I’m Todd L. Burns, and welcome to Music Journalism Insider, a newsletter about music journalism. I highlight some of the best stuff I hear, read, and watch every week; publish news about the industry; and interview writers, scholars, and editors about their work. My goal is to share knowledge, celebrate great work, and expand the idea of what music journalism is—and where it happens. Questions, comments, concerns? You can reach me anytime at email@example.com.
Today in the newsletter: Interviews with freelance writers David Anthony, Aidan Hanratty, and Gregg Wager! Plus! A new edition of Notes on Process with Kathy Iandoli, recommendations galore, and more! But first…
Mark Richardson on the intersection between music and memory
Joey Vee explains how Black Pentecostal music was also protest music
Alana Dao writes about her family’s Chinese restaurant, a chain immortalized by countless Houston hip-hop songs
David Peisner profiles the generation of women pushing Nashville to address racism
Aliya S. King hosts a roundtable discussion of hip-hop journalists who developed careers in Hollywood
Miranda Reinert on pop-punk and misogyny
Jace Clayton remembers a glitchy video from the 2017 US presidential inauguration
Samuel Zipp reviews Kevin Mattson’s book about punk rock and Ronald Reagan
Matthew Ingram discusses some of the records that influenced his recent book Retreat: How the Counterculture Invented Wellness
Chiara Wilkinson on how various nightclubs are weathering the pandemic
The latest edition of Notes On Process is here! In case you missed it, the idea of this column is pretty simple: I invite a writer to a Google Doc where I’ve copy / pasted one of their pieces and added a bunch of footnotes with flattery, jokes, and questions. They reply to my queries, and then we provide you with a link to the doc where all of our marginalia is visible. The goal is to provide a window into the writing and editing process, so that folks can see how great writers think about their work. Today, I’ve got Kathy Iandoli, the author of God Save the Queens: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop and the upcoming Baby Girl: Better Known As Aaliyah (out in August). She answered questions about her 2015 piece, “Lauryn Hill Owes Us Nothing.” You can check out the Google Doc here.
What do you make of this column? Is there another format you’d prefer? Is there a writer whose work you're eager to see dissected? Let me know by replying to this email.
Music journalist Nick Kent discusses his career on the latest Rock’s Backpages
The Ringer Music Show brings on Dr. Charles Hughes and historian Amanda Marie Martinez to talk Morgan Wallen
Sidedoor has a history of the protest music label, Paredon Records
Clover Hope joins Rolling Stone Music Now to talk about her new book, The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop
Phantom Power presents an audio documentary from Brian Harnetty, in which the composer brings together red state rural voters and left-wing environmental activists for sound walks
David Anthony is a freelance writer and the former music critic at The A.V. Club. These days, David works on a newsletter called Former Clarity and is one half of the team behind As You Were: A Podcast About Alkaline Trio. In this excerpt from our interview, David talks about what he sees as the future of music journalism.
The past five years have seen all online publications move to the center. Where I used to be able to tell that different sites had distinct tastes and opinions, now it feels like they’re all competing to see who can gush about a record the most. The year-end lists this year all felt particularly homogenous, and that was a real bummer to see. As a result, I think that’s pushed music fans into different directions because there’s no perspective or “take” that feels unique to any legacy media publication now.
I’m not a great prognosticator, but I think the future of music journalism is going to be more direct and more underground again. Zines, newsletters, blogs, vlogs, et. al., those old means are the future because they feel more honest and human, and I think upper-tier music journalism is lacking in both of those departments. In the same way that it’s easier than ever to follow the artists you like without having to discover them via a label or a placement in a magazine, I think the same is true for writers. People who like reading about music are just following the people they like via whatever medium that person chooses to work in. It’s been cool to see.
From David Anthony:
Donate to the Chicago Reader. We need to support alt-weeklies during this time when many are hurting and in danger of shuttering. Independent media with a local focus is something we’ve all taken for granted, and I’d hate to see this institution go away.
Check out all of the causes highlighted by folks I’ve interviewed.
Rolling Stone is looking for a new top editor
Neil Kulkarni has posted the letter to Melody Maker that launched his music journalism career
Detroit journalist Karen Hudson Samuels has passed away
Stomp and Stammer has published its final issue
Milford Graves’s world was teeming with life. In the mosaic-covered home he lived in since childhood, a collection of instruments, artifacts, and electronic gizmos were as densely packed as his blossoming garden. This environment could only be cultivated by someone with a creative mind. Dazzling for decades with rhythms freed from the constraints of keeping time, the legendary free-jazz percussionist injected energy into everything he touched.
