Part 2

Can you take me through your process on the basis of an episode that's particularly dear to you? How did you decide what to report, what did you start with, what sources did you draw from for research purposes and how did the piece gradually take shape?

Quite honestly each episode is rather dear to me and takes shape in the same way. Sound Off looks at music challenging the status quo. The starting point is deciding who should be featured and that means lots and lots of listening, which is always my first point of engagement. I seek out subjects who create hybrid sounds that aren’t easy to quantify. To prepare for the interview itself, I research any information I can get my hands on about that artist to seek out open-ended questions that will engage them and invite a lively, heartfelt conversation. I’ll spend up to an hour talking with an artist, but sometimes about 30 minutes. Once I have the conversation, I spend time honing in on the choicest parts of to distill to its essence. Because this isn’t just an interviews podcast, I’ll also feature full tracks of music, so I spend a lot of time figuring out what pieces make the most sense and the ones I’m most drawn to. Then, of course, I have to seek rights to play the music. I’ll additionally play smaller snippets of music that often comes up with the artists so that I can weave a little documentary-style context into it. The part that I try to do as little as possible is insert my narration over it all. I’ll only write script if something needs to be clarified, aside from the intro and outro.

Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

If I didn’t have a routine before, it’s even less of one now. There seems to be no delineation between when a work day begins or ends or even what day of the week it is. I also have a 6th grader who hasn’t been inside a classroom in nearly a year. As I type this, I’m snowed in with my husband, who’s taking nursing classes via his laptop, and I’m also in the living room, working away at my laptop. Earlier today I did a television interview while sitting at my dining room table. When I’m not snowed in, I do have a little studio up on a historic hill that I spend a lot of time at. I find myself more creative when it gets dark, so I’ll often stay up late editing or writing. Lately, long walks with my headphones have become essential. I stare at the hawk at the top of a bare tree or the gravestone marked “Over” in the cemetery in my neighborhood. If I don’t get the movement and walks in, I sometimes find myself working 10 to 12 hours straight on my computer. I’m missing meeting friends at the corner cafe or downtown bar or maybe even a quick lunch. I’m also missing setting up to work in a cafe, where I can people watch and maybe pick up a bit of random conversations or running into someone I hadn’t seen in a long time while knocking away at a deadline. I’ve worked for myself for about a year and a half now, so I don’t have to punch a clock or be at a certain place at a certain time.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

Deep listening and long walks are vital to my creative process. If I don’t have them, I feel bogged down and not able to access any creativity. I’d describe it as getting in the zone, finding that rhythm and getting to really focus in and be at one with the project - whether that’s putting together an episode of the podcast, writing a feature or a personal essay. Oftentimes I get blank page syndrome and freeze up. When that happens I have to remind myself that I just need to throw up a bunch of stuff and let it out and eventually, once there’s flow and rhythm and all that, it will come together. I’m a mom, so I definitely notice that I don’t get uninterrupted time the way I used to. My daughter lives in two homes now, so when she’s on a week with her dad, I make sure to really allow myself time to focus in on whatever project I am working on. Carving out long periods that really allow me to get into the zone are really necessary for me to loosen up. Another issue I have is that I juggle so much - my brain doesn’t stop. For example, I have four email accounts. At any one time I may be coming up with a press release about an avant garde solo viola record, writing website copy for a local plumbing business or researching on diabetic ketoacidosis for a freelance assignment. Because of this, I really need to stress finding *MY* time and allowing myself to really lean into it. If I don’t, then I end up finding a million other things, like the piles of dishes and laundry, the many emails that need to be sent, and I don’t allow myself my creative time, which is so nourishing. But, back to the start - it goes back to long walks where I can observe the red-tailed hawk atop a tree or the moss pattern along the stones - oftentimes I’m listening to music on my headphones. I get in the zone.

How is listening to the actual music and talking about it connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally?

They’re completely intertwined for me. Ever since I can remember I’ve been so incredibly involved in music, making it or listening to it, with all my family as musicians, including myself. When I listen, I let it wash over me. When I’m talking about it, I’m engaging with others so that they may connect with that music or, in the case of interviewing a person about the music they’ve created, so that I can unravel the intricacies of their sounds and connect them to the larger world, and share that with others in hopes that they’ll be equally enriched from that conversation, perhaps transformed by the music just like I am.
When I was in college, I started as a music major. I loved performing, being on the stage. But I always loved interviewing and writing, and I thought that majoring in journalism, learning a trade, would somehow be more practical than majoring in performance. Turns out, I was fairly wrong about that, but I honestly can’t imagine music not being at the center of my life via listening, performing or via my music journalism and it’s impossible to compartmentalize those realms. I’m also so wildly lucky that deep listening is a core component to my career.

There has been an exponential growth in promotion agencies. What's your perspective on the promo system? In how far is it influencing your choice of artists and topics, in how far is it useful for pre-selection, in how far do you feel it is possibly undermining journalistic freedom?

I’ve always been a publicist, ever since I can remember. My DIY literary magazine needed exposure. The band I was in for one show, needed people at it. My non-profit live music organization needed to build its community. In the last couple of years, I’ve transitioned my career from being a station-based music director and radio producer, to someone who works in music and arts publicity. It really works in tandem with my journalism and running an arts non-profit. The landscape for new music is so incredibly noisy because it’s easier than ever to release music. Having someone who understands the noise and who can effectively get your music to the right ears is so important. When I’m looking at potential guests for Sound Off, it’s really selective and I end up not interviewing people that I’d very much love to even though their publicists wrote me about them.
Representation is hugely important to me - reflecting a wide array of backgrounds and focusing on underrepresented voices. I’m not sure I’m answering your question, and obviously, considering I’m in publicity, I have a positive view on things. Are there pariahs and vapid industry folks ? Certainly. But genuine publicity does a huge service of getting music to wider audiences, so I’m thrilled to be a part of that. I don’t think it reduces our journalistic freedom, unless you’re talking about how hard it *can* be to actually make any sort of contact with select artists. We can still choose who/what we’re covering and don’t have to be tied down by any sort of publicity.

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art?

Art and humanity are intrinsically linked and I don’t see them as separate at all. We need art to be human, to experience life. Sound Off’s tagline is “music that challenges the status quo” - and the whole point is to have engaging conversations with those who make that music so that we can learn more about art and life in the 21st century.
It means fostering connection and cultivating understanding for the amazing rich tapestries of this wide world. Art can help us understand ourselves and others, it can catalyze movements and spur action towards social change. It’s transformative and I really can’t imagine not seeing the world through my lens, which I know people would describe as “arty,” whatever that means. I think it’s a sense of wonder and awe, a constant curiosity for the richness of sensations that abound from looking, tasting, and hearing.

It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music journalism still intact. Do you have a vision of journalism, an idea of what it could be beyond its current form?

My chosen path as an arts journalist stemmed from a twentysomething who naively thought that it was more practical than studying music. It took nearly a decade after graduating with a master’s in journalism for me to have a day-to-day career that paid me to do arts journalism. There’s a lot of discussion about not paying for music or paying artists, valuing what they do in a monetary way. This idea that only the privileged deserve to create because they don’t have to worry about money. That’s definitely more prevalent here, stateside, than in Europe, where art is more valued. My point going down this trajectory is that music journalism should be a viable career path. It should be paid. And for a decade I interviewed notable artists like Will Oldham or Zach Condon of Beirut or Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill. In all of those instances I was doing that as a volunteer. With the pandemic, cultural journalism stateside has suffered even more. There are fewer and fewer paid positions for music and arts journalists. And that’s a really sad state of affairs.

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