Welcome back to WIMI! Today we'll be letting you get to know more into the life of Samantha Hissong, editor at HITS Magazine. Her detailed and in-depth answer will show you why she kicks ass in the editing world of the music industry! Her passion doesn't fall too far behind. You can read all about her below!
Introduce yourself to us! What do you do in the industry? Where are you from?
I hold the role of Editor over at HITS Magazine—the music industry’s leading trade publication for inside information and specialized insight on trends, stats/data and business-specific gossip. Shockingly enough, I’m actually from Los Angeles… Studio City born and raised.
How did you get your start in the industry, and how long have you been in the industry?
Funny story. HITS President Todd Hensley moved into the house next to my parents’ place when I was about 12 or 13 years old. A couple years went by, and my mom found out where he worked and what he did. From day one, she’s encouraged me to be a writer and always thought I’d make a great journalist. She walked me over there to meet him and say hello. Todd, being the absolute gem of a human that he is, humored 14-year-old Samantha, who raved with wide eyes. “I love music,” I exclaimed. Grinning, he let me talk his ear off about all my likes and dislikes. Thanks to the circles I began to run in, by the time I hit 15, I had a fake ID and was going to all the clubs and venues Hollywood had to offer. Todd caught wind of this. And given HITS’ very particular brand of brash, often-controversial humor, I was offered an unpaid internship that gave me my own (albeit infrequent) column, called Notes from an Underaged Club-Crawler. In a way, I was paid with concert tickets, which was everything I could want and more at the time. I started popping by and helping out whenever a simple-but-tedious office project would arise. Eventually, I went off to college. I didn’t love my experience with institutionalized learning and decided to drop out with a year remaining. I can talk at length about this subject, but I don’t want to bore anyone. Essentially, I believe that you can get a strong education without going to college. The vast majority of people I know who went to college in America saw the experience more as a way to “find themselves” and explore the freedom of young adulthood. If you don’t have a sharp focus—or the goal of going into a specialized field that actually requires a degree (i.e. medicine, law)—college can be more about socializing and experimenting than actual learning. Grab a stack of books, utilize the well-intentioned facets of the internet, travel, talk to people from different walks of life and have an open mind. That route, to me, is more beneficial; and it’s far less of a financial burden. I don’t have a degree and I’m doing just fine, and the same can be said for my partner, who is a successful musician. I knew Todd had dropped out of college, so I figured he’d be supportive. When I got back to L.A., I called him up and took him to lunch. I had given myself one year to find a “career path”—not just any old job. And I told myself that, if I wasn’t able to find one within my allotted year, I would have to go back and finish my schooling. I begged Todd for work. He politely told me he didn’t have anything for me; I told him that he eventually would, and I urged him to keep me in mind. In the time that immediately followed our meeting, I proceeded to respectfully harass him. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say. A few months later, I was working in a bar to make ends meet. Todd rang me and said he had an unpaid editorial internship. That very quickly led to some money. And a few months into that, I was put on salary. Now, I’m an Editor. I’ve been in the industry for six years.
When did you know being in the business is what you wanted to do? Was there a specific moment where you were like “oh god, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life”?
Working in the entertainment industry in general felt very natural to me. Both of my parents made their livings in it, albeit on the film and television side. I grew up on sound stages and sets. In fact, I had my sights set on being an actor for quite some time (a very L.A. cliché, I’m aware). I eventually ditched that dream for various reasons that can be boiled down to the fact that, for me, the joy of the craft didn’t outweigh the shortcomings of a savage, at-times vapid, and almost-always shallow film industry. Also, as I got older, I realized that I liked to express myself visually, and that included wild hair styles and colors (shout out to my three buzz cuts), piercings and tattoos. That might sound trivial at first thought, but if you really mull it over, an ideal quality of life means a whole lot. I want to look in the mirror, like and recognize who I see. Plus, I enjoy having the ability to be spontaneous. So, I knew I couldn’t be a banker or a leading lady, and I was okay with that. And to be frank, I adore food too much to be pushed into a diet of soup, salad and cocaine. As for music, that came a bit later. I felt strongly detached from the typical high school experience. Around the age of 14, I met two guys who’d soon become my best friends. They were in a rock band, and I quickly found myself spending all my free time at rehearsals and soundchecks, as well as floating up and down the Sunset Strip. This sparked a huuuuuge classic rock phase for me. I dove straight in; I felt seen. Then came the long, disheveled hair, torn shorts, band shirts, combat boots and wildly abundant jewelry collection. I wanted to live and breathe rock & roll—as cheesy as that sounds. I was too naïve to believe rock was dead. It was like a whole universe opened up to me… just decades late. I began to earn a reputation. By the time the yearbook committee was rolling out superlatives, a member tracked me down and told me people were writing me in as “Most Likely to Be Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.” They were apparently adding things like “groupie,” “roadie” and “manager” next to my name. It kind of just hit me. My peers opened my eyes to the path that was right in front of me.
