Launching a magazine for a music institution like Rough Trade isn’t a task for the faint-hearted - the record store-turned-label has a loyal global following, and is revered by industry insiders and music-obsessed teenagers alike. Brought on board earlier this year to distil the essence of the iconic 40 year old brand into a 64-page magazine, Liv Siddall has produced a charmingly eclectic monthly volume that’s true to Rough Trade’s slightly anarchic roots – with the most recent issue selling out entirely. No doubt her experience as Contributing Editor at Riposte, the ‘smart magazine for women’ (and a Women Who favourite), which she’s worked on since its inception, came in handy. Formerly Online and then Features Editor at It’s Nice That, Liv also occasionally writes for magazines including Another and Dazed. Read on to find out about life as a freelance writer, what it’s like to launch a magazine, and how she basically manifested her dream job.
ON HOW SHE GOT STARTED AS A WRITER
I got into writing totally by chance. My teacher at university very kindly awarded me a one-week placement at It’s Nice That when I was in my second year. I didn’t even know what It’s Nice That was back then, but when I walked into their teeny office on Rivington Street I realised that it was my dream come true.
The task in hand when I began working there was just: bring stuff to the table that you like, and then tell other people about why that thing is great. Blogging, essentially. I’m a real enthusiast for all kinds of crap, and at the time I was obsessed with album sleeves, comics, illustration, graphic novels, music videos – so the chance to tell people exactly why they should be into that stuff too was easy and genuinely fun. At that stage I couldn't “write,” necessarily, but anyone can gush about stuff that they’re really, truly passionate about. It just happened that there were people willing to employ me to do so at that moment in time. At the end of my third year, when my whole world was crashing around my ears and all my pals were going off to get design internships (I studied Graphic Design, and was terrible at it), It’s Nice That emailed me and asked me to come in for a ten-week internship. I stayed for four years and ended up working across the magazine, podcast, online, and events. It was like a dreamy finishing school, I loved every minute of it.
I never went out into the world and said, “I want to be a writer!” And I still don’t think I’m a writer. I still only write about stuff I’m super into, and I fully, fully believe that anyone else who tried their hand at that could do it too. Anyone can check your grammar and make sure your sentences aren’t too long, but if what you’re writing about is coming from a pure place, then you can’t go wrong. There’s a reason why I was never any good at writing paid-for content or advertorials. As soon as the passion was gone, my writing reverted to being like that of a lazy GCSE student.
"If what you’re writing about is coming from a pure place, then you can’t go wrong."
HOW FREELANCING COMPARES TO BEING A STAFF WRITER
It’s different for everyone, but personally I find it very pleasurable being part of a team, working with colleagues together on something. When I was at It’s Nice That, I was fuelled by a desire for the company to do well because I believed in it, therefore I couldn’t slack off. With Riposte I worked on it from the very beginning and am very close to the Editor-in-Chief and Art Director, so again, I was driven to work hard to make it good. When I was freelancing, dotting about places and having a week here and there, I didn’t have any kind of loyalty to the companies I worked for so found it hard to really care, and in turn my writing and work ethic floundered a little.
I sometimes like to imagine that being at Rough Trade is like being on a big, wonky, barnacle-covered old ship. Everyone is working overtime to make sure it stays afloat, no one really knows where it’s going, but if you slack off then everyone’s in jeopardy. If you’re the kind of person who can just turn up, get the job done and leave, then freelancing could be great for you. For me, turning up somewhere every day where you know everyone super well and you have in-jokes and close relationships with people you work with is invaluable. I need to be depended on, and I need to believe in what I am doing. Freelancing didn’t work for me because I found it so easy to let myself down, and, fundamentally, I had no one to muck about and make in-jokes with.
THE BEST PART OF BEING A WRITER
Editorial work is certainly not driven by a lust for money. I guess the best bit, and the bit that gives me the most pleasure, is meeting people and talking to them all the time. The feeling you get when you walk out of interviewing someone is when I am at my happiest. Unless of course the interview was shambolic, in which case it’s the worst.
GETTING HER DREAM JOB
I was in my flat with my ex-boyfriend and I was like: “My life is shit. I want to work in a team again, I’m lonely, I want to move to New York and I want to make my own music magazine.” The next day I got an email from the director of Rough Trade, saying he’d found me on LinkedIn and wanted to talk to me about potentially making a music magazine, going to New York a bit, and working in a fun team. What are the odds? I must have done something very good in my past life to have deserved that stroke of luck. I went in for a meeting that day and had the job the next day. So, the answer to how I got the Rough Trade job is: luck, and LinkedIn.
THE CHALLENGES OF STARTING A MAGAZINE FROM SCRATCH
For me the most important thing was making something the Rough Trade staff could enjoy and be part of. Making friends here took months, because I was just this random woman who had been brought in to make a magazine about a shop that some of them had worked in for 20 years. Now a few issues in they kind of get what it is, and a lot of them contribute regularly which makes me so, so happy. The staff at Rough Trade are some of the most knowledgeable, passionate people – it would be insane for me NOT to want them to be in the magazine.
One big challenge is getting feedback. Sometimes I see a customer reading it and I have to control myself so I don’t rush over and ask what they think of page 12, and whether or not they like the pink background on the cover. I’d say getting honest feedback out of people, which you desperately need to help you progress, is very difficult.
In terms of the content, that’s always easy because there are always a billion stories and things to put in there. Each month I promise Bruce (the design director) that the next issue will be way less full, but each month I let him down as I always have way too much stuff to cram in there. Sometimes the lack of budget is tricky, but I’ve taken to just photographing stuff for it myself to save money.
ON MENTORING OTHERS
I really like giving lectures and workshops to students. Recently I helped some students in Nottingham on a six-month project to make their own magazines. When I saw all the magazines they made – some of which are so good – I was pretty overwhelmed. I really like it when I talk to students about what they’re going to do when they leave university, and I can actually reassure them that if they are friendly, open and passionate, they will be fine.
SOME SAGE ADVICE
If the fun stops, stop.
Rough Trade magazine available in-store or online.