Blogger Spotlight: Kriston McConnell

Welcome, everyone. This is the final Blogger Spotlight of the week. We have spoken to people running major publications in recent days, as well as Billboard featured bands on the cusp of stardom, but we will always enjoy talking to writers in currently doing whatever they can to make a career for themselves most of all. That is a very basic summary of the person featured below, and as you will soon learn they have a lot to offer others in the struggle. f you have any questions regarding the content of this blog, or if you would like to learn more information about the services offered by Haulix, please email james@haulix.com and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

For the past several years Kriston McConnell has been one of the leading voices on Under The Gun Review. She currently resides in Seattle and, like many who are attempting to have a career in music criticism, spends her days working jobs outside of the music business in order to make ends meet. When those tasks are complete, however, she opens her laptop and types until she can barely keep her eyes open. The next day, she wakes up and does it all over again. 

Kriston may not have a full time time job in the music business just yet, but she already has the qualities that make up a great industry professional. She’s dedicated, driven, hardworking, and able to balance many unrelated tasks at the same time. She recognizes the work that needs to be put in if she ever wants to get ahead and finds the strength within herself to get it done. She is determined to succeed, and knows that doing so means helping others reach for their dreams as well. In the interview below, she offers advice on her others can do the same. 

If you would like to learn more about Kriston’s endeavors in the world of music, please take a few moments to follow her on Twitter. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.

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H: Let’s start with the basics, shall we? Please let everyone know your your full name, job title, and the site where your work can be found:

K: My name’s Kriston McConnell, and I’m a News Editor at Under The Gun Review.

H: Thank you again for joining us, Kriston. It’s an honor to feature your story. Tell me, has music always played a major role in your life?

K: Easily. For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a musician. I sang along to every song I could, and I remember writing my own songs when I was 11. There’s always a tune in my head, whether it’s my own or someone else’s.

H: If you had to guess, what do you think is your earliest memory of music?

K: Probably a Disney movie. I remember I used to own the soundtracks to Lion King, Aladdin and Pocahontas. When I was six or so I used to play the Pocahontas soundtrack to make the rain go away. I also pretended to be Aladdin once, possibly twice. Seal’s “Kissed By A Rose” always reminds me of being a kid too. I was six and that song made an impression on me.

H: Who was the first artist you recall yourself obsessing over, and how did you originally discover them? Don’t be afraid to share your early fangirl experiences.

K: Definitely N*SYNC. They were the first band I ever saw live and I saw them three times. I don’t really remember how I discovered them, but I imagine it had something to do with TV. Backstreet Boys were cool and all, but N*SYNC had Justin Timberlake.

H: How about the first album you purchased with your own money, and the format?

K: Shadows Fall – The War Within. CD. From radio music to metal, I did a complete 180 when I hit Jr High. I just started a new relationship, and they were taking me to my first metal concert. I had zero idea what to expect, and I had never even heard of Shadows Fall. So naturally, I went to the store and bought the first CD of theirs I found. I was hooked immediately. I also got my ass kicked at the show.

H: Do you ever miss cassette tapes?

K: Not really. My parents had given me a few when I was young, but by the time I really got into music CDs were a thing. I did own a New Kids On The Block tape which I enjoyed though.

H: You have spent several years writing about music, and I think it’s safe to say at this point you have become what most would refer to as a ‘lifer.’ When you think back on the formative moments and experiences that steered you toward a life in music criticism, what events come to mind?

K: You know, I had never even considered being a music critic. I wanted to be in journalism though, that much I knew for sure. I wrote for my high school newspaper, and couldn’t get enough of it. It never even occurred to me I could, and may want to, write for a music publication until I met Jacob Tender. He put the idea in my head when he asked some street teamers if they wanted to join his music blog. I love it though, and I can’t imagine my life without it.

H: Can you pinpoint any specific moments or points in time when you realized your gift with wordplay could be applied to a career feel?

K: I always excelled in English in school. That was pretty much the only class I ever received high grades in. I loved to write essays and make up stories, so when I had the opportunity to join the school’s newspaper I jumped on it. I think that’s when I realized that I could build a career writing. I enjoyed every moment of it.

H: Most of your work to date can be found on Under The Gun Review. How did you originally discover Under The Gun, and how long was it from that point to when you decided to apply?

K: Jacob Tender was the one who introduced me to the site. I had been writing on his blog for only about a month or so, and he messaged me letting me know he had this great opportunity to join UTG’s board. He said he was allowed to take some writers with him, and asked if I wanted to join the crew. I was flattered, and after browsing the site for about 10 minutes decided that I would do it.

H: While on the topic of your joining UTG, would you mind telling us a bit about the application process. We want to know your origin story.

K: To be honest I don’t really recall applying. After I told Jacob I’d be happy to join he went to the rest of the board to confirm. All I really remember after that is waiting a couple of weeks I was sent some details about posting etiquette and log in credentials for the site. It all seemed to happen so fast and I was overjoyed to be a part of a team that had similar interests as me.

H: UTG is a site that often gets mentioned alongside the likes of Propertyofzack and Absolutepunk. What is it about the content you feature that separate Under The Gun from its competitors?

