Access

Access. It’s what separates the big dogs from the little dogs in journalism.

Access means that when you call, they listen. When you contact their publicist, the make pains to find out what works for your schedule. And, above all, it means that there is someone on the band’s team that is making you a priority for the band. Access is the big reason I think it’s a mistake for local publications to invest most of their energy covering national and touring acts. SPIN, Rolling Stone, AP, etc., can afford to send professional writers on assignment with bands. They can spend days or weeks working on a story, getting close enough to the band to develop a rapport with the members. Almost Famous was dramatized, sure, but it wasn’t complete bullshit.

In my limited experience, the best interviews aren’t necessarily with the biggest bands. They’re with the bands that have time to talk, that make your interview a priority. Once I was in the room or on the phone, it was my job to ask probing questions and make them feel comfortable in their answers. When bands have a reason to prioritize your time together, the reader wins.

Augustana is a great example. They were going huge guns last year, playing all the nighttime and daytime talk shows, and their publicist would give me–representing a magazine in their own hometown that was going to run a 2000-word feature–twenty minutes. With the bass player. The interview was fine, and to his credit, Jared Palomar gave me more time than that, but the point is that local publications–unless they’re LA Weekly or Village Voice, or maybe the Chicago Reader, or syndicated like the Onion’s AV Club–won’t get much more access than that. That’s from a local band, who by all accounts are nice guys, who were in the middle of taping for CBS this Morning, thinking about jackassing around with Al Roker and gearing up for ANOTHER twenty minute phoner with someone in Twin Falls, Idaho. And this is Augustana–a bigger band, but not exactly the Stones.

Contrast that with my experience interviewing Grand Ole Party. True, fewer people in San Diego, to say nothing of the world, care about them. But all three met me at Cream in University Heights. We talked for an hour, our conversation ranging from college to Snoop Dogg to Otis Redding. We talked about playing for Slash from Guns and Roses. I won’t say that they don’t offer up that kind of stuff to any writer, and I won’t say that a year from now they might not care at all about 1000 words in a publication like Citybeat, but I will say that much of what makes music journalism compelling (at least in my opinion) is about establishing enough of a rapport with the artist to break through the talking points and get to the person. Because, and maybe this is just me, that’s what reading about musicians is all about. People already know, from the music, what the musician would like to put forth for public consumption. They want something more personal than that.

Covering the national music scene means making a conscious decision to target artists who are less interested in making you a priority. Moreover, if our only litmus tests as journalists is to write about what the majority of people care about, why not say fuck it all and do a weekly review of American Idol? Why not publish gossip about Paris Hilton? I thought the reason that most of us got in to journalism was because we felt that there were stories that should be told, that need to be told, that otherwise wouldn’t be told if we weren’t telling them. It certainly isn’t for the pay.

Even if we decide that our job is to mirror tastes and give the reader what they want, shouldn’t we presume that the readers of an alternative culture and arts weekly are looking for something a little less mundane in their music coverage? The concept of comparative advantage is important here. Local weeklies can’t compete with big glossies for the attention of the big artists, but those magazines don’t have the time or the space to dedicate to anything more than a cursory look to bands that aren’t played on radio or capable of selling out SOMA. Locally-focused press can can develop coverage of a scene and beat the big boys by playing a different game: kicking ass on issues of local import, nodding to the big acts when they come through, and, in general cultivating a sense of place. Those are my thoughts. And I’ve seen how all this works from the perspective of a journalist, an artist, and someone who spends a lot of time talking to friends who do publicity, radio promotion, and A&R.

Oh, and to San Diego’s musicians: do something interesting. I, and others like me, sound like jackasses when we stick up for coverage of a local music scene that’s moribund and stagnant. The only time anyone thinks local coverage is masturbatory is when the smoke that we fan outward is wildly disproportionate to the fire that the musicians are generating. There are good writers in this town that are waiting for you to do something worthy of coverage. Go on tour. Punch out David Yow the next time he’s in town (actually, don’t do that–he’ll kill you and he’s a personal hero to probably everyone who will be in spitting distance). Make a youtube documentary about harassing 91X’s DJs at the supermarket. Hell, I don’t know.

Be bold, and we shall sing your praises and chronicle your rise to glory. Or, failing that, chronicle your rolling around in broken glass at the Alibi.

Who is Eddie Shoebang?

The comments left by Citybeat editor Dave Rolland (and independent confirmation by the man, himself, Nathan Dinsdale) have cleared up an error of assumption on my part: Eddie Shoebang is not Nathan Dinsdale.

