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 Crack editor Rachel Grace Almeida; Michael Hann, former music editor of The Guardian; and Jessica Lipsky, author of It Ain’t Retro: Daptone Records & The 21st-Century Soul Revolution. Plus! Reading recs, listening recs, and watching recs. Just a lot of recs, basically. But first…
I saw a tweet this past week from someone looking to find a mentor in the music journalism world. Given this newsletter’s focus, I figured I might be able to help play matchmaker for this sort of thing. So:
Are you looking to offer up your experience in a mentorship role to a young music journalist? Please email me with the subject line “Mentor” and let me know!
Are you looking for a mentor in the music journalism world? Please email me with the subject line, “I’d like a mentor!” I’ll try to hook you up with someone willing to volunteer their time and experience. If there’s a specific type of person you’d like to be paired with, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
Rachel Grace Almeida is the Berlin-based Deputy Editor of Crack Magazine. In addition to her work at Crack, she’s also a freelance writer and radio DJ. In this excerpt from our interview, she explains how her approach to her work has changed over the past few years.
Since having a baby, my time spent working is much more intentional—whether that’s at Crack or any freelance projects I’m doing. I used to say yes to everything but now I’ve learned to respect my time and protect my peace, and my family’s. I find I am more of a doer than a ruminator these days—probably something acquired from parenthood. I also now have something that’s more important to me than anything else, so all the aggressors I deal with working in music journalism seem smaller. This outlook has been healthier for my relationship with work, I think.
What would you like to see less of in music journalism right now?
The Western gaze. I am so bored of reading about certain music cultures through the eyes of people who don’t have an understanding of it. Sometimes this is explicitly bad, like when a writer fails to capture an artist’s true impact or flat-out reverts to racism. Sometimes this is implicit, like when a white British journalist interviewing Rosalía misses an opportunity to discuss her role in Latinx appropriation. Why would this writer think of that? It doesn’t affect them.
From Rachel Grace Almeida:
This isn’t music-related, but it’s important to me. Healing Venezuela is a charity that helps bring medical supplies to people back home. Venezuela was already suffering one of the worst socio-economic and health collapses in the world before the pandemic, let alone now. Venezuelans need global solidarity, of course, but what we really need is tangible help—like medical supplies.
Michael Hann is a freelance writer and former music editor of The Guardian. He has just finished a new book, Denim and Leather: The Rise and Fall of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which will hit shelves in 2022. In this excerpt from our interview, Michael explains what’s changed about his work over the past few years.
Being a freelance writer instead of an office-based editor was the most profound change imaginable. That dictated everything. What has changed most is that, as a writer, I have learned to trust my own ideas, and to realise that a week without an idea doesn’t mean no more will ever come. Several times a year I am convinced I have dried up completely, but then the next week I’ll have half a dozen thoughts and get features out of all of them.
One major and terrible change, and I think this is true across journalism as a whole (in the UK at least), is the death of the conversation. In my early days on Film & Music, when I only had responsibility for print, I used to have long and rambling phone conversations with my writers, which drove my immediate colleagues mad. But at the end of these conversations we would normally have two or three really solid feature ideas, and because they were based on imagination rather than just saying “This has happened, we should do something on it,” they would often be really quirky and interesting, about things that weren’t being written about elsewhere.
I stopped having the time to do that. And I don’t think many editors do it at all anymore, except with superstar writers. I used to love being able to call Alexis [Petridis] to say, “I was watching an old Morecambe and Wise repeat last night. Whatever happened to all the acts who used to be musical interludes on light entertainment shows?” and then a few weeks later I would have 1,600 words on the lost world of cabaret pop. I don’t see very much evidence of features that have arisen from conversation and curiosity any longer, which I think is sad.
Terry Turtle and Billy Brett met while working in a dish pit in their hometown of Harrisonburg, Virginia. Despite their 30-year age gap, they decided to form a band called Buck Gooter. Performing a style of noise-rock they describe as “primal industrial blues,” they have toured and recorded relentlessly since 2005. Henry Rollins has called them “the only real punk band left in the U.S.”
Ten years into their existence, Buck Gooter made a documentary called The Man Named Turtle. Director Joey Bell spends most of the doc’s 25-minute runtime with its titular subject, sharing stories about Turtle’s troubled childhood, struggles with addiction, and philosophies on art. The latter can be summed up with his practical explanation for laminating paintings: “Throw it on the fucking floor or take it in the shower and wash it off… makes sense to me!”
Turtle sadly passed away in 2019 at age 67, but he lives on in the music that Brett continues to release under the name Buck Gooter, featuring samples of the late guitarist. The band began with a mishearing of the words “fuck you” when Turtle’s mouth was filled with food, but grew to be so much more. Ultimately, Buck Gooter’s legacy is one of unlikely friendship and unfiltered creation.
Who was the final editor of the music magazine Select?
Jessica Lipsky is a freelance journalist focusing on music and culture, and her new book is called It Ain’t Retro: Daptone Records & The 21st-Century Soul Revolution. Now available for pre-order, the book comes out on August 10. In this excerpt from our interview, Jessica explains why she wrote It Ain’t Retro.
I’ve loved soul music for as long as I can remember and when I eventually came into this community of record collectors, musicians, DJs and fans of soul-related subcultures, I wanted to dig deeper. I’ve always been fascinated with how subcultures (and, generally, I feel soul/funk revival is still a subculture) develop and function, so my journalist instincts have been on high alert since I first dropped the needle on a Sharon Jones record.
Fast forward some years to the Funky Sole Weekender in Los Angeles. I was in the middle of complaining to a musician friend about how difficult it was to get editors to pay attention to “retro soul” bands when he asked me if I had plans to write “something longer than an article.” I had been mulling over a larger project for a while and told him I’d like to write about all of this—the soul scene we were enjoying. I went home that night and started voice dictating an outline for a book detailing the broader funk and soul revival.
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The final editor of Select was Alexis Petridis, now The Guardian‘s head rock and pop critic.
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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…