K: Well for me specifically, I tend to gravitate toward unsigned bands. That’s what really set me apart from the beginning. While many music sites cover unsigned artists, I obsess over them. I love discovering new bands, and I want to share that sense of discovery with our readers. I can get just as excited to watch a band with 500 fans as I would a band with 500,000. I certainly do my fair share of big news stories, but my love for local artists trying to make a name for themselves will always be there.

I think there are two things that separate UTG from similar sites. First, we have a variety of staff with a variety of passions. We have people like me, who love post hardcore, and people who love metal, indie, dubstep and everything in between. We have some very passionate movie critics, and we’ve interviewed a number of big name actors/directors. We even have regular comedy columns, which I is not something you really see that often.

Second, we have a knack for posting timely articles and unique features. Timing is everything in the news world, and while we might not always hit the nail on the head, we do a pretty damn good job at posting breaking or time sensitive pieces quickly. This includes unique features as well. We always are thinking about the next new feature we can try out and run with it. One of my favorites is the list we made for the ugly band Christmas sweaters last year. We posted it right when the flood of sweaters were being released, and it ended up being a huge hit with readers. I even bought a couple myself.

H: What are one or two accomplishments you have made during your time at UTG that you are particularly proud of?

K: The first thing that comes to mind is networking. Before I joined UTG I really didn’t know very many people in the music industry. There are still tons of people out there that I’d love to connect with, but I have definitely garnered a bunch of music connections with some awesome people. Aside from that, I’d have to say earning the spot as the News Editor. I started at UTG with hardly any experience and I never imagined I’d earn the trust and respect to become part of the editorial team. It gives me a sense of pride and responsibility, as well as accomplishment. I have yet to meet any staffer in person, but they are family.

H: We should mention you do not write about music full time (YET). You also have a quote/unquote ‘real world gig.’ What is it?

K: I currently am working as the only Quality Assurance Generalist for Customer Service at zulily. I basically audit calls and emails taken by agents and run reporting off them. 

H: How do you find time to balance that commitment with writing, and why do you make sacrifices to write in the first place?

K: It’s hard. If I could write all day everyday and still pay my bills I would. When I have spare time I check up on things to make sure they are running smoothly, and on my breaks and lunches I almost always publish an article or two. Most of my contributions occur in the evenings though, which I sometimes do for hours depending on my schedule. When you’re passionate about something, it’s easy to make sacrifices for. I try to keep it balanced though. Some days I will spend as much spare time as possible writing, and others I will have extra meetings at work or I have an appointment or a dinner date. Those days I will do what I can, but can sometimes find myself with only a small number of posts. I almost never go an entire day without writing though.

H: What advice would you offer someone currently considering the pursuit of a career in music criticism?

K: Go for it. You might have to start off at a music blog, but there are opportunities everywhere. Get yourself involved in a street team or go make some friends with local musicians or venue staff. I met Jacob on the DRUGS street team. If I hadn’t joined that, I would not be where I am today.

H: I have noticed that you are usually the person highlighting unsigned rock bands on UTG. Where do you turn when hoping to discover something new?

K: Anywhere and everywhere. I won’t give away all of my secrets, but I will say that it sometimes takes quite a bit of dedication to finding those small bands. When MySpace was a thing, I used to comb through thousands of bands checking out their music. With Facebook, all you really need to do is “like” a couple of unsigned artists to start. They tend to pull for each other a lot, and share each other’s music. Just keep tabs on that, and I can guarantee you will find at least a few more bands to love. YouTube and Bandcamp are two other places I like to check out for artists.

H: Are there any recent articles on UTG that you’re particularly proud of? Go on, show us your best efforts:

K: The 2014 Oscar Results. It’s the first major article that I have ever written and updated for a live event, and for a couple of hours it was the number one search result on Google. The “content” might have been easy enough, but I spent every second of the Oscars on my laptop updating the winners as soon as they were announced. I have also had a handful of popular exclusives, which made me proud. Collaborating with PRs and labels is one of my favorite things, so whenever an exclusive does well it encourages me to keep fostering those relationships.

H: What are your personal goals for 2014?

K: I would like to conduct more interviews this year. I have a few tentatively planned already, and I want to try to get into the double digits by the end of the year. That’s the one thing I haven’t really done all that much, and if I ever want to do this as a full on career I should probably get some experience huh!

H: Stepping back a bit more, what are your career goals in general?

K: I’m honestly still trying to figure that out. I know for sure that I love music, art and photography. I’ve always been torn between doing what I am passionate about and doing what’s “responsible” aka working at corporate jobs, getting a 401k, going to school, etc. I just want to do something that makes me happy, pays my bills and allows me to travel. I’m slowly working on making that happen with my writing and photography.

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

K: Facebook. I get hundreds of emails every day and I am not always that great at responding to them. I do try sometimes and there are a few people that I communicate with through email but through Facebook it’s just so much easier to get my attention. I’m always happy to check out a new artist. I won’t make a promise that I’ll post something but I can promise that if you hear back from me, I will at the very least check it out with an open mind.

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

K: Where do I start? There are a few things that get under my skin, but I think the number one is the fact that when someone is popular, a celebrity or what have you, they could literally get away with murder. We value someone’s status more than we value the kind of person they actually are in private. If these people are supposed to be role models, they should be held to a higher standard.

H: I think we have covered everything. Before I let you go, are there any final comments or observations that you would like to share?

K: I don’t think so! I’m looking forward to making 2014 amazing.

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.