Aproved by the artist
So back in April this year, I happened to receive an email from the editor of a well known German music magazine. He was asking every writer and photographer working for the mag to ignore requests for prior approval from artists’ managers.
A little background… In the past two years there’s been a noticeable uptick in the requirement to check quotes, photo choices and even showing previews of the finished article to the stars before publication. Nothing new sure, but definitely on an upward trend.
And we’re not just talking about “the right photo” or changing one little bit of wording, the usual vanity massaging. No, this was getting bigger, where acts want final cut on your piece and will kill it if you don’t follow their “suggestions” to the letter. Imagine all the joys of big business regulation with the fun of the mind-bogglingly self-involved.
In the resulting Madonnization of journalism, things ain’t so pretty. We didn’t take the job to churn out happy smiling Electronic Press Kits (“EPKs” in the trade). We want to interview, to learn, human-to-human, and recount what honestly happened for you our always-bullshit-detecting and eager readers. That was the deal, right?
Press law means that artists have the right to check that what they said was faithfullly and honestly transcribed, but until recently this only very rarely, and by the kind of stellar artists whose managements have enough time to waste on such obsessive checking. (I recall the infamous story of two Krautrock artists whose demands were that each story must cover each band member with the exact same number of words. Happy days…)
The globalisation of the press push, and the fact that most press is now distributed by social media, has transformed this whole equation. For musicians everything has changed, they need a movie level press kit with videos and quotes and nuggets of information, for each territory, relevant and up to date. And of course a lot of them hate having to do this – the ego of the artists resists these cheesy videos, explaining the magic of the process etc etc. They’re now like traveling diplomats, worried about starting wars with drunken quotes (and if you had to do 100 interviews about the same record, you’d be a drunk). So it’s a tense exchange of information, and truth be told I don’t mind if an artist wants to double check the odd detail, if it makes for a better piece and a good working relationship in future. But, there are limits!
Enough beating about the bush though: as I look to my Kaput editor’s desk I can see two examples. I will spare their blushes by not naming names. But these are for real…
Picture two video edits, sitting on a journalist’s laptop, ready to be uploaded. In the first one we met the artist in her Berlin flat where she also produces her music, we shared cake and coffee and we talked over some hours in different stages, at the end she even gave a little private concert for us. All in full awareness what this is for. The second video was filmed during and after a concert in Cologne. All sounds good thus far, right?
In both cases it all went swimmingly at the time. No unhappiness. All good? Oh. No. Now both artists demand the features are killed. After watching the edited piece the band felt they came over as “confused”. In the case of the solo artist in Berlin she demanded we use a digital effect that would completely obscure her face which we felt was basically ridiculous, so she vetoed the whole thing. We tried to find a compromise but that only made things even more, ah, ‘heated’.
Okay, so two rather extreme examples. And sure, leaving aside the legalities of it, we don’t really want to be in the business of publishing stuff that artists dislike – that’s not our game. But equally we don’t want to work hard for nothing. Money is too tight to mention in journalism as it is, so doing everything for nothing hurts a little harder.
Our art if it is one, is bringing these cultural figures to public attention, and we care about it too
If your problem isn’t money, it’s probably time. And so it proves, for where once bands had to accept once they left the interview that it’s gonna get printed and that’s that, now they know they can interfere. There’s always time now to demand changes, to review, to approve, or to disapprove. It’s the same madness that keeps musicians fiddling in the studio tweaking snare drums for months on end, that you could never do in a straight 3 week recording session paid for by a label. This same desperate reflex by the artist is there when they try to micro-manage every article written about them, every video shot where their day wasn’t 100% perfect. They are powerless when it comes to the fans (and haters), and their labels don’t really come to their aid any more. So interfere with the hacks!
So, our conclusion is…? Should leave all pop criticism to the I’m-your-biggest-fan “journalists”? Should we just follow the every wish of the artist? Will sheer practicality dictate having some legal contract before EVERY piece is written? As I see it our only path is this: as a journalist I am asking from the artists and their representatives nothing more that what they ask for their collaborators: true creative freedom.