I very regularly hear the question: “Why should I read the trades?” Here’s the quick answer: you have to read the trades to know what’s going on in the industry you’re trying to earn work, income and respect in. I think the better question is: “HOW should I read the trades?” That’s because once you zero in on the key information, you’ll be less overwhelmed by all of the additional stories that make reading the trades feel like such a task.
Which trades should I read? Everyone in film and television can benefit from Variety, Hollywood Reporter or TV Week. But yes, they cost quite a lot, so you might just want to subscribe to the weekly edition rather than the daily one. Even better, go online and subscribe to the e-trades – many of those are free! I’m a fan of Cynthia Turner’s Cynopsis. There is also a great mix of e-mail newsletters available through Media Week. And TV Week has a free e-newsletter, as well.
Almost all entertainment fields have excellent trades targeting their members’ needs and offering employment info. For actors, you should at least regularly read Backstage. In the music industry, Billboard and Vibe are king, but regional trades may be more important for local information. For example, Music Connection, an L.A.-based mag, has great articles, artist spotlights and free classified, with national news, too. Fashionistas need Women’s Wear Daily, of course, but I’ve never come across a legit trade paper for modeling.
What should I read in the trades? There’s so much information packed into trade papers that it can seem like too much to tackle. So rather than read nothing, here are the three things I suggest you scan for:
1) Who’s working where in your industry’s “gatekeeper” positions? This means heads of A&R in the music industry, development executives in TV and film, casting directors in acting, fashion directors for stylists and designers. Start tracking the names you need to know, where they’re being hired/fired/reassigned, and get familiar with their points of view!
2) What are the current trends in your industry? TV & film producers, find out what types of shows and films are being produced (remember when cutthroat reality shows gave way to feel-good TV?). That was foreshadowed in the trades!). Singers/writers/composers/producers, read what type of artists are being signed (is this really a good time to form a new hair band? Maybe…). Fashion folks, do I need to tell you to research what colors, textures and styles are current on the runway and the streets of Tokyo? And everyone, learn how new products are being pushed. For instance, musicians, if you’d been reading the trades, you would have known last year that building a solid MySpace fanbase gave you a better shot at a record deal. Those stories were breaking back in 2005!
3) What technological changes are taking place? Right now, everyone needs to be learning as much as they can about streaming media, mobile content, RSS feeds, mpeg4 and future video formats, and more. Not just to expand your reach to your audience – but to understand the scope of the contracts that are coming your way! Are those terms all total news and a mystery to you? That’s why you need to read the trades.