Industry Spotlight: Derek ‘Sknk’ Scancarelli

Hello and welcome to the final industry spotlight of the week. We have been fortunate enough to speak with a number of professionals from across the industry over the last year, but it was not until this particular feature that we were able to speak with someone doing their best to become a professional in the field of video journalism. Their unique perspective on music today and where it’s headed in the near future allowed us to see the business as a whole in a new light, and we hope his words will have the same impact on you. If 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.

We talk a lot about the importance of finding and securing internships while still in school, and the person at the center of today’s post would probably tell you it is because of their experience at internships that they became the person they are today. Derek Scancarelli, otherwise known to the digital world as ‘Skank Jones,’ has spent the past half decade preparing for a full time career in music that he continues to pursue today. He always knew journalism was something that fascinated him, but it wasn’t until he spent time at newspapers, labels, and eventually tv stations that he discovered his true passion resided in creating visual stories worth sharing with others. Now, through unpaid writing and occasional freelance work, Derek is finally starting to find traction in the business he has wanted to be a part of the majority of his life. In the interview below he shares how he reached this point, as well as advice for others hoping to find their own path in music.

I met Derek a little over a year ago, and I knew from the first time we interacted that he was going to do big things in the music industry. In the decade I have been working in various areas of this business I have only met a handful of people as driven and focused on success as Derek, nor many who have nearly as much fun working as he seems to when compiling questions or footage for publication. Everyone gets into this business for their own reasons, and I do not claim to know every motivation Derek has, but I know for a fact his heart and mind are in the right place. He’s not here to make money or become famous, though I am sure he would love both. Derek is in this business because music has been his best friend for longer than he can remember. He loves art and loves to help artists share their work with the world, regardless of genre. He might not be a household name at this point, but I am certain he will reach that level of recognition as long as he stays on his current path.

If you would like to learn more about Derek and his adventure in music, please take a few moments to follow him on Twitter. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.

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H: Hello and thanks again for joining us. Please take a few moments and introduce yourself to our readers:

S: My name is Derek Scancarelli, I am a multimedia journalist based out of New York. I tend to specialize in live music and entertainment, but have dabbled in almost everything. Currently, I produce original feature content for Under The Gun Review. I produce videos, photography sets, and conduct countless interviews.

H: I want to address your name right away, and then we can get to everything else. I’m told your real name is Derek, but everyone online seems to refer to you as ‘Skank Jones.’ What is the story behind that moniker, and how did it originate?

S: My last name is Scancarelli. Growing up I didn’t mind being called, “Skank,” it was happening whether I embraced it or not. When I was younger and the rapper Mike Jones released the track “Back Then,” and a bunch of my friends started calling me “Skank Jones.” It sort of stuck.

H: Do you ever see yourself moving away from that name with your writing and video efforts?

S: I’ve branded my logo and photography page based around the name D. SKANK PHOTOGRAPHY. It’s unique and memorable. No, I don’t want my byline in Rolling Stone or any legitimate publication to say “Written by: Skank Jones,” but for now the logo will be slated in all of my video work and appear on my photos. If you looked at any of my Under The Gun Review work, it will always say it was written/produced/etc by Derek Scancarelli.

H: Okay, let’s take a step back and look at your early years with music. When you think about your childhood and the songs that served as your soundtrack, what memories comes to mind? 

S: I bet this is a question that everyone fumbles on. The first records I’ve ever owned were The Monkees and Steppenwolf. Don’t ask me why, but I was born to be wild. When I was young, my father would always rock out with me to bands like Pink Floyd in the car. When I started playing Tony Hawk video games is probably when I fell in love with punk music. THPS2 came out in 2000, I was 9 years old. It had Public Enemy and Anthrax, Swingin Utters, Lagwagon, Bad Religion, Rage Against The Machine. Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX came out that same year. It had Rancid, Sublime, Social Distortion. Those were eye openers. I also remember winning a Blink-182 single sampler at an elementary school carnival. The sampler had two tracks, “All The Small Things” and “M+Ms.”

H: Who was the first artist/group you can recall falling in love with, and how did you originally discover them? Bonus points if you include an early ‘fanboy’ moment.

S: In 2003 my father brought me to see Iron Maiden, Dio, and Motorhead at Jones Beach. That one probably changed my life. I’ve seen almost every NY appearance Maiden has made since. They have such a grandiose level of international success, it baffles me.

