David Weiss is President of D Media, Inc. (www.dwords.com) and is an internationally published freelance journalist. He is the NYC editor of Mix magazine, the world's leading pro audio publication, and his work has appeared regularly in publications such as Systems Contractor News, Archi-Tech, Digital Television, TV Technology, Time Out NY, Remix and Drum! magazine. He is also co-author of the book Music Supervision: The Complete Guide to Selecting and Licensing Music & Sound Design for Media, published by Schirmer Trade Books in September, 2005. Mr. Weiss is a music supervisor for retail, restaurant and hospitality environments, guiding content and music management systems while working with one of New York City's premiere A/V integrators, Essential Communications.
In addition, Mr. Weiss is the founder of D Media, Inc. a marketing/PR consultancy for the pro audio, broadcast, A/V, music and fiber optic industries. Clients have included the NYC video editing facility Rhinoceros, communications firm Marcomm Group for clients including Canon, Ikegami, Chyron, Videotek, Vinten, and D Data, fiber optic carrier Q Media, A/V specialists Essential Communications, and post house Planet V.
Having read David's book Music Supervision as well as being a follower of Mix Magazine, this interview was of special interest to me. David knows his stuff and shares a lot of insight in his answers. With David's busy NYC schedule, it was a real pleasure to not only have time for the interview but to be able to pick David's brain in a leisurely fashion. I hope you find this interview as interesting as I did. Of course, a big thank you to you David for making the time to do this.Aaron Bethune.
Interview with David Weiss
How did you get into the music and entertainment business?
I always tell people that playing drums is how I got into this mess. In the music business, so many of us are musicians first and foremost; music has a way of taking you on a path that gets you involved in all these things. I’m 38 and I’ve been playing drums for 26 years. That coincided with me developing my skills as a writer, which is what I’m actually talented at. I know I’m talented at writing because I’ve been playing drums just as long, and that’s a lot more work. So they’re equally satisfying but one feels a heck of a lot easier, and that’s writing.
Those two things together led me to move from Detroit to New York City in ’94 and get a series of jobs that were PR-related. There was always something musical for me going on in the background. I was always in bands or an audio engineer and I started covering audio engineering. I was working at a tiny PR agency, my second job in New York City after working at PR Newswire, which is a terrific company. From there I got a job at a tiny PR firm called Howard Sherman Public Relations, and one of their long-time clients was and remains a recording studio designer called John Storyk (you can find out more about him at www.wsdg.com). John was best known for designing Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady, it was the first recording studio he ever designed. The first press release I ever wrote was for John, decades after he did Hendrix. That’s how I started to understand that there was this other side to writing about music that wasn’t just CD reviews and reviewing bands, but writing about the production aspect. At first I didn’t think I’d find it interesting, but I found to be very interesting. That’s how I got started.
My next question is how did you get your first job as a journalist?
It depends what you think is a job. The first thing I think of was my internship at a magazine called Orbit in Detroit, I got that internship after my sophomore year at college. I was going to school at the University of Michigan and I managed to get an internship at Orbit. Orbit was a fantastic culture magazine covering Detroit and came out weekly in the Detroit area. It’s famous because of Quentin Tarantino, in his scene in Pulp Fiction, he’s wearing this t-shirt with that giant smiling happy globe. That’s Orby, the logo for Orbit, and so everyone actually has seen Orbit’s logo from that.
From Orbit I got an internship the next year at I.R.S Records, the label founded by Miles Copeland which originally signed R.E.M. I always kept writing freelance journalism on the side, for Orbit and for a couple of music magazines. Back then there was still a ton of magazines on the racks – there are now, but it would be extremely hard for a budding, ambitious music journalist of today to get started the way I did. Then, 15-16 years ago, I had a connection at an NYC print magazine – whose name I now forget -- and I was willing to write for free, and I built my clips up that way.
My first paying gig actually came when I picked up a copy of Drum! magazine (www.drummagazine.com). Because he knew I wrote, my drum teacher suggested that I propose an article about him to Drum! Magazine. So, I actually wrote a letter to the editor, Andy Doerschuk, and I told I wanted to cover drums on New York for him, since they were based in California. Sometimes the timing is just right. He needed someone to cover the scene, so that wound up being my first paying gig. I never did actually write about Brian Doherty, whose idea it was to do it, but my first assignment was on the drummer from Type O Negative, Johnnie Kelly. I’m proud to say I still do contribute to them, one or two articles a year now.
