Mike Bell is a former music writer for Postmedia and the now-defunct FFWD. He now operates TheYYScene, an online arts and entertainment publication described as “Calgary’s go-to-guide to getting out.”
I had, in all honesty, zero interest in journalism. I didn’t take any courses. I was more of a creative writing person. I was up at the University of Calgary and back in that time there was a publication called Vox. It was a monthly thing put out by CJSW, basically for their program guide and then it turned into something more.
I kind of fell ass-backwards into it. It was one of those things where it was just a passion. It was just something I enjoyed doing. I enjoyed music, I enjoyed writing and just kind of put them together… 25 years later, it was my life.
James Muretich was the music writer at the Calgary Herald. Him and [former Calgary Sun music writer] Dave Veitch kind of helped shape this Calgary music community for a good decade because they wrote about local music and they wrote about it as equal to major label music or music being made elsewhere… [Muretich] worked at the Herald, and asked me if I wanted to write for him.
Back then, I think there were less people doing it and a voice had a little more weight. And that was one thing you had to do — you had to find a voice and you had to be a voice. And you had to be a critical voice. You couldn’t just be a cheerleader, or you couldn’t just pick one type of music or whatever. And now… there’s so many voices, and it’s so fractured.
“I don’t want a day job… I want to be able to talk to people and share their stories and promote their work and that’s pretty much it,” – Mike Bell says.
It was mainly prepping for interviews, doing interviews, writing interviews and then possibly doing reviews. But I loved it. The one thing I always said was: “My worst day is I have to go see a shitty concert and write about it.” That’s the worst thing I could say about my day. I got to interview some of my heroes. Some of the people that I considered my favourite artists of all time, who made some of my favourite music of all time.
I did a review of a country band — Florida Georgia Line — and it was nothing I had ever done before. There were extenuating circumstances. It was right after the Brentwood murders, and they got on stage and one of them said… without even knowing the specifics, I think he said it was a shooting, not a stabbing. And I lost it… so I wrote a review that I honestly thought was my resignation letter.
My editor stood behind me… and that was good to know that they had my back. That’s what you need and you do need somebody. You also need an editor that’s going to help you get better and that’s tough these days because nobody has time for that anymore.
My choice to leave was that “music writer” doesn’t exist at the Herald or the Sun anymore. There is one entertainment writer now. Period. One. And there are two sections produced, locally, of the entertainment section — that’s Thursday and Saturday. Everything else would have to go online or whatever. And I knew that I wouldn’t be doing [that], it wouldn’t be my full-time thing. It’s not now, but I’m still in control of it… it’s on me. I’m not doing it for someone else and I’m not being forced to do things I hate.
I have to think like a businessman. I have to figure out how to monetize [The YYScene] and get it to a point where I can make a little money. I want more voices on it. I don’t want it to be a vanity thing… I don’t want to be posting three bylines a day of my stuff. I want it to be different voices… I need to make money at this, and I need to think like a businessman and I’m not.
One of the good things is there were people who believed in what we were trying to do, so they jumped on board right away and gave us some credibility… that’s been one of the easiest hurdles because people have supported us and people bought into what we’re doing.
I don’t want a day job. I don’t want to have to put on a suit and whatever. I want to be able to talk to people and share their stories and promote their work and that’s pretty much it.
As told to Alec Warkentin. The interview has been edited and condensed for length and obscenity.
Editor: Emily Thwaites | firstname.lastname@example.org