My biggest fanboy moment would be in 2006 at Ozzfest in NYC. I ran into some friends who had some ridiculous connection to Ozzy’s manager through a travel agent. An hour later, I went from getting sun poisoned to meeting the Prince of Darkness himself. I put out my right hand and told Ozzy it was an honor to meet him, I’m pretty sure he grabbed my thumb with his left hand and just flopped it around. I look like a complete child I’m cheesing so hard in that photo.

H: Who did you see when you attended your first concert, and what can you remember about the experience? Go on, paint us a word picture:

S: I went to my first concert with my buddy Chris and his uncle. He’s actually an NYPD officer now, am I old or what? It was at a venue in Plainview, NY called The Vanderbilt. It no longer exists, but I’ll never forget that night. We saw Hoobastank, Blindside, and Greenwheel. I was in the 6th grade and had a 103 degree fever, but I insisted on going anyway. Not exactly the most badass first show.

H: You are known more for your work in photo and video than text. When did you first notice your admiration for still images and video camcorders?

S: When I was growing up, I wasn’t infatuated with sports. Sure, I played some hockey, but that was never me. I listened to CDs and watched music videos religiously. Remember M(usic)TV? TRL? Those used to be things.

I’d watch shows like Steven’s Untitled Rock Show on Fuse and Headbangers Ball. The content always had me so interested, and then one day I realized that people get paid to make this stuff. The English language and text will never disappear, but the climate is changing. Sure, writing is a fundamental, the fundamental of journalism, but I have a passion for putting it together visually.

During college, I completed six different internships. Three were at TV stations, one was at a newspaper, one at a radio station, and one at a record label. At the newspaper office, I saw how the company was dying, despite being backed by a major printing company. I realized that the future of journalism isn’t simply in textual content.

At one of the TV stations, a mentor of mine told me that you can no longer be a “cameraman” or an “editor” or an “interviewer” or a “photographer.” He told me that if I wanted to stand out in this industry that I have to be able to do it all. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish here, within reason.

H: I’ve found over the course of this series that many professionals experience a ‘lightbulb’ moment in their youth or teen years that leads them to initially believe the music business is the place for them. Do you have such a memory or experience to share?

S: I don’t know what the exact ‘lightbulb’ moment was for me, but for as long as I can remember it’s all I’ve wanted to do. Contrary to your question, I have a lot of those moments now at 23. I think that with every successful story I write, photo I take, interview I conduct, the next light down the hallway turns on. It’s a long rocky road; but we must celebrate tiny victories. Sometimes it gets defeating and exhausting trying to pave way for yourself and doing all of this.

But every time I sit down to talk with someone that influenced me growing up, I have that ‘lightbulb moment.’ Sitting on the sidewalk and interviewing a Ramone, ‘lightbulb moment’. Jay Mohr telling the suits to fuck off and that we’ll talk for as long as we want, ‘lightbulb moment.’ Seeing an interview you conduct with the Descendents or Scott Ian go viral, ‘lightbulb moment.’

The people that do this as a career do it for the passion. I say it all the time, I could’ve gotten a finance degree and worked on Wall Street like my sister, but man, I’d be one miserable guy. Those little moments remind me why I’m doing what I do.

H: You followed high school with a trip to college. Did you study anything related to the music business?

S: Initially I went into the University at Albany as an intended Marketing major. I graduated with a Communications degree with a double-minor in Business and English. The program was media related, but not music industry related. I dabbled in every realm of media as I’d mentioned previously. I completed an internship at Equal Vision Records and also was an Arts & Entertainment Editor at the Albany Student Press. Ask any touring band if they hit Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park, NY and they’ll tell you that Ted Etoll is the go-to guy. I owe him a serious thank you to. He welcomed me into that venue like I was his son, whether it was for Nas or Every Time I Die. The whole staff there is incredible. I also did some promotion for a company called MASS EDMC who put on enormous electronic shows. The guys who run PeepThis were helpful as well. The Capital Region takes care each other. I liked that.

H: As someone still making their way into the business, do you feel college is something everyone should consider when hoping to get into the music industry? 