How has the home studio affected the music industry?
That’s a huge question. It’s been one of many factors that have resulted in the distribution of monies, throughout the music industry, to become much more diffuse. Just the simple fact that people can produce music in their own home, in their personal studios, using stuff that cost a few hundred, maybe a few thousand dollars, as opposed to a few hundred thousand, or a few million dollars - which was what it used to cost to have the minimum infrastructure necessary to record songs - that’s going to have an impact. It’s just like the airline industry would change if everybody could fly everywhere by themselves. Absolutely everything in the universe has benefits and trade-offs. I like the fact that anybody who wants to make music now can. That’s terrific. So great quantities of music are being made, more than has ever been made before. Probably a lot of it is terrible, but from where I sit, the really bad stuff rarely reaches my ears. Everyone says the ease of access to recording equipment means that a lot of bad music is going to be made. But you’ve got to hear some of the bad music to appreciate good stuff. You’ve got to be incredibly creative and persistent as an artist now to be able to create music and get paid for it, in any way, shape or form.
Does journalism affect the music industry?
They are there to affect each other. You’ve heard of Pitchfork, which was started as a magazine in the early to mid-90s and has grown into arguably the most influential tastemaker publication media outlet online now. They’ve got enormous traffic and it’s very important to get your album reviewed in Pitchfork. What I’ve heard is that those who are in the know battle very hard to get their music reviewed on Pitchfork to promote their albums. I’ve heard that bands are actually changing their music and shaping it so they’ll get a positive review from them. I guess it is kind of disturbing to hear that.
So there’s one example of journalism affecting music. There’s probably a myriad of other examples like that. We use media now to learn facts, get analysis, get opinions and get help with the outside world. We’re looking for something that we’re going to act on, whether it’s travel or weather information, or to know about music that’s going to fulfill us in some way.
What would the process be for an artist to get a review or article in a publication?
Today it totally depends. It used to be pretty cut and dry. Several years ago, when an artist came out with an album, they would print up many, many copies of the album and send it to the journalist three months before it came out. It would be the publicist or the band that would get the music to the journalist and then try and get some type of ink.
Now, you still get a little bit of that. I still get several CDs a week in the mail. For the most part, I’m bombarded with email from publicists, and it’s welcome. The internet makes it a lot easier to spread a ton of information about artists. But there’s millions and millions of people competing for other people’s attention. So that’s the rub.
Today, someone might send me a link to their album online, and I if I get a chance I’ll download it and give it a listen. That’s just one of many ways that things get to me, but there are lots of others. There’s pure osmosis – we’re in NYC, and I’m going to be out and seeing a band, or someone’s going to tell me about it, or I’ll find about it via my own site, on sonicscoop.com. I find out about a lot of great music by writing about a producer who’s produced 10 bands, and I listen to all those bands when I get a chance. That’s a terrific channel for finding out about music. Every editor and writer has their processes and filters for what music they actually listen to and cover.
What makes for a good press release?
- They need to be succinct. Keep them to a page; if you present someone with too much information these days, they’re going to decide they don’t want to read any of it. “Please forgive me for writing such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.” I hear this quote all the time. Keeping things succinct requires a lot more thought and effort than just throwing a whole bunch of information out there.
- Always ask yourself are you providing the ‘who, what, where, when and why’.
- Always make sure your contact information is there. One piece of advice I give to bands is to avoid naming yourself as the press contact. For example, if this press release is about John Winters, jazz guitarist, and John writes it and puts it out, consider making an alternate email address such as email@example.com and make the media contact your boyfriend or your girlfriend. From an image perspective, if you’re making yourself look completely like a one-man shop, it just doesn’t have the same impact. I deal with some one-man companies and I tell them to find a way to make it look like this is from a press representative.
- One of the things I learned from Steve Karas, who gave me the internship at IRS Records and is still a top publicist in the music field, is to never compare a band to another band – he would never say “They sound like Faith Hill and Queens of the Stone Age…” You’ve got to find a way to describe the music without invoking other bands or artists, unless you think that’s really essential.
