen. an interview should be like a conversation, and taking notes during one would be the equivalent of fiddling with your blackberry while talking to a friend.

لوووووووووووووووووووول (lex pretend), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 15:38 (4 years ago) Permalink

i mean i already get the whole "fuck's sake why didn't i pick up on that" feeling when listening back enough as it is, can't imagine that being less focused would improve on that

لوووووووووووووووووووول (lex pretend), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 15:38 (4 years ago) Permalink

Taping is the only way to get the true flavor of the way somebody speaks, and the amazing thing is that it's never exactly how you remember. I think the little differences matter.

But yeah, for news stories, where what someone says is more important than how they say it, notes are way better, especially, in my case, if it's over the phone and I'm typing. I stopped writing in cursive at a young age and never learned shorthand.

Pete Scholtes, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 15:47 (4 years ago) Permalink

my new year's resolution is to learn how to type :/

touch me i'm acoleuthic (Whiney G. Weingarten), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 15:51 (4 years ago) Permalink

I'm one of the psychos that usually transcribes everything -- although more and more I tend to cherrypick out the stuff I know I might use, especially if I'm pressed for time, but if the whole thing is less than one 45-minute side of a tape I like to get it all down, if only to have a complete transcript in my files.

I got a nice digital recorder for my birthday last year and I've been still using my cassette recorder and putting off making the big switch ever since, mainly because I'm a slow learner with new technology and the thing intimidates me. You guys are making me even more scared, but I really do want to start using it still.

some dude, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 15:51 (4 years ago) Permalink

x-post -- I am eternally glad for the typing class I took in high school.

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 15:51 (4 years ago) Permalink

Taping is the only way to get the true flavor of the way somebody speaks, and the amazing thing is that it's never exactly how you remember. I think the little differences matter.

this is absolutely positively otm. if I was ever an interviewee and someone sat down in front of me with a notebook and no recording device I'd be totally certain of being misquoted and would instantly lose a lot of faith in the writer.

some dude, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 15:53 (4 years ago) Permalink

I used to type 80 words a minute, but my keyboard promiscuity (three or four different Mac keyboards around the office, a PC laptop at home) has destroyed my speed. The keyboard really does make a difference.

Hell is other people. In an ILE film forum. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 15:53 (4 years ago) Permalink

I am eternally glad for the typing class I took in high school.

Eighth grade for me. I can't imagine doing this for a living and not being able to type like 80 wpm (which is about where I'm at).

neither good nor bad, just a kid like you (unperson), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 15:54 (4 years ago) Permalink

I actually think I sped up a lot... by transcribing a lot.

Pete Scholtes, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:06 (4 years ago) Permalink

I taught myself to touch type in 1996.

Mind you I lived in Harlow in Essex. There wasn't much else to do.

I transcribe everything and save it as a raw text file on my PC and back it all up once or twice a year onto a portable hard drive. It's pretty anal but I guess you never know when you'll need that quote from so-and-so about that seemingly trivial subject - until you really need it.

I email most of the raw text files to myself as well so that wherever I am I can access them. Just in case, like.

Doran, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:09 (4 years ago) Permalink

ditto, who on earth transcribes the WHOLE THING?

unless i'm in a hurry i try to - the times i haven't, i've usually regretted it and gone back to the tape to hear what i've missed, in case there's some game-changing morsel on there

shart in a bag, light it on fire (stevie), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:13 (4 years ago) Permalink

i also transcribe every (laughs) in there too, tho sometimes that's just so i can console myself that they laughed at my lame joke

shart in a bag, light it on fire (stevie), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:14 (4 years ago) Permalink

One of my writers bollocked me for taking loads of their [laughs] out of the piece that they'd filed. It didn't, they told me, reflect the general levels of hilarity that had taken place in the interview.

