Dalton Higgins is used to being behind the mic.
As a journalist for a number of different magazines, and a public relations consultant for dozens of award-winning artists, Dalton’s got a lot of experience under his belt. His interview with Charlamagne tha God at IGNITE’s Real Talks was packed with eager students waiting to hear what the radio host had to say. In case you missed it, you can check it out on our Facebook page.
We caught up with Dalton before he went on stage to speak to him about the future of Canada’s music industry, and how media students can land jobs in the digital age.
Here’s what he had to say:
As a journalist and PR consultant, how do you keep up with all the projects you have going on?
“The worlds of journalism and PR are inextricably linked. A lot of print journalists move on and branch off into other multi-media. You’ll have journalists start off in print, and the next thing you know they’re hosting a television show, or they’re working in radio. So, even though it looks like there’s a ton of different things I’m doing, they’re totally linked. You’ve got Charlamagne tha God for example who started off in radio, but now he’s on television he’s a podcaster. So it’s all part of the same media ecosystem.”
As a Toronto-based journalist, do you think it’s an unspoken obligation to promote hometown talent?
“I believe in promoting anything that comes out of The 6 if it’s good. I wouldn’t shamelessly promote things from Toronto because I’m from Toronto. [As a journalist] you have to be extremely objective, neutral, unbiased, and what that means is giving good constructive feedback and criticisms towards things that don’t cut it…There’s a magazine called the Source, it was kind of like the preeminent hip-hop magazine that everyone in America sort of grew up on it. So I had to review an album by a Toronto artist by the name of Choclair [for the magazine]. Everybody in Toronto was thinking ‘okay so it’s a Toronto guy writing for a reputable credible New York-based magazine that everybody in hip-hop culture reads’, naturally [they thought] I was going to going give it a good review, but I gave it a 3/5 stars. People here branded me a hater, but it’s not like that… I think nowadays there’s a lot of nepotism in pop culture journalism where people are reviewing films, books, albums, concerts and I can see the nepotism bleeding through. Journalists are not publicists. Publicists are there to promote a specific product, person, place or thing…that’s on the other end of the spectrum from being a journalist.”
Ever since Drake’s rise to stardom, it seems like the GTA has been a breeding ground for hip-hop/RnB artists. What do you attribute to this success?
“As far as Toronto’s hip-hop industry, we’ve had some instances of success, like Kardinal Offishall who had a break-through single with Akon that penetrated the American and European markets. [Drake] kicked down the doors [with] pretty much all of his projects debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 charts. That had this effect of people now looking to Toronto as this epicentre of hip-hop and RnB…What you’ll find is the international media looking to Toronto for inspiration, because two of the top RnB and rap artists on the planet [Drake and the Weeknd] just happen to be from Toronto… In previous years, people would look to New York, Atlanta, Memphis, or Los Angeles [for inspiration]…hip-hop has this way of moving around in different regions in North America. Toronto is a definite hot-spot, and we have Drake to thank for that.”
Although we’re producing many great artists, not a lot of them are sticking around in Canada. How do you think the Canadian music industry needs to adjust in order to keep talent situated here?
“The Canadian music infrastructure is lousy at best. It’s set up to support Rock n Roll, Indie Rock, Folk, Country. We’re looking at it and [thinking] that Toronto is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world. But why is it that when I walk into record labels or publicity companies, they don’t reflect the demographic realities? You see this sort of old Toronto with old white men that are wielding these positions of authority where they get to sign acts. Most of the Canadian success stories in rap [ended up] with people signing to recording contracts elsewhere. They signed to American recording contracts and then Canada welcomed them with open arms after the fact… Some people say you have to be ‘in the mix’, [which means] you have to go towards where the action is. Sometimes you have to relocate, despite the fact that you were born here and your parents live here, you have to make that decision.”
What advice would you give Journalism or Communication students at Humber and Guelph-Humber?
“Hands-on work experience tends to trump degrees nowadays. The print game is on a slow and steady decline, so we have to understand where the work is… A lot of the work is on websites and social media…I would say internships and mentorships reign supreme. Students need to be very aggressive when they’re doing their final year because that’s what ultimately will get you the work. Humber College cranks out hundreds of journalism graduates every year. They all have a diploma that says they graduated from journalism, but so what? What’s going to differentiate them? It’s going to be the work experience.”
*This Interview has been edited for length and clarity
**Photos courtesy of Saahil Matharu
If you missed Dalton’s Real Talk interview with Charlamagne, don’t worry, you can view it on our Facebook page!