Five with Kathy Iandoli
Kathy Iandoli is the princess of page views. She is deadly with a pencil. She is a writer for all your favorite websites and magazines (including Pitchfork, Noisey, i-D, Cosmo, XXL, Complex, and many others).
So what's it like to be a full-time writer? What's the path to becoming an author? What does it take to be this dope? Well, no one journey is the same but here is some insight from five Q's with Kathy Iandoli.
How did you get to where you are now?
Well, initially I wanted to just work in music. I always had this dream of working in the music industry. As a teenager I worked in a record store and from there I was pretty much convinced that I wanted to work at a record label. I don’t know how I decided to correlate the two but in my mind I did, my teenage mind. So that’s what I essentially was working towards. Eventually I actually had a job at a record label and realized I didn’t want to work at a record label.
After I worked at the record store I started working with The Roots as a street teamer, handing out flyers and stuff like that and helping them promote concert series. This is years and years before any of the big, big fame. I was working with them around the times when they released their album “Things Fall Apart.” While I was working with them, a couple of other people had been journalists and I had done a little bit of writing. I always loved writing but I just didn’t know where it fit in my life. A couple people that I worked with were working in the Hip Hop journalism sphere and one day I just said, “Do you think I should do that?” because what I was doing was on The Roots message board on OkayPlayer.com. They used to have these various subsections and I used to write these long articles about Hip Hop. I used to always get into it with Questlove because I was such a die hard Lauryn Hill fan and I always felt like The Roots were leaving her behind. I don’t know, I was young.
At that point I had spoke with one of the other people that had recently gotten a job at a small publication based out of LA and I was like, “Should I write?” and was like, “Yeah why not!” So I sent a couple pitches over and I got my first writing gig. That turned into my pitching for the web because I had already been super confident in the web. Now, this was a period in time where web journalism was not a thing really, it wasn’t super respected. Sites were just coming up but because I was so entrenched in the internet as it was I just ran with it and I was like, “Well maybe I’ll just write for the web too!” and I did.
Writing for the internet at the time led me to my first editorial job and brought me all sorts of good things but I was still trying to convince myself I wanted to work in the music industry in a whole other capacity. I worked at record labels, I worked at artist management companies, I worked at radio stations and it kept coming back to writing. I think it was just my ability to get my opinions across and speak to the artists in a helpful way but also set my desire to someday work for myself. That’s kind of what brought me here.
What three people or things would you attribute your achievements to?
I would say three things would be knowledge (vast knowledge), especially when it comes to Hip Hop. I mean I don’t just work in Hip Hop anymore but being a woman in Hip Hop you have to know more than everyone in the room. Being a white girl in Hip Hop, you have to know twice as much as anyone else in the room. And to just get in the room! To stay in the room is a whole other story. So when I say knowledge, it’s just the understanding of anything that I had to know to just be better than the next person when it came to any sort of discussion. So I had to know every artist that was out, every artist before that. I just had to be a walking encyclopedia. The ability to have the retention of information is one thing that I’d say would definitely be necessary.
Next is thick skin and I think that could go to any facet of this industry or any other industry for that matter because the ability to take criticism... especially when you’re a writer, I mean people kind of sleep on the fact that writing is an art. Maybe we’re not painting portraits or the Sistine Chapel but you’re writing something and you consider it beautiful. You may not be writing out songs but it’s an art, it’s a craft. Like Erykah Badu said, “Keep in mind that I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit.” You have to have a thick skin when people give some sort of critique or helpful criticism or not so helpful criticism. So definitely thick skin.
The third thing is passion because at any given point in time, when the writing fails you and the music fails you, it's the passion that has to keep you going because if not I would've given up a long time ago and went back to some sort of desk job and mentally perished.
What top three lessons have you learned from your career journey?
Well, to quote Biggie, “Stay low and keep firing.” That’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned because there’s a lot of persistence in this game. You have to knock on doors. Sometimes you use the side of your fists, sometimes you use your knuckles, sometimes you use your feet, just don't use your head. So you have to constantly bang on doors. That persistence I think is definitely the top lesson.