- Make the artist appear to be an interviewable entity - someone that would be interesting to talk to.
I actually don’t call them press releases very often anymore, I refer to these public communications as news releases, because I think there’s a big difference – there is a lot less press now. Your news release, if you’re an artist, it’s going up on your website, it’s going out on your email list, you’re linking to it on Twitter and FaceBook, etc… It’s news that you’re putting out and it’s going to a great deal of people who aren’t with the press.
How have blogs affected the business?
It depends what you actually define as a blog. Some people call SonicScoop a blog. In my mind it’s not a blog, it’s a media company. There’s a great quote in a book called “The Brand Gap” by Marty Neumeier - I advise everybody, no matter what they do, to read this book - one of the core things he says is “a brand is not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is.” So, if people think SonicScoop is a blog, I have to accept that.
I can’t say for sure what a blog is now – I don’t think of a blog as being different from any other kind of media resource. A blog, to the general public, simply means a website that is updated frequently with some type of opinionated slant of reporting on a particular topic. Due to the ease that blogs can be created, just like the extreme ease that music can now be recorded, anyone who wishes to be a tastemaker, have an opinion, and be instantly internationally published can be. If you’re a person using all that stuff, hopefully blogs are going to be a way to point you to some of the stuff you really like, but we all have to apply our filters at some point.
Are there any in particular that you pay more attention to?
One of my favourites is written right here in New York City, it’s called www.createdigitalmusic.com, and that’s written by a guy called Peter Kirn. It’s a very geeky blog about producing music with digital tools - and it’s funny. Mashable is regarded as a blog and also Tech Crunch, but they’re not necessarily music related. I find those three very important to check everyday.
What I’m about to recommend next isn’t a blog, but everyone should subscribe to the ASCAP Daily Brief. It’s an excellent, daily email aggregation of breaking news about the music business.
How are some good ways to network as a journalist?
Now, its more important than ever to find ways to get out there, meet people face-to-face, and connect, because there’s so much out there in the virtual world. People get too wrapped up in trying to meet people by email and things like that. If you’re trying to connect purely on a virtual basis, you’re going to hit the wall in how meaningful of a relationship you can establish.
As Mark Twain said, “All politics is local.” Get involved locally, and if you have a blog that covers a particular topic, you can’t go wrong by covering it locally, especially if we’re talking about music. SonicScoop is the real embodiment of not only that philosophy, but of my experience now. I was the New York editor for California-based Mix Magazine. I don’t have my column there anymore - I knew that was going to happen as their ad pages continued to decline, which is why I started Sonic Scoop -- but my job was to cover recording in New York City. I wrote one column per month for Mix on that topic for six and a half years.
When I started SonicScoop, Janice Brown - my co-founder and co-editor of the site – and I could say “We’ve been covering this topic in this city for this long. We have a ton of connections, we have a ton of relationships, and we need to be writing more, not just once a month.” I could write a column a minute on New York recording and never run out of stuff to cover - it’s just explosive. People thought I was an important person to know when I was writing for Mix. Now my stature in this community, in this niche, continues to grow in importance because I’m at the centre of a local industry and I get out there as often I can. Meetups, mixers, social things, but also actually covering news. Everybody needs a competitive edge now. When you give press to people, that provides them with something they’re probably going to shoot around to their whole email list. So, you can see that if you do find a way to cover what you’re interested in locally then your networking will start to feed on itself.
If you’re doing a good job, people will think it’s important for you to be there, and it will be a positive cycle. Opportunities will start to come to you - almost everything I can name that has come into my life, has come because I took the time to go outside, instead of staying at home. Including meeting my wife which led to me having my son -- all that resulted from decisions I made to go out instead of stay home.
If you are a freelance journalist, what’s a good way to get your work published?
If you’re not already in the club on a particular magazine that’s being printed right now, don’t even bother. It’s possible someone new is going to get in but you’re going to have to fight extremely hard and get paid very little to contribute to some magazines that you think would pay a lot, and may be on the verge of going out of business for all you know.
There are some that do pay really great, but again, getting into those is even tougher. If you can write for Vogue or GQ in this day and age, you’ll make a lot of money on that article but I wouldn’t even attempt to break in unless I was having lunch with the editor or something like that, and had a great article concept or three to pitch. The hoops you have to jump through are massive.