S: College is necessary to get into any industry. At this point, it’s become standard. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people have become immensely successful without formal education, but nowadays even college graduates are out of luck when it comes to employment. You don’t need to accrue hundreds of thousands in debt to have an education if you go about it the right way. Once you earn that degree, no one can take it away from you.

H: A little bird told me you may be considering some additional education in the future. Care to talk about that?

S: I don’t think graduate level education is necessary for everyone. I’ve been back and forth on the matter personally. Currently, I have an opportunity to participate in a journalism MA program that is highly competitive and ranks along the monsters such as Columbia and NYU, for a fraction of the cost. In a climate where every person that has the internet thinks they are a journalist, really learning the fundamentals couldn’t hurt.

So, I have a decision to make. As far as for everyone else, it’s a big decision. I finished college a semester early, so I can handle three more semesters. I’d also be walking away with less debt than if I were to buy a Honda Civic.

H: You’ve made the biggest impression on music through your journalistic efforts. When did you first become interested in the news side of the industry?

S: I’m always curious about the “inside scoop.” When it comes to the TMZ aspect of reporting, I’m not a fan. But looking into the history and inside the world of entertainment is exciting. You take these “larger than life” figures and have a conversation with them. Then all of a sudden, you’re not so removed. It brings people closer to the things they’re passionate about. Maybe meeting bands when I was younger made me want to pursue that feeling more and more.

H: You currently produce content for Under The Gun Review. When did you first learn of that site, and what inspired you to apply?

S: When I was in college, I had a friend named Matt Dondiego. He would contribute to the Albany Student Press and write about bands like Basement and Forever Came Calling. When I bumped into him at shows like State Champs, we discussed his other endeavors, one of which was writing for Under The Gun Review.

When I graduated college a semester early, I would randomly contribute back to the school newspaper. I couldn’t wrap my head around not putting out content. I started working at an advertising firm in May 2013 and that is exactly when I started at UTG. I couldn’t keep applying to cover events as an “Alumni Contributor,” that was getting old quick. UTG has allowed me to produce any and all content I’ve brought to the table thus far. They encourage their writers to grow and support me no matter what. I’ll always be grateful for that. Hopefully the friendships I’ve been establishing over the past year will last for many more years to come.

H: What was the application process like? Did you have an interview?

S: When I applied, I’m pretty sure I was browsing the website to see if they were looking for writers, so I sent a resume over. I included a cover page that listed a lot of the photography and interviews that I’d done in the past year up in Albany. I made sure to show my diversity, dropping interviewee names as varied as Hostage Calm, Insane Clown Posse, and Nick Kroll. I mentioned how I’d photographed Gwar and countless other bands. Versatility carries value for me, so I expected that UTG would appreciate it as well. I was welcomed onto the team open arms, there was no high-pressure interview.

H: You do a lot of on camera work. Who was your first on camera segment on, and how did it go? 

S: The first time I ever went on camera, I was interning at a high school sports channel owned by Cablevision called MSG Varsity. When they were training new staff for the studio and control room, I went on camera to do a mock “Sportscenter” type show. I have some great reels. Some footage is serious, some is silly.

The first legitimately released on-camera interview I conducted was with Brandon Boyd of Incubus. The video has over 4,000 views on Youtube, so I’ll take that. I think it went well, although I wish I had better posture and didn’t fix my glasses like a nerd. One guy commented saying, “The interviewer is crap.” That’s always comforting.

I don’t necessarily like being on camera, but I think it sometimes helps the flow of an interview. It also has to do with how prepared or confident I am in talking to the particular artist. I often shoot and conduct these interviews alone, so it isn’t even possible. I don’t see myself being Carson Daly, but it’s fun from time to time to go on camera.

H: You’ve made your name known in the industry, but have you started getting paid for your work yet?

S: I was paid doing production work at MSG Varsity for two consecutive summers. I’ve been credited on television multiple times and of course, printed in countless bylines. Currently, I work full time at an advertising agency, but that isn’t music industry or really journalism related.

A lot of people have heated debates over unpaid internships and freelance work. What I can tell you is that often times you need to look at what you are getting out of an experience rather than what they are getting out of you. Obviously, I won’t be doing unpaid work forever, but my experiences over the past few years through UTG and other outlets has far exceeded the college education that I’ve paid for.