Number two, never let them see you sweat because as a woman in Hip Hop, you’re put in a lot of interesting situations and predicaments. I’ve been in situations where I’m interviewing artists and they try to put their hands in places where they maybe shouldn't just to kinda break you, just to see what it is that you’re made of. Whether it’s the assumption that they can go home with you that evening or whether it’s the assumption that they can intimidate you in the middle of an interview, whatever the motive is, you can’t let them see you sweat. You just have to... I don’t want to say be stoic, but you have to command your presence. You have to demand your respect. In order to do that, you just can’t let anyone know that you’re being intimidated. I guess that can also go into anything anywhere else but it’s a lesson that I’ve taken with me, especially when I’ve been placed in situations where I could’ve easily just folded up into the fetal position and started crying.
Number three, if it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. That can go for anything, from walking into an interview to walking into a concert and feeling an all around unsafe vibe. There was a huge shoot out in New York City at a concert a couple of months ago and I remember thinking to myself that there are people in the concert who couldn’t find a way out when people started firing. I thought it was really interesting because when I walk into a concert, (doesn’t matter if it’s a rock concert, a rap concert, could be a classical music concert), I always look for the nearest exit and I always stand by the exit. I’ve been doing that since I started going to rap shows when I was a teenager because you just never know when something's about to go down.
There’s been times where I walk into a room and the vibe was totally off, the energy was off and I walked out. Long behold, an hour later, there was a fist fight or a shootout breaks out. So going with that gut instinct does say a lot. There’s a lot of times I hadn’t listened to it and I should have. It comes to even taking jobs, taking opportunities. I took an opportunity for a TV show and from the moment that I signed on I had a bad feeling about it. I was totally right. That innate instinct that you have sometimes you just have to listen to it and a lot of times people get scared because the vibe can feel off but they don’t want to miss an opportunity. “What if that’s the big one," “I don’t want to miss out," money... “I don't want to miss the experience,” but you know yourself, you know your instincts so trust it.
What's the reality of your job beyond the appearance of it?
I don't want it to sound like it’s all terrible or something like that because it is a wonderful career, it’s a really wonderful career and there’s a lot of rewarding aspects to it. So to go and say all of the negative would really do a disservice to the positive. But you know those articles have to be written. When you post a link and everyone sees the finished work, they don't see what went into it. They don’t see the research, the interview, the transcribing, the writing, the drafts, the edits, the process behind it and that’s a lot of mechanical work. Especially for someone like myself who this is really all I do is write. I mean it’s the internet, it’s a microwaveable society. You send a link out, by tomorrow it’s gone but it could’ve taken you ten hours to create it.
So that’s one of the things that I think is pretty interesting when it comes to the written word is how fast it comes and goes. I mean maybe not for the person creating it but for the person receiving it. They read it and they move on. But I think that’s where the experience in between comes into play and what comes out of that. Being able to connect with the artist, being able to speak with them, and especially developing those relationships over the years with certain artists. I started out getting fifteen minutes with an artist. It’s over the phone and then you’re done. Now, my interviews are in artists apartments, in their homes, going out to dinner with them, them coming to my house and there’s something to that. There’s something to that connection.
For me as a writer, that’s always something that I’ve wanted to get across. It’s never been about the quick bait for me or finding some interesting fact that I can just spill all over the internet for traffic. It’s connecting with the people and connecting with the people who create the music that you love. Even if it’s the music that you don’t love, it’s connecting with people on a level that you come to understand what it is and why they are creating what they're creating, why they're doing what they're doing and I think that’s the most beautiful part about it.
What people don’t see, after they click that link and they click out of it, is yes the amount of work that's put into it but, also, the connections between two people when it happens.
Are you happy with this job long term or is it a stepping stone to something else?
Well gee, it better be long term it’s been fifteen years now! (laughs)
Speaking within the context of Hip Hop specifically, everyone calls Hip Hop a quote unquote “young man's game.” And I'm not young or a man, so at some point I have to stop playing the game. I think for me when I start to feel completely out of touch that's when I know I won't be in the trenches as much, I guess, but I know that my passions for music and writing will manifest itself in other forms of media. In other ways like I’m also a professor of music business, so that’s still a thing, and writing books (that's still a thing), and of course the occasional article will still be a thing. I think that anything that my Pisces brain can wrap itself around so that I'm not sitting in an office and I can maintain this presently Hip Hop hippie lifestyle, if I can take that as far as I can go then yeah I'll be pretty happy. You know, fifteen years in... I'm not throwing a retirement party anytime soon.
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