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Friday Mailbag: Making automotive content

Friday already? Indeed. This week, I help a young reader who wants to make automotive content, and the return of reviews.

If you’d like to participate, drop me a question at mike@machineswithsouls.com. As always, you’ll remain anonymous.

Question

Hey! Are more car reviews coming soon? I’ve really enjoyed the ones so far!

– Jim

Answer

Indeed they are Jim. Over the next few weeks, I’ll have some BMW ones (like an M4 Convertible), and some other fun things like a Jaguar F-Type. It’ll be a busy month.

Speaking of, some owners have reached out asking I shoot and review their car. If you’re in the tri-state area, own a car I have not written about yet, and would like it immortalized on the screen, email me. Just know, I’m gonna have to drive it (I’m super respectful).

Stay tuned!

BMW M4 Convertible
New reviews are coming. Be excited.

Question

Hi Mike. I’m 16 years old and love cars. I guess I have 2 questions. How did you get to do this website, and how can I get to create car content for a living? Have you ever worked at a place like Car & Driver?

– Kyle

Answer

Kyle, I was just like you at 16, which is why I picked your email this week. It’s a complex question you ask.

Making automotive content – shooting

First, if you want to learn how to shoot cars, visit my tutorial page. I don’t do many any more because I believe I’ve written all I can on the topic. If you apply yourself, learn all you can, and really just try, you’ll master this art form. You have much easier access to information than I had growing up in the late 90s, but also much more competition.

As for the site and brand itself, I have a background in graphic design and art direction. I’ve simply applied it for my own needs. When I started the site, it was nothing more than a basic portfolio page for my artwork. In fact, it didn’t even focus on cars.

ammo-944
People like Larry from AMMO have been a great help over the years.

I didn’t have the guts to try.

But over the years of being exposed up close to AMMO, working with BMW, and consuming The Grand Tour and other shows, I figured I could try my own way of making it work. The name Machines With Souls seemed to stick with people too, and now here we are, 8 or so years later.

But no, I did not start out hanging out of a car at 60 mph with an M3 an inch from my nose. I went to art college, busted my butt in New York City at various advertising agencies, and eventually picked up enough of the skill set required to do it on my own.

And being able to do it all on my own is important because…

land-rover-defender
My career in art has crossed over to this website.

Making automotive content – writing

No one really wanted to hire me as both a writer and photographer. Seems like that job just doesn’t exist. I’ve done a few random articles for well-known publications, but nothing seemed to work out.

The only content job I held was for a website called VehicleHistory.com. They hired me to write mostly about terrible used cars I had never driven, like a 2015 Nissan Sentra. Remember that to the uninitiated, cars are an appliance. Like buying a washer and dryer. No personality in those articles allowed, just measurements and wheel sizes. Nothing to separate the content from everyone else’s.

Nothing will kill your passion faster than doing it for reasons that don’t matter. I left.

Formula Drift
I choose what I want to publish, so I get to work on things that matter to me all the time.

Then, toward the end of last year, I had an interview with Jalopnik. I sat in a Zoom with people you may know from the site, and they were nice enough (though I saw disapproval when I told them my current ride).

Toward the end of the interview, they showed me an image of a giant parking lot full of cars and asked me to pick out one interesting ride (a Galant GTZ was what I could find, bonus points if you remember that one). I’m not sure how that helped to determine what will make you good at this job. To be honest, nothing in the interview made it seem like they had a real interest in taking car content seriously. Just keep those clicks up.

But it’s hard to get excited about an article with a headline like “Golfer Sues Ford Dealer, Country Club After Backing Out of F-150 Prize“.

They were nice enough to tell me that doing an automotive publication on my own was pretty much impossible. I said thanks, and that was that.

Highs and lows

Get ready Kyle, you’re going to need some thick skin.

Car & Driver, Road & Track…no one responded to me, which is itself a response. And just as really nice people such as yourself email me with great questions, so too do haters that insist I’ll never be a Chris Harris or Doug DeMuro. True story (and an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence).

Fair enough, but I really just want to be me.

Oh by the way, don’t undervalue yourself for “exposure”. Favorite term that is – see if they let you pay for dinner with all that exposure currency. BMWBlog pays $10 an article, at least that’s what they offered to me.

I’m nowhere near any of those sites yet in terms of size, but most of the people they turn away don’t have the platform I do. Will I be as big as those sites one day? Maybe, maybe not, but trying is the fun part.

So Kyle, focus on learning all you can. Don’t rush it, enjoy the journey. Don’t take no for an answer. And make sure the passion for cars doesn’t fade. When it feels like work, it’s time to stop.

See you out there, and good luck!

mike-d
Self-portrait mode.

Support the cause

Commissions may be received for product links on this site. Help out if you can.

I use Nikon camera bodies and lenses, a Westcott Ice Light 2, Manfrotto tripod, B + W filters and an iMac Pro to make the art you see here.

Email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions. Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

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