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 Pitchfork contributing editor Dylan Green, German music editor Thomas Venker, and freelance writer Caleb Catlin. Plus! Electronic music in Portugal, reading recommendations, and more! But first…
Dylan “CineMasai” Green is a Contributing Editor at Pitchfork and host of the Reel Notes podcast. He’s been a freelance writer for many years, focusing largely on hip-hop, and runs the incredibly useful Nu Musique Friday newsletter, which lists just about every rap and R&B release of note each week. In this excerpt from our interview, Dylan explains where he sees music journalism headed.
I see music journalism, like every facet of media, burrowing further into niches. There are fewer and fewer Big Events that bring every corner of pop culture together and there are movements of various sizes happening within different pockets of music. There are several writers (Craig Jenkins, Doreen St. Felix, Hanif Abdurraqib, etc) who are capable of covering everything and plenty of outlets that are willing to host them, but I’m beginning to notice others embracing their own beats and bringing a context and level of respect to things they’re extremely passionate about (Gary Suarez’s Cabbages newsletter, Yoh Phillips and Holland Gallagher’s Rap Portraits web series, etc). It’s even happening at established outlets with things like Alphonse Pierre’s weekly rap column at Pitchfork and Charles Holmes’s rap and film coverage via articles and podcasts at The Ringer. Writers and creatives are building their own platforms and using existing ones to supercharge their passions and more and more people are gravitating towards that.
Here are three easy ways you can do it!
Thomas Venker is the co-editor-in-chief and co-publisher of Kaput – Magazin for Insolvenz & Pop, one of Germany’s most vibrant music magazines. He’s also a lecturer at Folkwang University of the Arts, and a self-described “pop cultural fanboy on many paths.” In this excerpt from our interview, Thomas pays tribute to an important mentor in his professional life.
I had a great mentor at the city paper Lift in Stuttgart: Arne Braun. Like all punk and hardcore socialized kids, I was pretty sure I was already on top of the game, until he gave me back the first printout of an article of mine. It was completely covered in red.
Boy, did I hate him.
And he just laughed, cause he knew arguments and time would be on his side. After having a choleric attack, I went through his remarks and understood that, if I listened to him, I would learn a lot. And quickly.
And, to be honest, the learning never ended. I feel like all my colleagues are my mentors. You learn so much from reading and watching the work of others—and of course by getting the privilege to have them working with you on a piece or video or whatever. As much as you think you are there, four eyes see more than two—and a good editor helps in pretty much every case to bring a story to a whole different level.
From Thomas Venker:
I just read Another Country by James Baldwin. Such a fantastic book. And such a tough one, not only because of what happens on the page itself, but also because we can see, from today’s perspective, how little has changed. We need to address this. We need to reconstruct our societies based on equality and solidarity. Supporting Black Lives Matter is essential for that.
Electronic music may be nearly twice as old as rock ‘n’ roll, but that doesn’t mean its sinuous path out of avant-garde obscurity was any easier—especially in Portugal, a country living under a dictatorship for almost half of the 20th century. As duly explained in Eduardo Morais’s 2011 documentary on the Portuguese underground, Meio Metro De Pedra, poverty and censorship translated into restricted access to the knowledge and equipment needed to make music. And if guitars were financially out of bounds for the majority of the population, synthesisers were practically a distant myth.
Yet everybody knows that the tougher it gets, the harder people push. This fantastic resilience is exactly what Key Tonic portrays with gusto, tracing the journey of electronic music in Portugal from the first experiments with electroacoustic machines in the 1960s to the present day.
Over the course of 90 minutes, household names, including Armando Teixeira (Da Weasel, Bizarra Locomotiva), José Cid (Quarteto 1111), Carlos Maria Trindade (Madredeus, Heróis do Mar), and Fernando Abrantes (Kraftwerk), discuss the post-dictatorship experiments of the 1970s, the synth popularisation of the 1980s, the inevitable DJ conquest of the 1990s, and the 21st-century consecration brought about by internationally recognised festivals like Semibreve.
What band appeared on the cover of the first issue of metal magazine, Decibel, in October 2004?
Caleb Catlin is a freelance journalist with bylines in places like GQ, Billboard, Passion Of The Weiss, and more. His love of music started early: “I was a 106 & Park kid so someone like 50 Cent was closer to the superheroes all the other kids loved when I was younger. ” In this excerpt from our interview, he talks about his typical day-to-day at the moment.
Whew, honestly, I make for a lousy freelancer haha. Given this doesn’t pay the bills the way I’d love it to do, I go to work and do all the mundane things everyone does. After that, I’m notorious for getting distracted on Twitter and YouTube rabbit holes and reading.
When it comes to writing, I’ve slowed down considerably since last year. No pandemic-related lockdown to excuse me from throwing out unfiltered ideas at a rapid pace. But when I’m inspired, I end up finishing pieces in like one night. For one reason or another, I’m awful at writing in the daytime. Perhaps, it’s the darkness substituting for a blinding sun or the fact that no one posts on Twitter or YouTube to distract me, but I can crank out an entire piece spanning from 1000-3000 words in a night depending on how inspired I am and how fast my brain is sprinting. That pretty much covers the day for me, unhinged writing or incessant distractions. It definitely doesn’t help that I’ve been emailed more and more for work and given music; the list of stuff to do only grows and the instinct for my brain to wander off grows stronger.
Thanks for reading! In case you’ve missed them, I’ve published a number of special features 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, including the latest one with Danyel Smith, here.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, it’s @JournalismMusic. Until next time…