Who is Eddie Shoebang? It’s a pseudonym, a nom de plume. Dave’s comments suggest that Eddie and Nathan had a working relationship in the past.

Googling “Eddie Shoebang” takes us immediately to the Everybody’s a Critic blog. Judging by the name (“Wicked Local”) and the Massachusetts real estate listing, one presumes that Eddie is also a writer for a blog based on the East Coast. The blogger profile seems to confirm it. Is this the same Eddie Shoebang?

It’s not quite a Bangalore call center, but along with the reported shift away from coverage of the local scene, is does raise some eyebrows about the direction that Citybeat is headed. If you have info, please leave it in the comments section. I just want to know. Or, if that’s a little too public, email me.

Nathan Dinsdale’s coverage of the Westboro Baptist Church

Though I haven’t met him yet, I know what I’ll want to talk about the first time I meet new Citybeat music editor Nathan Dinsdale, and it ain’t Grand Ole Party: Dinsdale has interviewed Fred Phelps.

If you don’t know who Fred Phelps is, well, he’s this guy:

And no, he’s not taking that sign down, as I would expect a good Christian to do. Phelps–in addition to looking like the prematurely aged love child of George Strait and Macho Man Randy Savage–is pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church and is famous for his touring “God hates fags” campaign, which recently took the step of picketing soldiers’ funerals in order to draw more attention to their cause–which, in case you missed it, is simply that God hates homosexuals and will rain down vengeance on us all for tolerating homosexuality. At least in the interviews I’ve read, Phelps strikes me as a potent mixture of bat-shit insanity and media-savvy (or at least conscious) hack. I’m no psychologist, but this man seems to think about same-sex intercourse an awful lot for someone who can’t stand the concept.

The interview is pretty good. Read it in its entirety here. I just want to know what it’s like to eat crackers with a guy like this.

Pointed criticism of Citybeat’s new editorial staff

A Coat of Red Paint in Hell has some pointed criticism of Citybeat’s music coverage under the reigns of new editor Nathan Dinsdale.

I’ve been watching Nathan’s tenure at Citybeat as an outsider. Since he’s taken over I’ve contributed only a record review or two, which was my choice. He was cool about asking me to pitch ideas for contributions–I declined, citing my work schedule as the reason (it was, and is).  I’m willing to reserve judgment because I’ve moved around a lot and know that it took me a while to get a handle on San Diego as a new arrival. I do have the following observations:

1. More hip hop coverage. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Under TJ’s tenure, hip hop was not off the radar but it wasn’t a central focus. I don’t know if San Diego is a hip hop town or not, but my guess is that it’s more of one than the TJ-helmed Citybeat made it out to be, and less of one than ND’s tenure would suggest.

2. The “If I Were U” doesn’t represent my tastes.

3 . Who is Eddie Shoebang, and why is he writing most of the music reviews? Are other reviewers unavailable? The answer to this is that Eddie is the pen name of Nathan himself, who also does a lot of the writing under his own name.

4. The conceptual (some would say “fake”) articles aren’t doing it for me. The aforementioned blog was quite up in arms about the Lupe Fiasco and Switchfoot features in the past two weeks. I’ve written a fair amount, for several different media outlets (full disclosure: Shane, the writer of acoatofredpaintinhell, was my editor at themusicedge.com and is a good friend of mine), and realize that tracking down an artist you’d like to do a feature on isn’t always easy. When that happens, you come up with something else. Arch Enemy and I got our wires crossed over the interview date, so I couldn’t run the story. I guess that’s what’s going on here, but I don’t really know.

5. Nathan (and Eddie) is having to generate a lot of content each week. That can’t simplify the man’s life a great deal.

It’s early in Nathan’s experience with Citybeat. Let’s see where we’re at in a month or so.

Troy Johnson leaving Citybeat

Posted by the man himself:

Goodbye.

Sometimes it’s time. After 5 years plus a bunch of minutes, I am leaving CityBeat. There’s no blood on the office walls. Just sweat stains on an office chair. I love this paper lifestyle and the people in it. But it’s time to put down the demo CD and untunnel the vision. Effective Oct. 29, I will become the Senior Editor at RIVIERA magazine.

Seriously, thanks.

There is now an opening for part-time music editor at a great paper. Email davidr@sdcitybeat.com if you’re that person.

Wow. Between Fox Rox and Citybeat, it’s pretty clear that Troy Johnson has been the most influential music journalist and critic in San Diego for a good while now. My band was lucky to benefit from Troy’s good press early in our life, and we’ve always been appreciative of it. And we’re not alone in that. San Diego’s music scene has benefited immensely from Troy’s efforts over the years. His presence will be missed.