Scott Rowley is the Editor-In-Chief of Classic Rock magazine, he is responsible for handling features and interviews with the world’s premier rock bands and (along with a dedicated team of writers and contributors) maintaining the publication’s world-renowned reputation for quality music journalism and entertaining-yet-informative style of reporting. Recently, we had the opportunity to pick Scott‘s brains about his experiences starting out in the industry and got him to share some tips on how to get noticed in the competitive world of music journalism.
“Loads of people e-mail me, but few follow it up with a call”
S] How did you get started in the industry?
SR] I wrote for my student newspaper at Strathclyde University and after I graduated I was unemployed for two years, with no idea of how to get into writing. Back then the music press had one writer each in Scotland and it seemed impossible to get in. I sent stuff to all the music mags at one time or another and never heard anything back. In the end, this training scheme I was on ran out and I was at a loose end. I sent some stuff to a Scottish music magazine called M8 (it’s a dance music magazine these days, but back then it was just a general music mag about Scottish bands and bands playing in Scotland), and then phoned them up and got this guy Billy Graham – who was the Deputy Editor or something – and he said, ‘Well, I am looking for someone to interview the Sultans of Ping FC tonight…‘ Turned out it was that simple. Loads of people email me saying they want to write, very few follow it up with a phone-call. You’ve got to be persistent, and good.
S] Obviously you have dealt with a number of interns and people on placement over your years working in magazines, so what advice would you give someone looking to start out in the industry?
SR] To be honest, I haven’t really. We don’t have too many work experiences. Partly because we have nowhere to sit them and partly because there’s not that much we can offer them – we need people with years of experience and knowledge of old rock music. We can’t get an 18-year-old writing about a record from the 60s – well, actually we could, but he or she’d need to be especially gifted.
I’d say that unfortunately there’s no easy way in. Write. Write more, get better, get published (on a website or in a mag), understand what your strengths and weaknesses are, and then sell them to the right magazine. For example, if you’re in love with thrash metal and you think Metal Hammer doesn’t have a writer that quite understands thrash, then write to the editor and explain why you’re the best person for the job. I have a lot of people who write and just say that they’d like to write for Classic Rock – they include a review of a Kings Of Leon gig and..that’s it. There’s no suggestion of what they could do and why we should hire them.
You have to sell your USP. Remember that if an editor’s going to use you it means dropping someone he already uses, and has a relationship with to use someone he doesn’t know. He’s got to understand what you’ve uniquely got to offer – you know the band personally; you’re based in Manchester and that’s where the hot scene is; no-one else understands this band like you do etcetera, before he’ll take a risk. It’s difficult but, as I always say, we’re always looking for great writing and new ideas: if you can supply those, you’re in.
S] Rock’s musical landscape is always changing and so you’re never short of bands to cover. So, what’s the biggest challenge that faces you as the Editor-In-Chief of Classic Rock now?
SR] The biggest challenge is to keep getting better. Write better stories, use better pictures, find stories that haven’t been told, discover new bands worth championing, to keep entertaining, if we make our readers feel better about themselves and their music, even just to make them laugh out loud once or twice, that’d be alright.
For the people that we write about, the challenge is to right some wrongs and give credit to the people who deserve it. We’re also entering into a weird time-frame because the first generation of rock stars are in their 60s and 70s. Part of our job is going to be to chronicle that generation in their old age – respectfully. All you hear about is jokes reffering to the Rolling Stones using zimmer frames, when in actual fact guys like them and AC/DC are real survivors – guys refusing to get out the pipe and slippers, and these bands are still selling more tickets and playing more shows than bands half their age. There’s still great stories to tell – if they’ll let us.
S] Our remit is specific to northern bands and creative people – many bands (and writers) come to us and say there is no hope for any success unless they move their whole operation down south – what are your thoughts on this?
SR] I don’t think it’s necessary – and it can become a USP. Record companies used to take writers from London to Manchester or Newcastle, put them up in fancy hotels with a nice expense account. That doesn’t happen anymore, so magazines need writers all over the country. But, they need to be good and to make themselves known. There’s no reason why someone in Leeds or Dundee can’t write cover stories for us – though sometimes they’d have to be prepared to travel.
S] In your career so far, how has your attitude toward the media industry changed?
SR] I feel like I’ve lifted the curtain and realised that the Wizard of Oz is just some old bloke and a smoke machine. I think the internet has proven that there’s lots of very articulate and intelligent people out there who can write a blog just as successfully as many so-called ‘journalists’ on magazines and newspapers – to an extent we’ve all been exposed as hacks. There’s a pressure on writers and mags to produce something ‘extra special’ now. I think you can see some magazines straining to do that sometimes.
S] What has been your defining moment as the Editor-In-Chief of Classic Rock?
SR] I have no idea – that’s for someone else to say. I’d like to hope that it’s yet to happen.
S] Can you tell us about your first interview and how you have progressed since then?
SR] The first interview I ever did for my student newspaper [the Strathclyde Telegraph] was a Scottish band called The Liberties (they were kinda country-pop: they never amounted to anything). I was immature and treated it like Lester Bangs versus Lou Reed. I took it all much too seriously.
I think that’s something you learn as you go – some pieces can just be quiet, gentle pieces. It’s not really fair to criticise a band, comedian or film for not being the best – being a good one can be enough. Equally, you don’t have to be straining to write the best piece ever: some should be the kind of thing you can’t help but talk about with your mates down the pub – and some should just be a way of filling ten minutes on the bog. Hopefully I’ve progressed to understanding which are important and which aren’t.
S] Ideally, what song would soundtrack your day?
SR] One song? Sheesh. You have hard questions. Do you mean, a song that has a message to live by? Pretty much anything by Bon Scott-era AC/DC.
For more information visit the official Classic Rock website.