Life in the ‘normal’ office
There are some similarities between my first interviewee, Laura Snapes and myself. We are both 22 years old, passionate about music and work in offices. Unfortunately for me, the office she works in is the NME office, which I can’t really compete with. C’est la vie.
Laura is currently Assistant Reviews Editor at what is still the first port of call for alternative British music journalism. It was always her dream to work at the NME, as it is still mine, and likewise many others' (hopefully) reading this. Alongside this she is also a regular contributor for The Guardian, Uncut and The Quietus. She is modest however at holding such a lofty, enviable position at such a young age.
“I suppose people have preconceptions about what the NME office is like, based on both prejudices and history, but it's a pretty normal place to be, honest,” she assures me. After spending time in the Kerrang! office on my own work experience, I’m inclined to agree.
Laura’s rise began at an early age; she decided a career in music journalism was for her at just 13.
“It started out as a legitimate way to meet bands that I liked without being a creepy stalker and in fact, still is. I got into writing for the local paper and doing fanzines,” she explains. I know the stalker feeling well.
By 17 she had secured work experience at the NME, no mean feat I can assure you from personal experience, and when she managed to turn this into an on-going working relationship, an even more difficult feat, her dream began to become reality.
“After my work experience, I got asked to start contributing. I wrote on and off over the years until my first year at university in Bristol, when I started writing for the magazine most weeks, as well as editing the music section of the student paper. A job came up at NME, I applied and got it, so I quit university and moved to London.”
Laura celebrated her first anniversary at NME just a few weeks ago. So, one year on, how has it stacked up against her dreams, apart from being a ‘normal place to be’?
“I knew the job I was applying for entailed a bit of data entry, so I wasn't under the illusion that it was going to be some riotous Almost Famous-type malarkey,” she says honestly. “Some days the job is like having any office job but a bit more fun, and then others, when you're working at festivals or the NME Awards, they're brilliant,” she gratefully adds.
So that is how she got to where she is now, but outside the office what does she think of her industry, an industry some have said is in decline (see an excellent defence here from the aforementioned The Quietus).
“I think people who love discussing music will always be into it,” she declares. “Because of the internet, it's harder to get your voice heard amongst the crowd when frankly, there's so much terrible writing online to sift through. For me, the problem is less being able to access music for free, but being able to access music writing for free, on the internet.
“I'm not saying that you should always have to pay to read music journalism, but the fact that so many very established, very good publications and websites don't pay their writers generates a culture where it's more expected that you'll write for free sometimes, and good writing is a talent that you deserve to be able to make a living from.”
I was told from day one of my degree that journalism wasn’t a well-paid career, but it comes as a shock when Laura reveals this. I can’t help but wonder how often the journalism I read has been written by someone who wasn’t paid anything for it.
After she highlights the somewhat suspect writing that litters the internet (see this blog for more), I ask about the importance of well-written features, something she regularly contributes alongside her reviews duties. She’s modest again when instead of selling something she, or even NME, has produced recently, she points me in the direction of a NY Times feature on The National (her favourite band) from last year and a 12-page cover story on ST Vincent from Under the Radar magazine.
“All forms of good writing about music are valid and enjoyable in their own form, but I do personally really get a kick out of reading a brilliant feature,” she says. She may not have volunteered one, but see an excellent feature of hers here.
One thing I can’t help but ask Laura about are the comment boxes that now appear beneath almost every article on the internet. A quick glance around NME.COM will reveal that not everyone agrees with what is published. While many are simply passionate about music they love, just as many are hostile and personal trolls being spiteful for seemingly no reason.
I first became aware of Laura on NME.COM last year when she waded into the comments sections on several of her own pieces (a rarity amongst journalists), defending herself against both types of people. I was impressed by her passion and conviction, as well as her obvious belief that it wasn’t just a one-way conversation.
“I used to be terrible for kicking off, but I do genuinely try not to do that now. I am quite obsessive about watching comments just so I'm aware of what's being said. Obviously it's nice if people enjoy what you've written, but those people don't tend to comment,” she notes.
“If a comment is negative then sometimes I can just ignore it, but other times especially if you realise they're right, which sometimes happens, they can be pretty upsetting,” she admits.
Unfortunately, with exposure comes criticism, however with a hugely successful first year under her belt, Laura has already learnt many lessons about life in a job that many people would stab their own best friend in the back to have, and many more will surely follow.
My thanks to Laura for helping me out with this first interview; her success would have gone to the head of many others I’m sure but she has been a pleasure to deal with.
To end the interview, a standard question at this time of year, what does Laura think about this year’s Mercury Prize nominations?
“My favourite British album of the year - Wild Beasts' Smother - wasn't nominated, which I was disappointed by, as it'd be wonderful for them to get the recognition. I think PJ Harvey will win, though my favourite from the list is Everything Everything's Man Alive. I think those chaps are modern pop geniuses.”