Mastering the Hustle: Media Professionalism
On 4/20/2019, three Seattle music industry savants shared their thoughts on media professionalism at KEXP’s 14th installment of the workshop series for aspiring musicians, Mastering the Hustle.
Jasmine Albertson (DMM, KEXP) and Emily Nokes (Tacocat, Bust magazine) are both veteran hustlers (to borrow KEXP’s word) in the Seattle music industry. Tacocat, started by a group of best friends, has been a band for eleven years and counting, and Jasmine has been writing top-tier digital content for KEXP, helming DMM, and contributing to the local music scene for just as long. Ben Secord, who is in charge of philanthropic programs and engagement at Macklemore LLC, moderated the discussion.
DJ Sharlese, who needs no introduction but who is KEXP’s Education Coordinator, welcomed us and acknowledged that KEXP’s house stands on unceded traditional lands of Coast Salish peoples.
The topic of “Media Professionalism” was introduced by the panelists with the important caveat that the word “professionalism” is “coded and loaded;” it definitely can and has been used to reinforce systems of oppression. As the panel went on, it would become clear that professionalism, as the panelists understand it, can boil down to acting respectfully of other people’s time and energies, e.g. responding promptly to emails, staying ‘til the end of the gig, not taking on an entitled attitude once you see a little success. In other words, basic stuff to help ensure that the people you interact with today, whether on or offline, will still want to help you out five years from now.
First, who is expected to uphold media professionalism and what does that mean in 2019? In general, it’s the artist’s duty (and opportunity) to be the voice of their project or band. What does media professionalism look like in 2019? Both panelists agreed that it’s a balancing act of relatable, day-to-day mundane content and hardcore beliefs and opinions on current issues.
“[Media professionalism] is important…. If you want a career,” was Jasmine Albertson’s response to Ben Secord’s question of why artists should consider adopting a professional online brand or public persona. While at first this sounded like tough love, Albertson’s non-pass-granting attitude opened up a compelling argument for why you should become a genius pro at media professionalism: being open with your fans about your beliefs does not have to come naturally to you, but maybe it’s the missing piece of your band’s toolkit… a latent power waiting to be discovered that will open your band up to new contexts and widen your community. Nokes empathetically pointed out that having something to say and knowing how tos ay it is the result of a tough learning process, while at the same time acknowledging “education is a privilege.” It seemed conceivable that for more than a few attendees, acknowledging one’s own privilege, social standing, and education could be the first step toward musical success.
However, this version of media professionalism is not completely perfect, and can lead to some disappointing scenarios. Emily Nokes brought up how in the wake of the last presidential election, Tacocat was super sought after for benefit gigs due to their visibility as unsubdued mostly female DIY new-wave punks. However, to Nokes, these bookings represented a lost opportunity to extend the burden of being a poster band to less obvious bands who would be involved. Nokes wondered out loud, “where are the white dude bands?” … Why weren’t they being asked to donate their time and ticket sales? Which brings us back to the opportunity (in this case, missed) presented by music, bands, and promoters to widen the boundaries of who can participate in political action.
This can and should be practiced at every show; show lineups can be political battlegrounds, and present the opportunity to question entrenched industry practices. Nokes urged all present to ask promoters, “why is this bill 70% male, or why is it all white?” Albertson too emphasized the importance of “mixed bills” that incorporate one or more musical genre.
“Call-out culture” was a sub-topic that the moderator kept bouncing back to the panelists. Being pressed on the topic, the panelists steered clear of blanket generalizations, settling on billing call-out culture as not infallible but still necessary. Albertson stressed the gravity of calling someone out, and the consequences and effects this can have on individuals and communities. There was no “hot take” on call-out or cancel culture. Instead, as a strategy, the panelists advocated going offline and seeking out people and possible offenders in person, and getting your information from sources.
A final question from the audience wondered how to build your semi-political brand if you hold what the author of the question called “unconventional beliefs.” The question made many think to ask, “well what ARE these beliefs.” But before a second awkward second could pass, Albertson met the question halfway without a trace of judgment: “find your community--who they are and how to reach them.” The “who” and “how” are no longer conveniently confined to one or the other digital or IRL contexts. For aspiring artists the message was that there is no better time than now to become a responsible, accountable, and creative participant in the game you are already playing each time you like a post.