Interview: British Online Mag The Quietus Responds to Salem Hoax

04/08/2011 3:41 PM |

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You may or may not have read earlier today about an NYU student who punked the music blogosphere by fabricating a track (in 20 minutes, no less) and touted it to the internet as new Salem single “Nite Daze.” The student’s prank was actually for a class entitled “Digital Art with Brad Troemel,” and her assignment was to “intervene into society using the internet.” Well, she certainly intervened when multiple independent, alternative blogs picked up and published “Nite Daze.” The Quietus, a small but reputable British independent online music and pop-culture magazine was one of the duped. John Doran, co-editor and founder of TheQuietus.com talked to The L (via the internet) about his reaction to the prank and what it means for the music blogging community.

The L: What was your initial reaction to the news? How do you feel about it now?

The Quietus: My initial reaction was – “Odd, but let’s get it up as quickly as possible.” We published it, within a minute or two of it coming in because we’re Salem fans and we wanted to be the first to break it. I can’t be certain but it was at about 7pm when I published it. I’d been up since 7am and working since 8am. I’d normally be in the office until 10pm but I was leaving at 7pm to go and watch Azari & III do a live set. They’re a band I’m really keen on at the moment. I remember joking to the other member of staff who was in, ‘I guess we’d better listen to this.’ We played it once and said, ‘Wow, that’s a load of shit – but then it is a demo.’ And left the office to go to the gig.
It was a bit of a shit prank as pranks go. It only worked because the student bought the email address that made it look like it had come from a bona fide PR group in the States. Salem have changed PR firms a lot recently and I’d normally deal with the UK PR firm. I get between 400 and 700 emails a day from literally hundreds of PR firms – plenty who I’m not really familiar with and I don’t really have long to check the provenance of each one. I’m not really bothered how it makes us look so much as I hate bands who use cheap publicity gimmicks to get their band noticed and I’m not a big fan of having my time wasted. I work between 70 and 80 hours a week on a website which is pretty much a labour of love and the freelance work I need to do, in order to keep myself in baubles and biscuits. I really fucking hate having my time wasted by anyone as I’m pretty much constantly tired and angry.

Also, bear in mind that this is by no means original. Check the number of spoofs that spring up on p2p file sharing sites knocked together by people wanting to take advantage of hype. If the student had done this and got away with it they’d have my respect but no one with any time to inculcate the new track would have fallen for it.

The L: Why do you think the blogosphere is so nuts about Salem to begin with?

The Quietus: I don’t know. I run a website. I haven’t really read any blogs apart from 24 Jazz Funk Greats, Simon Reynolds and K Punk and they don’t talk about them. I go on the ILX message board who despise them with an almost hilarious vigour. I find the cruelty of Chris Weingarten’s writing about them very amusing in a perverse kind of way but other than that, it gets on my nerves how badly they get misrepresented.

The L: What do you think this type of prank demonstrated about the kind of music we disseminate and value?

The Quietus: It didn’t demonstrate anything about the music. Or not on the Quietus anyway. It failed totally as it only made the news section where there was no critical judgement. Our news story read simply: “We’ve just been sent an MP3 of a demo by Salem. Check it out:” If we had have reviewed it saying, ‘We think this is ace’ or ‘This is utterly terrible’ then I’ll concede that the ‘experiment’ might have proved something. I feel sorry for any site who went into any kind of review of it but that’s for them to worry about.

The L: How do you feel about the pressure to be first-on-the-scene in music journalism?

