Infectious Magazine editor Joe Ballard recently posed some questions to music industry powerhouse Emma Guido – staff writer at Under The Gun Review, editor at Mind Equals Blown, and freelance publicist for blues-rocker Jake Tavill. We discussed her lightning-fast progress since entering the industry at 15 years old, how to balance a constantly hectic schedule, advice for bands and aspiring music writers, and much more.
Hi Emma, thanks so much for taking some time out to chat! To start off, can you tell me a little bit about your background? What was the first album you remember falling in love with?
I grew up listening to all my mom’s favorite rock and roll records in the car, like Guns N’ Roses and Van Halen, so I was always a rock lover at heart. However, I went to a small, Catholic middle school, so I had a small group of friends who liked a lot of the same things. I never really felt like I belonged that much, but spent those days following along and listening to whatever was popular on the radio. Regardless, I absolutely LOVED music, even at that time, and spent lots of my time picking apart lyrics and melodies that caught my attention. However, during the spring right before my freshman year of high school I went to the Bamboozle Festival in Asbury Park for the first time and saw The All American Rejects and My Chemical Romance live, changing the way I viewed music forever. I thought the concept of The Black Parade was incredibly cool, and I felt an intense connection with almost every song on the track list. Going into a public high school without any friends was a difficult experience for me at first, so listening to these bands gave me the sense of belonging that really sparked my passion for music. Right after falling head over heels in love with My Chemical Romance, I discovered Of Mice & Men, which is definitely my all time favorite band for the impact they had on my life during the time I started listening to them.
When you were just 15 years old, you were already writing for three different publications: Cryptic Rock, Vents Magazine, and Earplugs Required. What inspired you to start getting involved in the music business, particularly journalism, at such a young age?
As I was going into my sophomore year, I started thinking about careers that would be right for me. For quite some time, I was actually really interested in forensics and criminal psychology. I even took a forensics course at Monmouth University once a week in the sixth grade. However, the influence rock and roll music had on me during my freshman year was a strong one, changing my path completely. I was never too skilled at playing any instruments, but I was clearly passionate about music. I’ve always been a great writer, so during one of my boring history classes I thought I’d try writing a show review for the Fall Out Boy show I went to at the Barclays Center. For so long, writing at school has been for research papers or literary essays, so it was so exciting to write about something I actually enjoyed. Then that summer I reached out to small music publications asking for music journalism experience, and soon enough I was receiving 2-5 album downloads a week and knocking out reviews all summer long. The weird part is, this summer will only mark two years of my music journalism. It’s insane how quickly my career has developed in such a short amount of time.
For all the high school and college students reading this, is it ever too early to start working in your field of choice? And for you personally, how did you know when you were ready to apply to influential publications like Cryptic Rock and Mind Equals Blown?
It depends on what field you want to work in. For example, as much as I wish it could happen, being a tour manager at my age is pretty much impossible. However, the key is to work with what you have. Every aspect of the music industry revolves around networking and making connections. No matter how old or young you are, if you have the skills and professionalism to put yourself out there, you will find yourself meeting all the right people to put you in the best opportunities. Because of the steps I took as a growing music journalist, I can easily find someone who can help me direct myself in the career I hope for in the industry. Working for Cryptic Rock gave me the resume to apply to Mind Equals Blown, and the connections I made there helped me get my position at Under The Gun. It’s all about how you work the ladder.
And now, in addition to being an editor with Mind Equals Blown and a staff writer at Under The Gun Review, you’re also doing some PR work for singer/songwriter Jake Tavill. What made you decide to go into music publicity and what have you learned through that experience so far?
Publicity wasn’t a specific goal, but doing the behind the scenes jobs for the musicians I know is something I really enjoy. I want to be able to have experience in all different music industry jobs before I find my specific path, so whenever my musician friend Jake Tavill needs help with something, I’m happily at his side. I’ve definitely learned how to be flexible and ALWAYS on top of things when it comes to working with him or any musicians I know. Spreadsheets have become my best friend! Whether I’m at shows setting up, selling merch, managing his social media, or spreading the word about his new music video, all these jobs are helping me expand my knowledge of the industry and preparing me for the future.
After reading all this so far, there will only be one question on readers’ minds: how do you manage to balance all of this along with your schoolwork and other commitments?
My junior year has especially been difficult for me, but my obsessive organizing and planning skills definitely keep me on top of my game. I have a monthly whiteboard calendar hanging in my room, a weekly schedule on my desk, and a daily to do list that I couldn’t live without. Writing down all my tasks really helps me stay on top of things, and nothing feels better than crossing off everything on your list! One thing I always try to do is allowing myself an hour or two a night to myself, usually dedicate to my favorite TV shows or books. You’d think by reading this I have everything in my life together, but that is absolutely not the case. I tend to procrastinate regardless of my planning and lose a lot of sleep, but at this point my crazy schedule is my entire life, and I’d be quite bored without it.
I know you were recently accepted into NYU’s famed “Music & Performing Arts Professions” program this summer, huge congratulations on that! Tell me a little bit about the program and what you hope to get out of it.
