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 music journalist Andria Lisle; Angela Stefano, editor-in-chief of The Boot and a senior writer at Taste of Country; and Dr. Robert Komaniecki, Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Iowa. Plus! Lots of tweets from Robert. So first!
Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim explores singing in sign language
Jem Aswad goes deep into the “dirty business of hit songwriting”
Pitchfork surveys independent venues across the United States about what happens next
Early dubstep photographer Georgina Cook breaks down some of her most treasured shots
Grant Rindner charts the history of NBA players rapping
Zach Finkelstein brings to light the fat-shaming and bullying of young singers by one of opera’s gatekeepers
Phil Cho interviews Aquarium Drunkard’s Justin Gage
Rachel Brodsky wonders whether it’s time for artists to ask their fan armies to lay down their weapons
Pete Tosiello asks whether pop music still exists
Nathan Jolly on digital archiving (you’ll need to scroll a bit for this one)
Andria Lisle is a freelance music journalist. She’s had a variety of jobs over the years, including record store clerk, curator, and project associate. But she’s done nearly all of it in and around Memphis, where she lives. Lately, she's been dedicated to Wax Poetics, where she’s written a cover story for the recently relaunched magazine in addition to taking on co-hosting duties for their new monthly podcast. In this excerpt from our interview, Andria explains how her approach to her work has changed in recent years.
Having a day job that affords me the time and freedom to write what I want to write has improved my outlook immensely. Weirdly, during the time I solely worked as a freelance music journalist, I was also super stressed out and overworked. I accepted nearly every assignment I was offered, no matter how little I was paid, and as a result, my work was never done. I also psych myself out less. Every time an article I wrote is published, I look back and wish I’d landed certain interviews or spent more time on certain topics, but today I have less anxiety about it.
Where do you see music journalism headed?
Oh man, what a question! I feel like anything goes, especially because of the limitless potential of self-publication via blogs, etc. Not to sound curmudgeonly, but I hate seeing the prolific misinformation that still crops up, despite the accessibility of facts. Maybe that’s because most magazines no longer hire fact checkers? Like a lot of readers, I don’t always want to pay for access to articles, which doesn’t bode well for online publications.
From Andria Lisle:
Hearts of Gold Pit Rescue in Memphis. About 25 years ago, I wrote an article about the rescue’s founder, Donna Velez, and wound up adopting one of the dogs she saved. I currently live with the third dog I’ve adopted from Hearts of Gold, a tan pitbull named Romeo who is the epitome of his name. As a person who spends hours sitting and staring at a computer screen, it’s imperative to have a reminder to get up and move around every hour or two.
Check out all of the causes highlighted by folks I’ve interviewed.
Cocaine and Rhinestones is returning for a second season on April 20
Love Is The Message is a new podcast from Tim Lawrence and Jeremy Gilbert, featuring “in-depth discussions of the sonic, social and political legacies of radical movements past and present”
99% Invisible explores the history of jazz music staple The Real Book
The Guardian profiles LGBTQ metal podcast Hell Bent For Metal
CJR profiles the folks behind Diversity Hire
New podcast Sounds Like a Plan deals with music and the climate crisis
Mental-health-and-music podcast Sound Affects chats with former NME and Kerrang editor James McMahon
Angela Stefano is editor-in-chief of The Boot and senior writer at Taste of Country. She started working at The Boot in 2014 after a series of jobs in the media industry, and has since been focused almost exclusively on country music. In this excerpt from our interview, Angela talks about how her approach to her work has changed over the years.
I've tried to get better at disconnecting and remembering that this is my job, not my whole personality, especially since the pandemic started. I always want to do my best and create important, well-written work, and be a good boss and co-worker, but I am a perfectionist by nature, and one with a lot of insecurities and anxieties at that, so it's really important to remind myself that this is music journalism, not the nuclear codes, you know?
A typo or an error might happen from time to time, because I'm human; hell, I might have a really off day and mess up a bunch. That happens to everyone, at work and in life, but it just so happens that my work mistakes are sometimes public. (I think that's also a good reminder to the people who email to rudely tell me that they can't believe I said Carrie Underwood's Cry Pretty came out in 2017 when it really came out in 2018 and god, you must be so stupid and bad at your job to have gotten that wrong ... er, *ahem*.)
