*photo by Heather Pollock
This week’s Addicted inspiration is one of my personal heroes, journalist Karen Bliss.
When I was younger, I was always terrified by the idea of becoming a full time writer. I’d been conditioned by my engineer father that no one could make a living as a creative. But that belief was changed when I discovered Karen’s writing. Here was a fellow Canadian music writer doing exactly what I dreamed of doing, and doing it amazingly well. Over the course of her career, Karen has written for all the great music publications on both sides of the border, including Rolling Stone, Pollstar and she’s currently Billboard Magazine’s Canadian correspondent. Not only has she contributed her words to other publications, but she’s founded one of her own in Samaritan Mag. In their words, Samaritan Mag is “an is online magazine about good people trying to change bad things”, a sentiment I think we can all get on board with. Featuring good deeds done by great people, Samaritan Mag has featured all sorts of world improving stories, from celebrities and their charitable causes to entrepreneurs shaping their businesses around giving back to the community.
For her incredible career and her work showcasing other inspirational people, we definitely find Karen Bliss inspirational in her own right.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a child, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I used to draw animals. Not very well. In England, where I was born, we had a dog, guinea pigs, tortoise, tropical fish. I vaguely recall a rabbit as well. I also used to horseback ride. Later I wanted to be a police officer, criminal lawyer or racecar driver. I think astronaut was in there somewhere too.
How did you get involved with the work you currently do?
When I was in my early teens, I became obsessed with music, first with acts like the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, and soon just about any band, big or small, signed or unsigned. I would go see everyone, getting into clubs with my fake ID and taking in the larger, arena or soft-seater shows. When I was about 16 or 17, I approached a local magazine to write for them, and then tailored my education towards music journalism: doing a double major in English and music history at the University of Toronto, hosting a weekly interview show on CIUT and being rock editor of the school newspaper The Varsity. Then I just kept at it after I graduated and never stopped. David Farrell at (now defunct) The Record, our equivalent to Billboard at the time, gave me my first real job as a trade writer. I learned so much about the business writing for him and made many connections in the industry that continue to this day. As for my other priority, I am the founder of Samaritanmag.com, which is a music-heavy online magazine about making a difference. I call it my anti-tabloid. I basically started that after seeing musician friends align themselves with causes and me having nowhere to write about their humanitarian trips and efforts. It was also my way, after years of being single-minded as I tried to establish a career, of giving back through my own skills — writing, interviewing and finding stories.
What is your WHY? (the reason why you do the work you do).
I have the best job in the world — listening to music and interviewing creative people in music and business.
What are the biggest challenges/set backs you’ve had to face?
I have always been self-employed, so when one magazine or online site goes under I have to find another outlet. It’s been tough the past decade. Many of the publications I used to write for regularly have disappeared and more and more outlets, even owned by major corporations, barely pay. In this industry, many people will work for free because they are excited to get into a concert for free or to interview a musician. It makes it tough for the legit journalists. As for Samaritanmag, the greatest challenge is getting the support of advertisers or sponsors. I get inundated with pitches to write about the charitable endeavors of companies but I’m hoping some of them will also step up to advertise or sponsor the site, so that we can grow.
What are some of the successes (big or small) you’ve had?
I think the fact that I have been a full-time, self-employed music journalist for all these years is a big success. I have been able to buy a house in downtown Toronto and have a pretty fun life. I have also written or contributed to a few books, co-produced a film, hosted a TV show, contributed to another TV show, hosted a radio show, created an anti-racism animated PSA, and I have a few other projects I still want to get off the ground.
What piece of advice would you give to someone trying to do what you do, or trying to follow their own dreams?
You have to live and breathe music. You can’t simply wake up one day and think it would be cool to write about music. You have to be obsessed with it and want to spend your nights seeing bands. This isn’t a 9 to 5 job. Also, getting to know the business is key, attending conferences like CMW, and learning as much as you can. It will only make you a better interviewer. I have also found, sadly, that many people in their teens, and even into adulthood, can’t spell or know how to use punctuation properly. I think all this texting and spellcheck has made it a low priority, but you will not be hired or given an opportunity by any legit publication or site if you can’t write well.
How do you do manage to do it all?
Ha. I don’t sleep. I’m up at 6 or 7 and go to bed at 2 or 3. That is my life. I also am big on lists. I make to-do lists everyday and cross things off and add to them.
If you had one wish to help make the world a better place, what would it be?
I would make people more tolerant. Not even tolerant because that implies you are just putting up with someone. I would make people see everyone as equals: no matter their religion (or lack of), skin color, sexual orientation, nationality. I find the most intolerant people are actually religious.
Who (person or organization) inspires you?
So many. Many of the people we write about on Samaritanmag.com inspire me. Many of the musicians I’ve written about, who have worked so hard to accomplish success in a very difficult market, inspire me. The many people I have seen work their way up the corporate ladder to now head major companies inspire me. And the ones who release books, movies, or even suddenly switch jobs to follow their passion in some other field. Honestly, I know so many impressive people.
If you could pick one charitable organization to ask our readers to donate to or volunteer with, which would it be?
I actually wouldn’t recommend one. People have to do their own due diligence and find that cause that speaks to them, that they trust and see the value in their work. I am impressed with War Child, Free The Children and World Vision, but also 100 Smiles Project, which is not a registered charity but a one-woman operation that has done so much good for orphans in El Salvador, just by travelling there with a small group of volunteers, showing love to the kids and providing some funds and goods, such as dental care and backpacks.