Kevin Sterne is, among other things, a contributor to Anchr Magazine. He’s been published by other music sites like Shuga Records, Substream, as well as in other categories of publications. I sat down with Kevin and found out what the Internet has done for writers, freelancing, and Test Artist Collective, a collaborative artist group that strives to create community amongst artists of all disciplines.
Tell me a little bit about your education and why you chose writing?
K: I guess I was originally looking at screenwriting out of high school. I’ve always had an interest in story telling and ideas in general. I went to community college, Arizona State University. I got kicked out of Arizona State University and then went to DePaul…enrolled in their film program, then switched my major within a couple semesters. Then really got into the whole college thing, switched to English, Creative Writing. Then immediately into grad school right after that.
E: Did you go to grad school at DePaul?
K: Yeah so I got my MA in writing and publishing and then I guess it was in grad school that I started doing a lot of journalism stuff. I took a science writing class so that prepared me for a lot of the health stuff that I do. And then I took a class on interviewing, reviewing. And it covered interviewing, book reviews, movie reviews, going to shows, writing about food, all that kind of stuff. And I would take a lot of the assignments and pitch them out to try to get them published. So trying to do two things at once.
How do you think your writing has changed since first going to grad school and why?
K: I think in grad school I was trying to do that artsy sad stuff and romanticizing being a writer and that’s total bullshit. I realized it half way through grad school but also getting out of grad school ya know at 24 or 25 that was my first time not being in school. Everyone gets that, that’s where I started to figure out who I was. I started reading books that weren’t high brow academic stuff and started developing interests that were a lot closer to home that maybe wouldn’t be accepted in the academic setting.
E: So how did you make that realization that you wanted to write about music and culture?
K: In grad school i was working full time in an office as a writer, in the writing department for this business and I did that for two years. In that time I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing so I did a lot of journalism at night and on the weekends and then when I was still in grad school taking my assignments and sending those out. And music has always been a big interest of mine. In general I’ve always had a lot of interests so i’ve kind of pursued those branches. I was writing a lot more music a year or two ago. I was doing a lot of craft beer stuff, I was riding that wave for a minute. But right now I’m doing some light PR stuff for The Edwards and then a little more PR stuff for this band Radio Free Honduras. They’re a jazz fusion, flamenco band here. But other than that I’ve kind of focused solely on fiction and then the health stuff. Mostly because the health stuff pays really well. I can follow them as long as I want but it comes down to what is gonna get me a cup of coffee and put gas in my car because i don’t have time to do all of them.
In terms of freelance writing, which areas are less lucrative and which are more lucrative?
K: Health definitely always pays. I have a keen interest in mental health and that stuff pays really well but music I’ve found doesn’t. Or I’ve had to be pretty up front in that I’m not doing this unless you guys are paying me for it and I think it’s a good rule to have and I think a lot of writers don’t have that. Writing is very undervalued in the real world and it’s especially hard in music because the musician’s trying to make money, venue’s trying to make money, bar’s trying to make money. where do magazines fit into this? Like print and magazines are kind of dying but that’s where all the advertising is so that’s where the opportunity is to get the most money and if you go to an online market it’s no money.
E: Why do you think that is?
K: A lot of it stems from the internet being what it is. In some ways leveling the playing field but in other ways dispersing all these resources out to where there’s not a lot available. Make no mistake about it, I work other jobs too. I work in landscaping over the summer, I pick up odd jobs, shovel snow, work for a moving company, hang up Christmas lights. I’ve been applying for jobs as of late. And for me the only thing I can see myself doing is writing and running. Those are my two passions and if I’m not doing those I don’t feel normal and happy. And I think that’s a lot of artists. We do it because that’s what we love to do and that’s what defines us and our job doesn’t necessarily define us.Finding the middle ground between making money and doing what you love to do is really hard. You have to put in a lot of work and put in the hours, and network and find people and try to figure out how to make it work.
What do you maintain everyday to make it work and stay on it?
K: Putting myself on a word count saying I have to write 500 or 1000 words a day. Being able to set those expectations for yourself and goals to meet. And that can manifest in a lot of different ways for a lot of different people. Figuring out a system that works for you just comes with maturity maybe?
E: So when you need to write and fill that word count quota for the day do you usually go out to places to do it or you find you write better at home?
K: I can’t write at home. I gotta go out of the house. I usually go to Osmium or write at a friend’s house. I have this weird thing where everyone trusts me to watch their pets so I spend a lot of time at other people’s houses so I’ll write there.
