BLOG TALK: 4 Tips For Hiring Great Contributors

Running a music blog is no easy task. Not only do you need to be constantly creating new content, but you also have to recruit people to help build your brand without the ability to offer them any sort of compensation beyond the occasional concert ticket or album advance. For some, that will be enough, as they realize the world of writing is an uphill battle that is unique for every individual. Others will complain, and they wouldn’t be wrong for feeling that was the proper way to react. Unpaid work is never fun, especially when there is no guarantee of anything further developing in a professional sense, but for some crazy reason there are hundreds, if not thousands of people around the world doing their best to meet the ever-growing demands of music blog content calendars both big and small.

As a site owner, finding the best contributors for your publication should be amongst your top priorities. You most likely want to write as well, and you should, but in order to make a meaningful impact on the industry at large you will want to have a talented team at your side. We cannot give you specifics on findings these staffers, as the number of talent pools found in various pockets of the internet is practically limitless, but we can help you navigate the often tricky review and interview process that goes into selecting new contributors. If you follow the advice outlined below we guarantee you will not only find more talented contributors, but also reliable ones. Take notes….

Ask all applicants to explain how they would describe your site and the content found on it to someone who had never previously heard of your outlet. 

In the seven years I’ve spent being part of the editorial team at various websites I have seen a wide variety of contributor applications. Some come from journalism students hoping to engage a part of the industry their college paper does not cover, but most are passionate music fans who were inspired by ‘Almost Famous’ or some site they’ve read all their lives that is likely run by another seemingly regular person that they’ve decided writing might be for them as well. Many of the applicants have never written for another site, and if they have it’s a site equal to, or smaller, than your own. They, like you, are simply trying to find a way to climb the hierarchy of music journalism to the point someone offers them hard cash for their words, and they are looking at your site as a potential next step for their career. They may also be looking at several other similarly sized sites, which is why it’s important for you to ask them what they feel your site is all about before bringing them on. You want contributors who understand the reason your site exists, as well as what sets it apart from the competition. You also want them to have some idea of how their unique perspective will improve your efforts, and the only way to know if that is the case is to ask them.

Ask the interviewee to describe your company in 30 seconds or fewer. Don’t fault them if they can’t get it right the first try. They shouldn’t be expected to know everything up front, but they should have a strong grasp on what it is you do, what you cover, and the type of content you run on a day-to-day basis. Specifics are a plus, but again – don’t fault them for being vague.

After you’ve heard their ideas, tell them your personal description of what you do. Draw comparisons to what they said, and then ask what they feel they bring to the table knowing what it is you do. Their response will tell you not only how well they listen, but also whether they have a strong interest in helping build your brand or simply want to further develop their own career.

Ask yourself, “Would I read their writing if they wrote for the competition?”

When I first launched my own music blog, I thought quantity was just as important as quality. I believed the only way I could compete with bigger music sites was to run the same amount of content, which often meant covering the exact same stories in the same overly short way others did. It wasn’t about crafting thought-provoking posts, but rather doing whatever it took to generate a few extra clicks on any given day.

There is not necessarily anything wrong with running your site this way, but I’ve found it’s ultimately a very unfulfilling way to run a business (and make no mistake, your blog is a business even if it doesn’t generate income). The reason I started reading music blogs may have been out of a simple desire to learn more about the artists I loved, but the reason I stayed with any one site was largely due to the quality of the writing. I grew to love certain writers, and in time I started to seek out their reviews and think pieces more than I did any one site’s RSS feed. For me, it’s the conversation inspired by a post that makes any piece of online journalism great, and generating engagement in today’s crowded digital space requires writers with original, high quality thoughts to share. Quantity is nice, but it takes a distant second place to quality every single time (unless your main type of content is disposable puff pieces, such as listicles or celebrity gossip. That is a whole different monster we can discuss at another point in time).

When reading over applications, ask yourself whether or not the samples provided by the writer would excite you as a reader. Think about what it would be like to come across their writing on one of the music blogs you frequent, and ask yourself if the words you are reading would be enough to spark a future conversation, or if you would think to tweet/share their writing with your followers on social media. If the answer is no, pass on that contributor. If the answer is yes, bring them on board (as long as they meet all other requirements).

Involve Your Staff 

Community and camaraderie are key to the success of  practically any business, including those that exists solely online. You may never have the opportunity to sit in a room with your entire writing staff and discuss your content plans for the coming month, but you will more than likely create a digital space where something very similar this activity can be replicated. For my sites, private Facebook groups have always provided this space, and every staffer I have ever worked with used those groups to pitch stories, develop ideas, network, and further develop their business acumen. The relationships developed through these online portals will lead to better content, lifelong friendships, and leads on employment within the industry that can help you, as well as everyone involved with your site.

With all this in mind, it should make perfect sense to involve your staff in all future contributor applications. You don’t want to bring someone on board who cannot work well with the team, and you certainly don’t want someone who has any kind of negative history with someone else on your staff. Your contributor pool, though physically separated by hundreds of miles, is a community that is only as strong as its weakest link. Before you add anything to an already proven team of talent, make sure everyone involved feels that the new addition will help further develop their efforts. If they feel differently, listen to their reasoning before making any decisions. You may still choose to move forward, which is your right as the owner, but let your staff know their opinions and feelings matter as well.

Check all applicants’ social media feeds

This one may seem obvious, but the idea of reviewing someone’s social media content prior to bringing them on board with a company or team has been around for less than a decade at this point. The age of social media is still very much new, and the ancient world of business has struggled to catch up with its quick evolution, but as a music publication it’s incredibly important that you are aware of what your contributors are posting online. People can present themselves any way they choose through email, but just because their resume and credentials check out does not mean their personality or attitude will as well. Every person you bring on as a writer becomes, in some small way, a reflection of your publication as a whole. No matter where they post, be it on your site or their own Twitter feed, if there is something connecting your brand to their name their words can and will be seen as a reflection of your publication. You can save yourself a lot of unnecessary grief by reviewing a person’s social media feeds prior to bringing them on board as a contributor. If you see something that makes you uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to ask them about it. They have a right to do and say whatever they want, but you have a right to say what they’ve chosen to convey does not align with the goals or purpose of your publication. Stand your ground in these situations and remember that contributors’ actions do not only reflect on the publication, but also on you and the other team members. You are a community, and as I said before you are only as strong as your weakest link.

James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him onTwitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.

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.