What does a typical day as an editor look like for you?
I help manage our website on a daily basis, since the Internet is a hungry beast that needs to be fed regularly. On average, we put out a print magazine every other week. A regular mag is worked on in the week preceding its street date. We also have special-edition print issues, which can take months of work on the backend. So, a typical day usually involves a little bit (and sometimes a lot) of those three focuses. More specifically, I write news items for our “Rumor Mill,” as well as some of our subsections on specific areas like under-the-radar artists (“The B-Side”) and Nashville developments (“Music City”). I spearhead all initiatives surrounding our weekly Vibe Raters roundup of buzzing acts poised to break and our quarterly, more-polished New & Developing Artists special issue. I also go to a wide array of shows and business events after office hours. A typical day involves a lot of caffeine—although, I’ve recently ditched coffee for green tea—a gallon of water (ideally) and the banging of head against keyboard (unavoidably). Occasionally, there’s also some thumb-sucking in the fetal position. I kid, but, yea, it can be fast-paced and stressful.
Is there anything you struggled with (or even still do struggle with) being in the industry?
I hate schmoozing. I hate being “on.” If you ask me how my day is, I’m innately inclined to tell you how I’m really feeling—even if I just had an ugly panic attack in the bathroom. That’s just the kind of person I am; I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’ve worked hard to master small talk, and I still don’t even consider myself to be a pro at it, although many have said otherwise. I got into this industry driven by a love of writing and a love of music. It was a tough pill to swallow when my eyes were opened to the vast throng of people only in it for power and popularity. When I get overwhelmed or feel particularly jaded, I try to remember 14-year-old Samantha, who’d be thrilled to enter some of the rooms I find myself in. I also try to remind myself that a “bad day” in the music industry is nowhere near a bad day in a monotonous field or one that involves anything that’s truly strenuous like manual labor. In some fields, a bad day has the potential to lead to injury or even death. I think having that reality check is key. That said, just because someone has it worse off, doesn’t mean my feelings and struggles aren’t valid. I just find the reminders to be anxiety-relieving and humbling.
What is the best part of your job? Why?
There’s nothing quite like the palpable buzz that fills a room right before the start of a concert. It’s an effervescent sensation that I wish I could bottle. Also, the thought that I might have any influence on the forward motion of a talented artist’s career is incredibly heart-warming.
Is there someone who you consider as your mentor in the industry?
Todd Hensley is a mentor, without a doubt. If I didn’t meet him, my life would be inconceivably different. I’m regularly inspired by his realness and his poise under pressure. Plus, he can talk to anyone and everyone with ease, finesse and genuine curiosity; he could also sell ice to an Eskimo. As for women, Jacqueline Saturn—head of Harvest and Caroline—was the first female executive to take me under her wing and encourage me to be great. She’s a real-life Wonder Woman. I still don’t understand how she’s able to wake up literally before the crack of dawn to carve out time for her daily workout and still arrive at the office before anyone else—and she’s always dressed and styled to the nines. Somehow, she gets through about 75 meetings and 400 phone calls, successfully tends to an active Instagram account, bolts to make her kids’ soccer game and makes it out at night to hang with artists at their shows—before waking up and doing it all over again. Her time management skills are second to none. The woman even finds a way to host regular Shabbat dinners. And for some crazy reason, she makes time for me. Because of her, I am forever beside myself. Over at HITS, co-President Karen Glauber is a real inspiration. Effortlessly cool and whip-smart, she motivates me to seize my seat at the table.
What advice do you have for women who want to become an editor?
