Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Guest Blogger: Heather Jacks, Author of The Noise Beneath the Apple® (Giveaway)

Written by Heather Jacks and accompanied by an eleven-track vinyl record featuring the original music of a select number of participants, this 200-page art-style coffee table book measures 12’’ x 12’’ and weighs in at a whopping 8lbs. Putting the spotlight on the age-old profession of busking, Jacks also seeks to stem the tide of regulation intended to suffocate creative expression and take performers off the streets.

A limited-edition coffee table book, The Noise Beneath the Apple®, is a unique and vibrant study of the culture of street performance, its legitimacy in modern times and above all, an intimate look at thirty-five buskers throughout New York City. Released with an eleven-track vinyl record that was mastered by Grammy and Academy Award winning mastering engineer Reuben Cohen, this book is a singular achievement and a one-of-a-kind tribute to the chaotic, beautiful and spirited world of busking.

Endless writing, endless deadlines and endless perseverance 
by Heather Jacks
Although I’ve worked in the music industry since the eighties, I wasn’t always a Music Journalist.
In my earlier career, I spent my time on the frontlines; in the trenches, as a Roadie. When the hair metal bands came along and introduced fire into their stage shows, Roadies were elevated to the status of techies. In the ‘90’s, I worked as a Production Coordinator in the world of Rock & Roll, an industry, that is, (let’s be frank), a sausage fest at best. I spent my days in the company of a Goth Shock Rocker, who, by his own definition, was an apocalyptic villain, embracing the extremes. My nights were spent, ear buds firmly smashed in place, and country music soothing my soul.  Production Coordinator is s a euphemism for babysitter, and although I did the occasional stage plotting and advancing directions, the intermittent press release and wardrobe consultancy; more often than not, I found myself tracking down organic almonds in Texas, siphoning pulp out of freshly squeezed orange juice, only to be told that my client had decided to drink Apple Juice, or hunting down 200 hams for a Christmas prank, that would woefully not make the papers. 
Change in the music industry came, as sure as death and taxes, in the form of downsizing, resizing and un-sizing.  Being a ‘Fire Horse’, which is defined on Wikipedia as someone who loves “living on the edge and am always ready for change,” it was a change I embraced. Armed with my degree in Journalism, experience with writing press releases and various sorts of propaganda and the reality that I was simply getting too old to lug cables and dust spotlights, I decided to try my hand at Music Journalism.
Music journalism is basically media criticism and reporting on music. Sounds easy, right? To a degree, it is. The first thing is; you have to LOVE your subject. That sounds obvious, but, it’s not always so easy. You have to be passionate about your subject and what you’re writing about; music. From history, genres, styles, instrument creation and evolution, technical aspects of music and/or the industry, you have to have an open mind and learn, explore, discover and write about the world of music, in ways you didn’t even know existed.
Next, you have to get your foot in the door. There are many ways to do this; internships, free writing jobs, which might include writing band bios or website text or starting your own blog or site to develop a portfolio or any number of writing ventures. Here it is important to note, that unless you are already established, a blog is not a way to get paid. It is a way to develop a body of work; a virtual resume or calling card. It is also a great place to develop your unique voice and establish what makes you an insightful Music Journalist. Were you in a band? Did you study music? Did you spend time on the road in the industry? Did you work in the industry?  You are not going to get rich from blogging as you fight for eyeballs on the internet, against publications like The Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and American Songwriter, but you can get established.  
When I converted to fulltime Music Journalism, I already had contacts in the industry, so I was able to secure some freelance writing gigs up front, which was great. Freelance writing is tough, because your income is inconsistent. You might get paid by the word, a set fee for the piece, or you might get a salary, if you consistently write for a particular publication.  Either way, you will constantly be coming up with and pitching ideas to the right places to land paid work, which will hopefully lead to more paid work.  Or, you will write a really great article and submit it to possible publications, explaining yourself in your cover letter. Either way, in order to get paid, you will need to write about everything and anything-- music related, that is. You will write consumer copy for the latest line of Cello strings; review noise canceling headphones, create band bios, top ten lists and whatever else might make you a few pennies per click. As you hone your chops, you will continue to discover your subject matter, and get to know it intimately. In my case, I grew to love the busking and street music scene. I love the people, the talent, the diversity of musical styles and genres; the wide array of instruments and creations I find. I am now able to write almost exclusively about this piece of music culture.
Working as a Music Journalist can be a blast. You can roll out of bed at your leisure, grab a cup of French Pressed coffee and head to your computer work station—in your underwear, if you like.  Once there, you’re going to spend hours clicking through emails, because everyone wants press coverage. There will be plenty of promo packets to sort through; both online and offline. Some are easily filed into the ‘no thanks’ bin because they will have M&M’s glued to them, are written in crayon or some crazy Comic Sans font. There will be invitations to shows and other events. (You should go to the shows, not just to support live music, but, to give you more fodder for writing. Networking occurs, relationships get built and paid work may come.)
You will spend the first few hours of your day responding to publishers, publicists, Facebook, Twitter and then discover some new platform that will ultimately be added to your social media repertoire. You will get to hear new music or music that is new to your ears, and find yourself tweeting excitedly about it. You’re going to LOVE some of the music, and you’re going to NOT love some of it. You’re going to accidentally zone out for an hour and then promise yourself that you won’t do it again—but you will.
After you’ve sorted through the last band photo, heard the final note of a CD, you will need to write and write and write and write some more. Even if you suffer from writer’s block—and you will—you must write. When you are fresh out of ideas—and you will be—you must write. When you think your story sucks—and it might—you must write. You must write through it all; and that can be hard, no matter how much coffee you drink or how many times you change into various forms of attire. You’re back will start to ache and you will consider once again, that ergonomic chair you’ve been eying at The Sharper Image. You will have to force yourself to get up and get out; justifying why you deserve your 30 minute walk or Spin Class. And then, you will have to come back and write. At about 9 p.m., you will be ready to call it a night. You will compulsively check your computer for ‘one last time’, and there will be a note—(usually sent via a mobile device, while the sender is walking their dog, telling you that the interview you’ve been trying to get, can be done now; as in right NOW, as the musician is traveling on their bus from Town A to Town B. Of course, you will do it right now. Jimmy Fallon will have to wait.

Endless writing, endless deadlines and endless perseverance, are things that make up this world of Music Journalism, and I love it; brandishing my pen, as if it were a vintage Gretsch. It may not get you ‘real paid’  or ‘rock-star’ perks, but it is a great way to stay connected to the ever changing industry, artists and musicians that we love and are passionate about. We as writers, get to provide a way to understanding that industry.

Heather Jacks was raised on an Indian reservation in southeastern Oregon, until age fifteen. Jacks
was the first ‘experimental exchange student’ to Australia with an organization called YFU, Youth for Understanding, where she spent 10.5 months in 1982. Once she returned, she received her B.A. from USF and followed that with two years of study at UC Davis. She has worked in the music industry in various capacities, since the eighties; radio, production, A&R, booking and most recently as a music journalist. She was recently named a finalist in the Book of the Year Award in the Performing Arts & Music category, for her multi-media project, The Noise Beneath the Apple®, which was inspired by her love for street music, busking and the people who make it. Heather can be contacted at:

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