November 6, 2008
Interview: Denis Semchenko, undergraduate music journalist
Yes, fingers crossed I’m graduating this semester after finishing my journalism major in Bachelor of Communication (same thing – they make journos!). I have to say it’s a pretty stressful time of the year – I’m the news editor for the Griffith University annual student newspaper The Source, the making of which constitutes the News & Current Affairs Production module (third year journalism subject), so there are always issues with obtaining photos for stories, finishing up others’ work, proofreading, subediting as well as last-minute alterations and unexpected story material, and with the semester’s end looming, I never seem to get bored. Bring on the graduation!
Can you elaborate on your previous tertiary education experiences?
From my memory, Time Off used to be better back in the day than it is now – we don’t really need Sydney ads here in Brisbane and I don’t have a lot to say on their new website design and structure.
Scene is doing a good job on covering dance music/hip-hop/club events, however the print version has this very odd and not particularly pleasant whiff to it, which still doesn’t necessarily stop me from reading it.
As for Tsunami, I used to think they were primarily dedicated to heavy music but they actually encompass a broad selection of genres, which is definitely a step in the right direction.
During my internship, I was in the Rave office every day and that’s when my multitasking skills came to force – I was either writing newsbeats, newsbites, album reviews, feature stories or interviewing artists practically every day. There was a number of interviews that other people could not do so I had to step in and do them, or the opportunity of speaking to an artist you like would pop up and you would miss out because you’d be too busy writing and a fellow contributor would beat you to it!
Having said that, however, the notions of seniority, experience and familiarity with a particular artist/genre are also involved in the interview distribution. The same goes for live gig reviews – the assistant editor is working overtime organising those. It does indeed get rather hectic sometimes but not every day in the Rave office is immensely stressful as you also get relatively cruisy days where you just do things in your time.
Monday is traditionally the busiest and the most stressful day of the week at Rave, as the print version comes out on Tuesday and you’ve got to make sure you’ve handed in all your copy and corrected all the typos and blunders. I twice helped proofread the print version of the mag and stayed in the office until 7pm with the rest of the staff.
These days, I’m only in the office when I have to interview a certain artist by phone, copy the recorded audio file for transcription and pick up some CDs for reviewing purposes – usually once or twice a week during business hours, but I wouldn’t mind becoming a permanent staffer… if I end up sticking around in Brisbane for longer, that is.
Street press exists for several reasons – to promote artists; to provide critical commentary on artists and their output; to provide advertising space.. you can probably think of more. What role do you think the street press should serve, and how are the above four measuring up to these objectives?
The veil of objectivity among music writers is something I find particularly interesting and amusing. I only write about artists I expect to be entertaining or interesting, and I suspect you’re much the same. Thus, we usually already possess a positive connotation of an artist before we see them play live, or interview them, or listen to their album. What’s your take on objectivity as a music critic?
Chris, the Rave editor, told me it was important that my writing stays objective; at this stage, I feel I’m still largely ‘beyond good and evil’ when it comes to reviewing music that I don’t particularly like, however I also agree that sometimes you’ve got to give flak yet be able to back it up sufficiently.
Another contentious musical topic is individual taste. Music fans will rise to the defence of artists just as soon as they would a family member. It’s a really interesting phenomenon that I was reminded of when Everett True made some inflammatory comments about some Australian artists back in August. With regard to the musicians you write about – do you try to steer away from outright criticism, or do you aim for honesty? I guess this comes back to the objectivity/subjectivity argument, too.
Honesty, objectivity and confident criticism are my primary aims as a reviewer – I might be a bit subjective towards the abovementioned Powderchair phenomenon due to my consistent failure to grasp it, being a bloody foreigner and all, but my love for original Australian (and international) music remains undiminished.
Yes and yes – I’m going to keep combining my aspirations as a musician with music writing and I’m prepared to do the hard yards on both accounts.
Given the people you’ve met throughout your course and your time spent engaging with the media industry itself, have you got any advice you’d like to impart on would-be journalism undergraduates, media personalities or music critics?
Thanks for your time Denis. Good luck with the graduation; I’m sure we’ll be reading more of your work in the near future!
Denis Semchenko is a Communication undergraduate and enthusiastic contributor to Brisbane-based music publication Rave Magazine. He can be contacted via email, LastFM or Facebook. His published work can be found with the assistance of Google.
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