I've also tried to be more intentional about the stories I choose to tell and creating space for those on the fringes. When I started at The Boot in 2014, that was as easy as starting to cover newer/smaller artists and more Americana/folk/bluegrass/alt-country, rather than just looking at mainstream country, but I know those early efforts weren't always enough. For example, I wasn't always focused on making sure lists and other features that included multiple artists offered a range of genders, races, etc., because I thought, "I should be judging based on the music, not their gender, race, etc." Now I understand that's far too idealistic and that, although my intentions (to put forward the best music possible) were good, the implementation was misguided, partially because of outside factors that elevate younger, straight, white, able-bodied, generally male artists more often and more broadly. I know I'm not always (ever?) getting it perfect even now, but I'm definitely more on the right path.
Tokyo Melody captures Ryuichi Sakamoto at one of many artistic peaks. In 1984, the 32-year-old member of high-energy pop group Yellow Magic Orchestra and composer for films like the David Bowie vehicle Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence had become a bona fide star. This documentary by French photographer Elizabeth Lennard, recently rediscovered by the heads at In Sheep’s Clothing Hi-Fi, is an illuminating glimpse at his creative process.
Fans of vintage synth gear will be delighted by the scenes of Sakamoto in the studio, casually smoking with a preppy sweater draped over his shoulders while teaching the filmmakers about his Fairlight CMI. It’s astonishing to see the way he composes in real time, effortlessly stacking layers of electronic sounds while playing the keys with robotic precision.
Elsewhere, Sakamoto loosens up. When applying his makeup he says with a laugh that it’s “more amusing to appear like a male and female.” This tenderness shines through in the scene where he performs YMO’s hit song “Tong Poo” on piano with Akiko Yano. Here, he proudly declares, “I don’t find many I can work with on the same level, except my wife.”
songpsych breaks down drop D tuning
yasminesummanx celebrates pioneering women in music
poppunkprincess182 enters emo/pop-punk TikTok
abigyesandasmallno tells the story of Black Ark Studios
guitar_witch celebrates pocket cornets
saldigioia roasts “music blogger TikTok”
Consequence of Sound has rebranded as Consequence
The Hogan Archive of New Orleans Music and New Orleans Jazz has a new name and expanded mission
Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives changed all their band pictures to cats on April Fools' Day [h/t Popbitch]
Mixmag has been nominated for two Drum Awards
DJ/producer Jay Shepheard has published a novel about the rise and fall of a '90s rave act
Rap Portraits has launched a newsletter by Yoh Phillips
Thomas Hobbs has announced a schedule of freelancer-focused Zoom chats
Dr. Robert Komaniecki is Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Iowa. Robert is part of a new generation of music theorists bringing a fresh perspective to the discipline. He also loves making music theory jokes on Twitter, hence the collection of highlights throughout the newsletter this week. In this excerpt from our interview, Robert walks me through his typical day-to-day and explains his current research interests.
So far, my work hasn't been quite consistent enough to paint a picture of a "typical" semester. Moving around to different jobs and universities means new students, new curricula, and new course preps. I'm hoping that after a few years at Iowa, I can settle into a routine of teaching, grading, research, and service—that's the dream, at least!
Tell me about your current research interests.
I'm very interested in how musical "convenience" impacts musical creation. To give you an idea of what I mean by this, I like to check out the various ways that rap deliveries are impacted by the properties of human speech. Is there a certain lilt in vocal pitch that can be connected to speech? What about syllabic stress? How might a rapper performing in a tonal (like Mandarin) language deliver their verses? What about somebody performing in a language that contains rhymes due to grammatical structure (like German or Korean)?
I also hope to take my research in a related direction and investigate how the features of music production software can influence large-scale trends in popular music.
Duke University Press is organizing to form a union, and also recently held a discussion for BIPOC scholars about navigating academic publishing
Call for Papers: A special issue of Interactions: Studies in Communication & Culture called “Dream Factories: Prince, Sign O’ The Times, Box Sets & Cultural Artefacts” (Abstracts due May 28)
Call for Participation: Sound System Outernational #7: Sound Systems at the Crossroads (Online, July 12-16); email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
Call for Proposals: Reconnecting Global Dance Cultures (Online, September 16-17)
Call for Proposals: ReVIEWING Black Mountain College (Asheville, NC, November 12-14)
Call for Articles: A special issue of Nineteenth-Century Music Review focused on “Urban Desires: Music and Nostalgia”
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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…