Pay attention in English class. I’m only partially joking. A couple years into my job, I Facebook messaged my high school English teacher: “As well as writing for my magazine, I’ve begun editing others’ pieces a lot more. My condolences and applause go out to you. I sometimes feel like I’m reading something a literal chicken wrote. Please fill me in on how you’ve gone so long without gouging out your eyeballs. I’m sorry if I ever contributed to any eyeball-gouging urges.” He assured me that I hadn’t and gave me some very sage advice: “Have a glass of wine and it will all make sense.” As the digital age goes into overdrive, people’s respect for the English language—and basic grammar—has really hit the shitter. I don’t mean to sit on my high horse, but I’d love it if people made a conscious effort to combat iPhone culture.
As for being a woman in a male-dominated industry, my advice is to be (or pretend to be) confident. Confidence will get you everywhere. It’s stupefying to realize that most people truly are faking it ‘til they make it. So, you might as well do everything with conviction and intention, or at least the illusion of such. Also, women need to make a concerted effort to minimize the amount of times they say sorry. I’m not sure if we were raised with a push toward politeness or if we’re innately more sympathetic, but it’s important to know that you can be polite and sympathetic without being “sorry.” We also don’t have to explain ourselves all the time. We can (and do) have opinions that are strong enough to stand up on their own. And we should use language in a way that accurately represents that. Words are powerful; choose yours carefully.
One of the most important pieces of music biz-related advice anyone ever gave me: “Always remember, no matter how nice they seem, music executives are not your friends. The moment you lose your job or quit, they’ll stop taking your calls.” And that’s very similar to what Lester Bangs tells William Miller in Almost Famous: “You cannot make friends with the rock stars. That's what's important. If you're a rock journalist—first, you will never get paid much. But you will get free records from the record company. And they'll buy you drinks, you'll meet girls, they'll try to fly you places for free, offer you drugs... I know. It sounds great. But they are not your friends. These are people who want you to write sanctimonious stories about the genius of the rock stars, and they will ruin rock and roll and strangle everything we love about it.” To be fair, I’ve made a handful of genuine, close friends through the music industry, and they know who they are. But, as Dolly says, they’re diamonds in a rhinestone world. Plus, those people tend to make themselves exceptionally clear.
Have you ever been turned down or not taken seriously because you were a female in the industry? What did you do when put into that position?
Sure, I’ve had ideas turned down and I’ve been ignored/dismissed. It all comes back to that notion of conviction and intention, though. Stand your ground. They don’t need to like what you have to say, but it’s your job to make them hear it. In the end, that will pay off—even if takes some time and doesn’t seem like it in the moment. I’ve had a few pretty bad experiences, although I’ve never been physically harassed or assaulted—and, yes, I’m very grateful. I’ve been shown emails between male executives, with some openly drooling over how they want to “fuck” me. After one rock show, I went backstage to meet with the band, their team, their friends. When I returned to the main room, I overheard some rumblings: “She probably sucked his dick backstage.” Another male executive once thought he could buy a date with me for a few grand. That shook me up internally, although I sarcastically joked, “What’s my cut?” In all seriousness, it can be draining, exhausting, angering and everything in between. But the more women who can accept the evil that exists, disregard it, strip it of its power and charge on, the more opportunity is nourished. The future gets brighter and brighter as women continue to fill these offices and even the playing field. I always encourage women to find other women. Create an unofficial support group. Speak up within your circle of safety when you’re feeling threatened, in order to figure out the right course of action for your situation. I want women to be kind to other women, to welcome them and not see them as a threat or an obstacle to jump over. When our actions reflect a harbored mentality that there’s only so much room for us, we propel our inequality. If I’m “being the change I want to see in the world,” it’s certainly by making time to include and listen to other women. That’s the only way we progress as a whole.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
I’m most proud of my versatility and willingness to try new things. I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as failure, only lessons that nudge you closer to your path. If you don’t try new things, you’ll never find your callings. I had to flex my management muscle to learn that I hate it; for me, management feels like glorified babysitting and underpriced therapy. (No disrespect to my manager badasses; it’s just not the fit for me.) I created, hosted and produced my own radio show for internet radio platform Dash Radio, where I also served as an associate programmer for the Alternative format. I loved working as a radio personality and could see myself going back to that down the line. I turned my access to every concert under the sun into an excuse to practice professional photography—and I have a website for my Canon-captured performance shots. I’ve also consulted on entertainment industry boards for cancer-centric charities City of Hope and the T.J. Martell Foundation. There’s lot to explore within this industry, and I’m proud of myself for making the most of it. As a person living with anxiety, I’m proud of myself for writing the stories, taking the meetings and doing the interviews that scare me. I constantly have to tell myself, “If you can’t beat fear, just do it scared.”
