A little more than 25 years ago, I was on the phone with a record label, and the publicist on the other end said words that would change my life:
“Would you like to interview the band?”
At the time, I was in college, and on the side I was creating a zine. Basically, it’s a photocopied magazine that I created on my computer, printed out at Kinkos, and then distributed at record stores.
In that phone call, the world opened up to me.
I was studying at Rutgers, in what is was then called The School of Information and Library Science, and split my time between classes in media and interpersonal communication and my English minor — Chaucer and such.
In my spare time, I worked on the zine.
This was the age of desktop publishing, when it felt like a revolution to be able to write, layout, and print something on your computer. I was working on a ridiculously cumbersome laptop computer that was a hand-me-down from my father. Here I am preparing an issue on my bed:
It was the early 1990s and I loved music, especially the wave of Britpop coming out of England, and the indie music coming out of Seattle. I worked at the college radio station right as grunge was hitting.
At first, I just bought records and reviewed them in the zine, but soon got brave enough to call up the publicity departments of all the major record labels to ask for review copies of new albums from bands I liked. Surprisingly, they said yes! My PO Box starting filling with free music.
Then I asked if I could get free tickets to shows so I could review them. They said yes to that too! This felt incredible, to show up to a Blur show and say “I’m on the list” and actually be on the list!!!
It was on one of these phone calls where I was asking for an advanced copy of a new album that the publicist asked if I wanted to interview the band. This was for a group called Chapterhouse, which was a favorite of mine at the time. I never before considered that talking to the band would be possible. This unlocked something for me, I felt emboldened.
I started calling all the record labels seeking interviews with bands who had new albums coming out. Soon after, I had secured interviews with Oasis, Weezer, Blur, They Might Be Giants, and so many others. I chatted with Noel Gallagher at the height of Oasis’ explosion. With Rivers Cuomo of Weezer just as they were breaking. It was weird and incredible at the same time.
I shutter at how basic my questions must have been in these interviews, I was so so inexperienced. This was my technology for recording the interviews, and the actual tapes:
Yet, there I was in those rooms with these artists that I idolized at the time. This is the photo I snapped of John and John from They Might Be Giants when I interviewed them — this was years before I would have thought to take a selfie with them:
Most of the work for the zine was done alone in my bedroom, and like so much creative work, it was not driven by a motive to profit. Instead, my goal was to grow as a creator and fill my life with experiences and connections that were meaningful. But what came with the zine was also credit card debt. Each issue cost me anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars to print. I didn’t charge anything for them, I was just happy if someone read it. At the time, I earned minimum wage, which was about $4.25 per hour.
This is where interviewing and writing to deadline started for me.
About 15 years ago I started this newsletter and have sent out an issue every single week since then.
In 2010 when I launched my company, I started doing interviews again. This time it was with authors and friends in the publishing world. Oh goodness, I just found the first interview I shared:
I did these for awhile, talking to people such as Jane Friedman, Betsy Bird, Justine Musk, Kevin Smokler, Joanna Penn, Nathan Bransford, Joel Friedlander, and Bethanne Patrick, and many others. I still stay connected with these people today!
But then I stopped. Why? Honestly, I stopped because it was working. People liked the interviews and shared them. The problem was that I was worried that the interviews weren’t working towards my larger goals. You see, my company was just starting out, and instead of people getting to know me as someone to hire to help them with book marketing, I started being introduced as “Dan Blank, who does these amazing interviews…” I worried people would only see me as an interviewer, not as a collaborator with writers.
But a couple years later, I started a proper podcast sharing interviews I was doing as research for a book I was writing. The book has evolved many times since then, and is still not finished. But I kept doing the podcast.
In my recent creative reset, I asked myself, “should I stop doing the podcast?” Not because I wanted to, but because I think there is value in giving myself the freedom to choose to continue or put my energy elsewhere. After giving it some thought, I chose to keep doing it, not because it earns me money, not because it is central to my business, and not because it has a huge audience or I ever expect it to. I am keeping the podcast for the following reasons:
- The podcast allows me to meet inspiring people. Every single person I interview is someone who inspires me, and who I would like to learn more about.
- The podcast is about deep conversations around creativity and connecting. That is basically my favorite thing to do, and ensures that what I share to my readers can extend far beyond a sentence-long Tweet.
- The podcasts allows me to present the work of these writers and creators to my audience. Over the years, I have heard of so many wonderful connections because of the podcast, people who were inspired by it, or actually collaborated in some way.
The podcast provides the thing I love most: to connect with and learn from writers and creators. This is something I do for the pure joy of it.
This is why I create. This is why I share. I’m filling my life with meeting new people who inspire me, focusing on deep conversations, and trying to share their voices to others. You can hear me talk through all of this in the first episode of this year, and you can subscribe to The Creative Shift podcast here.
I’d love to know: why do you create and share?