Media, Darling: Karen Bliss

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.
Worst?
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.
I hate? 
Laziness, incompetence, excuses,
cigarette smoke, the drunk next to me at a concert, and walnuts.
I love?  
Music, talent, drive, intelligence, British humour, exotic food, big
dogs, Withnail & I.
Reading? 
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.
Dinner guest? 
Keith Richards, Martin Luther
King Jr., John Lennon, my friends and family.
Hero? 
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.

Fave 5: Bands we’re seeing at Canadian Music Week

We love music, and we especially love Canadian talent that not too many people know about yet. Canadian Music Week is creeping up (March 21-25) and it can be overwhelming to figure out which of the 500+ bands you want to check out. We thought we’d share a few of the lesser-known bands performing around our fair city. We’re not claiming to be music critics, so there is no deep analysis or thoughtful criticism here. Just a list of five bands that we like and are eager to check out live.

1. Kids & Explosions
We loved Girl Talk when we first discovered him, so were thrilled to find out that the Great White North has a similar DJ. We first saw the boy wonder (Josh Raskin) perform at the Drake Underground during their What’s In The Box festival, and can’t wait to see him again. His mash-ups are fun, lend themselves to dancing and cleverly mix our fave hip hop, 80s pop, rap, dance and metal tunes into one wicked good time.
Find Kids & Explosions at The Garrison on March 22, 1:30 a.m. (yep, it’s a late one).
On Twitter and on the interwebs.

2. The Balconies
Nothing’s better than a cool chick fronting a band, especially one that has a killer voice, good style and serious stage presence to go along with some solid rock tunes. Check out Kill Count and Serious Bedtime to get a taste. If only we could convince Jacquie to give us a guitar lesson.


Find The Balconies at Cabin 5 on March 22, 11 p.m.
On Twitter and on the interwebs
3. The Treasures
We like variety and nothing beats an awesome roots rock band. These guys have played Hillside, SXSW and NXNE already, so maybe not the most obscure group. But, we still bet many of you haven’t heard of them. We’ll be sipping bourbon and listening to the harmonies in Warning Sign and On My Own. Can’t wait for their album to come out later this spring.
Why WOULDN’T you go see a band that poses for photos like this? 
Find The Treasures at the Dakota Tavern on March 24, 1 a.m.
On Twitter and on the interwebs

4. Cold Specks
Our friends at Arts and Crafts gave us a sneak peek of this songstress from Etobicoke and we were immediately hungry for more.She’s fairly established in the U.K., but just becoming known at home. Her music makes us want to hop on a train, zone out and listen to just her crazy-powerful voice for hours on end. 


Find Cold Specks at the Music Gallery on March 22, 9 p.m.
On Twitter and on the interwebs

5. Jaron Freeman-Fox and The Opposite of Everything
No music festival is complete without checking out a band that’s completely different – and this is that band. Jaron is a whiz on the fiddle and his band plays, well, almost everything. Drums, accordions, bass, guitars, clarinets, keyboards and more have all been seen on stage (it’s a talented bunch). It’s a high energy performance and sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Why not?

Find Jaron Freeman-Fox and The Opposite of Everything at The Garrison on March 21, 9:45 p.m.
On the interwebs

Intrigued about our suggestions? Buy wristbands/tickets here. Quick, before they’re gone. 

 


 

A chat with Zeus

Last week, two ladies from the fourth floor got a chance to check out some live music at XM Radio’s Verge Music Awards. They won all-access passes to see fourth floor faves Tokyo Police Club and Gord Downie perform at The Mod Club (thanks, beat scene!). 
The night was great – busy, good music and lots of buzz about the awards (all of which came with a nice cash prize.). Zeus, formerly Jason Collett’s back-up band, took home the coveted Album of the Year, beating out bands like Arcade Fire, Stars, Broken Social Scene and Hot Hot Heat. 
 Tour manager Jeremy proudly holding the “Album Of The Year” award.
The band was thrilled with their win, and Neil Quin and Mike O’Brien were more than happy to chat with us about their upcoming plans. They’re taking part in Canadian Music Week, playing tomorrow night at The Horsehoe Tavern at 12:20 a.m. They played to a packed house last year, so this show is sure to be just as busy, especially with their latest coup. 
Next, they’ll release their double-sided single Permanant Scar/The Darkness in April on Arts and Crafts. Permanant Scar is a “harmony-laden rock and roll” track, while The Darkness is described as “a thoughtful and moody track”. Can’t wait to hear it, and the new album they’re recording this October.
Neil, Christina and Mike grinning from ear-to-ear after the win is announced (well, at least Christina is). 
We spent the rest of the evening just chatting with them about life in general, including a serious discussion about brunch in Toronto. We were fans before, but are bigger fans now after getting to know them a bit. Here’s hoping that they continue to be recognized for their great music.

Stream Zeus live here, from CBC Radio 3, and find out for yourself what all the hype is about. You won’t be disappointed.