KNAC.com was once KNAC 105.5 FM, Los Angeles' premiere metal station. It went off the air in 1995 and was reborn as a streaming web radio station that also has an online magazine. They offer 24/7/365 radio, personality podcasts, satellite feeds for syndicated broadcasts with national radio personalities and exclusive music video premieres for a variety of metal artists
Tell us a little about yourself and your experience.
My name is Wendy Jasper-Martinez and I have been a member of the music journalism industry since 1987. It feels surreal to have been doing this as long as I have, particularly since it is not my “real” or paying job. I am one of those writers and photographers that freelances or stays on staff of various magazines and websites that are independently produced and paid for by advertising and generally do not have a budget to pay staff.
So you might say that we, those who do it for love, are contributors and we choose to do this because it gives us fulfillment. Paying staff jobs are not always attainable. I am not going to say that I have never been paid, because I have, but it is not often and it is not how I make my living wage. I am actually a Director of Academic Affairs at a public two year college and I have always had employment outside of the music industry. I currently work as a correspondent for KNAC.com, Lone Star Metal Magazine, CrypticRock.com and have been a senior staff writer for Rivethead Magazine since 1988. I have also had photos in major dailies like the Houston Chronicle. Currently, I reside in Ft. Worth, Texas.
What drove you to choose your career path?
It’s very simple. I love to write. I wrote my first article for my school newspaper in 1987. I had aspirations of being on staff at Metal Edge after college, but Metal Edge didn’t survive long past the grunge era of the mid-90’s. Even had I obtained a staff position on such a magazine, I would likely have had to have other employment to make ends meet. I also had an interest in publicity and press release generation and I did quite a bit of this type of work for local Houston area bands. I started to think that maybe publicity was the path for me, rather than magazine work.
In the early 1990’s I applied for an in-house publicity position at a record label that shall remain nameless. It was a major label and they contacted me about the job. What I found was that it would have required a move from Texas to Los Angeles and that the starting salary was about $25,000 per year. I was already making that in Texas at the time, while still in college, and it was difficult to live on. You couldn’t camp out in your car for that kind of wage in Los Angeles, therefore, I turned down the opportunity to pursue the position. I have often wondered how different my life would be had I not played it safe by staying in Texas, but I wouldn’t change my decisions in the long run.
I continued to write and do publicity for local bands and even a few nationals in the early to mid-90’s. I did quite a bit of PR, merchandise and other behind the scenes work of this nature and I enjoyed it, however, it was still not something that I found I could do full time for the type of money that was offered. It was not always steady work and I will admit that I wanted stability more than I wanted adventure!
I stayed active in the music journalism industry until the birth of my son. After his birth I found myself a single parent and I was not able to stay active in the industry while he was a baby. So, at that point I “retired” and didn’t ease back into writing until he was old enough to want to go to concerts. Fortunately, we have similar musical tastes so I put him to work as my photo assistant!
I remarried eight years ago and my husband is really good-natured about my “work” and has occasionally ventured out to shows with me. I had also been out of school for a long time but decided that I needed more stability so I went on to finish my Master’s Degree and now, in my 40’s, I am finishing my Doctorate. I don’t think that I have ever given up on my dream of being a music journalist simply because I get paid in concert tickets and free CD’s rather than real money.
It takes passion for this work to do it for this long. You also have to have realistic expectations and I can say that I honestly don’t mind that it’s not a full time job for me. I get to see a lot of concerts, shoot some very appealing artists, write interesting features and I enjoy it; and it doesn’t have to be a “job”.
How did you go about getting your job? What kind of education and experience did you need?
My first article was for my school paper in 1987. My first article that was published in a regional magazine was a year later and it was a submission that I sent in to the post office box of the magazine. I didn’t know if it would get printed, but it did because Editor Lisa Sullivan took a chance on me; I have maintained a relationship with Rivethead Magazine that exists until this day. I would work up reviews, send them to the Lisa via mail, and if she liked them, she would print them. I started to branch out to full feature articles from reviews and started interviewing local bands. I met a band manager, Elizabeth Reeder, who had worked in publicity and many other media outlets, and she mentored me and taught me how to formally request an interview through the record labels and because of her, I began to work more at the national level than I had done previously. While in college, I took on assignments for Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, Poison and many others on the arena touring circuit. I was shooting and interviewing Marilyn Manson when he was still a Spooky Kid.
