A Week In The Life Of…. A Music Magazine Editor, Steve Bell

Steve Bell, editor of the Music, pictured with Violent Soho

Steve Bell wanted to call this article ‘A Week in the Life of a Slacker’, but I wouldn’t let him. A slacker this man is not. Okay, he’s the possessor of what most would call a ‘fun job’ (as well as a great sense of humour). Nonetheless, Steve carries a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. Take a peek into a week in Steve’s career below: deadlines, emails and life advice from Eric Cartman.

Job Description
I’m the editor of the Brisbane edition of The Music street press magazine (formerly Time Off), a role I’ve held with varying levels of success for eight years now. In recent times, however, my job description has actually expanded so that I’m also contributing editor for the entirety of our umbrella company Street Press Australia – comprising The Music titles in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, as well as our website TheMusic.com.au – which basically means that these days my main role is to write about anything music-related, and that I have fewer purely editorial/administrative responsibilities than were my domain in the past (a turn of events that has delighted the music geek in me, which is nearly all of me).

Today – as with all other days – begins with me churning through a mountain of correspondence from over the weekend, and responding/actioning where appropriate. Monday is our print deadline for the magazines, so my first call of duty is chasing up all of the live reviews/photos from over the weekend and ascertaining which are going to go in print and which will be for the website only (I usually have a pretty good idea beforehand, but don’t make the final call until I’ve seen the submissions). This week (as with most weeks) I also reviewed a gig myself – in this case Darren Hanlon at The Zoo from last Friday – so next I write this up, trying to set the bar high for all of the other writers to aspire to (or just not have my review be terrible).

Next up it’s time to write the Frontlash/Backlash column that appears in the mag each issue, which is essentially a list of three things I liked and three things I didn’t from the week just gone – this seems easy/fun but after eight years it can be a challenge to be interesting-slash-humorous without repeating yourself too much, and some weeks pass by without anything really making much of an impression. I take notes throughout the week to help prompt me, this week I’m mortally offended that they’ve discontinued The Simpsons DVD boxsets after series 17, given that some diehard fans (ie me) have been collecting them for over a decade with a view to one day owning the whole series. Sigh, technology is the culprit once again – computers and I have a love/hate relationship (in that I love hating them).

This pretty much puts the print issue to bed for the week, so my attention turns to broader writing matters – this week I’m putting the finishing touches to a retrospective piece on the 20 year anniversary of the Alternative Nation festivals from 1995. I’ve been working on this for a week or so and the bulk of the piece was completed on the weekend, but I spend some time giving it one final run through and assembling photos and YouTube clips as value added elements for the article (quite difficult in this instance given that the festivals happened before the internet took off, so there’s not that much stuff available online). The piece scrubs up quite well (see here), and for the remainder of the day I help upload Queensland live photos from the weekend into our production system so that the online team can prepare them for going up online, a slightly time-consuming process during which I listen to some of the copious albums littering my desk and surrounding environment as part of my ongoing quest to discover the perfect record. It’s out there somewhere, and one day will be mine.

Tuesdays begin with a trip to the Brisbane headquarters of radio station MMM, where I record my daily gig plugs (even though listeners are meant to assume that we do them each day, it’s all pre-recorded like magic). I have free rein to plug whichever gigs I like that are happening in Brisbane each night, so before catching the train to the radio station (no parking there for plebs like me) I spend an hour or so going through the gig guide (on The Music’s app naturally) to select which gigs I’m going to highlight for each day, and then studying up on all of the chosen acts/tours/gigs so that an unassuming listener may get the impression that I have some vague clue what I’m talking about (which is sometimes, but not often, even the case).

It’s fun as always – great crew of people in there – and afterwards I head back to the office to swim through my usual river of correspondence, after which I turn my mind to next week’s print issue and email my writers and photographers to get the ball rolling for the next batch of live reviews. Some weeks this is a doddle, other weeks when there’s not much on or my crew is busy it can be a bit of a struggle – I try to make these emails as fun as possible, which I think is some sort of attempted child psychology/mind manipulation to get people to respond in the affirmative, but which usually just results in a rampage of stupidity on my behalf (albeit fun to write stupidity) rounded off with a weekly music-related comic strip which I tack onto the end of the email for added levity.
Then I do some weekly admin for the mag, such as concocting the ‘This Week’s Releases’ column highlighting my pick of the week’s new releases (this runs sporadically in QLD, but weekly in Sydney and Melbourne).

I have a swag of interviews to do tomorrow (assuming three constitutes a swag) so I spend the rest of the day doing preliminary preparation for these – even after fifteen years of interviews, I find preparation probably the most important step in the process, familiarising yourself with the act’s career in general and then focusing on recent events and – crucially – listening to their new music when relevant. This part is not only fun but also the cornerstone of conducting a good interview.

First cab off the rank today is speaking to Alex Edkins from Canadian noise-rockers METZ, about their new album (the imaginatively-titled METZ II, following from their excellent debut METZ). I really like this band – and the new album – and Alex is a cool interviewee, open and knowledgeable, so the chat goes really well. I have an album review scheduled to run this week – for years, I organised the Brisbane issue’s album reviews myself each week, as did all of the individual state editors, but under the current system album reviews have been centralised so that nationally we can concentrate on albums that are released in the week of the given issue (this would be next to impossible for us all to organise individually and a massive duplication of effort).

This week I’m reviewing Built To Spill’s new album Untethered Moon – they’re one of my fave ever bands and this is their first record in six years, so I luxuriate in sitting back and taking in the album on headphones a couple of times (I’d already listened a couple of times in the weeks leading up to writing the review). The hardest part at times like this is working out what star rating to give, but this time I err on the side of sycophancy and give the album 4½ out of 5 (it’s a great album by a great band, bias be damned).

