NME’s Hamish MacBain tells us about his career as a rock’n’roll scribe…
Full name/age/job title...
Hamish MacBain/31/Assistant Editor, NME.
Please give us an overview of your average day...
I’m involved in all aspects of NME to a degree, from the website to the magazine to the gigs and tours we put on to any number of other – ahem – platforms. So my day will involve lots of meetings about all of these things, coming up with and developing ideas, editing copy, writing copy, lots of phonecalls and emails and setting things up with writers, bands, PR types and so on. In general: making sure everything people read and see that is associated with NME is brilliant and not rubbish.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
The most common one about NME specifically – and this is a misconception perpetrated almost exclusively by people born after 1980 – is that it’s “not as good as it was in the Seventies”. The biggest misconception about working for a music magazine in general is that it is merely a constant succession of aftershow parties and free drugs. Truth is you spend as much time staring at a computer as any IT tech does. And usually have to pay for your own drugs.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
A lack of sleep. When I started, it would not be uncommon to go to six gigs a week and not get to sleep until 3am most nights, then get in to work for 10am the next day. It is important (and fun) to do this, so you know what’s going on. But the older you get and the more responsibility you get, the less acceptable (and fun) it becomes to feel like death for days on end.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you set out to achieve it?
Much as it pains me to say it, I have travelled the clichéd music writer’s path. That being: age 15, fell hopelessly in love with rock and roll; age 16-22, formed a band, wrote songs, played gigs, felt that the planets need aligning and that I was the man to do it, got “a manager”, got “label interest”, got “disillusioned” and let go; age 23, wrote a letter to NME moaning about something or other they’d printed that was garbage, and fortunately got a call from the Editor at the time saying that he thought it was great and would I like to write for them. The rest, as they say, is history. Maybe not exactly the sort of history I envisaged as a teenager, but history that occasionally involves an ampitheatre full of screaming girls nonetheless.
What can you do to get a head start?
There are rarely prizes for emailing in and going, “Hello! I’m a writer, you’re a magazine, can I write something for you?” Many people can string a few sentences together, and we already employ lots of them. You need to be in touch with what’s going on, you need to pitch in a way that shows you have got something exciting to offer. All of this is easily as important as being able to write. And anyway, these days you are not restricted to just writing. Use the video camera on your phone, use a blog, use Twitter (which personally I loathe, but hey) use anything. The key is to bring ideas to the table that will make you stand out.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
There are an inconceivably massive amount of places to read, watch, listen and learn about music these days. The Sun are doing it, the BBC are doing it, some weirdo in his pants in a flat in Chicago is doing it. My job is to make sure all of our ideas – whether they be for a feature on a band or for an evening of live music – are as exciting and unique as they possibly can be.
What one thing do you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
That some lunatic was going to invent the internet.
Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
In terms of getting a job within publishing, Gorkana.com is great, as is Media Guardian, but to be honest those are more for people who are established within the industry. Just find out which people run things, email them, phone them, go up to them pissed at a gig, make yourself seem worth knowing. Tenacity is the key, really.