I think community’s really important. This past year has been really hard for me and having an artistic community or just your best friends that you can talk to is super important to keep you grounded and mentally clear. I read and watch a lot of interviews of artists that I admire and some of them talk about the muse and how it’s always there and they have this thing they have to get out. For me I just have to make it work, I always have ideas and if I’m not doing it then i don’t feel like me. That’s what gets me going.
Speaking of community, how did you first get involved with Test Artist Collective?
K: So the Test Artist Collective is some of my very best friends and our goal is trying to create more community, trying to meet people and bring them in it to make them a part of something and not make it exclusive at all. Try to make more opportunities for people and get people more comfortable, get people collaborating. That’s the biggest thing is having people try new things with each other.
E: How many people are involved in Test?
K: I’d say the core of it is me, Carina Hoyer and Alex Burns, Kyle Maurisak who’s in The Edwards, and Emilie Karl. Carina and Alex collab on paintings all the time, they make these paintings and we had this idea of Kyle and I creating stuff inspired by their paintings. I wrote some stuff, Kyle created some music, and I thought that was really cool. Something that brings creative people together that might be from different disciplines to create this community. So we did a lot of soul searching to see what we wanted to do with this thing. Routed in collaboration, experimenting, community.
How did you start interviewing bands?
K: It started off as an assignment with this band called Polyenso. They’re kind of interesting because they used to be this hardcore band, kind of following the Underoath thing, and then they switched to sort of an Alt-J kind of style. So I interviewed that band and pitched it. I was writing for this website for a minute just writing a bunch of free reviews. Even before that I was writing for this site where bands would submit their record, or EP or whatever and then it would get sent out to writers to review it.
E: How did you find that website and get hired by them?
K: Craigslist and Indeed. For someone that’s trying to start out I was just hitting up Craigslist and Indeed for a long time. You gotta really put in the shitty work for a minute. I think the best thing someone can do is if you’re in college right now, do all the free stuff.
E: How do you know you will get paid? How do you weed through those bullshit ads?
K: I think two things you should really look for. One, talk to them over the phone. The other one is have some sort of contract. Whether it’s a W-9 or W-2 Form. And then kind of as best as you can research a company. A big one for me is if I can read their job description and it’s not professionally written and there’s a bunch of typos.
So how did you start getting published by music publications?
K: Substream was the biggest one where I was published. It was the first good idea I ever had; pairing craft beer with a music album. I did that for two or three years. But then I really got out of craft beer. Whole health and lifestyle change.
E: In writing for Shuga, how did you get hooked up with them?
K: My buddy James’ now wife was working for Shuga and said they were looking for someone who was doing some blogging and I met with Adam and got it. So I was doing that for like a summer. A lot of it is connections unfortunately.
E: You never think you’re going to get the right connection and then you do, and you understand and you tell people but it’s really disheartening sometimes.
K: This is a super cheese ball thing but I genuinely care about what my friends are doing and a lot of them do art and things happen pretty nicely and things happen the way they’re supposed to happen. But there’s a process of putting yourself out there to do things. But you gotta build that base of like-minded friends and go from there. It took more time. I’m almost 27 and I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing and at 23 I for sure had no idea what I was doing.
E: That’s great because a lot of people don’t know. Sometimes we talk to some really successful young people in the industry and that’s awesome and there’s also a lot of people who have just realized they want to get into it.
Is there anything that you wish 27 year old you would tell 21 year old you?
K: Yeah, don’t be a douchebag.
E: Any advice for people who are trying to figure out who they actually are?
K: Try stuff out as much as you can. It’s easy to get caught in a routine but a friend calls you up and you’re already in bed; get out of bed and go out. I’m in no way an old wise sage. Like if you want to talk financial problems; i got them.
E: Selfishly, that’s good to know that you still have issues with money. It doesn’t look like it from your page.
K: I definitely can think of when I was around your age to look at people who are more established. It’s this super cliche thing; you’re chasing this goal for a while and then you get it and you’re like ‘oh this isn’t that great’ but the bar is always changing and it never makes you any happier to get to those things. What makes me the most happy is seeing my friends doing the thing that makes them happy.
E: Well it seems like you’re on your way. What’s going on in 2019 for you?
K: A lot. Right now I’m in full creative writing, publication mode. On the very personal side, I have a chat book I’m trying to get out, I have a short story collection that I’m working on where the goal is to try and get it with a publisher, or get a conversation going with a publisher about running that. Sending out a lot of stories right now. This is the time of the year I devote to all my writing because it’s the off-season, I’m pretty unemployed. So doing a lot of writing. I have some pieces coming out in early 2019. And then doing a lot with the Test Artist Collective.