Pitching Story Ideas: An Editor's View From the Trenches

[This article was originally designed as a humor piece, but I've included it, with permission, because I felt it could stir up the creative juices of writers and business owners who pitch editors on stories--one of the best ways to create free publicity in the media.
Shel Horowitz, Editor, Down to Business]

Future historians, whose attitudes, and, more imporatntly, priorities and activities are as unpredictable as the lottery, will no doubt scorn to waste their time perusing such editors' queries as are reprinted below. These queries to Timothy Maxwell, Publisher of The Noise and Squirrel Times (the latter available by writing him c/o TMAXNOISE@AOL.COM) are, therefore, presented for the dubitable enjoyment of the present-day, and because the editor of Modern Wisdom, which would be me, is grievously behind in his monthly schedule.-FD

T: Re: story ideas.

Some possibilities (forgive me if you've done any of these recently):

People outside of the usual singer/songwriter mold who do other things within the local music biz, like Pete Weiss.

Or an interview with some soundmen as to the problems encountered in the course of their jobs.

A talk with booking agents who've been around for awhile about how the scene has changed over the last several years.

Have you done a piece on the Clubs lately? T.T.'s is celebrating what they call their 20th anniversary. I'm sure there's some other club in the metro area that's been around longer, though.

Has anybody ever done another interview with Bert Crenca of AS220 in Providence? I would guess not.

If you're running out of ideas for the Boston area, you could cast your net a little further and discuss the scenes in Worcester and Providence and elsewhere.

Maybe you could even commission a practicing musician knowledgable about the area to write these. I'm sure Chandler Travis would know quite a bit about the history of the music scene on the Cape. Aram Heller (whatever happened to him?) is an excyclopedia of obscure local bands. An interview with Monoman or Kenne Highland about the late 70s-early 80s Boston scene would probably uncover tons of forgotten lore.

Eric Van, of course, knows a great deal of stuff about bands other than Mission of Burma--for instance, The Atlantics. Kenne had a girlfriend who published a zine back in 1985 called Creeping Sounds. I wonder if you could track her down.

As you can no doubt tell, I'm somewhat fixated on the late 70s and mid-to-late 80s. Those were the bands I knew best and I still remember that era fondly.

One area you might explore is the genre article, for example:
THE RISE AND FALL AND RISE (AND FALL) OF BOSTON HEAVY METAL WHITHER PUNK?
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GOTH?
EMO--FAD OR TREND?
IS BOSTON STILL THE GARAGE BAND CAPITAL?
WHY HAS THERE NEVER REALLY BEEN A 'BOSSTOWN SOUND'?

Some more specific ideas:

I've always wanted to see an article dealing with musicians who play specific instruments. The bass guitar, for example. The cello. The violin. The mandolin. Exotic percussion. An interview with a few or several such instrumentalists might make for an interesting article, and break the usual mold of 'interview with a band'.

Maybe an article dealing with a specific aspect of the music business and/or the everyday rigors of playing in a local band would be a worthwhile project. You could ask a specific question to a rotating sort of roundtable of reliable and articulate and/or noteworthy respondents. Examples of possible topics:

What is your attitude toward success? (Many younger people who travel with a certain crowd profess to despise it and refuse to acknowledge the fact that they are working toward it. It would be interesting to get responses from a few of them ragarding why they feel this way.)

How has attending a music conservatory like Berklee enhanced or affected your career as a local musician? (I've heard quite a bit of grumbling from folks at your parties as to how such people are 'Berklee assholes'. I think this is somewhat unfair, since most of the Berklee people I've ever talked to have truly loved rock and roll. I suppose they'd have had to have loved it, since they'd usually get criticized from both ends--from their Berklee peers, who thought they were lowbrow, and from the non-Berklee local music contingent, who though they were highbrow.)

What do you do in order to make enough money to be able to play music? (Needless to say, such an article should avoid the usual wiseass 'Don't quit your day job' attitude and instead focus on what it is about the character of people who talk about their jobs that makes them willing to work an 8 hour day and then practise until late in the evening on days they meet with their bandmates and stay up until 3am on nights they play out. Where do they get their sense of commitment? This has, it seems to me, been too seldom discussed.)

How does Boston compare as a city in which to play music to the town where you originally came from? (A lot of Boston musicians are from somewhere else. I, for one, would love to read a paragraph or two about the music scene in Louisville KY or Albany NY or San Francisco. If you could find a bunch of musicians originally from one region, such as The South or the West Coast and get them to discussing what it was like back home and why they left, such an article might even be of interest to people who don't ordinarily read the Noise.)

How does the United States compare to the country from which you were born? (There are quite a few area musicians who are foreign nationals. It would be quite a coup to interview somebody who grew up in, say, Korea, or Afghanistan, or Iran or Iraq.)

How is New York treating you? (Quite a few musicians formerly from Boston now operate from New York but make frequent trips to New England. It might be interesting to get their impressions as to how business is done in manhatten versus here.)

How did you first get booked? Who, what, where and when? (A lot of people in bands remember their first show in vivid detail. You'd want to get as many different points of view as possible, from as many different eras as feasible.)

What kinds of music do you like, other than Rock and roll? What albums would you recommend to somebody who might be interested in this genre? (As we know, long lists are deadly, so you'd want to get as many different genre replies as possible, and keep the individual lists to three or five. For instance: Post-war jazz: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Charles Mingus Ornette Coleman Live at the Golden Circle, Stockholm v. 1 & 2. Ole. John Coltrane. Sketches of Spain. Miles Davis. Time Out. The Dave Brubeck Quartet.)

How have MP3s and the internet changed the way in which you publicize and promote your band and its music, compared to ten years ago? (You would want to talk to people who've been at it for while, whose careers pre-date MP3s and widespread use of the internet).

On a related topic: Ask the really old-timers what the scene was like when they arrived and how it is different now. (They're all likely to mention the names of now-defunct clubs, and it is that aspect of their experience which might be the most useful or interesting to a certain tyle of reader: "I heard a lot about this Cantones--what was it really like?")

How about an interview with some of the record store owners in the Boston area? I don't recall ever reading any interviews with the folks who run Cheapo's, or In Your Ear. These interviews needn't be long or elaborate--they could focus on the local angle and perhaps generate business for them and enhanced promotional opportunities for the people in the bands who are likely employed there. Back when Yukki Gipe was working in a record store, I would have loved to know what he thought of working there. People currently employed in such places might be leery of criticising their employers, but not if they no longer work there. Has anybody ever done an interview with former record store clerks who have gone on to better (or at least bigger) things?

People who write promo aren't exactly well-known individuals compared to the bands. Who are they? How did they get into the business? Do they make a living from it? I've written one or two of these pieces myself, mostly for Ralph (whatever happened to her?), so I know there's a fine line between hype and factual description that few promo writers seem to observe. You'd probably want to talk to a few successful ones who make part of their living from it, and pump them for info as to how it is done.

Have we ever spoken much about drug use? This might be a tricky one, since it is illegal, but there's no reason we would have to use real names. As a former public health librarian, I would like to know what musicians would say when asked what attracts them to certain drugs. Do they really think their performances are enhanced? Do they have any cautionary tales to impart? Any advice as to which drugs to avoid?

These are all I can think of at present. I will forward any futher ideas to you if and as they occur to me.fd


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