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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today in the newsletter: Interviews with journalist and social media content creator Yasmine Summan; country music enthusiast Rachel Cholst; Marvin Magazine editor Alejandro González Castillo; and Megan Kaes Long, incoming editor for the video-based academic journal SMT-V. Plus! Reading recommendations, podcast picks, and more. But first...
Next week, I’ll be presenting a special edition of the newsletter, for which I’ve asked a couple of folks to imagine what music journalism will look like in 2221. I’ll be back with regularly scheduled programming on Monday, May 10.
Jayson Greene asks, “What can music do during climate collapse?”
Harmony Holiday explores how Charles Mingus and Malcolm X used the phrase “so-called”
Marissa Lorusso has various thoughts on voice(s)
Ralph Locke reviews the same operetta twice, 48 years apart
Ryan Leas goes in-depth on 45 albums that were never released
Yoh Phillips reflects on the deaths that have colored the past two years of hip-hop
Tracy Clark-Flory writes a history of stage humping
Leor Galil celebrates LA's punk gathering place / hot dog stand, Oki-Dog
Anouk Dyussembayeva imagines what an ideal music school would look like
Marianne Eloise goes inside the Facebook group devoted to “oddly specific playlists,” where posts like “looking for songs that make you feel like a misunderstood villain who is just struggling with past trauma” are the norm
Yasmine Summan is a journalist and social media content creator. Yasmine writes, co-hosts a podcast, and has a TikTok they describe as a “chaos pit." Their work across all these mediums has the energy of Creem magazine when it was first published: crass, pointed, and hilarious. In this excerpt from our interview, Yasmine explains what their podcast and TikTok are all about.
On Wednesdays We Wear Black is a podcast I co-host with Alyx Holcombe and Sophie K, two industry icons by the way. It’s for the misfits and the underdogs, for people who feel they aren’t represented enough in rock and metal. We felt that women & non-binary folk did not have a safe and open space to talk about sex, life, makeup, racism, everything. That being said, though, this is a space for everyone even if you’re the straightest cis dude ever. On Wednesdays We Wear Black is alternative lifestyle and culture from a new lens, a new perspective, and new voices you may not have heard from. It’s awesome and has done much greater than we could ever anticipate. We charted on Apple and Spotify, how insane is that?
Tell me a little bit about your TikTok.
Ah yes, my chaos pit. I like to call it my chaos pit because that’s what it is, the place where my brain cells go to die. I started it as a joke but eventually founded a little community on there, TikTok is just stupid fun but now I’ve got 80,000 people following me for my terrible sense of humour.
From Yasmine Summan:
Being non-binary, I’d appreciate it if you could take the time to email your MP about banning conversion therapy in the UK. Conversion therapy is an aggressive, outdated method of abuse toward LGBTQ+ folk that relies on the idea that being gay or trans is a choice. It is still legal in the UK and needs to be outright banned, stonewall.org.uk has a handy website that creates an autofill letter to send to your MP.
Check out all of the causes highlighted by folks I’ve interviewed.
Cocaine & Rhinestones has launched its second season, which promises to tackle the career of George Jones over the course of 30 hours
The New York Times highlights some excellent classical music podcasts
New podcasts: Medium Rotation has launched its first season, focusing on how we understand ourselves (and others) through listening; Call & Response is a new interview podcast hosted by Nashville-based musician and poet Adia Victoria
Cabbages’ Gary Suarez joined Breaking Atoms to talk about his freelance career
Professor Ellie Hisama chats about the challenges of creating an inclusive music theory world on Sound Expertise
Professor Regina N. Bradley discusses her book Chronicling Stankonia: The Rise of the Hip-Hop South on New Books in Music
Rachel Cholst is editor of Adobe & Teardrops and creator of country music zine Rainbow Rodeo, as well as a podcast host and contributing writer to many country music publications. Across these projects, Rachel is pushing for a more inclusive country music space. As she says in her interview, “I started Adobe & Teardrops in 2011 because I noticed that there was a dearth of women, queer artists, and BIPOC artists represented in the Americana world, though I knew they existed.” In this excerpt from our interview, Rachel explains where she thinks music journalism is headed.
Well, one thing that I like about being "semi-pro" is that I don't feel like I need to chase a story or bust my brain for any big ideas. I also don't need to worry so much about annoying somebody in the industry and being run out of town, because I'll be able to put a roof over my head regardless of what my freelance schedule looks like. The series I'm working on now comes from a particularly frustrating conversation I had with someone in the industry, and I'm looking forward to speaking with them again.
That also means I don't look at the industry so closely. It's hard not to feel like things are pretty dire, though. But I think there will always be space for long-form writing and history. No matter what the latest music tech is, there are always going to be nerds who want to dig deeper into the music's history and context. When I worked with high school students, I was shocked by how many of my kids listened to the adolescent rage music I enjoyed when I was 13: Linkin Park, Papa Roach, Slipknot. Like...there have been new rock bands since 2004, right???
But that tells me that there will always be people who dig a little deeper for their music, and there will always be people who want to know the story and the context of the music they listen to beyond their emotional connection to it.
Tropicália is a beautiful love letter to the Brazilian artistic movement of the late 1960s. With a flamboyance and flair that matches its subject matter, the 2012 documentary combines dazzling archival footage with a fascinating history of political rebellion.
