Graduate alum Kathy Iandoli makes her living as a music journalist, writing freelance for outlets such as Billboard, VICE and Rolling Stone. She is also media editor of HipHopDX, a top hip-hop media outlet. VeloCity caught up with Kathy to learn about the everyday life of a music journalist.
When did you begin writing about music, and how hard was it to break into the world of hip-hop journalism and get your work noticed?
I started writing probably about 15 years ago, but it wasn’t until the last decade or so that I started to honestly call myself a “writer.” It strangely wasn’t as difficult to break into the music journalism world as I had decided it was so long ago. Keep in mind, ten years ago we didn’t have blogs and music sites on a wide scale, so print was still king. All it took though was to really submerse myself into the scene, meet the right people and then casually mention that I like to write. I’m making it sound way easier than it was, but really it was the decision to actively pursue it that was the hardest thing to do. For me at least.
As a freelancer, how do you decide what to write about? Is it your decision, or assigned by an outlet?
The beauty of being a freelancer is that if you want to write about something, anything, you have carte blanche to do that. When you’re tethered to one particular publication, you’re fighting for the same real estate as your colleagues. So if you happen to be a Beyoncé fan – and your coworker is a bigger Beyoncé fan (or perhaps in a higher editorial position) – and an interview opportunity with Beyoncé pops up, then pardon my French, but you’re a**ed out. As a freelancer you can take your ideas to the many places you write for and whoever bites gets it. Of course you run into the red tape of dealing with staffers at publications (who may also love Beyoncé) so you don’t always get what you want. In addition, yes outlets come to freelancers as well with ideas that come about on their storyboard and require writers. Some they give to you tailor made if they know you’re an expert in a particular field. Other opps they give you when no one else on the team wants them (*throws confetti*).
How do you balance freelance work with your job as an editor? What helps you get through a stressful day on the job (coffee, music, excessive amounts of Pinkberry)?
Two words, my friend: Whole Foods. Seriously though, for the last five years I’ve worked out of a home office so my schedule is as wonky as Miley Cyrus’ behavior. I’ve given myself a pretty rigorous schedule of waking up early to go to the gym, checking my task list (I definitely need one daily), writing/editing, going on location or to record labels for business/interviews, doing phone interviews, and then crying while listening to Ellie Goulding. The latter only happens like twice a week, I promise. But yeah, tea keeps me high-powered. I also read somewhere that taking a week off from writing every month to read/research is the best way to keep it all going. I’ve been wanting to do that, but then I realized it I didn’t write every week I’d have to move to the NYU library like that one student did a few years ago.
What is your favorite part of your job as a journalist?
The fact that I can be a fan of something and then tell everyone why I’m such a fan of it. And then get paid to do it.
Is there one story you’ve written that you’re most proud of in your career thus far?
I’ve had milestone interviews that I’ve been super proud of, but rattling off artist and celebrity names is lame. I did a piece recently for VICE where I discussed hip-hop in Syria and how it’s used as a political tool, but also a means of rebellion. I spoke with a few artists and learned about the real situation out there. It was really intense.
Several students in the program have started their own music blogs – can you recommend one way for them to increase traffic?
Create a healthy balance of solid work and SEO friendly items. You don’t have to post One Direction’s music all day or “Cat Doing Salsa Dance” videos, but creating content that centers around something the internet is currently obsessed with will usually get you some traffic wins. Also, never underestimate the power of social networking. Tweet your interview subjects, get them to retweet, post your work on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram (take a picture and direct people to your site). Hit the Facebook Fan pages and Reddit. These are all things that fuel your promotional vehicle well beyond the 500 word piece you wrote.
Is there anything you learned during your time in the Graduate Music Business program that you apply to your work every day?
Everything Dr. Moore ever taught me I apply to not only my career, but my everyday life. That woman should be a life coach (I hope you’re reading this, Dr. Moore!) It’s true, because NYU professors bring real life experiences, so you’re able to learn so much more than what a textbook could teach you. Outside of the academic side of the program, I was working full-time when I was a grad student, so that period of my life I always refer back to when I claim that I “don’t have enough time” to do everything.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do with your free time?
What’s this “free time” that you speak of?
Do you have any secret career aspirations (crime scene analyst, politician, Beyoncé)?
Considering I used Beyoncé as a previous example, I think I’ve let the cat out of the bag that I am in fact Beyoncé already. Outside of my usual job as King Bey, I’ve always wanted to be a DJ. I used to work at Fat Beats and would deejay in the worst way possible. I even owned turntables. It was so sad. Oh, and I want to own a café and/or bookstore if they’re still around next year.
What is your guilty pleasure song/genre/artist?
There are no such things as guilty pleasures, only guilty people. So I will say that Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” is a modern classic that I may or may not shout from the top of my lungs whenever I hear it. “Call Me Maybe” still gets some spins too. I’m a little delayed in the kitschy pop world, because it takes me 6-8 months of self-loathing before I can fully accept that I like a song.