What Is A Music Critic's Life Really Like?

Walter Peck: Because I'm curious. I wanna know more about what you do here! Frankly, I've heard a lot of wild stories in the media and we want to assess any possibility of dangerous and possibly hazardous waste chemicals in your basement.

- Ghostbusters

Rocks Off can promise you we are not harboring any hazardous waste in our office - although it certainly looks like we might be - but since today is the last day our readers can sign up to ride shotgun with Rocks Off Sr. at Kings of Leon and Band of Horses Saturday, we thought it would be a good opportunity for us to illuminate the day-to-day reality of what it really means to be a music critic. The contest runs until 5 p.m. on our poll page.

There have been a lot of wild stories in the media, so Rocks Off Sr. and Jr. have been emailing back and forth the past couple of days in the hopes of shedding some light on a profession that is often envied and just as often misunderstood, even by our fellow journalists. Rest assured, it's not all backstage passes and free CDs.

Chris Gray: Whenever I meet someone and tell them what my job is, they almost always say some variation of, "That sounds like a cool job." I tell them it is, but it's also a lot of work. What about you?

Craig Hlavaty: Yeah! I always get the "Well that sounds like a cool and EASY job. I bet you get to meet all sorts of people and hang out backstage all the time and see all kinds of fun and messed up stuff."

But I agree with you, it's a lot of work, brain work. We aren't crushing rocks in a mine or digging ditches, fighting fires, or working in an ER seeing lives flash before our eyes. We somehow have to make sense of things, especially with live reviews, that aren't so easily described. Like, there have been times where after a show, like Britney Spears a few weeks back, where I sat in front of the monitor shrugging and stressed that I had to intimate the normalcy of something that should have been grand.

So yeah, it's fun and physically easy, but the fights in our own minds are like torture. But a torture that you will have to pull from my cold dead hands.

Despite this video, music criticism rarely if ever comes to actual blows.

Chris Gray: It's not easy at all. Besides thinking - it generally takes me longer than the show itself will last for me to write a review, sometimes several hours more - there is a tremendous amount of planning and negotiating (not to mention editing, myself included) that goes into everything that we publish in the paper and on Rocks Off, everything from arranging reviewer tickets and photo passes to scheduling interviews and putting out the occasional fire when we get something wrong. Which, you know, happens.

And while it's true we do get to meet all kinds of interesting people, I think the idea that we get to go backstage and hang out all the time may be the biggest myth of all about this line of work. I think I can count on one hand the number of times that's actually happened. Things have changed a lot since the days of Almost Famous - most of the time, if they're not involved in some sort of fan meet-and-greet, artists generally want to be left alone before a concert (especially by the press), and I'm more than happy to oblige them.

Afterward, at least at shows on the Kings of Leon level, they're usually out the door and on the tour bus practically before the house lights even come up. I remember watching the Rolling Stones' motorcade speeding down Barton Springs after they played Zilker Park in Austin in 2006, when most people probably thought they were going to come out for another encore.

Obviously, it's different on the local level, where we do tend to socialize with a lot of musicians we also have to cover, or at least show up at a lot of the same bars, parties and shows. Where do you draw the line here?

Craig Hlavaty: I have tons of people in the Houston music scene that I would like to call dear friends, but I always get scared that that extra attention at the show, or that free beer is somehow not dear and true. I know the people who are real and the ones who are playing the game. Let's just say, Facebook sucks when it comes to that.

When it comes to meeting artists around showtime, or after, I try to keep it to a minimum. It's harder to pin a band to the wall for a big, awful show if they just gave you a beer or a Coke. Keeping it clinical is the worst part, because it comes personal with local cats.

I can shit on a national artist all day, as long as I feel I temper it with constructive criticism, which in the past year or so I have been doing. I would rather spend 1,000 words being constructive and relating the fan experience than trying to be this ogre-ish figure behind a computer.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray