I was an ignorant man. I never put any time or effort into discovering how the music industry worked, even though as an obsessive fan it took up about 90% of my (distinctly limited) cerebral activity. So when I started writing for the mighty Circle Pit (tough guy pose, guns on show) I made a resolution to discover as much as I can about how the cogs turn in this particular machine. It became clear that even if you have an idea how things work for bands, there are so many people striving continuously whose work never gets thought about or discussed. To this end I resolved to interview as many of them as possible.
So far we've had Promoters, Festival Organisers and a Label Boss. Next in line we have event security, Producers and a PR Guru, but right now we have On-line music journalists. That's right folks. I hope you like Meta, because this is about as self-reflexive as it gets.
When not reading what our other wonderful writers have to say on all matters metal, I am rather partial to perusing the pages of TheMonolith.com. Dedicated to both music and film, It has been active for just over 2 years. I was lucky enough to get some time with 3 of its top Laptop Samurai, to find out what the experience of writing about music on-line is like for them.
CP: Who the fuck are you and why should we care?
SC: Cheeky! I'm Simon, I write for The Monolith. Why should you care? Because I do try awfully hard to be accurate, engaging and honest…..
CG: Hello, my name is Chris Grenville. I am the Co-founder of the Monolith. You know, I never considered how hard the second part of that question is until now. I guess you should care because we care. We care a lot, and not just about disasters, fires, floods and killer bees. We care about music, we care about being fair, and we care about being constructive; we won't ever shit on someone, and especially not without giving them some critique.
We like to think we're fairly humble, except about how funny we are. That is not up for debate. We're funny as fuck.
Q: I'm Quigs, and I founded The Monolith. I'd like to think that people cared, but there's no real reason to!
CP: How long have you been writing about music?
SC: I've been writing for The Monolith for just over eighteen months now.
CG: I've been writing about music since the beginning of 2010, but writing generally much longer. I like to think I'm some sort of wizard because as a child I was told I had an above-average reading level, correct everyone on their spelling, and once got complimented on a story I wrote for a piece of English homework in Year 9, and decided those things were good enough reason to go and study writing at university. Apparently I was okay at it.
Q: I first started writing about music four years ago, when I started online journalism. God, that simultaneously makes me feel old and makes me sound like a baby to industry veterans.
CP: What was your route into on-line journalism?
SC: The Monolith is the only site I've ever written for, but before that I was always getting involved in discussions on social media, and on message boards and forums before social media existed as we know it now. When The Monolith started up, I really liked their approach, so quickly became a very active commenter on the site. I dropped a hint that I might be interested in joining the staff, and they damn near ripped my hand off!
CG: In the third year of my degree I had to get some work experience for one module. I left it far too late, and stumbled across Heavy Blog Is Heavy, who were looking for writers at the time. I asked Head Heavy Jimmy Rowe if I could do words for them and he agreed because of the persuasive writing skills I learned in a non-fiction module the previous year.
I kind of didn't stop, and so basically it was a big accident. Story of my life.
CP: What made you make the leap from fan to writer?
SC: A couple of reasons, really. The most brutal one was I was sick of reading terribly written reviews and thinking "I could do better than that." So I thought I'd better put my money where my mouth was and give it a go.
Perhaps the other reason is that music has been my lifelong passion, but things like my career and my mortgage mean I can't be a touring musician. Don't get my wrong, there's no bitterness about failed dreams or anything, but I did still want to stay more involved than just being a punter and writing suits me down to the ground.
Finally, I realised I'd basically spent 20 years 'writing' reviews in my head and boring the pants off my friends with my extended analysis, so I thought it best to write it all down for people who might actually give a fuck about reading what I have to say. As I'm in my late thirties, I'm a bit older than a lot of online writers, so I thought I might have a slightly different perspective which people would hopefully find interesting.
CG: I'm not really sure why I thought it would be a good idea. I guess everyone thinks their opinions are worth something, and if the comments section of your local YouTube emporium are anything to go by, everyone thinks theirs is the most valid. For writers, it's absolutely critical to have confidence in your own ability, and I suppose the two spheres kind of rubbed up against each other and merged. At this point they're a mutually exclusive Venn diagram of awesome.
Really, I think I just want people to know about good music.
CP: What is your favourite type of piece to write: Review, news, interview or anything else?
