Summer in Britain is all about the strawberries and cream, Pimms and Wimbledon, trips to the seaside and snatching those precious bursts of sunshine on your lunch hour.
But for music journalists, summer signifies one of the busiest times of the year. There is now a pretty decent music festival almost every weekend running, from Glastonbury in June, to End of the Road in September. Great news for music-loving punters, but hard graft for music journalists, especially now that the internet demands constant updates on everything from who ate what for breakfast to Amy Winehouse’s latest antics.
Mike Diver, editor of web-zine Drowned in Sound, is well practiced in the demands of online reporting. He advises making a plan in advance and making sure you stick to it: ‘Just find an hour, once or twice a day, at breaks convenient to you and make your reports then. At every festival there are times when nobody you really want to see is on – use these breaks. Then you can enjoy each day with the conscience clear.’
Guardian music writer Rosie Swash agrees: ‘Festivals are 24 hour – you have to work intensely to get things done. They can be fun but online is not like writing an article, it’s constant. As long as you remember you’re there for work and not fun, not the other way round!”
If the journalists have to remind themselves to do work, it is highly likely that musicians – notorious for their rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle – are not going to make easy-going interviewees. ‘Lots of phone calls and running round the festival are required to track down whoever you’re supposed to be interviewing,’says Swash. And are some of the stars a bit uninterested in your carefully crafted questions? ‘Very much so, although their PRs are there to whip them into shape.”
NME journalist Emily Mackay thinks it’s important to focus on the whole festival experience. ‘At Glastonbury, NME interviews fans, as well as taking in other activities and antics round the site like art installations, cabaret, backstage gossip and celebrity spotting,’she says. ‘All this is as much a part of the festivals as the bands themselves, so don’t leave it out!”
Mackay advises keeping the essential journalistic tools of the trade on-hand: ‘Bring a notebook and pen, and maybe a small camera. There’s no need to write pages and pages, but unless you plan to stay sober all weekend (don’t be ridiculous – I’ve tried it, and it hurts) you will forget the little details that bring a review to life unless you note them down or take the odd snap.
‘The first thing you’ll have to do if you want to review a festival is get commissioned,’Mackay says, getting down to basics.
‘That sorted, you need to plan your attack in advance: Get the stage times of all the bands from the PR who’s promoting the festival and get to work with your highlighter pen.”
Mackay’s final tip is one of life’s essentials: ‘Don’t forget the baby wipes – no one loves a smelly hack.”