What are some of your other hobbies? What do you do in your free time (which we know can be very hard to find)?
Just last year, I would’ve laughed at this question and joked, “What’s this ‘free time’ thing you speak of?” But my perspective has shifted drastically since then. I’ve come to realize how crucial self-care is. I know that sentiment gets thrown around a lot between millennials in 2019, but it’s real. In order to vibrate at your highest level, you have to learn to prioritize and set boundaries. I’m a big fan of yoga and indoor cycling. And I like finding time to get out of the city and into the trees or desert. I recently spent a week hiking through Sun Valley, and as I write this, I’m preparing to escape to Desert Hot Springs. On an unhealthier note, I’ve been known to crush six consecutive hours playing Zelda with my boyfriend. I’ve recently had fun learning to cook interesting new meals. I love to wine and dine. If you know me, you know I’m a natural orange wine fanatic, and, yes, I pant like a puppy over the opportunity to test-drive the newest hipster-ific restaurant on the block; I am not ashamed! I’m a big reader. Recommendations from my literary journeys this year include Kurt Vonnegut classic Cat’s Cradle, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Tiffanie DeBartolo’s God Shaped Hole, as well as her How to Kill a Rock Star, and Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing. I’m currently on Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which has been a fun read so far. And my happy place has always been a seat towards the aisle in a movie theater, popcorn (mixed with Buncha Crunch) in my lap.
Who is your all-time favorite artist?
It’s a tie between Tom Waits and Tom Petty. Love my Toms. The Top 5 albums that shaped who I am are probably Tom Waits’ Heart of Saturday Night, Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits album (because “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” is only available on that album, and I can’t pick between Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Damn the Torpedoes, Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers), Elton John’s Honky Château (“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” is my favorite, and “Rocket Man” is a close second), Radiohead’s The Bends (That’s Thom, not Tom!) and Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. You can laugh at that last one if you want, but the damn thing got me through college.
What is something you can't live without?
Cheese and sushi.
Go-to Karaoke song?
It’s probably embarrassing to admit that I still haven’t indulged in karaoke. If I did, though, it would have to be “Vienna” by Billy Joel. No question. And if the tequila’s really flowing, you might be unlucky enough to hear me attempt “You and I” by Lady Gaga. I apologize in advance.
First concert you went to? Oh boy… My parents never took me to shows, so it was a tad later in life and nothing from the glory days. Probably All American Rejects or The Spice Girls.
What’s something that you always have on you?
Lately, it’s been a 32-ounce, reusable bottle of water. I wear my dad’s dog tag from Vietnam on a silver chain around my neck. Also, eye drops; I’m blind as a bat and wear contacts, so the wind is my mortal enemy. I guess the bookish thing to say would be “a pen,” but if I’m being honest, I just use the notes app on my iPhone as a home for all my rogue thoughts and ideas.
Who is your dream artist or band to work with?
Tom Waits, hands down. I’d be happy as a buttery, garlic-infused clam just having dinner with him, though.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Still enveloped in music, of course. That aside, I’m currently working on writing a book, which is both terrifying and terribly exciting at the same time. So, I hope I’ll be able to officially call myself a novelist in five years’ time. I also just launched a new platform that’s focused on destigmatizing mental health issues. Anyone can go to unveilonline.com and anonymously share what’s on their mind. I believe in the freeing power of anonymity, as well as the strength found in solidarity, which is why there’s now an Instagram component that presents peoples’ messages (anonymously, and only if they’re comfortable with sharing). I’ve gotten a ton of positive feedback and I’m excited to expand the UNVEIL brand further and look into ways that I can really use the platform to give back, promote mindful products and change the narrative.
Lastly, what saying do you live by?
“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.”
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, Samantha! You can check out more about her life and stay up to date by following her Instagram here.