It’s more about wanting to get to the next level, it’s about getting the attention of online media outlets and being willing to write for free or very little to get started. You demonstrate your ability to write for those outlets by having a blog. I would recommend people to start your own blog. Make sure it looks terrific, add content often. I don’t take blogs very seriously when people say they want to write for me and when I look at their blog, there are two entries from the current month and one from the month before - I want consistency. If they only added something once a month, but it was regular, that would be okay but it would have to be good.
What defines a good story?
What we’re most interested at SonicScoop in are stories that Janice or I haven’t thought of - when someone proposes it we realize it’s interesting and relevant to our target audience. It comes down to what we think our readers are going to sink their teeth in to. We’re not always right about what that is, but that’s the thing.
A good article pitch is based on the potential journalist’s demonstrated knowledge of your site or outlet. You’re going to have to be persistent. In my Music Supervision book (www.musicsupervisioncentral.com), one of my favourite quotes is from Adam Schlessinger of the band Fountains of Wayne who talks about the fine line between persistence and annoyance. It’s a tough line to walk. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. If I don’t know you at all and you keep coming to me because you believe in yourself and you’re doing it in a way that’s not crowding me, eventually I’m going to write you back. Eventually, I’m going to be able to read this thing you submitted and see where you really fit in.
Has the internet affected the printed versions of publications?
It has devastated the economic model. These types of transitions go hand in hand with human development. One of the key aspects of our evolution is how we communicate. Whenever we introduce something that helps us communicate better – because humans are extremely well-organized, it’s our advantage and our downfall. It’s what made us incredibly awesome at what we do, and may bring disastrous consequences in the end. But we organize astonishingly well and communication is definitely at the heart of that.
Print ruled for a long time and probably put some people out of business at first…people who pounded stuff into stone tablets or something. Now the internet is putting print out of business, making it irrelevant in almost every way, shape and form that is used. There will always be printed communication, but the internet has made it incredibly hard - not impossible - to make money with printed communications. Someday something will come along and do that to the internet.
Tell me about Sonic Scoop and your book, “Music Supervision”
Sonic Scoop covers the New York City music industry. It is really that simple and it’s pretty unbelievable that before we launched in August of 2009, there was no website doing that. I always say that I imagine in Hollywood there is a website or two covering film production, which is a big, important and glamorous industry in Hollywood. In New York City, the music industry is tens of millions, hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars per year. Yet before Sonic Scoop was launched, there was no central resource for reporting on it.
People think there’s not much money in recording and indie music but there are many music industries within the New York City scene that are very profitable, for example: Broadway, A/V integrators, radio, publishers, music supervision, synch licensing, mechanical licensing and more. I can’t wait until we have enough staff to really cover every one of those in every borough of the tri-state area, which we consider to be our focus. SonicScoop is really simple because it brings the New York City music community together and connects them. We’re going to continue to roll out tools that are going to bring that along. So that’s SonicScoop; I’m extremely proud of it.
www.MusicSupervisionCentral.com is the sister site for our book, Music Supervision, which came out in 2005, and 5 years later, we continue to get several emails a week through the site from people who are really interested in music supervision. It’s an increasingly important topic for artists to understand, so we update the website at least a couple of times a week with news. We’re starting to run these awesome “Music Seen” columns, written by Dave Hnatiuk, my co-author and contributor for Sonic Scoop. Music supervision is an extremely tough industry to crack into but more supervisors are going to be needed. We have definitely heard from people that our book has been helpful for them to understand how to get in and start their own related business - that’s incredibly gratifying.
Www.dwords.com is my corporate writing site. I do a ton of press releases, marketing writing, and web copies for companies in a lot of different sectors. I love writing about music and music technology, but also about free-space optics, wireless broadband, analog to digital converters - almost anything in broadcast, audio and video post. I can write a mean press release about how a Pepsi commercial was edited.
You have to be diverse and have varied revenue streams. I’m fortunate that when it comes to my corporate writing I’ve been able to stick it out and establish myself in a niche where good writing is respected. It keeps me updated on state-of-the-art technology, and what’s keeping my clients in business is very important for me to know. It’s exciting.
For more information about David and his company SonicScoop please visit his website www.sonicscoop.com.