Then after an hour or so of general activity and catching up with emails I prepare for the next yarn, which this time is with Sydney musician Adam Gibson about his band Adam Gibson & The Ark-Ark Birds’ new album Australia Restless. I’ve known Adam for a number of years and he actually gave me the new album last year when they stayed at my place during a weekend sojourn – the band actually played their first ever gig at a house party at my place during that same trip – so I’m completely familiar with the new tunes, making this one a bit easier. Adam also fronts a great Sydney band called The Aerial Maps and I’ve known and loved his work for years, so sitting back and letting him unfurl his intricate and intoxicating narratives doesn’t really feel like work, but someone’s gotta do it.

We have a great chat, and then straight away it’s onto preparing for today’s third and final interview which is with The Peep Tempel’s frontman Blake Scott. I really like this Melbourne trio – a recurring motif I just realised, mainly because as one of the contributing editors I get to cherry pick the potential interviews and concentrate on covering acts which at the very least I don’t hate, mainly artists I love – but this one’s compounded slightly by the fact that I already spoke to Blake recently when their excellent new album Tales was released, so I have to think of some new angles and takes on the band and their music so we’re not just rehashing the same ground we covered last time. Blake is a great person to speak with as well and the interview is a pleasure, making it three from three today.

I have to say that conducting interviews is the part of this job that I absolutely adore, and even after 15 years and over 1500 interviews I never fail to get a rush when you have a fascinating conversation with someone you respect about their music (and often art in general). When you have a really great chat, you have to pinch yourself and remind yourself that this is your job and you’re getting paid for this incredible privilege.

Thursday is the deadline day for weekly print editorial – meaning that all freelance writers and contributors are expected to submit their work for the following issues (save for live reviews which we’ve already covered). One of my duties each week is to compile the ‘This Week’ section for the Brisbane mag – basically just highlighting three events which are potentially of interest to our readers and happening in SEQ in the week following the given issue – and also lock away the weekly Guide cover, which is a full-page photo of a Brisbane band and a Q&A which runs inside each issue of the mag.

This is my fave part of the mag, because it allows us to shine a light on the actual local scene and give substantial coverage to bands which may not have had that kind of exposure before, plus the questions (which I assembled years ago) are skewed so that they also relate to Brisbane’s rich scene (ie. asking which Brisbane bands from the past have been an inspiration, and what role the city plays, if any, in the band’s music). It’s a time-consuming task, mainly because we take the photos ourselves as part of the service, and organising the photo shoots can be incredibly painstaking (especially given that bands only get one shot each so after five or so years of this we’ve covered hundreds of bands already) but it’s also really rewarding when you feel like you’re doing something which actually helps the Brisbane scene and our seemingly endless stream of great bands.

Usually on a Thursday I would also be transcribing and writing up my own interviews which are due for next week, but luckily for me today I have a clear plate; scheduling interviews is an inexact science, you organise them way in advance and down the track you sometimes find you have five or six due in the same week or – like this week – none at all. Transcribing the interviews is pretty nasty – typing isn’t my maddest skill, plus listening to yourself ask (occasionally inane) questions becomes kinda taxing after a while – so I’m quite happy with this turn of events, and end the day with some catching up on correspondence and general admin work (basically doing stuff while listening to albums if I’m going to be completely honest). I reiterate – someone’s gotta do it.

By now I can basically smell the weekend, and after arriving in the office and doing the old email dance, I tidy up the remaining odds and ends for next week’s issue – just things like getting the The Music Presents list ready, choosing the Gig Of The Week, and supplying the photos that run in the gig guide, and just ensuring that everything is in place for the weekend’s live reviews. It’s all a well-trodden path so doesn’t feel too onerous, and just being careful now circumvents a whole world of pain on Monday (my old footy coach used to say something like ‘proper preparation prevents piss poor performance’, but he was a buffoon so I didn’t pay much attention back then).

By now my mind is wandering to the weekend – this time of year specifically St Kilda’s chances this week (usual prognosis = terrible) – as I’m sure is the case with most people, but this afternoon I have some more spare time up my sleeve so I start to research my next retrospective piece, which is the 20 year anniversary of the release of TISM’s album Machiavelli & The Four Seasons. Growing up in Melbourne, TISM was one of my most beloved bands – I saw them well over 50 times, perhaps closer to triple figures – so again this doesn’t feel an awful lot like work, more like something I would be doing anyway if I had a few hours off with nothing specific to do.

As a bona fide music geek, that is the main perk of this job – being able to immerse yourself in something you love. I used to be a lawyer (a long, long time ago) and while this vocation is not even in the same ball park financially, it’s infinitely preferable doing something that you genuinely love, and it makes it a lot easier to get out of bed in the morning. After all, we only get one life, so might as well make it a good one. I’m off now – the weekend is where I really shine, but that’s another story for another time.

Helping to document the ever-changing but always amazing Brisbane music vista, an incredible amalgam of talented musicians and passionate industry professionals who together constitute what I genuinely believe to be pound for pound the strongest such scene in the country. Getting to speak with an endless array of artists whose work I admire and question them at depth about their art and creativity. Going to far too many shows that could possibly be healthy for someone of my make and model.

Recovering from going to too many shows that could possibly be healthy etc. Fighting the perception that there is no longer a place for print in the current media landscape (just not true).

Words Of Wisdom
“Follow your dreams, you can reach your goals, I’m living proof. Beefcake, BEEFCAKE!”
– Eric Cartman, 1997



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