The 2018 film Full Mantis (streaming for free on Kanopy with library card access) feels intimate, because it spends its entire duration with Graves. No one else needs to offer examples of Graves’s vibrant personality. You can see it for yourself. Over 90 minutes it becomes a meditative montage of live-wire performances, martial arts training, and fascinating monologues (generously peppered with the word “man”).
In the film’s most heartwarming passage, the drummer provides commentary on archival footage from his trip to Japan to perform for a school of autistic children. Every second spent with Graves is a pleasure, from the moment he bends down to bite spinach from the ground, to the proud presentation of his high-tech invention that turned heartbeats into ecstatic electronic music. Full Mantis makes it clear that Graves’s generosity of spirit knew no bounds.
Timbah.On.Toast tells a story about dubstep
Seth Troxler talks with Dr. Cornel West about the origins of techno
This Twitter thread suggests tons of fascinating Black British documentaries
Polyphonic dives deep into King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King
Aidan Hanratty is behind one of the most impressive music recommendation newsletters in electronic music, Bandcloud. It’s an essential resource for those looking to hear new, undercovered artists and tunes. (Aidan also does writing for the excellent non-profit cultural platform Truants.) In this excerpt from our interview, Aidan discusses where he thinks music journalism is heading.
I honestly don't know where music journalism is heading. Websites just seem to be messing up all the time, whether that's because of internal biases, lack of funding and therefore lack of quality staff, it's genuinely hard to know. It's such a complex issue because you won't get good staff unless they have good training and it's very difficult for people to be able to afford good training these days.
In the situations where people have received the right training, there are so few sites out there that can afford to pay a decent wage. The people who might be good at doing the work of a proper music journalist are probably going to try to work elsewhere—I'm not going to say that I'm a good music journalist, but my day job is not music journalism! Bandcloud is entirely a labour of love.
Everyone's got some sort of subscription model, myself included (okay so it’s not entirely a labour of love), and while paying for a couple of newspapers or magazines a month might have seemed like a lot, paying for individual writers across a range of platforms be they Substack or Patreon or whatever will become just unthinkable, especially if we consider that we're always telling everybody that they should be supporting artists! There are only so many projects we can feasibly support. The fact of the matter is that everyone's struggling, across every industry—unless you're Jeff Bezos—so how can we justify asking people to pay for me me me? In short, I just don't know. That's why every week I log on to my silly little Substack and send my silly little newsletter.
Gregg Wager is a composer, author, and critic. He has written previously for The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and more. These days, Gregg is focused largely on composing, and much of his writing comes in the form of program notes for the Los Angeles Philharmonic (before COVID suspended their performances). In this excerpt from our interview, Gregg offers insight into his work.
What's one tip that you'd give a music journalist starting out right now?
Be flexible and less of a purist than you might desire, but never sell out your gut opinion.
What artist or trend are you most interested in right now?
As far as classical music goes, the younger musicians making their stand these days are much better than those masters I grew up with. In a way, it doesn't make sense, because the people living closer in time to the dead composers are supposed to understand the music better, but just the opposite is true. I'm hearing things by younger performers I've never heard before. Meanwhile, I loathe reality television in the form of music competitions. Either way, the rarest thing has always been the composer who has something new and worthwhile to say.
If you had to point folks to one piece of yours, what would it be and why?
These days, I'd point them to my newest book, The Virtuosic Mouse, because I just published it on Smashwords. Otherwise, I did a feature for the New York Times in 2001 called "Going the Way of the Victrola" which got me into more trouble than anything else I've ever written, when I predicted that home computers would put an end to recording studios.
From Gregg Wager:
Free Leonard Peltier. Peltier was wrongly convicted in the aftermath of a shootout with two FBI agents, Ronald Williams and Jack Coler, who not only perished in the fight, but were executed at close range. Two men who were tried for the murders before Peltier were acquitted on a theory of self-defense. This angered the FBI, which stepped up its efforts to get someone in prison, and Peltier was their man. He has been in prison since 1978.
Check out all of the causes highlighted by folks I’ve interviewed.
A new issue of Sound Studies has been published
Folks at the University of North Carolina have put together a suite of resources for discussing alterity in Western classical music [h/t Will Robin]
The edited collection Singing Out: The Musical Voice in Audiovisual Media is accepting chapter proposals
Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture is looking for a new editor-in-chief; email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info
Call for Papers: The 13th International Jazz Research Conference will take place in November 2021
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Thanks for reading! Full disclosure: My day job is at uDiscover Music, a branded content online magazine owned by Universal Music. This newsletter is not affiliated or sponsored in any way by Universal, and any links that relate to the work of my department will be clearly marked. Feel free to reach out to me via email at email@example.com. On Twitter, it’s @JournalismMusic. Until next time…