I was still in high school when I started this. The magazine editors I contributed to never asked how old I was or if I had a degree in journalism. They took the submissions based on the skill of writing exhibited. It wasn’t until many years later that some of my media contacts realized that when we first started our working relationships that I was only 15 years old. We laugh about it now but had they not taken a chance on me, I may not have the wealth of work in my portfolio that I currently have.
In today’s world, a majority of firms are likely going to want their incoming writers, PR personnel and photographers to have a formal education; likely a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree. That was not always the case and there are a number of my colleagues that do not have a college education. I, personally, don’t think it is necessary, but if you want to go corporate in this day and age, it is probably a must.
What do you actually spend the majority of your time doing?
I find that I write, re-write, and write again before I am completely happy with a submission. Even then I am not always totally satisfied and sometimes after an article is printed or posted online I read over it and think of something I would like to change. Of course, by then it is too late!
As far as photography, I don’t do a lot of editing of my raw product. I will do some basic edits and watermark my images, but if the outlet wants more done, I send them an editable file.
I used to do my own developing and printing in a darkroom and I still shoot with film on occasion. I was not initially my own photographer. I learned how to do my own photos out of necessity after a photographer that was supposed to work with me at a show arrived at the venue drunk and couldn’t do the photos. I took the camera and film and did it myself and after that, I made sure I added a photography class to my college curriculum. I learned what I needed to know and I have done my own photos since.
In 1997, I did an op-ed scholarly article called From the Classroom to the Photo Pit: The evolution from student to professional concert photographer. It was during the accompanying college lecture series that I was able to share some of my experience with aspiring concert photographers and I hope that I was able to give real life examples of what this world is actually like.
I am also teaching my son/photo assistant how to shoot both digitally and with film so we can double team each side of the stage at larger shows. His Korn photos from Mayhem Fest in 2014 were actually better than mine so my outlets, KNAC and Rivethead, ran his photos instead of mine. He also helped contribute to the feature interview with Korn as he writes almost as well as I do (and he’s only 12-years-old).
What misconceptions do people often have about your job?
That we make a lot of money and get to hang out with rock stars all the time. Haha! Do I know a lot of musicians? Yes, I do. This is simply because some of the bands I cover, I have been covering for more than 20 years and have interviewed them so many times the work becomes more conversational, and when I shoot their shows, they know me by sight and name.
But, are you “BFF’s” with rock stars? Not usually. You may often cultivate long term working relationships with some artists and that is nice. I have done a lot of work with Jack Russell (Great White) over the years and I always try to give him a lot of coverage on his projects. We have each other’s phone numbers and work directly on many articles without involving management. I will say that it is surreal to me to look down at the caller ID on my phone and see that it is one of the people that I so avidly watched on MTV during the hair band hey-day. I count him as a friend and I know he likes my work; that in itself is very satisfying to me. His band has a new single, “Hard Habit”, that has just been released and I hope that the news blurbs we ran on it in KNAC have helped get the word out. Those are the things I find satisfaction in.
Clearly, I don’t make a lot of money doing this. I think we have established that, but I know people that have built very successful businesses. Adrenaline PR, Earsplit PR, Reybee Productions, PFA; those are establishments that I hold in high esteem and most of them are led by people I worked with at the labels years ago.
One of the best photographers in the business is Stephanie Cabral and early in her career she was a publicist at Metal Blade Records. We are of an age and started out working together as writer and PR worker and she has made a brilliant career out of talent for seeing things through her lens that others just don’t see.
And then there are the people that are the heads of divisions at the metal labels and many of them were my publicity points of contact 20 years ago. Marco Barbieri is now the President of Century Media Records but when we first “met”, he was my publicity contact for their artists.
I think I would have liked to have had that career, but I don’t think it was meant to be for me to do more than I am doing. However, I like to think that I have done some good and made an impact on impressionable readers of metal lore.
What are your average work hours?
It differs by how many assignments I take on. At this point in my life I may take on a few assignments a month. I will also say that I only work projects that revolve around artists that I enjoy listening to and seeing live. After this many years, and with the obligations and work that I have in “real life”, I am pretty choosy about the assignments I take on. If it’s not something I am extremely interested in, I will likely pass on it and let another writer handle it. Several of the PR firms I work with have huge rosters and I may not necessarily be the person that covers all of their acts, but I do try to farm it out to other writers that we have on the roll at Rivethead and my editor, Larry Petro, at KNAC always posts the press releases and other forms of coverage in the news section. If I were to break it down by hourly work, I would say I probably spend 20 hours per month on assignments.
