Karen Bliss is an established music journalist for various print and web publications. She is currently the Canadian correspondent for Billboard.com, writes for RollingStone.com, MSN, AOL’s Noisecreep, Elle Canada, SOCAN’s Words & Music and more. Along the way, she has interviewed everyone from Eminem to Shania Twain, Jimmy Page to Britney Spears. Karen also created an anti-racism animated PSA, The Girl With Pinhead Parents, voiced by Nelly Furtado, Chris Bosh, Jully Black and others. Last summer, she started a record label, Daycare Records, with musician/producer Luther Mallory (former frontman for Crush Luther and now bassist and producer with Fortune, fronted by JD Fortune). Their first signing is woe-is-me indie-pop act The Danger Bees (album out this summer). She also owns and operates SamaritanMag.com, an online magazine about people, charities and businesses making a difference. She has interviewed many musicians for the site.
Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?
I actually became a music journalist because I have no talent. I wanted to be in the music business and this was the only way I knew how. Of course, as a small child I wanted to be a veterinarian, and later, briefly thought it would be cool to be a cop or a criminal lawyer, but that was before I discovered The Rolling Stones and started going to all the concerts I could during high school. I still dream of being a race car driver and/or an astronaut.
Where would you like to be five years from now?
Doing exactly the same thing, but to a higher and more accomplished degree.
Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
I typically say I am in the music business. I consider that my industry. But for someone who would specifically like to be a music journalist, you have to learn how to construct news and feature articles (take courses and also look at how well-written articles are constructed) and become entrenched in music. Go out to see bands, get to know how the business works, attend panels at conferences such as CMW and NXNE, and network. In terms of the “journalist” part, I believe I make my living from ideas. Without them, I would be broke. To me, I’m not interviewing musicians; I am interviewing people — and everyone has a story. It’s your job to discover that story from the interviewee and write about it in an accurate and compelling way.
What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?
I am obsessed with hard news, more than music journalism. I watch all those one- or two-hour investigative reports, such as Dateline, NBC Real Life Mysteries, as well as 60 Minutes and 20/20. I also love Anderson Cooper’s interviews; he approaches them with heart and intelligence and is not afraid to call someone out.
Best interview you’ve ever had?
Too many to mention.
I have talked about this before, but don’t want to put it out there on the Internet, never to be erased.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
In terms of my writing, very early on an editor was going over one of my articles and said to me, “What are you trying to say here?” So I answered. And he said, “Well, write that. Stop trying so hard.”
What rule(s) do you live your life by?
I don’t live my life by any one rule. Maybe thou shalt not kill.
What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Try and work with the journalist, even if the request isn’t part of your current schedule ie. if an interview is requested but it’s between albums or a tour to promote. Also, please help when fact-checking is needed. Too often, publicists’ main agenda is to set up the interview and afterwards there are some who can’t be bothered to help to double-check names, dates and other information. The ones that do are the best in their field in my books because they care about the accuracy of the final article.
Often, when I transcribe an interview, there are holes that need to be filled or things people say that don’t make sense. I need the publicist to help check facts with the artist or management, so I’m not just regurgitating false info from misspoken quotes or the Internet. When I know the person I interviewed, and can call or email directly, they often say, “Oh, I meant such and such” or “Oh, it wasn’t 2005; it was 2008. Sorry.” Some publicists only care that the article comes out.
Also, sometimes I am asked repeatedly over weeks to interview someone; I finally do, and the article comes out; I send the link and I don’t hear a word back — not even a “thanks.”
Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
Too many to mention. My best experiences are with competent publicists who get you all the materials you need to make a good interview, go beyond the call of duty if you need something for a particular story, and, as noted, will help fact-check. And also actually do send the interview request to management and don’t just say “No” without trying.
Laziness, incompetence, excuses, cigarette smoke, the drunk next to me at a concert, and walnuts.
Music, talent, drive, intelligence, British humour, exotic food, big dogs, Withnail & I.
I most recently read Michael Eisner’s Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed because I have two of the greatest partners I could hope for: Farley Flex for The Girl with Pinhead Parents and another, still-in-the-works sports venture; and Luther Mallory for Daycare Records. I know I’m not always the easiest partner so this collection of stories on various successful partners — from Eisner and Frank Wells (Disney) to Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger (Berkshire Hathaway) — provides great insight into working together.
Best place on earth?
I have climbed the steps inside the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, but I still think home is the best place on earth.
Keith Richards, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lennon, my friends and family.
Don’t have one. I admire many people, usually those who are committed and hard working, don’t make excuses and go for what they want in life. I also admire people who quit complaining about their jobs, quit, and pursue what they really want to do.
Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these days)?
Don’t have one.
Pool or ocean?
Does one of these come with the completion of this questionnaire? I’m not picky; surprise me.
Voicemail or email?
Email for quick messages or questions, but prefer talking on the phone for anything that needs more in-depth discussion, clarification or brainstorming.