Op-ed: let’s talk about conflicts of interest

This is going to be a shorter op-ed than usual, but one I feel that’s important to talk about. Within the Australian music industry, there are countless individuals who wear many different hats – who balance out many different roles in the work that they do. The national and international music industry is sometimes an incestuous landscape, and has been for quite a while. Billboard ran a great piece on that very topic last year that’s well worth a read. Yet for most here and abroad, there are many talented and experienced people who are perfectly capable of taking on different industry facets and roles, yet never have their many hand-shakes crossing over. And that’s the correct way of doing business. However, lately, I’ve seen some examples of the opposite happening here in Australia that feels dodgy; where that conflict and crossover has seemingly occurred. So, here are some examples of what NOT to do regarding this matter.

1. If you’re working at a local or national radio broadcaster and you’re doing PR for an upcoming tour that you’re using your radio platform to plug said touring bands on, either quit it or disclose that shit. Whether over social media for those related touring/playlist posts or during the actual radio show itself. (Side note: if it’s on a podcast you run, the same applies: be totally upfront about it or don’t cross your streams). And if you’re apart of a management team or label, and you’re using a radio program you host (or another media platform) to further push the artists you’ve signed, you should probably stop that. Get a fellow radio colleague to push those releases and artists during another time slot or find another avenue altogether. If KYS was a record label and I was also a host using my radio show to continually push my own artists week-in and week-out, listeners would see through it and roll their eyes off into the sun.

2. If you’re in a band that’s about to go on tour – whether you’re supporting or are the headliner – and you write a news piece for a website about said upcoming tour (the one your band is playing), you should absolutely disclose that in the written work. Or better yet, just don’t fucking do it. Get someone else on the team to cover that particular piece. Pretty much, just don’t use your own publication to push your own band. It looks super suspicious and just so phoney. Example: let’s say my made-up band, (which we’ll call The Proverbial Nouns, for the sake of argument) was touring with Ocean Grove, and I was covering their upcoming Australian tour with Hands Like Houses in some way for the site I write for, that’d be a big red flag. Any editor who knowingly allows that to happen needs to have their head checked.

3. If you’re a writer and you’re covering the same release/tour/event for multiple outlets, and you AREN’T taking on different angles for these respective pieces, that’s a pretty bad look and you’ll burn yourself out trying to do double or triple the work. Do the workload you know you can do properly, and just stick to ONE publication for a single tour or particular release. I see some of my peers doing this at times and their work quality suffers from the stress and deadlines, giving them all manner of headaches. If you saw a review of mine here, and then saw the very same review from me on another site, you’d wonder what the go was and why I’d covered the exact same thing so lazily. (This also applies to photographers. DO NOT give out the same photos to a second website, even if you’re trying to help out a fellow photographer pal who missed a certain set and is in dire need of shots. Tough shit, they missed out. This sounds like common sense, but I’ve seen it happen a couple times now, and the competing websites were always understandably annoyed when the same shared photos went up in the two separate write-ups.) It’s a matter of writer ethics, basically. Also, if you’re a writer or an editor, don’t go into business at the same time with a label, management company or PR who cover similar artists or styles that your publication covers. That’s some really tricky entanglement, and you’d have to be very careful in how you cover those bands down the road if you choose to do so.

4. If you’re website is covering the music of a former or current contributor, definitely disclose that shit ASAP. This has actually been the case before with KYS; we’ve covered local heavy acts before where a member had written for us in the past, often long before I was even here in 2014. However, it’s just something I personally feel better about in disclosing so that all readers will know where those relationship lines once formed or where they were perhaps forming. For instance, I’m all about what Sydney’s Wreath are doing lately, but I will always disclose that their vocalist used to write for KYS. He doesn’t anymore, but he used to, and that’s the point. However, there is a slimier scenario to be mentioned. The lines blur much harder between artist and media outlet when a band member is actively contributing to a website during the same time they have new music releasing; the website then seemingly pushing their band and release like a back-pat for their written work without being upfront about that connection. This happens far more frequently than you think and it calls into question so many different things that I don’t even know where to begin. Pay attention to the names, people.

5. If your publication or your business had a band member create artwork for your brand, and you’re promoting that person’s band or music hard down the line in a very positive manner, absolutely disclose that to your readership in some way. Better you say it straight away then someone else calling you out on it later on and then making you look the fool. For an example: our cover photos for Facebook and Twitter are live shots from The Dillinger Escape Plan’s final Australian tour, taken by one of our photographers and one of my very good friends, Owen Jones (AKA Digital Beard Photography). Now, Owen’s not in a band, but do you see how easy that was for me to disclose? Simple.

6. This next one seems obvious, but you’d be surprised. Basically, if you’re in a band and you’re booking tours, don’t always book your own band as the main supporting act for the very same tour. That just looks like you’re unnaturally trying to further your own band’s career and success without any real merit; taking advantage of funds and opportunities available to you in order to lock in a tour so that your band can boost their profile. It also makes it seem like your band cannot get shows or on tours off the back of your own hard work and music unless self-booked. Do I even need to say how bad that looks? And if you’re an agent or a manager that works at a promoting company and are constantly putting on your own bands, that’s eventually going to rub people the wrong way. On a smaller, DIY level, and from a case-by-case basis, it’s maybe not the worst thing in the world or even in this list, but it’s still quite common.

Look, if you are going to do any of the above things and you don’t see anything wrong with it, or you just don’t care about how your different roles cross over in a potentially conflicted way, then at least just be honest and disclose everything. People can make up their own opinions from there. To be fair, sometimes that’s all you need to do and say for the average punter and fan to not have much of a problem and appreciate the thought. Someone like myself would also appreciate that forthcoming nature too.

I totally get wanting to back yourself and your own horse, to make the most of things and to do what you can to push your work, your name, and your art. But when you’re going into bed with yourself, that’s all it looks like: selfish masturbation. Essentially, if something feels wrong, like your interests are conflicting like the above examples, then that’s maybe because it is wrong. So let’s just all be more direct about these things and try to avoid these issues, yeah? Honesty is the best approach, as people will more often than not see through the BS otherwise.

Thank you for reading, as always. And as I don’t really know how to end this piece, I highly recommend you check out the new LP from Better Oblivion Community Center (AKA Phoebe Bridges and Conor Oberst). I’ve been really enjoying lately, and no, there’s no conflict of interest there.

2 Responses to “Op-ed: let’s talk about conflicts of interest”

  1. roosterboy

    I saw an example of point 3 just recently. The latest Pedro the Lion was reviewed by the same guy on both Punknews.org and punkrocktheory. Barely changed any of the review and some paragraphs were word for word copies. Only difference was score; 4.5/5 for pn and 10 for prt. I pretty much just stick to KYS and no echo these days as I know your reviews will actually criticize artists even if you may know them or are likely to encounter them personally. Unlike other Aussie publications who wouldnt dare criticize an Aussie artist. Which doesnt benefit anyone in my opinion.

    • Alex Sievers

      Thank you for reading, appreciate the support! With reviews, one thing I sometimes wonder about is: “is this just a play-by-play of the release/songs or are there actual comments and criticism – constructive or not – of the work itself?” Something I like to keep in mind when doing my own stuff.

      Of course, if we don’t like something, you’ll probably read about it here on KYS. I understand people wanting to support and back everything and everyone, but I feel you should only do that if you ACTUALLY feel that way. I know a lot of people who just share shit because a mate is in the band or had a part in the creation someway. Which has always looked really weird to me. Dishonest, too.

      And yeah, that Pedro the Lion example is pretty wack. Hopefully that person gets pulled up on that.

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