JamBase Ed. Director Scott Bernstein on the music biz, journalism and how to find your path

by Chris Snyder

Scott Bernstein is the Editorial Director for JamBase & runs the lauded YEMBlog.

Before you became a professional writer, were there any other careers that sparked your interest?

As a child I always wanted to be a sports agent. I thought the whole idea of getting athletes contracts was a cool one. When I was 12 I had a subscription to a short-lived magazine called Sports Inc. about the industry behind sports, which I loved so much. There was no way I was going to be a professional athlete, so this was the next best thing. In high school I started to lose interest in sports and while I’d always loved music, my passion for music really blossomed around that time. All of this said, I studied business at college and writing for a living was something I never saw coming. Though, I never thought writing was my calling, I must give credit to my father who always thought that writing was an avenue I should pursue. Anytime I’d write a message on a greeting card or send a note from summer camp or put together a book review, he would respond,  “This is amazing, you are a great writer!”

After college I pretty much took any job I could get. I got lucky, in a sense, that I stumbled into a job between 2004 – 2013 that involved a lot of down time. In 2006 Slade Sohmer was asked to start a blog for Glide Magazine. He and I were part of a private message board in which the connection between all members was a love for Phish. He picked up on my talents from posts I’d make on the message board and asked me to contribute to the blog. We decided to name it Hidden Track and I took that ball and ran with it. As I said, I had all the time in the world, so eventually Slade – after spending two years as an incredible mentor and teacher – threw the keys to me. I either contributed to or ran Hidden Track from 2006 – 2013 and even though the pay was minimal, it gave me the opportunity to write day after day and hone my skills not only as a writer but as a news gatherer. In 2013, JamBase came calling and here we are today.

How do you think the music industry has changed over the years with online streaming (i.e. Spotify)?

Everything is different in terms of the landscape from where it was in 2006. There was no Spotify or Apple Music or Google Music, etc. Record companies were still fighting the streaming revolution and now have come to embrace it. Also, think of all the festivals that have gone since that time like Gathering Of The Vibes, 10,000 Lakes, Wakarusa, All Good and on and on? Live Nation and AEG have become behemoths, but we’ve also seen some independent promoters step up their game and are still putting on great shows whether that’s Peter Shapiro or Jam Productions or IMP. Furthermore, live streams have gone from few and far between to an expectation.

As far as music journalism, I’m part of a very different breed than what people in the ’70s – ’90s thought of rock writers. I post many articles a day each day, so it’s only on extremely rare occasions I write long-form articles in which I can put in a dozen hours of work into one post. In most instances, I spend 20 – 40 minutes per article. My skills as a curator, in terms of finding angles and topics to write about, is much better than my ability to put words on paper (or should I say the internet), at least in my opinion. I came around just at the right time as I’m all about these short-form posts and turning around articles very quickly. Plus, social media/networks have blown up in the past 10 years. I was lucky to get in on the ground floor with Phish Twitter as it would be a lot harder to gain the audience YEMblog has built if I wasn’t there from the beginning.

Are there any bands on your radar in 2018 that you feel will have a breakout year?

I’m hoping Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds will come back strong following a long hiatus while the group’s frontwoman (Arleigh Kincheloe) took maternity leave. Songs like “Sugar” have such huge potential to crossover. We’ll see if Twiddle and Spafford can keep up the huge momentum they’ve built in 2017, I’m hoping Midnight North can reach a broader audience and I’d love to see all the members of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead have the kind of success they deserve for their original projects.

You are the “go to guy” when it comes to Phish. How did you first fall in love with the Vermont band? Are there any moments you can pin point that stand out to you over the years?

My story with Phish dates back to the Summer Of 1993, when I was attending summer camp in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Two of my best friends were huge Deadheads and while I liked the Grateful Dead stuff they were playing for me, one of them put on “Reba” from ‘Lawn Boy’ and I was extremely intrigued. I got home and immediately bought the album. I’ll never forget the moment of pressing play on that CD. By the time “The Squirming Coil” (the opening track) had finished, I was completely hooked. I fell hard and wanted to know everything I could about this band. From August ’93 until my first show in April ’94 I found this new thing called “the internet” purely because I wanted to have access to Phish.net. I’d comb over setlists, buy bootleg CDs, find one or two extremely nice folks who shared tapes with me and so forth.

Going into my first show (April 15, 1994), I knew I would like it but I had a monumental experience from the second I entered the venue until the moment I left. It was one of the greatest nights of my life. One of my favorite articles I’ve written was about that night and I get goosebumps every time I read it and get to re-live that magical evening, which took place about six blocks from where I live now.

Were there any professors that were influential to you when you attended Skidmore College?

I have so much love for my Skidmore experience, but I’ll be honest in that it’s now been nearly 20 years and I don’t have one particular professor that sticks out. As mentioned earlier, I had no idea what I wanted to do and only took one writing class.

What advice do you have for up and coming music journalists?

First, realize and be okay with the fact you won’t get rich out of writing about music for a living. But second and most importantly, write over and over and over and over and over again. Malcolm Gladwell came up with the “10,000 hour rule,” which claims the key to achieving world-class skill in any field is to put 10,000 of hours into practicing and honing your craft. I put in the “reps” at Hidden Track and still write approximately 1,000 articles a year for JamBase. Third, try new things. I recently got invited on an all-expenses paid trip to Asheville to write about the city’s music scene. I had never written anything like that in the past and my first inclination was to pass, but I decided to take them up on the offer and I think the article came out really well. Not to mention, I had a fantastic five days in Asheville. Fourth, be very careful about how you present yourself to potential editors. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a writer pitch me on contributing and they send a link to an article riddled with typos. Always put your absolute best foot forward, as I’ll ignore pitches from a potential contributor who sends me an underwhelming example of their writing. Finally, try to work with writers who are better than you. I learned so much working with Slade for those first two years at Hidden Track. Now, our Associate Editor at JamBase is Andy Kahn and he’s more of a classically-trained journalist. He teaches me new lessons every day and when I look back to the articles I wrote early on in my JamBase tenure versus my current output, there’s most definitely a maturity in the work – or at least that’s what I see.

What was the first piece you had published professionally? How did you feel when you submitted it?

Outside of Hidden Track, Mike Greenhaus at Relix asked me start contributing CD reviews and it was so cool to see my name in print. However, a few years into my career Relix’s editor at the time, Josh Baron, hired me to write a short feature on Scott Metzger. The whole experience was thrilling. I have so much respect for Scott and for that to be my first “real” article for a print magazine meant so much to me.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s