I literally just started contributing to another website, I did my first freelance gig last weekend. It’s a foot in the door and I’m very proud of the content I produced.

H: Do you feel you should be getting paid? It seems many sites and blogs do not pay contributors right now. 

S: Of course I do, but logistically, that isn’t always possible when you’re starting out. I’d have my head up my ass if I didn’t understand that. It depends on whether or not the website is in the proper financial situation to pay you. As far as I know, no one at UTG is paid. If UTG could employ me full time, I would dedicate my 9-5 to it in a heartbeat. Given that the site started in 2009, it isn’t quite at that level yet.

That being said, the time and effort I’ve put into unpaid work has given me valuable life and career experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It has gotten me to new levels of exposure I’d never known before. Sure, sometimes it means pinching pennies or sacrificing, but anything worth working for won’t get handed to you.

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

S:Usually I prefer VHS tapes with fuzzy screens. What’s this site called? Haulix? I’ll go with that. All jokes aside, I do prefer Haulix to all of the others. It’s simple, well-formatted and subtly presented. It’s easily to stream and/or download and I know it protects the rights of artists. But getting handed a nice hard copy Compact Disc is nice too. Hey Rey, thanks for Twin Forks!

H: What advice would you offer to other up and comers thinking of pursuing a career in the music business?

S: Get ready to bust your ass. Don’t expect anything handed to you. When I first graduated college, I sat down with a mentor and television executive. I told him that it’d been a little rough trying to find a job. Do you know what he told me? He looked at me and said, “Hey. Stop acting like somebody fucking owes you something.”

It’s harsh – but it’s life. Work hard. Then work harder. Present yourself professionally but don’t be a total stiff either. Learn to make friends. Networking is key. Don’t air out your dirty laundry on public forums, and learn to accept the things you can’t change but do all in your power to change those that you can. But hey, I’m only 22, so I’m still learning. Check back in with me in 20 years.

H: What are your current goals for 2014?

S:As noted earlier, I’m in a bit of a transitional period, so that is contingent on whether or not I commit to further pursuing my education or not. Regardless, I hope to continue producing quality original content and continue to expand my horizons.

H: Thinking a bit more longterm, what are your career goals?

S: I love interviewing, I love entertainment and I love production. It’s pretty hard to find a job that combines all of those things, but at the same time it isn’t. MTV doesn’t play music, Fuse is a small network (and was bought by JLo), but we are in a landscape where all different kinds of companies are ever-expanding and growing. I’d love to be an executive producer on a show producing original content surrounding music. We’ll see. Hopefully if I prove myself one day I’ll have creative control over my own show. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

H: Who is your dream interview, and why are they your choice?

S: As far as musicians go, it may seem like the easy route, but simply the greats: Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, Ozzy Osbourne, Paul McCartney, Elton John, that list could go on forever. Prince would be unreal. Eminem would be incredible.

H: What has your worst interview experience been thus far? You can omit any names as needed.

S: I haven’t had any terrible interview experiences thus far. I’ve had some bands who’ve come off really snobby or acted like they couldn’t care less. But you need to learn not to take that stuff too personally. I’ve also learned to gauge people. One the body language starts changing, they’re probably tired of talking.

H: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face as a professional right now?

S: Right now, managing time. Working full-time is exhausting and important to pay the bills. My day job drives my dream at night, but that often means I have no time for myself. It’s kind of a Catch 22. The end goal is having a job that you love and enjoy, then at night you can have your personal time. I’ll make that sacrifice now for the end game.

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

S: I don’t think one change would make a significant difference. There was a paradigm shift, and to be honest, I wasn’t involved in the industry before the age of the internet. The best way to deal with an industry that changes constantly is to adapt and move forward, not looking at the past. I wish there was an easy fix to the way the internet has made almost all content free, but at the same time, I utilize that every day. When I interviewed Bert McCracken [The Used], he compared his music being on Spotify to slavery. I don’t know if we are quite there, but I can certainly see where he’s coming from.

H: Well, I think we have reached the end. Do you have any final thoughts or observations you would like to share?

S: I appreciate you reaching out to speak with me. I’m humbled to join the ranks of the many talented individuals you’ve interviewed here. If anyone reading this has every enjoyed or viewed any of my content, then thank you for giving it the time of day. If you haven’t please check some out!

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.