CG: I have a difficult relationship with interviews. I used to be cripplingly shy, and the prospect of meeting people I looked up to or just didn't know wasn't at all appealing, so I didn't do it for a long time. That left e-mail interviews, which are my best friend when it comes to editing, but are nine times out of ten are pretty tame (although it did work once with Circles' Perry Kakridas, and remains among my top 5 favourite interviews ever).
I have since got over myself and really enjoy conducting them in person, but I fucking hate transcribing. With a passion. You get the best answers, but pressing pause/play for three hours straight is not my idea of fun.
I enjoy opinion pieces a lot, and they're also great for hits.
I enjoy it all really, but my favourite is definitely reviews – I just don't do it enough. It's what I did the most of at first, and it gives me license to use flowery language, dabble with pleasurable syntax and really get into something.
It's become a bit of an internal joke really – they usually take me weeks to finish (around my million other duties, so cut me some slack), and I generally cherry pick stuff that I like so that I can at least enjoy it. I used to be the go-to guy to review The Bunny The Bear records at Heavy Blog, and that was quite enough of that, thank you very much.
Q: It's tough really, as I'm a bit of a jack of all trades. News pieces are pretty easy, and once you get a rhythm going you can bash several of them out in quick succession. At The Monolith we like to try and write more about a band than the average site, so it still takes some research, but once you get in the mindset, most of the stories just write themselves.
CP: What is your favourite thing about being a Music writer?
CG: Honestly? Free stuff. That sounds bad, but let me clarify: it's that I rarely pay for the music itself. I happily buy clothing and other physical merchandise as often as I can – I have a stack of t-shirts in my wardrobe higher than Snoop Dog at a bong convention – but I wouldn't be able to listen to and watch the wide range of musicians that I have been afforded the honour to if I had to pay and it is absolutely incredible really. It's my favourite thing, but I also know exactly how lucky I am.
SC: The easy answer is getting advance copies of albums for review – but it can be a double-edged sword, as you do miss out on the shared experience on release day.
Something I hadn't fully appreciated before I started writing was how strong the social aspect was, particularly the camaraderie between writers from various sites. I've not experienced much, if any, ugly competition or rivalry between sites, so that was a very pleasant surprise. I've made a lot of new friends since I started writing regularly.
Q: My favourite thing is communicating with others, whether they be fans, writers, or musicians.
CP: Least favourite thing?
SC: Interview transcription, by a country mile. However much fun an interview be, the thought of spending literally hours converting the audio file to text looms ominously in the background. I've started outsourcing that particular chore, as it takes me months to get it done.
CG: I don't know if I have a least favourite thing about the actual act of being a music writer. I like music and I like writing. It's a pretty sweet deal.
I do roll my eyes at some of the stuff that goes on. There are a lot of really lovely people, but some are pretty self-important, or not as good as they think they are. I hope The Monolith grows and grows, but if we ever get to the point where we publish half-baked stuff, take me out back and shoot me.
CP: What genres/scenes do you cover? Was it a conscious choice to cover them? If not how did you come to be focused on them in particular?
SC: Those aren't completely straightforward questions to answer, really – and they're perhaps best approached by what I don't cover. I really don't like death, black or power metal at all, so I don't think I can give bands in those genres a meaningful appraisal. But pretty much anything else is fair game.
Probably the majority of my coverage is based around what gets called the British 'tech' scene, but that really is quite a broad church, especially when you include the likes of The Algorithm alongside Monuments, Tesseract or Aliases. This fits with the generalised 'progressive metal' remit of The Monolith pretty neatly.
CG: It's just "write what you know" really. We each have our specialities, and that's kind of reflected. We have a dude up in The Great White North, Kevin, who covers black, power and prog metal. Simon's into his modern generes and tech, and is a font of knowledge and sense. Quigs has a great line on film – something we do not a lot, but occasionally – and has a very broad taste, whereas I love anything with the prefix 'post-' or the sufix '-core'. We've got most bases covered. We even post about rap from time to time, but I guess that's not so surprising; there's some really good, dark, underground rap with great lyrics – a bit like metal.
Q: Whenever I do write about something, I try and balance it out. I would just like to write about film, but I'm vigilant of what content is published and how we need to balance it. If we have something published from the softer spectrum of metal, I'll try and balance it with something cool from the extreme end – but admittedly our audience has fallen in with the Tech Fest crowd – because of the tremendous work of Chris and Simon – who put in so much bloody time and effort into The Monolith that it would die without them. They cover the music that they like, so that's the audience we cater to at the moment – although Kevin always delivers his esoteric delights on the spectrum's of power, prog, and black. In truth, I like writing the most about comic book movies – but you may have noticed that those articles turn out LONG.