Thank you! I’m so excited to spend a week at NYU this summer and learn all about the music industry. From what I know, the program is designed to give high school students an opportunity to get a strong overview of the music industry and how to succeed as a manager, record label, promoter, etc. I’ve read Don Passman’s All You Need To Know About The Music Industry, so I’m really excited to get some classroom experience on these topics to clear up any confusion. Also, as previously mentioned, I have no idea where my career will lead me in the future, so I’m hoping this program will guide me on the perfect music industry path!
Aside from being Of Mice & Men’s personal manager, what would be your dream job in the music industry? Writing for a nationwide magazine, working for a record label, something else?
Like I said, I have no idea what I exactly want to pursue yet. I have strong interests in tour management, A&R, and music supervision at the moment. These particular careers are hard to find experience at my age, so I’m trying to build connections now for when the time is right. As much as I love journalism and will always see myself writing for music publications, I really want to have a widespread grasp on this huge industry and really take in everything. Who knows what career I’ll fall into? I like to keep an open mind – I’m sure I’ll be doing something that makes me happy.
Having worked on both sides of the promotional business – as a feature writer and a publicist – what advice do you have for bands submitting to major outlets such as Under The Gun and Mind Equals Blown?
If I get an email about a band I’ve never heard of, I’d like to get an idea of their sound before I take the time to listen to them. If a band uses other bands I like to help describe their sound, I usually feel the urge to listen to a song or two. Also, I love when I build relationships with the PR folks who reach out to me. I’m always more willing to do a write up of a band if the person representing them has made an effort to connect with me.
Likewise, having applied to, and successfully gotten, a variety of jobs in music journalism, what advice can you give to aspiring young writers on how to stand out when applying to a publication?
Make sure you have a lot to offer. Send over a resume with a variety of your skills and include a portfolio that really diversifies your writing. If you are worried about being rejected because of your age, as long as you prove your professionalism and maturity, the right people will be able to tell that you are serious about what you are doing. Also, don’t give up after one shot! The music industry is the land of rejection, so toughen up and keep throwing things at the wall until something sticks.
Since entering the music industry a few years ago, what is one important lesson you’ve learned that can’t really be taught in the classroom?
Oh jeez, this answer can go on forever! I have learned an insane amount of lessons in the short two years I’ve been a music journalist. You need to be persistent, hard working, and clever if you want to be successful in the industry. Getting rejected by the PR of your favorite band is the worst feeling ever, but has given me the drive to work harder and build my connections to succeed in the future. Networking is the most valuable element of the industry, so learning how to meet and utilize the right people will bring you incredible opportunities. Learning the punishments and rewards of the way you take on an interview can only be experienced by diving in headfirst.
If you want to hear me go into detail about this, I have a special article I’ve been working on, describing my experiences in the music industry so far. I think that any young aspiring music industry professional can get something out of it, so keep up to date on my portfolio website (emmagracejournalism.tumblr.com) for when it runs. I plan to use the site to present all of my work and even drop some tips/stories about my experiences as a teenage music journalist!
What major changes, if any, do you see coming in the music industry in the next 5-10 years? What is one change you’d particularly like to see?
It is in the works, but I’d like to see more and more women becoming respected figures in the music industry. If you think being a teenager in this career is hard, being a female teenager is even harder. I’ve noticed women band photographers, PR, tour managers, and band members in the scene lately, which is so exciting for a youngster like me who knows that in a few years I can have the same, if not better, chances to attain these goals. Slowly, men are seeing the women backstage as more than just groupies or fan girls; we’re their bosses, their confidants, and their friends. When I go to a local show with my friends’ bands, all I want to do is support and help them put on a killer show, and it’s a wonderful feeling when they recognize and appreciate that. These bands I’m working with now hopefully hold the future of the music industry’s attitude towards women – and it looks bright.
As far as your personal tastes go, what is your favorite album of 2015 so far, and what albums are you still looking forward to hearing later this year?
I absolutely love the new Dance Gavin Dance record! When they came out with their 2013 record Acceptance Speech I was blown away, so it was really satisfying to hear the similarities in Instant Gratification. However, I am most excited for Florence + The Machine’s June release of How Big How Blue How Beautiful. Florence is one of my favorite musicians; since day one, her music has put me in a completely different universe. This newest release has been anticipated for two years now, so I am dying to hear (and review) the full album. From her singles so far, I’m feeling a more raw rock and roll undertone to her ambience, reminding me of her debut album Lungs. Yet her single “St Jude” can totally fit in with the track list of Ceremonials. There is just so much mystery to this album that I can’t wait to dive into!
And finally, what can all the readers of MEB and UTG expect to see through the rest of 2015?
Unfortunately until June, I’m dealing with the stress of junior crunch time, which includes ACT prep, AP exam prep, and beginning the process of college applications. This school year is thankfully almost over however, so I cannot wait to get back into a consistent schedule of writing! Since I’ve joined the UTG team, I’ve been inspired to write more editorial articles, so I’ve been jotting down every idea that has crossed my mind. Definitely expect to see more personal, opinion pieces in the next few months, and hopefully some really exciting interviews. I have a good feeling that this summer will be an awesome time for me to experiment with a new, strong level of journalism. I’ve never been more excited about my career!
Huge thanks to Emma for taking the time out to do this interview! In addition to her official Tumblr site mentioned above, you can find her vast portfolio of work through any of the following links:
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