Doran, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:18 (4 years ago) Permalink

ill transcribe a whole interview if im still feeling kind of lost about how to write the piece. usually i know my angle by the time the interview is done so ill just cherrypick.

max, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:20 (4 years ago) Permalink

x-post -- I am eternally glad for the typing class I took in high school.

this was literally the only class my parents insisted i take in high school, and i've thanked them for it many times.

back on transcribing/listening to interviews: is there anyone who doesn't hate listening to themselves conducting an interview? if so i envy you. there's the "sound of my own voice" part, which is annoying and awkward, but there's also just all the little things i do or say to keep people talking or to try to draw them out on one thing or another, some of which inevitably end up in dead ends or nonsequiturs. and even though i understand what i'm doing, the strategies of trying to adapt to the personality or whatever of the person i'm talking to, i just tend to think i sound like an idiot.

hellzapoppa (tipsy mothra), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:21 (4 years ago) Permalink

back on transcribing/listening to interviews: is there anyone who doesn't hate listening to themselves conducting an interview?

i think it has seriously damaged my self esteem, no lie. i sound like a huge putz, and also a toady, and also sometimes i don't know EVERYTHING about the person i'm interviewing and they get mad.

shart in a bag, light it on fire (stevie), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:25 (4 years ago) Permalink

It didn't, they told me, reflect the general levels of hilarity that had taken place in the interview.

"Sure it was about how the mysterious death of his entire family due to throwing themselves backwards on forks inspired him to write a despairing three CD masterwork but it was REALLY funny!"

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:26 (4 years ago) Permalink

is there anyone who doesn't hate listening to themselves conducting an interview?

Hahah, having dug out those old cassettes I'd mentioned and relistened to them over the past month: eurgh.

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:27 (4 years ago) Permalink

Love the one you're with.

Pete Scholtes, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:41 (4 years ago) Permalink

i also transcribe every (laughs) in there too, tho sometimes that's just so i can console myself that they laughed at my lame joke

I tried to quote Ron Mael saying I was a smart guy in an interview once but the editor was having none of it

in retrospect he was probably mocking my eagerness to prove I "got" his band anyway

MPx4A, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:44 (4 years ago) Permalink

"ournalists who try to spell an interviewee's laugh"

Inspiration for the sex robot sprang from the September 11 attacks (acoleuthic), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:50 (4 years ago) Permalink

Read that as 'onanists' and thought "Well..."

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:52 (4 years ago) Permalink

haha i'd misquoted and edited the j out with the preceding a...i'll never make a music-writer

Inspiration for the sex robot sprang from the September 11 attacks (acoleuthic), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:52 (4 years ago) Permalink

i like how when someone says, "nobody's ever asked me that before," it can either mean, "huh, that's a good question" or "jesus you're an idiot" depending on their tone and inflection.

hellzapoppa (tipsy mothra), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:53 (4 years ago) Permalink

(i inferred the latter from a sighing iris dement.)

hellzapoppa (tipsy mothra), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:54 (4 years ago) Permalink

Probably shouldn't have asked her "So what do you think of the Goo Goo Dolls song about you?"

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:56 (4 years ago) Permalink

Yeah, I tried to sneak Mark E Smith saying "They were alright guys. Cool guys like you John" past some subs but to no avail.

I mean journalism has broken my body and come close to snapping my mind. All I wanted was a quote of The Fall lead singer saying I was cool in print - even if he said it because he was pissed and I'd just bought him two pints of San Miguel - but would they grant me that one indulgence? Would they fuck.

Transcribing is the fucking bane of my life. I've only ever said "LOL" out loud once. And that was to Polly Harvey. You can almost *hear* her looking at my like I've just beamed down from planet Daft Cunt.

Doran, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 17:04 (4 years ago) Permalink

is there anyone who doesn't hate listening to themselves conducting an interview?

One of the worst mistakes I ever made was agreeing to surrender the audio of one of my interviews to The Wire, who posted it on their site.

neither good nor bad, just a kid like you (unperson), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 17:13 (4 years ago) Permalink

the weird thing about interviewing - given that pretty much all of mine have been one-on-one - is that you never quite know whether you're good at it or not* - no one ever listens in or grades you or is able to give you specific tips for improvement

*re: the actual interviewing process, not the ability to write up a good feature based on the material you managed to get

لوووووووووووووووووووول (lex pretend), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 17:16 (4 years ago) Permalink

I used to take "That's a great question" at face value and feel really flattered until I realised it was a hedging tactic and often meant nothing of the sort.

