Monday, August 25, 2014

Anonymous said: Do you eventually want to become a full time writer?

A complicated question, but I guess the answer is “no,” at least for now. My contract with the university is up in eight months, and if you offered me the choice of a similarly compensated/equally engaging position at the school or a full-time staff writing gig in Toronto or New York, I would take the former. I think about this every single day. There are a lot of variables. In a vacuum, writing is the thing I like to do most, and it’s probably where I have the greatest depth of skill. But doing it full-time with even a grain of stability would mean settling for less money, leaving my friends and family and loved ones, leaving the only country I’ve ever called home, and coming to terms with a considerable opportunity cost. I have this nightmare filed away in the back of my brain where I’ve leapt ten or twenty years into the future, and I’ve just been let go because almost every cent has been drained from the world of cultural criticism, and I’m 31 or 41 with no experience and no savings and no escape plan. It probably wouldn’t ever get that bad, but I can see 60% and 80% versions of that scenario playing out. 

I look at my life now, and things are pretty great: I live in a gorgeous apartment with my boyfriend for relatively cheap, I have a good job that involves a lot of non-music writing while allowing me to develop my management skills, and I get to write for some of my favourite editors and publications in my spare time for beer and pizza money. I know I love writing about music as a hobby, but I have no way of knowing if I would still feel that way if I was stuck on the news grind or was made to churn out pieces about things I’m not totally invested in; I find the clique-y, insider-y social aspects of contemporary music writing suffocating and tiresome, and I only ever taste them on Twitter and Gchat. I’ve actually come to value the perspective I’ve gained from working in a different field and living somewhere other than New York, and I think it’s enriched my writing as I’ve gotten older and better. I add all of this together and it leads me to believe that pursuing a full-time career as a writer is not the best choice for me right now.

(Of course, this could all look silly in a year: my contract runs out, I can’t find another job here in Waterloo, one of my editors has a position free, and next thing you know I’m renting one of four bedrooms in Bushwick and liveblogging the Teen Choice Awards. But this is where I am right now.)

Anonymous said: do you email musicians often to help answer questions for your articles? plan of action if they don't respond?

I don’t, I can only remember doing it once or twice. My thoughts on a record rarely hinge on the clarification of a lyric or the elucidation of some theme by the artist, and if I ever find myself at that sort of junction I usually opt for reshaping my thought or taking a different angle. I have go-to research strategies, of course — spend a lot of time with their discography, read a lot of interviews, read both dated and recent non-review writing and criticism — but directly questioning artists while writing something is not typically one of them. 

Anonymous said: Is there any way VFT6 *isn't* the best album of 2015?

my face when I think, even for a second, about a new Drake album 

Anonymous said: Any thoughts on the emo revival?!?

Hmm, nothing really noteworthy, to be honest. I like a few of the records that fall under the “emo revival” umbrella, I suppose, particularly this year’s efforts from the Hotelier and Joyce Manor; they have an energy and passion that has helped them stand out at a point in my life where I’m finding it a lot easier to latch onto pop, R&B, and electronic music than rock music. But I think the best way I can use this space is to refer people to what Ian wrote about this particular batch of bands and records for the Pitch a few days ago, especially since he’s the critic who alerted many people to the existence and quality of these records in the first place. He dismantles the flawed concept of the “emo revival” with the same intensity and spirit that makes a song like "End of the Summer" worthwhile.

Anonymous said: How long does it take you to write a typical review?

I think I answered something like this a few months ago, but my work habits might’ve changed, so I’ll just give it another go. I usually spread the composition of any piece, review or essay or whatever, out over two nights, or two distinct sessions. First, I pour out anything and everything I’d like to say about the topic into quick and dirty point form notes, without filtering or focusing on cohesion or structure. This usually takes no more than half an hour. When I come back a day (or a few hours) later, I write the piece in order from beginning to end, building from the notes I took before and editing and rearranging as I go along. The time required depends on my level of focus, interest in the topic, and the length of the piece, but I’d say it usually takes anywhere from one to three hours. 

Sometimes I procrastinate and put myself in a bad spot, and I have to skip the notes phase and write the whole thing from scratch in one sitting. This doesn’t add much to the overall time required, but I’m usually less happy with the final product. To be honest, I feel like I’ve done 70% of the work by the time I sit down to spit up notes or actually write the piece. Once I get an assignment or land a pitch, I can’t stop thinking about the subject, and I do a lot of the planning internally: figuring out structure, memorizing little turns of phrase, refining ideas and thoughts, etc.

Anonymous said: how does p4k work? like in the sense, of all the music that is reviewed on the website, is each and every contributor + staff well versed with the music, or are records distributed amongst writers? curious to know. thanks

Well, everyone who contributes to the site has their own little wheelhouse, and both the writers and the editorial team usually have a good feel for where everyone’s expertise lies. For example, I’m something like a centrist, and I’m mostly going to write about music near the twin poles of “rock” and “pop” with occasional forays into electronic music; I’m probably not going to write about rap for the site anytime soon, or really obscure ambient stuff, or metal, those just aren’t fields where I have enough knowledge, experience, or enthusiasm to do the music justice. There are areas where lots of writers have overlapping interests, of course, especially when it comes to popular or influential artists, but for the most part Pitchfork is much less a monolithic identity than a collection of distinct individual voices. I think that’s something many of the site’s critics conveniently forget when they’re ranting about a particular bit of coverage or an artist’s review history. I hope that answered at least part of your question!

jakec said: what is the best part about being canadian besides being from the same country as drake

never being more than 500 m away from either a Tim Hortons or a Shoppers Drug Mart

also the metric system, it’s so easy

(Canadian engineers — and engineers from countries around the world, I’m sure — are trained to achieve fluency in both the metric system and American engineering units. It’s incorporated into all of our tests, we have a first year course that focuses almost entirely on unit conversion, etc. I didn’t appreciate the beauty and simplicity of the metric system until heat and mass transfer professors were writing all of their questions in terms of [BTU/(hr *ft^2*F)] and I had to bust out page-length line calculations just to start problems. Bless the metric system.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 Monday, August 18, 2014

Anonymous said: Will you be posting your full Best of the '10s So Far list once Pitchfork has finished running their communal one?

A few people asked this, and I’ve seen a few of my colleagues do it so the answer is yes. I’m going to put up my top 50 songs and top 50 albums here at the end of the week, I think, so stay tuned for that. I have no idea whether or not the site’s going to run smaller versions of those lists, but either way I’ll post expanded versions here.