CV: BARBARA CHARONE director of press, WEA Records
Monday 13 October 1997
I was born and grew up in Chicago, and I went to Northwestern University. I first came to England on a family trip to Europe, just after my first year at university, and I loved it: I remember seeing The Who on Top of the Pops, and thinking "What a great country."
When I went back to university, I started to write about pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. I had always used to write: I had a column in my high-school newspaper, and in my junior-high paper. Then I came back to England on a university exchange programme, taking classes at the V&A, and being taught creative writing by the film critic of Time Out. And I started writing for the NME on a freelance basis.
After a year I went back to the States to finish university, and graduated, in English, in 1974. By then I was freelancing for Rolling Stone, on which the first thing I did was a review of a James Taylor concert, when he was just starting out. Then I had some smallish features, and, eventually, a cover story on Rod Stewart.
I moved to England for good in the autumn of 1974, and started writing for a now defunct music paper called Sounds. Over the next three and a half years, I became a staff writer, then features editor, then deputy editor. I was interviewing people like The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and The Who - all people whose records I had in my collection, so it was pretty exciting.
Then, I really wanted to write a book, and I did Keith Richards' authorised biography - so I spent three years hanging around with The Rolling Stones. The book came out in 1979 but, having written it, I didn't really want to go back to just being a music critic. I carried on freelancing for about 18 months, before ending up joining WEA, where a friend of mine ran the press office, in 1981.
In the beginning, I was just a staff writer in the press office, writing the bios and the news stories. But, after two and a half years of that, someone left, and I started as a press officer. And I loved it: mainly because it just suited my personality - I'm a bit of a magazine and newspaper junkie - and also because this label is very diverse. We've got everyone from REM to The Pretenders, Seal to Enya, and Madonna; I used to ring people up about her in the early Eighties and say: "She's gonna be big." I went on to be press manager, head of press and, finally, director of press, and I ended up representing a lot of the people that I had initially written about, like Rod Stewart and Eric Clapton.
The job changes constantly. You have to be very well organised, and know the papers. If you ring a paper up and ask them if they'd like to do a live review, and they don't do live reviews, then that means you don't read the paper, which is just the biggest insult. And I'm a big believer in being honest, and not holding people to ransom. There's this fallacy that you can ring a journalist up and say, "I'll give you REM if you do this unknown group."
I think the British press gets a lot of stick, and not always deservedly so. I'm a big fan of the broadsheets, and the tabloids, for certain artists, are great, though you find yourself keeping the really big artists out of the papers to a degree. The skill with a big, known act is to tell them what they should do to either raise their profile or promote a certain project. But you're representing these people all the time, not just when they're touring or have a new record out, and you're always getting phone calls asking things like, "Is Madonna moving to London?" or "Is Rod Stewart buying a football club?" It's a matter of deciding what to react to.
It's a fantastic job. Sure, there are managers who sometimes drive you to distraction, and some nights you just want to go home after work, rather than go and see a band you don't love. But it's tremendously rewarding, especially when you're working on a new act - meeting an unknown in the office one day who 18 months later is a huge star. We had that with Seal, and now we're seeing new young artists such as Shola Ama and Mark Morrison have great success here and abroad.
Having previously been a journalist, it's been like having two careers. I'm sure it would have been very boring just to have done the "must have lunch, darling", Ab Fab kind of PR. And having been a journalist also gives you a big advantage in that you understand what goes into interviewing - and also that there's no way anyone's ever going to love everything that's written about them.
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