What personal tips and shortcuts have made your job easier?
Keep everything. You never know when you may need to refer to an old article if you find yourself covering a band multiple times. It’s the same with photos. I can’t tell you how many times I have needed to go back and clarify material or pull a photo from an old shoot because I need a photo “right now” and the band is not coming through town for me to be able to shoot updated photos before an article goes out.
Also, be professional and courteous. Don’t get angry if you get denied credentials and then take it out on the PR firm personnel. Many times this is determined by management, not PR, and if you burn that PR bridge, you may find that you don’t ever get approved again. I have seen this too often with new writers. They don’t understand why their 6-month old blog didn’t get approved to cover Ozzy Osbourne and then they cuss out the publicist. Okay, I’m being a bit facetious but I think you understand my stance on it. You are not going to start out interviewing A-listers. That takes time and you must build a positive reputation.
What do you do differently from your coworkers or peers in the same profession?
I don’t know that we all differ so greatly. Those from my generation tend to follow some tried and true techniques during interviews and photo shoots. We are likely the ones that shake our heads in wonder when we see iPhones in the photo pit and then we gripe about it to each other later on Facebook forums! Ha!
I sometimes think that some of the younger writers I have met are in a big hurry to achieve success in their chosen field and then get frustrated when it doesn’t happen right away. Or, they are not sure how to go about landing an interview or assignment through formal measures; so when I see this happening and it is someone I think has great potential, I try to mentor that person. I had someone do that for me so if I can help someone, I will.
Do you have any advice for people who need to enlist your services?
I don’t work much on the publicity front anymore, but from time to time, I meet a band that needs assistance with press releases or other written materials and I will occasionally take on this type of project. It’s rare, but I have been known to do it. Just ask me. I may say yes, and if I say no, it is usually because I truly do not have time in my schedule.
Most publicists and photographers work on a sliding scale based on the size and tenure of the project. Don’t take on something that you know is out of scope for you or your firm if you are trying to work independently. And try not to lose money or have to use your own money to fund a project because you undercharged. You can’t go back and re-charge after you have set the bar unless you work something based on contingency; so choose your projects wisely if you are setting up a business.
What's the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?
For me, not having an interview go as planned, or photos not turning out the way I would want them to are the worst obstacles I have. You can’t fudge quotes and when you get someone who is not talkative for an interview, it makes it difficult to create a story around them. However, the nice thing about features is that if they don’t talk much, you can do extra expansion of band history or discography to fill in space. That is not always ideal, but you may have to do it on occasion.
What's the most enjoyable part of the job?
The music. Period. That is why most of us took an interest in this work to begin with. You liked a band and their sound or their philosophy and you wanted to know more about the songs, the members and why they were writing about certain topics. It always goes back to the music.
What kind of money can one expect to make at your job?
It’s subjective. As I said before, I don’t do this for money, but I can tell you with certainty that some of my contemporaries have become wealthy beyond imagination in this business while others make a comfortable living, and some, unfortunately, barely make it from month to month or project to project.
How do you move up in your field?
I think this is also subjective. Some people move up simply by staying loyal to the organization they work for. You often see this with record label personnel. I will use Marco at Century Media as an example again; He started in publicity and is now the President. I know other label publicists that are bright and capable and I expect to see such a title on their office door in the years to come.
Determination also plays a factor; particularly with those who want to start their own business. Unless you have a mentor that also plans to bankroll your project, you have to make very savvy business decisions. You can do it. It just takes time.
What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?
Take the chance. I would never have thought that I would have nearly 30 years of a writing and photography portfolio under my belt that many years ago. Had I not dropped that article in the mail to a woman that didn’t even know me and take the chance that she would like it, you would not be reading what I have been blabbing about to you now. You just have to try. You may be rejected more than once, but then again, maybe you won’t.
Journalism is not the same today as it was when I first started. We didn’t have the internet or social media. We didn’t really even have cell phones. We traded tapes and mailed letters and flyers. I have vinyl press promos from Metal Blade in my record collection because that was what came with the press kit.
It is a completely different world now and anyone with a computer can start a magazine/webzine/blog and it doesn’t even have to be of good quality to be read. But if you have the stamina, and the determination, you must take the chance that you will send a sample of your work to an editor will say “this is what I have been looking for”. You won’t know until you try.