The Quietus: It’s regretable (sic) but there you have it. The Quietus is 100% independent and run by three people with no investment or backing. We bust our fucking balls trying to keep this site providing in depth interviews, reviews and news. And how do we do this? By reacting really quickly to breaking “stories”. We need to have really good google presence for me to earn the paltry amount of £100 a week (do a google conversion and start weeping) and this is for a 70 hour 7 day week, which is kind of destroying my physical and mental health at the moment. I don’t see how me wanting my website to be considered alongside things run by AOL, NME, Yahoo, MSN etc is such a bad goal for me to have. We’re quite clearly running the superior website to most of the massive corporate sites out there, so why shouldn’t I want people to read it? You have absolutely no idea how difficult it is to raise enough advertising revenue to keep a site like this running when you don’t do advertorial, when you don’t do shitty site take overs, when you refuse to take money from credit companies, the oil industry, the motor industry etc in advertising, when you don’t sell feature coverage to major label new signings and – most importantly – when you refuse to cover big names who don’t have artistic merit, even though it would earn you a lot of cash. I used to be a news journalist in London in the 90s and when working for the Evening Standard (a large London newspaper) we had five deadlines a day. I don’t see the internet as being any different. I like the buzz of having to be on the ball (even though I wasn’t this time, I fully admit) and I like being under a lot of pressure.

The L: Is there anything else you’d want to add to the discussion?

The Quietus: The student has proved themselves to have an absolutely brilliant brain for marketing/advertising. I hope when they graduate from the arts course they’re on now they get the job they deserve – working at boardroom level in communications and marketing for Burger King or British Petroleum. The ultimate result of this now, is that as an editor, I’ll have to spend even more time checking the source of each of the aproximately 700 emails I receive a day just incase some over privileged wanker has decided to commit fraud as part of their course work – given that now I can’t even trust emails from PR companies any more. Maybe I’ll start working 14 hour fucking shifts instead of 13 hour shifts. What this means is, I guess we’ll be posting a lot less in the way of new music by new bands from now on—so well done, that art student.

13 Comment

  • I don’t know why The Quietus construed this as a personal attack. The interviewee seems to take on the role of a victim, talking about how hard their work is and how something like the prank in question abuses their trust and makes their work harder, even insinuating that the prank means there will be less new artist coverage. However, it seems like the prank was a comment on the race to be first breaking such a story. While this may let Quietus compete with larger sites by virtue of add traffic, as the prank shows, reporting begins to suffer with it. So even if Quietus can get the traffic, are they really doing it in a worthwhile way? Even if it means Quietus can survive, the race to be firs mentality the prank critiques doesn’t seem to be very good for reporting in general.

  • If John Doran is so so mad about falling for a prank on the internet, maybe blogging isn’t the right job for him!

  • John, I hope you realize that despite claiming the contrary, you’ve pretty much proven that this experiment WAS, in fact, a success. As someone who has once worked in the music journalism business, it is prudent to check all of your facts accordingly and do the proper research entailed to make both an informative and a groundbreaking post. Basically, in this interview, you are admitting that good journalism is beneath you because you work oh so hard at it in other areas, and that is absurd.

    The prank demonstrated that instead of practicing good journalism, the race to be “first” to break the news is a bigger priority. Baffling, in the big picture, and an interesting counterpoint regarding the necessity of the internet as a promotional tool. A lesson I hope you and others truly take to heart. Less whining and more quality posting, and the world is a better place.

  • This is a really frustrating read as The Quietus are generally known to be one of the better independent publications over here.

    It’s quite a sorry state for so-called music journalism that one of the UK’s leading independent publications admit that they’ll post whatever they’re given just to be first to get it out there. Whether it was going on the news section or the critique sections is neithere here nor there. Blogging, hype, exclusivity, Radio One and everything else that promotes rampant neophilia is pretty much destroying artistic longevity.

    “Maybe I’ll start working 14 hour fucking shifts instead of 13 hour shifts.” Why not spend that extra hour making sure everything that goes up on the website goes up because it’s actually good, rather than because it’s new – surely that’s why The Quietus was started in the first place?!

  • I didn’t say I would publish ‘whatever’. The fake track arrived on an email address that appeared to be real. Basically, they broke the law and committed fraud.

    And as I said: without a faked email address there’s no way I would have fallen for it. Why in Christ’s name should I have to respond to every PR email with another email saying, ‘Excuse me – is there anyway you can verify you are actually a PR person – perhaps by emailing me a photo of yourself at your desk holding up your contract and qualifications.’

