Elizabeth Brickman is a music writer, but more specifically, she covers Japanese music. As a writer in this field for more than three years, she previously ran a Japanese rock music magazine titled Askew where she interviewed and reviewed the biggest bands in the Japanese music scene. When Elizabeth isn’t listening to music (or writing about it), you can find her with her adopted cat, reading Tarot cards or scoping out the latest thrift shop finds.
Take networking very seriously, and not just with people you personally like.
How did you discover your current job?
I was attending a lot of concerts from 2006 to 2007. Japanese bands had just started to really tour in earnest, and I spent a lot of time following Dir en grey’s tours up and down the California coast. I moved out to Las Vegas in 2007, and then I suddenly realized that most of the bands don’t tend to stop here. I was bored! So I registered a domain and started my first real blog. I wrote really strongly opinionated posts about the things I saw happening around me and reviews of music releases I was listening to. I ended up networking with other bloggers I liked who were covering the same topic. This lead to more opportunities, and within a year or so, I ended up founding Askew Magazine with my business partner and friend, Rubab.
What has been your path so far to get you where you are today?
I have always been around journalism and music. My father worked as a manager at a newspaper, and on the weekends he worked on the soundboard at the church he was the assistant pastor at. I used to spend the weekends working as a pint-sized roadie. I helped my dad hook up all the wires and brought coffee to all the band members. As I got older, I ended up becoming the editor-in-chief of our high school newspaper.
I took Japanese as my foreign language during high school on a whim. It was my favorite class, and I started to get really interested in what kind of music they had in Japan. Back then you couldn’t download music quite so easily, and nobody sold Japanese music in my town. I ended up with pictures of the band Glay pasted all over my binder. The foreign exchange teacher and I would spend flash card time excitedly arguing about who the coolest band member was. My teacher was pretty annoyed, but she saw the interest and smartly gave me a copy of the L’arc~en~Ciel album, Tierra. Hook, line and sinker! I was in.
Was there any one situation that helped you along your way?
While I was running my first blog, I made friends with another writer who had started working as a music promoter. She set up a company to bring bands from Japan to play here. I really admired her, because she was a great writer who worked for places like PurpleSKY and AP (Alternative Press). One day she sent me a message and suggested I apply as a blogger for the Las Vegas stop of the Taste of Chaos Tour in 2008. I got it! Because of her I ended up spending a full day working backstage. I had so much fun there that I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life working around music.
What is your typical day like? Does it ever change?
Nothing is typical. While running Askew, we had to juggle absolutely every part of that business, and I had very little, if any, time to do any writing. We spent a lot of time assigning events and articles to our staff members, overseeing the print production, networking with other companies, and mailing out interview and photoshoot requests. I do not speak Japanese, so I spent more time working on the back-end of our website, assisting our graphics team with finalizing the print files and coming up with project ideas for the magazine.
I now write freelance, but Rubab and I have a charity tour in the works. Most days consist of working on new articles for my blog and building my network. Rubab and I spend a lot of time either online or on the phone mapping out our tour and making decisions together.
When I am lucky enough to be able to attend events as press, then my day consists of preparing for any interviews I may have scheduled, observing shows in order to write live reports and networking with any other industry people who may be there as well. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of money to be made in my industry, so I have to hold down another job during the day to support my music career. If I am awake, I am generally working on something related to one of the two.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job has always been when someone says that they like an idea that I had. I always wanted my magazine to approach things from a different angle, hence the name Askew. Also the press badges! As a writer or music industry person, I get free access to shows, and I save all of the press badges that I have been given. I just can’t seem to throw them away! We had a band once thank us in the liner notes for their new CD, too. That was pretty cool.
What is the most challenging part?
We started Askew with no money, and the lack of funds was eventually the reason why we had to make the decision to shut it down. That hasn’t changed as a blogger. My blog is not as well known as Askew was yet, and I do not have the personal funds to travel outside of my area to cover events right now. The Japanese music industry in America is very small, so very few people make enough money to live on. The people who do are definitely not writers. So, nearly everyone holds a job to pay the bills in addition to the music job that they love. It can be pretty rough on your social life.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
I used to spend a lot of money importing Japanese CD’s and other related merchandise for a band that I liked. I lost a really good job while we were starting Askew, and I ended up selling my entire collection in order to get extra funds. I don’t regret it to this day. We ended up putting together the first overseas photo shoot for the band, and I did a very extended interview with them. Even though the magazine ended up failing, I still consider it a very good investment for both myself and the band.
What is one lesson you’ve learned in your job that sticks with you?
I think the biggest lesson I have had to learn is that your true friends will be there, and the people who aren’t will never be worth your trouble. I have had friends try and use me to get closer to artists, get angry when I wouldn’t give them access to something they haven’t earned, or use me to break into the industry with less than ideal intentions. It’s not good. If someone is your friend, they will never ask you to chose between your friendship and your business.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
I can’t even count how many times I’ve been treated badly or gossiped about because people make unfortunate and sexist accusations. It’s a lot harder for women to be taken seriously in this industry than it is for men. The sad part is that women are outnumbering men in our area of the field, and they more often than not work a lot harder, too. Part of this is kind of a typical archaic boy’s club mentality, but a much larger part of it is the cultural differences you run into while working with Japanese artists. The fan base is predominately female, and the artists have to be a lot more careful about what kind of gossip goes around.
With Askew I wanted us to be known as professionals. So we dressed in business attire whenever we were on the job and had a very lengthy contract about what was or wasn’t acceptable. We never disclosed information about the industry parties we threw or artists we had formed friendships with. People always said good things about that, but we were still treated like potential groupies by some of the guys in the business, so eventually it got to the point where it was like, “Ehhh, screw it.” I will still follow my personal ethics, but I’m not going to tell myself I can’t do something the guys get to do just because being a girl makes it look bad. We didn’t earn the right to vote by sitting at home feeling sad about it. If somebody won’t treat you like an equal then maybe you have to start demanding it, I guess.
Who are your role models?
Right now? Far East Movement. They are the first Asian music act to make it into the top ten. I think it’s kind of interesting that they aren’t being marketed as an Asian act at all, really. I didn’t even hear about them until some readers of my blog pointed it out in an article I wrote. They don’t hide it, but they aren’t carrying the banner for their struggle as a minority in the music industry. People see them just just as a cool group. I think as a girl, it’s something to ponder at least.
Is there a quote or mantra that you live by?
“Always listen to yourself. It is better to be wrong than simply to follow convention. If you are wrong, no matter, you have learned something and you will grow stronger. If you are right, you have taken another step toward a fulfilling life.” -Hagakure
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
Don’t play the connections game. Be a genuine person. If someone comes up to you and brags about how many connections they have, it’s a real turn off. I don’t want to be treated like a link to somebody else, and you wouldn’t either. If you make friends with somebody who is beneficial, then treat it like a real friendship. A “connection” is worthless if that person has no actual interest in you and wouldn’t care if you called them up in dire need.
That said, do take networking very seriously, and not just with people you personally like. I am known for my unfortunate and short-fused nuclear strength temper. It has taken a lot of hard work for me to learn how to keep it under control, and it’s something I still have to work on. Patience is an absolute virtue when you are dealing with scheduling disasters, cranky people who have been on the road and cultural barriers.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Don’t tell yourself that you can’t do something because you aren’t experienced or you don’t know the right people. Just go out there and do it.