Blogger Spotlight: Jesse Richman (PropertyOfZack)

Another Monday has found its way into existence, and here we are once again with a new Haulix Blogger Spotlight. This feature is the longest running on our still-young blog, and this week it gains one of its lengthier entries to date. If you have someone you would like to nominate for a future installment of this series, including yourself, please do not hesitate to email james@haulix.com and share your story.

PropertyOfZack founder Zack Zarrillo was the very first blogger to be featured in this series, but only a fool would think everything POZ has accomplished in recent years resulted from the efforts of one barely twenty-something with a laptop and a lot of big ideas. In fact, the contributing staff that helps keep POZ atop the alternative news game numbers in the dozens, and amongst them lies one curious soul by the name of Jesse Richman. He may not be the top news writer in digital journalism, but his work on artist features has helped widen the gap between POZ and their closest competitors while simultaneously helping usher in a new wave of talent to alternative scene.

Sometimes you meet influential people in the strangest of places, and other times it’s more a twist of fate. For Jesse Richman and I the latter was definitely the case. SXSW 2013 was fast approaching and before I could log on to book a hotel I learned all rooms in the immediate vicinity of downtown Austin were completely booked. A chance conversation with Zack Zarrillo put me in contact with Jesse, and before long I had found a temporary home with him less than a mile from Austin’s biggest events. We had never met or spoken before arriving, but in the days that followed I was able to watch his masterwork first hand as Jesse prepared and conducted interview after interview with talent from all walks of life. In between press events he would catch bands, usually chosen ahead of time to maximize coverage, and on the off-chance he found himself with a free moment he would begin working on his posts for the following day via phone or laptop. His work ethic is unlike anything I have witnessed elsewhere in the industry, and it’s an honor to share his story here today.

We spoke with Jesse about his life before music, what got him interested in writing in the first place, and where he sees the music industry headed in the years ahead. You can read his thoughts on all this, as well as few details on what PropertyOfZack has in store, below. If you would like to know more about Jesse we highly encourage you to stop by his Twitter, or his personal portfolio site. 

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H: For those unaware, please state your name, the site you work for, and your role at said site:

JR: My name is Jesse Richman. I’m a Senior Writer at PropertyOfZack, which I’ve called home since 2010. I also do sporadic work for other sites, and maintain my own music blog as well (generally for more personal writing) at MakeupForTheSilence.com.

H: What was the first album you really connected with? How did you discover it?

JR: Music has been a part of my life since literally before I can remember; when I was a baby, I refused to sleep if there wasn’t a record on the turntable.

That said, the first album that really felt like it was mine was Live’s Mental Jewelry. I remember catching the video for “Operation Spirit (The Tyranny Of Tradition)” on MTV one afternoon and just being blown away by it – visually, lyrically, sonically. When I learned soon after that they were a bunch of 20 year old kids from a town less than two hours away, it became clear they existed specifically for me to find.

H: What inspired you to get into writing in the first place?

JR: It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed, and always had a bit of a knack for. A lot of it was just loving reading, and wanting to make something others would love and learn from too. A handful of good English teachers to encourage me didn’t hurt. That said, I never really had the creative impulse for fiction writing; expository writing, whether journalistic or biographical, has always been more in my wheelhouse.

H: You went to school to study law. What attracted you to the world of entertainment journalism?

JR: I did go to law school, and I actually still practice law full-time – it’s the day job which affords me the opportunity to pursue writing as more than a hobby despite the collapse of the marketplace. As for what attracted me to entertainment journalism, I’ve been a voracious reader of music literature for as long as I’ve been a music listener. I have memories of Study Hall periods spent in the school library, churning through decade-old issues of Rolling Stone. You’d have been hard-pressed to find a day where my backpack (covered with band logos drawn on in White-Out) didn’t have at least one music bio crammed in among the school books. I think it’s just always been in the cards that I would write about music.

H: Your work can usually be found on PropertyOfZack, a site that we have featured before. What is it about the content offered on POZ that separates you from your countless competitors?

JR: in our early days, POZ really distinguished itself with its video content – Live’s, Acoustic sessions, documentary coverage of things like the GK Holiday Fest. Over the last year we’ve made a strong push to expand our written content to match. We’ve introduced Perspective (our features series), weekly Friday Discussions, our retrospective Decade pieces, and now Inside – multi-article deep digs on key players in our scene. We’ve got a really strong core of writers, and we’re giving them the opportunities and the tools to explore their passions. Everybody wins – the site, our writers, and especially the readers.