CP: What do you consider your role within the scene to be? And do you feel appreciated for what you do?
SC: This is a slightly contentious one, I think. It certainly seems to me that a lot of writers take writing to be an extension of PR. I see lots of talk about 'supporting the scene' and the like. I take a slightly different view, in that I approach it as a form of consumer advice. I think the role of the critic is to help the punter answer the question "Should I listen to this?" On balance, the answer is more likely to be yes than no, but I try to decide what to review before I listen to it at all, rather than cherry-picking the stuff I feel comfortable saying nice things about. I tend to think that if a writer never writes a negative review, their positive ones carry less weight.
Of course, it's natural to get a warm, fuzzy feeling when a band likes your review and shares it across their social media pages. But I have also had non-musicians occasionally complement my writing, which probably counts for more to me personally. It's nice to know I'm not just shouting into a vacuum.
CP: Do you think on-line music journalism is more important the print these days?
SC: That's a tough one. I don't think we've quite reached the point where online is more important just yet, but it's definitely gaining ground. However, even the biggest sites still only have a fraction of the reach of the established print outlets, so there's probably a long way to go before online truly surpasses print.
But, it really does depend on which bands you are interested in. If you want to read about Slipknot or Mastodon or Metallica, then print is where you'll find them. But for bands like, say, Exist Immortal or Red Seas Fire, then online is definitely the way to go. I personally haven't bought a copy of Metal Hammer or Rock Sound for about ten years – so I guess for me personally, online is way more important, but that doesn't change the fact that bands get far more exposure from print.
CG: Yes and no (cop out!). I think the prestige of print is still there – seeing your band in an actual magazine that people have slaved over must be thrilling, especially for the first time – but online is where people get their news. To be honest, even online journalism is slow; people get most of their news through social media, and in the time it takes online publications to write even something short about it, it's already several hours old. That's why we think it's important to go a little deeper with what we write to make sure people get all the info they need, a bit of history/colour, a bit of opinion, whether the relevant bands are touring anywhere soon – that kind of thing. Otherwise it's a pointless exercise because other people who get paid to do it will get there much faster than us.
Q: I think that's a loaded question. Magazines and websites have their respective places in the industry and both offer different things. You don't turn to magazines for by the minute coverage, but magazines have (often), a shiny, well presented physical product, which as we all know can be alluring to the average music fan. Plus, most of these magazines have their own websites anyway, so they fulfil the criteria that other sites do through that, and then save the big in depth content for the magazine.
CP: Any favourite interviews/articles that stand out in the memory?
SC: A couple of op-ed pieces for sure. First, Devin Townsend asked his Twitter followers whether he should run a crowd-funding campaign for either Casualties of Cool or Z2. I wrote an article explaining why he should, which made its way in front of Devin's eyes and those of his management. He tweeted subsequently about how useful it was, and the subsequent campaign was tremendously successful, raising five times the original target amount. That definitely gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling.
Secondly, I wrote a fairly forthright article entitled 'hardcore dancing is for twats', which is by far my most widely circulated piece. I think it was shared more than 400 times on Facebook alone. There was plenty of support for my position, but it was both hilarious and fascinating to watch people disagreeing in the strongest possible terms, and make wildly inaccurate assumptions about me in the process.
CG: I interviewed Robin Staps of The Ocean just before Pelagial came out. Ultimately it was a bitch to transcribe, but the interview itself was fun, despite coming at the end of a long day of interviews for him. I went really deep on the research, watching the film which inspired the lyrical content of the album (Stalker) and such-like, and we covered loads of really interesting stuff (for me, anyway).
Q: I loved The Grindhouse series, which was a short lived weekly feature series that ran near the start of The Monolith's life. It was written anonymously by a filmmaker that I knew from university – needless to say he found some success and so unfortunately became too busy to keep writing the column – either way it was hilarious while it lasted. Well, at least it fulfilled my sick sense of humour.
I'm also proud of the massive comic book articles I've done – my biggest was after Comic Con – gathering up all the latest news and giving my thoughts on it – I think it was about 25,000 words in the end. I stayed up all night writing it, which left me pretty delirious by the end of it!
– John Whitmore
Links: Official Website