Ben Patashnik is the editor of music magazine Rock Sound. He talks to IdeasMag about breaking into music journalism, the importance of branding and why his job isn't as glamorous as you might expect...
Full name/age/job title:
Ben Patashnik, 28, Editor of Rock Sound.
Please give us an overview of your average day.
Being a magazine editor means there are certain things each day, week and month that need to be done – working out which articles are going in the magazine each month and then conceiving and commissioning them, briefing photographers and writers, liaising with all layers of the music industry, writing as much as I have time for, editing copy, working with my Art Director on the aesthetics of Rock Sound, liaising with my Online Editor to make sure all content is coherent across all arms of Rock Sound – but there’s so much that isn’t contained within my job description.
At various times of the year I’m working on commercial deals, dealing with booking agents and promoters to work on our tours and events, and scheduling festival coverage both off and online. Because Rock Sound is a small company, everything that comes out bearing our stamp comes through me – if any brand is to be consistent and strong then it needs to feed into all the other arms of the brand. And then I go out to gigs at least two or three nights a week: I want to go to bed almost all the time.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
To be honest, I don’t know – maybe that it’s glamorous? Though it’s definitely not. It’s not like I get to hang out at Bono’s house, and even if I could I probably wouldn’t, because the man’s a thundering twat.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
The fact I love music and have to make business decisions based on what may or may not sell, rather than purely on what I love. If I made a magazine based solely on my tastes it’d sell one copy a month, to me.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you start out achieving it?
There was never any “Eureka! I want to be a music journalist!” moment because I think it’s a really unrealistic career path. When I was 16 I was reading a website based on punk music, knew I could do better and emailed the site admins. They gave me a “job” – which meant I got sent 20 CDs a month and had to review them all – and it spiralled from there.
I got jobs at other websites while doing a BA in English Lit at uni (and spent loads of time in a band, on tour and putting on gigs, which helped me just as much as anything else), did an MA in Magazine Journalism (which didn’t help much) and then wrote about 60 begging letters to every magazine I could think of, asking for a job. The only one to get back to me was NME, and they gave me a day’s trial as a sub-editor; it’s worth bearing in mind I didn’t know what a sub-editor was, but I knew it was a thing that happened at NME.
I was given two weeks’ freelance work there and at the end of the first week I sat down with the production editor and explained very politely I wasn’t going to leave unless I was fired, so they’d might as well give me a job please. Six months of regular freelancing later, I got a permanent job there, stayed for about another 18 months and then moved to Rock Sound. I still don’t know what “to do” with my life – all I know is that this is properly fun.
What can you do to get a head start?
Always be willing to learn from people who have done what you want to do. Writing is a craft not a skill, and it takes practice, humility, respect and more practice.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
Wow. Er, everything – maybe? Music journalism is an incredibly crowded field, because not only are we competing with commercial rivals, but we’re competing with every kid with a Tumblr account who has an opinion. If someone wants their opinion it’s free, but if they want ours then they have to pay for it. And the creative element is working out how to make people part with their money and making them feel like it’s worth it.
What one thing do you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
That it’s important to know how to approach people, and that “no” really means “not now”.
The most important thing for someone entering my industry is being able to write and being able to hold a decent conversation disguised as an interview.
Visit the Rock Sound website.
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