I was, however, chuffed beyond measure when Lemmy said, "I enjoyed that. Good questions. Not like most of these idiots." Thing is, they were the kind of fairly basic questions that most people would ask Lemmy so maybe it was the Jack Daniel's talking.

Dorian (Dorianlynskey), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 17:37 (4 years ago) Permalink

has anyone ever had a musician record a song dissing them after giving a negative review?

free the charmless but occasionally brilliant Dom Passantino (history mayne), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 17:42 (4 years ago) Permalink

Lemmy's a straight shooter. I think you can take him at face value.

Doran, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 17:47 (4 years ago) Permalink

Lex: Isn't it the case that it depends quite a lot on the other person. Like you, I see a good interview as being more like a conversation. If you get stuck with some passive aggressive/hates doing interviews idiot, no ammount of 'skill' at your job is going to rescue the piece.

That said there are some notable exceptions where this becomes part of the game. Lou Reed. J Mascis. Kevin Shields etc.

Doran, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 17:50 (4 years ago) Permalink

interviewed Mascis twice - the first time was a nightmare, for-reals five minute gaps of silence between question and monosyllabic answer. interviewed him again a few years later, with really specific questions, for a MOJO piece on Dinosaur, and he was great, talked at length about stuff, was endearingly un-self-conscious (and certainly didn't strive to make himself look like a nice guy re: how he treated Lous bitd). i now wonder if, a la Andrew WK, it was actually an impostor J.

shart in a bag, light it on fire (stevie), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:16 (4 years ago) Permalink

people, especially creative types like musicians, are ALWAYS the same in every single situation. even if they've been drinking, if they're high, if they're jet lagged, if they're having a bad day or a shitty soundcheck has just blasted out their hearing or if their girlfriend has just dumped them. every experience of that same musician will always be the same. always

not being challops, but if interviewee is the same every time i'd suggest that's the robot imposter not the dude who's grumpy and monosyllabic one time and chatty and friendly another time

Karen Tregaskin, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:22 (4 years ago) Permalink

sorry i hould have typed LOL at the end of my sentence to signify i wasn't being entirely serious i guess

shart in a bag, light it on fire (stevie), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:24 (4 years ago) Permalink

no i know yr joking

but maybe there should be a special rolling musicians hating on being interviewed/critiqued thread

so we can bitch and be all 'omg i just stepped off a plane in vancouver jet lagged out of my mind and couldn't find any weed and some interviewer dude asking me really obvious questions straight out of the press kit and i can't keep my eyes open yet he gives me beef coz i'm monosyllabic' as a companion thread to this one

i haven't done an interview in a couple of years and always prefer email over f2f but sheesh this thread. brings back bad memories ya know

Karen Tregaskin, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:29 (4 years ago) Permalink

XP: There are ways and means of getting shit out of monosyllabic people in most situations but not all.

I had the lack of humility to presume that I'd be the one to break Lou Reed. That I was so well researched he'd just take to me. He'd break down in tears and end up sobbing on my shoulder and tell me everything. I had the fucking chops to get anyone talking. Fucking bawling. Spilling the fucking beans.

There, there Lou. You can tell me.

On listening back to the tape it wasn't as transcendentally unpleasant as it seemed during the actual experience - when I wanted a black hole to suck me out of existence to safety beyond the event horizon - and we even had a pretty funny exchange about tinitus and listening to music in the bath but it was still useless and the piece got spiked.

That was my only one where I felt like I'd failed to get 'the piece' or 'the story' however.

There are ways and means of making sure that even with people that act like they hate you, you can come away with enough to cover the basis of a feature/news story.

Doran, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:32 (4 years ago) Permalink

But the people we're talking about on this thread have longstanding reputations for being difficult. Interviewees who are monosyllabic or outright hostile year after year, with interviewer after interviewer, can't really pull the stupid-questions/jetlag excuse.

Email interviews are usually horrible - dry and stilted and too easy to evade or fudge questions. What's so hard about a face-to-face conversation?