H: The majority of your features involve interviews. Do you recall your first interview experience as a journalist?

JR: I’m sure I did some interview work for my high school paper that I’ve long forgotten, but I really cut my teeth working for the Arts section of my college paper – I think I sat down with every band on campus at some point.

H: Every writer is guilty of having stock questions they fall back on when times get tough. If you had to guess, which question do you think you’ve asked most often over the course of your career?

JR: I’m endlessly fascinated by the creative process – how songs are written, how bands go about arranging and recording those songs. I love to ask business-related questions, because nobody knows where the music business is headed but everyone’s got their opinion on it. And if all else fails, I ask what’s on the radio in the van/bus, partly because I’m confident enough in my musical knowledge that I can turn any answer into a launching pad for more questions, and partly because the easiest way to crack opena tough interviewee is to get them talking about something they’re passionate about.

H: There are a growing number of people who view what you do as a possible career path for themselves. What advice would you offer those who hope to make a name for themselves in writing these days?

JR: Write, write, write. Read other writers. Talk with other writers – it’s never been easier than it is right now to get in touch with virtually anyone. Debate, test their ideas, make them test yours, listen to feedback. Then, write some more.

H: You’ve racked up quite a list of interviewees over the years. Who is left on your “interview bucket list”?

JR: Anyone who’s made music that makes me feel! I don’t really have a list, but there are definitely some childhood musical heroes I’d love to really get in deep with someday – Ed from Live, Raine from Our Lady Peace, Colin and Mr. C of The Shamen. And if the ghosts of Kurt Cobain or Doug Hopkins of the Gin Blossoms feel like dropping by for a chat, I’m game.

H: What would you say is your ultimate goal as a writer?

JR: To be read. And to have something to say that’s worth reading. I might be putting the cart before the horse there.

H: PropertyOfZack is known for breaking up and coming rock bands. Where do you turn when hoping to discover new music?

JR: My fellow POZ staffers. Our fellow websites, like Under The Gun Review and AbsolutePunk. My friends in the blogosphere. I follow a list of 300+ music-related folks on Twitter – musicians, songwriters, producers, PR folks, journalists. Tumblr has a vibrant, if echo-y, critical community. Podcasts – I subscribe to probably 10 music-related podcasts.

I’ve also built up something of a mental list of must-read music critics – folks who, through their skill and insight, make me think about music in new, exciting, eye-opening ways. Nitsuh Abebe, Maura Johnston, Tom Ewing, Stephen Erlewine, Steven Hyden, Luke O’Neill, Leor Galil, Jason Pettigrew, Annie Zaleski, and many more. Everyone who posts at The Singles Jukebox. Apologies to everyone I’m forgetting. There’s so much more to writing about music well than just discovering new acts.

H: Speaking of music discovery, you probably receive a lot of submissions from young artists vying for a spot on your news feed. What advice can you offer young artists hoping to stand out in your inbox?

JR: Don’t bother. Really. I ignore virtually everything I get sent from publicists (and, sadly, from bands themselves). Write good songs, play good shows, build a buzz. I keep my ear to the ground, and if you’re doing something interesting, odds are it’ll make its way to me.

H: When it comes to receiving music for review and feature consideration, which services do you prefer and why?

JR: We wouldn’t be here doing this interview if we didn’t both think Haulix was the bees knees, right? I want tracks I can stream, and preferably download too – I’m a New Yorker and do a lot of my listening on the subway, where streaming isn’t an option. Haulix is straightforward and intuitive.

H: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?

JR: I’d find some way to put the money back into it! The last 50 years were a bubble, and that bubble’s burst, but it was a glorious bubble to live in, wasn’t it?

H: You tweet a lot about having big plans for the future. Before we let you go, can you tell us a bit about what you have planned in the months ahead?

JR: I’m really stoked for Riot Fest, both as a writer/interviewer and as a fan who never had the chance to see The Replacements live. CMJ is coming, and I’ve already started making plans for next year’s SXSW. In between all of that, I’m just going to keep writing as much as I can!

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.