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. And if you’re not already subscribed to the newsletter, you can do so at musicjournalisminsider.com.
Today in the newsletter: Interviews with jazz legend Howard Mandel, TikToker Dray Morgan, and dub enthusiast Howard Abbey. Plus! Reading recommendations, an Azorean music festival, and more! But first…
“Did a doctor really kill the Baroque era? That seems like an extravagant assertion until you look into the life and times of Dr. John Taylor, a British surgeon.” - Ted Gioia
Howard Mandel is a writer, multimedia producer, and president of the Jazz Journalists Association. But he’s also much more than that. Jazz writer Jordannah Elizabeth asked me to interview Howard because of his long history in the jazz world, and his bio is indeed an incredible one. (I’d highly suggest reading our full interview to get the scope of his career.) In short, he’s been working in and around jazz for the past four decades. In this excerpt from our interview, Howard describes his outlook on where music journalism is headed.
As a profession, I think it will continue to be a struggle. It’s too bad that, given the easy access to multimedia tech that could make “reviewing” a piece of music or introducing a band or scene to eager listeners an exciting, intimate audio/video/text experience, there’s no publisher I’ve heard of pursuing such possibilities with the requisite imagination.
The big questions are: Is there an audience for music journalism—and if so, who is it? The trade (musicians themselves)? The customers? Producers/presenters, educators, instrument manufacturers, record companies? Is this one audience, or several? Does everyone consume music journalism the same way—or want the same thing from it? Does everyone see the same platforms? (No.)
However it continues, I’d like to think music journalism will continue to produce vivid, enlightening reports about music in and around us, and that music journalists will explore everything about sound that they can think of in their own words and with pictures (and sounds?), and that music journalism will produce experiences sometimes as transformative as any other practice of art.
From Howard Mandel:
Music on the Inside is a New York City-based non-profit connecting people who are incarcerated or are transitioning to freedom with musical skills and mentors. I also recommend donating to the Jazz Foundation of America and the Jazz Journalists Association.
Dray Morgan is a TikTok creator under the name Dray Electronica. The Ireland-based creator started out with a Spotify playlist and has since amassed more than 30k followers on TikTok. I wanted to find out how he puts together his videos, so I reached out last month to discuss his work so far. In this excerpt from our interview, Dray explains how he organizes his work.
I’ve always been an organised person in an unorthodox way. I always studied for tests and got good grades, but was always late for class and never had my homework done. Nowadays, I have a page on my notes app where I write down anything throughout the day which could lead to a video. I had to tone down my content to every other day because every day was just too much. I will get a video idea and write the script for it. I make sure to structure the script in a way that keeps viewers entertained. I then time myself reading the script and edit it accordingly and then film it. The process from me getting an idea to posting the video could be as short as an hour and a half.
What’s one tip that you’d give a music journalist starting out right now?
Do what you want to do to the best of your ability and you’ll attract an audience who appreciates it. If you start following trends, then you may have more followers, but you will have an audience who doesn’t care for you and, quite frankly, you won’t care for them.
“Beautiful, in the middle of nowhere… and full of cows.” This is how narrator Diogo Lima describes the idyllic Azorean scenery that serves as the backdrop for one of the most unique music festivals of the past decade: Tremor.
Filmed and released in 2018, Fear and Loathing and Party in Las Ponta Delgada was put together to celebrate Tremor’s fourth anniversary. The film showcases the festival’s increasingly assured presence, professionalism, and success (which Lima ironically summarizes by saying “people came… and nobody died”) through images of the breathtaking landscape intertwined with snippets of concerts by Boogarins, Mykki Blanco, The Parkinsons, and many more.
The documentary relies on a combination of humor with a certain misty romanticism inherent to the Portuguese archipelago (some swear the Azores are what remains of the mythical continent of Atlantis) to depict the festival’s warm human connection, with some performances even involving members of the local community or resulting from artistic residencies.
Fear and Loathing and Party in Las Ponta Delgada does a terrific job of explaining the many reasons why Tremor is so much more than another handful of concerts. But the main one seems rooted in the secret getaway feeling that crowns the entire experience, which, despite being indisputably singular, never comes across as elitist.
Apart from their country of origin, what do Depeche Mode, Yes, Suede, Genesis, and Duran Duran all have in common?
Eric Abbey, PhD, is a professor of English and literature at the Oakland Community College in Michigan. He is the co-editor of Hardcore, Punk, and Other Junk: Aggressive Sounds in Contemporary Music, and the author of Garage Rock and Its Roots: Musical Rebels and the Drive for Individuality. His latest book, Distillation of Sound: Dub and the Creation of Culture, hits close to home. Aside from his academic work, Abbey also works producing dub riddims and tracks for musicians around the world and owns Pocket Sound System. In this excerpt from our interview, Eric describes the book.
The thesis of Distillation of Sound is that sound forms community and creates culture. In Jamaica, the sound was controlled and changed by the mixing engineers that were mostly behind the scenes in dub music. The book’s intent is to analyze the first full length dub records for the influence of these engineers and how important that influence was to the music world.
Tell me a bit about the process of securing the book deal.
As I mentioned, the first process was extremely daunting and frustrating. The second book was a bit easier. And this third one was on my terms. In terms of academic publishing, you must attend conferences and talk to people in the field. Find out what publishers are looking for and do it. You cannot get a book deal just through email. My publisher for this book is in England and I would not have gotten a deal without meeting them at a conference first. They recognized my name when I sent a proposal in. You also must learn how to write a book proposal. It sucks, but it is worth it.
Thanks for reading! And thanks to Miranda Reinert for their help with this edition of the newsletter. In case you’ve missed any special features, I’ve published a number of them in the newsletter, including articles about music journalism history, what music journalism will be like in 2221, and much more. You can check out all of that here.
I also do a recurring column in the newsletter called Notes On Process. The premise is simple: I share a Google Doc with a music journalist where we go into depth on one of their pieces. It hopefully provides an insight into how music writers do their work. You can check out all editions of Notes On Process here.
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Thanks for reading! I make playlists from time to time. Check them out if you’re interested. And 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.
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