Writer-At-Large: A Conversation With Ben Roazen of HYPEBEAST
Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer/editor:
So I started writing on the Internet in college. I was actually working as an intern for a publisher, flagging copies of Arts & Fashion magazines like Flaunt, Twelv and Document when a couple friends put me in touch with editors at a couple music blogs like MetroJolt and Impressions of Sound. I wrote pieces and reviews for both. I wasn’t getting paid much—if anything—back then. I think I got paid $10 per 1000 words at the beginning but that’s how I got my name out there, initially.
Keep in mind that while I was doing all of this quote- unquote legitimate work, I was also tweeting about anything and everything. I’ve always been a menace on the Internet.
Eventually, I applied for an internship at Pigeons & Planes while I was studying abroad. My editors, Alex and Jacob, were great and they taught me a bunch about music, writing and writing about music. Shoutout Jinx, John W, Graham, Adri and the rest of the P&P gang, too. While I was at P&P, I also wrote a little bit for the now-defunct Four Pins. Then I interned for The FADER, transcribing and archiving interviews, helping out with events, trawling the Internet for new artists.
Basically, I became a writer by writing for anyone and everyone that would have me, initially. If a site wouldn’t host it or an editor didn’t respond—I’d just find a way to put it out, be it on Twitter or something like that. When I was starting out I wrote a lot for cheap and a lot more for free. I wouldn’t do that again though, if I had another go at it.
I’ve also ghost-written for rappers and tech CEOs.
Can you explain how you began working for HYPEBEAST?
While I was interning at The FADER, I saw and applied for an editorial job listing at HYPEBEAST. They got back to me, I interviewed with them and started interning pretty much immediately, doing double duty between there and The FADER.
So what was the moment you realised you wanted to write and build articles? Was there a specific moment or did it come quite organically to you?
I think it was definitely when I was hauling copy around during my internship days: I used to work annotating and running magazines up into mailrooms around the city and it was pretty thankless work. Basically, I flipped through mags flagging certain brands—Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Diesel, what-have-you—and then running those copies up into brands’ mailrooms for them to peruse. You feel pretty invisible working in the mailroom, but it’s essential for what magazines and brands do. With everyone getting jobs off clout and social media these days, I wonder how many people are actually gonna start in the mailroom, like Spider-Man, or if that entire hustle is gonna die out. The mailroom is where the real superheroes are made.
Anyway, on one of those runs I just remembered thinking that my endgame was to decide what was actually inside of the magazines. Eventually, I figured out that was called working in editorial.
As far as writing goes, I’ve been doing that as far back as I remember. I edited my high school’s literary magazine— that’s probably the earliest editorial credit I’ve got to my name, ha.
Were there any challenges you faced getting to where you are today?
Money was a big challenge. Getting paid as a writer is always tough. In college, I found myself working for credit, merit, or not much money at all. Editors will always tell you that you’ll benefit from “exposure,” but if I could go back, I would learn how to invoice much earlier on.
I’m not gonna name names, but once upon a time when I was still in college, a major outlet wanted to meet with me about a social media job. I interviewed with four different editors and directors, wrote a couple thousand words for their edit test, and pitched content. Long story short, they eventually hit me up a week before I graduated college saying something along the lines of: “Hey, thanks for coming in but we’ve decided to pivot the position to a video production role and hire someone internally.”
Fast-forward to a couple months later and a friend sent me an article where all four interviewers parroted my edit test and interview answers to some business blog, bragging about how they had made millions of dollars in luxury advertising. That stung because I remember having, like, $200 to my name at that point.
In 5 years time where will you be and what will you be doing?
Traveling the world and getting paid to take pictures of neon. Just kidding. I’d like to be running content and/or branding somewhere down the line; handling creative and artistic direction. I’d also like to own several dogs, maybe.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be in your position?
My lesson to all young creatives is that you should learn that your ideas really do have worth. Ideas are valuable, especially when you’re young and fluent with the Internet. Older industry types are constantly scared of being rendered obsolete and unnecessary and phased out — many will prey on your need for a job to get ideas out of you for as cheap as possible.
Companies will approach young creatives and freelancers and ask to “pick your brain.” Sometimes, they will dangle the proposition of a full-time job, knowing full well the security that a salary and benefits might bring. Essentially, they will ask for ideas, execution strategy, and direction, all for the price of a flat-white. And young people, myself included, are so saddled with debt and desperation that they will throw thousand-dollar ideas at these legacy media types for free, only to have them take those ideas and leaving you with nothing but lukewarm coffee.
If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I’d tell him that you don’t owe anyone anything but your honest answers and qualifications. I can’t tell you how many people I know have filled out thousand-word edit tests and pitch decks, only to have their ideas executed wholesale and ostensibly for free. If someone asks to pick your brain over a cup of coffee, come prepared with an invoice in hand; slide it across the table as soon as they ask for your expertise. Be honest and confident in your own ideas—if they laugh you off the table, take those plans and execute them elsewhere. Build a portfolio and they will come back.
Photos: Lee Sutton & HYPEBEAST