    I don’t know what you do for a living but if you do any kind of job where you have to deal with a lot of other agencies – in my case this is literally in the hundreds – do you have to put up with people faking who they are?

    What kind of idiot has the time to do this? A well off art student carrying out risible ‘research’ – that’s who.

    My website does not promote rampant neophilia if you look at the features and reviews section. But without breaking several news stories a week, I can’t afford to do what I do.

    And De Facto – a new song by a band we like is something I’d consider ‘good’. I can’t believe you’re siding with some spoilt, sub-jackass, attention seeking brat who wants to do nothing other than plug their own band. The email they sent out was written like a press release saying sorry for the prank… by the way, this is what my band’s called and here’s when our next single’s out, here’s what the album’s called, here’s when it’s out and here’s my myspace address.

    Stop being so naive.

  • I was led here directly, as the student in question is lapping up the attention all over Facebook. That’s the beauty of Facebook friendships, I guess.

    I don’t believe for one second that it comes from a school project. NYU (while being a haven for assholes) also takes a strong stand against plagiarism constantly.

    The student was attempting to push her (marginally shitty) band. They have been making some pretty desperate attempts for attention recently, but I didn’t think they’d sink to such a low level to do so. Buying an e-mail to impersonate the PR company? C’mon now. That’s some pretty shady behavior.

    Sorry one horrible NYC band’s attempt at some kind of shoegaze-y shit caused this.

  • John, I once respected your blog. Now you’re just making excuses for not doing your job properly. Quit while you’re ahead.

  • Cry Baby, Cry Baby, Cry Sky Ferreira’s 99 Tears! http://t.co/leeXrlh

  • Seriously I can’t believe that people are attacking John and saying he’s “not doing his job properly”. This stupid thoughtless ‘art’ student went above and beyond to fool him and people make mistakes. She should be denounced for being so careless in her actions. She obviously doesn’t care that she has entered into other people’s lives in a destructive way and made someone’s job harder. If someone came into where I worked and interfered with my job and made me look like a fool to my boss and tarnished my reputation I’d be pretty pissed too. And even though I’m not a fan of Salem, I’d be really angry that someone was giving other people a false impression of me and my art. It doesn’t matter if it was just a joke. Once you put something out there on the internet it stays there to haunt you. I wonder how she’d feel if someone made a really awful, embarrassing art project and turned it in to her teacher with her name on it. Or if someone photoshopped her head on some porn stars and spread it over the internet. Maybe her boss would find it and fire her and then she’d have to spend all of her time trying to explain it to her family. This careless girl just wasted a lot of people’s time because she selfishly didn’t consider the consequences.
    And finally, if she REALLY had the intentions of this being a social experiment, then she would not have added the shameless self promotion at the end. There was absolutely no need for it.
    If she really wants to be an art student, then she should spend more time achieving something of value. Create something instead of destroying something someone else made.

  • Kudos to John for his honesty — and for his stand against corporatism. Kudos to the article’s writer, Sydney, for creating the conditions for such a lively window into the state of this segment of the music industry.

  • Even if this prank was as terrible and consequential as you say it is, your reaction to it makes you seem like the bigger jackass and gives the prankster more attention and sympathy.

    Next time, keep your arrogant tirades private. You’re not doing yourself any favors.

  • if you didn’t like it then why’d you post it, asshole

  • i believe (quietus) you got culture jammed by a student in the USA. however fraudulent the work may have been (hello, that’s the point) she completed her assignment and managed to rouse your more stupid side. you’re just mad your sharked got jumped. appropriation, cut & paste, plagiarism are commonplace articles of discussion and use within the visual arts, poetry, and esp music–this industry is full the greatest thieves: artists, critics and bloggers do nothing but create media with other media. fuck ur blog bro. u sound like an old ass bitch. live ur LIEF <3