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'How to make it without a guitar' - with Ben Gilbert.
For the past two weeks you’ve taken our word of what to look for in everything Harrow-based. Today we’re in the presence of an expert. Ben Gilbert has seen the music industry grow from behind the scenes as a journalist. From the now extinct Melody Maker to Yahoo’s online department, he’s seen it all. He’s spent an hour with Marilyn Manson, eight minutes with Beyonce and now 10 minutes with Messi Music!
Ben has made it in the industry without strumming a chord. Though his career peaked after the birth of true online music journalism, his experience in the field is both illuminating and far-reaching.
Tastemaker: Ben Gilbert (photo by: Jak Cooper)
Ben started out as a hack, investigating and writing up local news stories for the East Anglia Daily Times. He developed an interest in sports, before becoming fixated on the lifestyles of musicians. Having a passion for journalism from a young age, Ben quickly began working freelance for Select magazine (running from 1990-2000, crashing with the decline of Britpop) and spent a short 6-month term writing for infamous Melody Maker, which also folded at the turn of the century. Perhaps this closure of paper press was a hint at the direction of the music industry, and the careers of critics like Ben - online.
After a brief stint at an online CD sales firm, a move that Ben said was “not exactly what I wanted to do”, but “started me off”. This jump into the online world was one that led to greater things for Ben, whose next foray into music journalism was at Dotmusic - the prolific online publication for music fans and industry professionals alike. He views the review industry as a place where personal style flourishes, believing you can work with a “creativty in reviews that is missing from news writing.”
His work at Dotmusic, reviewing new musical efforts and giving in-depth interviews with musicians of the time like Marilyn Manson (at the height of his post-Columbine massacre infamy) began shortly before the website changed ownership hands to BT, and subsequently to Yahoo in 2003. He has truly made his way up the career ladder at his time with Yahoo, going from freelance to reviews editor, to being fully contracted and in control of a group of ten industry professionals - subbing and publishing their work. Not bad for a former local hack!
He believes he has worked in most areas of the non-musician music publishing industry - reviewing, interviewing, features and now editorial. Of the ten contracted writers Ben uses, he says none are without decent track record - most with many years of experience within their respective fields. He expressed appreciation that the industry is harder to break these days, what with the advent of the blogosphere combined with the current economical climate. Enthusiasm, passion and a flair for writing are all the demands of the day, as well as an online presence more-or-less self-established. Websites like Pitchfork and Drowned in Sound dominate the modern music press, with an influential pen that can make or break an act. Just ask Arcade Fire. Such prolific websites are only going to employ those with real passion, extensive knowledge and the ability to persuade their readers to give something a listen. So get blogging.
Finally, Ben gave us his views on what’s hot tipped for mainstream success for the rest of 2011. As a pundit for the BBC’s ‘Sound of 2011’ preview, Ben selected James Blake and The Vaccines are promising contenders for our ears in 2011. Blake and the indie quartet rated second and third respectively in the countdown, losing out only to Essex born sensation Jessie J - so his influential opinions are obviously counting for something.
More so than yours, so perhaps it’s time to start putting your views out there, making a name for yourself and perhaps one day you’ll be considered a tastemaker with words worth listening to. Influential stuff. Kind of.
- by Jak Cooper
You can watch the whole interview below:
- video by Jimmy Blake