Decades before he became Brazil’s Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil and his musical comrade Caetano Veloso were locked up by the country’s right wing military regime. As leaders of the tropicália movement, their collision of traditional music with northern hemisphere psychedelia was perceived as a threat to the cultural status quo. Watching the film’s black and white footage of Gal Costa unleashing a torrent of screams on national television, it’s easy to sense how their revolution started.
Director Marcelo Machado’s decision to include extended live performances makes the documentary a joyful experience. In their psychedelic costumes, Os Mutantes look like Brazil’s answer to The Monkees, but they sound incredible. Elsewhere, Gil and Costa’s set at the Isle of Wight becomes a hippy stage invasion jam for an audience of 50,000. Ultimately, Tropicália succeeds by making you feel like you’re at the party.
Earworm has a short documentary about the 70s R&B sub-genre Quiet Storm
This roundtable discussion about New York radio station WBLS is a piece of Black music history
Barry Harris teaches jazz at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague [h/t Joe Muggs]
NPR presented the keynote panel conversation from the 2021 Pop Conference, featuring Devonté Hynes, Rostam, Roísín Murphy, and The Weather Station, moderated by Ann Powers
Alejandro González Castillo is a music journalist based in Mexico and editor of Marvin Magazine. He’s been working in the industry for more than 15 years and has recently published his first book, Manual de carroña. In this excerpt from our interview, Alejandro explains what his day-to-day looks like at the moment.
My daily life has changed a lot since I was editor of Marvin. Before I rambled and wrote, read and went to concerts. There was a lot of parties around me, trips of all kinds. Today I get up early to check my mail, then I write some notes and dedicate the rest of the day to continue listening to records, do interviews, and coordinate notes with the magazine's team. At night, I try to read and listen to even more music so I can be free from all work-related things during the weekend. However… to disconnect from everything over the weekend, I still listen to more music.
How has your approach to your work changed over the past few years?
My perspective has widened a lot. I became able to understand both the importance of analyzing and synthesizing information, but also the gifts of poetry. Fundamentally, I think that right there, at the crossroads of these two paths, is the key to writing interesting work. On the other hand, over the years the capacity for wonder decreases… but this detail motivates me to search; so there is balance.
Ted Gioia has launched a newsletter
Booing has been discouraged at concerts in California, because it increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission
This is a great Twitter thread of album covers and the photos that inspired them [h/t Joe Muggs]
Lois Kirschenbaum collected 200,000 autographs from opera greats over more than 50 years of concert-going
London DJ Ifeoluwa is launching a digital archive for underground dance / experimental music
Cherie Hu has published her latest research on NFTs
@yasminesumman cautions against getting into any pop-punk band too fast
@towablepants gives the “mulch is here!” guy a midwest emo remix
@markmallman tells the story of Roberto Cacciapaglia's curious Ann Steel Album
@moonhoochofficial makes dubstep via a saxophone and a very long traffic cone
@ivorytowercontent packs a music theory lesson into a quick tune
Eagle-eyed readers of this newsletter will be familiar with Associate Professor of Music Theory Megan Kaes Long, who spoke with me last year about her new book, Hearing Homophony: Tonal Expectation at the Turn of the Seventeenth Century. Megan is now the incoming editor for SMT-V, an open-access, peer-reviewed video journal published by the Society for Music Theory. In this excerpt from our interview, Megan explains some of the benefits of doing a scholarly journal in video form.
Academics can get a bad reputation for only wanting to talk to each other, but we are doing a lot of work that we know will interest a bigger audience than just other music theory specialists. I've been inspired by the brilliant world of music theory YouTube—on YouTube, you can learn music theory basics, you can see fabulous music analysis, and you can even watch video commentaries on the latest trends in music scholarship. We're trying to put our own spin on that kind of work—there are so many people out there who want to learn more about music, and we want to show them what's happening in the world of professional music theory.
It's also been really exciting to see how a new model for music scholarship and peer review might work. SMT-V is very collaborative from start to finish. The editorial board, reviewers, and editors work closely with the authors to craft a video that will be scholarly and compelling. It's amazing to watch how initial proposals transform into storyboards, and then how these become the videos that you see on the website. It's a really different approach to scholarship from writing a journal article, and the change is refreshing—I really enjoy the emphasis on storytelling.
There's never been a better time to explore new modalities for research, writing, teaching, and learning. I think we will see a lot more venues like SMT-V in the future!
Norient has published a special collection of responses to "the open question of Italian identity in sound and music”
New journal issue: Ethnomusicology Forum
The talk “Music By Numbers: A Conversation About Music Industry Data Archives” takes place online today at 12 p.m. CDT
Registration is open for the 2021 IASPM-US Conference
Registration is open for Music, Mortality, and Ritual: A Death Studies Symposium
Call for Papers: Jazz and Culture is looking for submissions for its 2022 spring issue; email email@example.com for more info
Here are three easy ways you can support the newsletter:
Forward it to a friend
Become an ongoing supporter of the newsletter (what Substack calls a “paid subscriber”)
Insider Extra - An additional e-mail from me each week, usually featuring job listings, freelance calls, and more
How To Pitch Database - Access to a database with contact information and pitching info for hundreds of publications
Reading Recommendations - Access to a resource page collecting great pieces of music journalism, sourced from great music journalists
Advice - Access to a resource page devoted to collecting advice from journalists and editors on how to excel at music journalism
Interviews - Access to the hundreds of interviews that have appeared in the newsletter, with writers and editors from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, the Guardian, and more
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, it’s @JournalismMusic. Until next time…