Dorian (Dorianlynskey), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:34 (4 years ago) Permalink

i like it when you click with someone and have a legitimately pleasant conversation. it's more enjoyable and you get better quotes. but i also just try to keep in mind that it doesn't matter whether or not they like me or think i'm smart or clever or any of that shit -- as long as i can get some reasonably interesting things from them on the record, that's all i need. in most cases i'll never talk to them again, and if i do they almost certainly won't remember me. we're both just doing our jobs.

hellzapoppa (tipsy mothra), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:37 (4 years ago) Permalink

That's very admirable. But if I found out that, say, David Bowie, liked me, I'd be made up, despite it being a silly thing to worry about.

Part and parcel of me being a music fan. Although this would only really count with about six or seven people.

Doran, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:39 (4 years ago) Permalink

i'd definitely love to hear about what it's like from the other perspective, not least because it'd probably help me be better at doing the interviewing...

i'm generally pretty respectful and well-researched, even though i know i might be able to get better results froma different approach. winning their trust is often my aim, though, and i never want it to be a destructive experience. "difficult" subjects often mellow if you show 'em you know nearly as much about their group as they do, and you're genuinely curious about the rest.

xp yeah lou seems like the exception to pretty much every rule, john!

shart in a bag, light it on fire (stevie), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:40 (4 years ago) Permalink

But if I found out that, say, David Bowie, liked me, I'd be made up, despite it being a silly thing to worry about.

i fall into this trap far too often, i fear.

shart in a bag, light it on fire (stevie), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:40 (4 years ago) Permalink

XP: to Mothra. What I mean is: you're creating a false binary about professionalism and enjoyment. They're not mutually exclusive.

Doran, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:41 (4 years ago) Permalink

I'm having flashbacks to my horrendous interview with Eric B. and Rakim years ago where they wouldn't respond at all with full sentences, and Rakim just kept saying in a montone voice "I want to encourage our fans not to do drugs," while he looked glassy-eyed and on something himself.

curmudgeon, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:43 (4 years ago) Permalink

yeah point taken dorian but for those people why bother doing interviews at all? it's not like lou reed needs to do interviews at this point why go through the motions?

obv i can't speak for all interviewees but i'm not a verbal person. if i had good conversational skills i probably wouldn't make music at all but that's another story. i often feel very put on the spot if i'm f2f. if i'd had media training maybe i'd know how to field questions and have prepared answers for those dog-and-pony-show interviews but i put that shit in the press release coz i don't wanna talk about it any more

what's a worse interview for you guys? monosyllabic coz someone hasn't prepared & doesn't wanna be there or dog-and-pony media training standard answers?

Karen Tregaskin, Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:44 (4 years ago) Permalink

xp to Doran - The problem with coming away from an interview with the idea that the artist personally likes you is that you're set up for the disappointment of meeting them again somewhere down the line and realising they have no idea who you are and having to remind them that you've met and then they go, "oh yeah" and smile weakly and then you wish you'd never said anything. Goddam these celebrities. You open yourself up and then they break your heart.

For this reason I've always liked the prostitute comparison - you meet in a hotel room for an hour and pretend you know each other better than you do. Although obviously with a prostitute nobody's expected to transcribe the tape afterwards.

xp to curmudgeon - Rappers are the best for this kind of stuff. Prince Paul once fell asleep on me during a Gravediggaz interview (but was lovely on the phone years later so maybe it was just lethal jetlag) and Jay-Z conducted a whole interview (fluent, friendly) while watching TV over my shoulder.

xp to Karen - That's Hobson's Choice. I guess I'd still rather someone showed the courtesy of coming up with some kind of answer, however generic, rather than making the interviewer feel like a prick. It's basic politeness. I think artists sometimes forget that the journalist could be doing other things with their time, and might have flown some distance themselves, and merits a little civility. But tbh, this is kind of the reason I was glad to leave the dance press - no more interviews with people who plainly didn't want to talk about their music.

Dorian (Dorianlynskey), Tuesday, 12 January 2010 18:51 (4 years ago) Permalink


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