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 Uproxx editor Carolyn Droke and Sing for Science podcast host Matt Whyte. Plus! Reading recommendations, a documentary about minimal techno, and more! But first…
Carolyn Droke has been working full-time at Uproxx for a few years now. As she was graduating from college, she met a site editor at a music festival and “a few months later got hired as a weekend music blogger and have been at Uproxx ever since. Working a 9-5 on the weekends and holding down two jobs fresh out of college fueled my desire to work towards a full-time position.” Three years later, she’s the Assistant Editor at Indie Mixtape, Uproxx’s indie music vertical. In this excerpt from our interview, Carolyn describes how her approach to her work has changed.
When I first began my career in music journalism, I was feverish when it came to accepting pitches and freelance opportunities. I’m now more selective about the writing projects I take on to make sure it’s always something I’m interested in. When you turn your passion (music, in my case) into a career, you need to be wary of creative burnout. I never want to get to a place where I start resenting my work. I try to remain grateful that I can work in a field I care deeply about.
On a similar note, when turning your passion into your job, it’s important to keep some things just for yourself. For example, I attend shows for fun that I don’t write reviews about or interview bands at. There are also so many albums I love to listen to that I don’t write about. If I had to work at every show I went to, or write about every single album I listen to, music would get a lot less fun for me.
Where do you see music journalism headed?
Thanks to the way media companies operate, there’s a greater prioritization on viral writing to increase clicks (i.e. covering scandals, viral tweets, beef among artists, etc.). When I was blogging, I knew pretty much every move that Cardi B or Kanye West made. While those are important and popular artists to cover, it leaves less room to spotlight artists who aren’t already well-known. I unfortunately see much more of this happening in music journalism.
From Carolyn Droke:
The Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL) is an organization that acts as a union of all the city’s 40+ independent venues. It was instrumental in helping pass the Save Our Stages Act in 2020, which provided much-needed pandemic relief funding the music and performance spaces. During a time when massive companies continue dominating the live music industry, organizations like CIVL are paramount.
Matt Whyte is the host of Sing For Science, a science and music podcast produced with Talkhouse where musicians talk to scientists about their most famous songs. Matt says that his work with musician/activist Toshi Reagon was the catalyst for the project: “Through my exposure to her application of the transformational power of song and that of her godfather, Pete Seeger, I looked to how I could use music to help effect change. From there I set my sights on combating science denialism and began by writing songs celebrating the work of scientists (Sing For Science: Volume 1). The Sing For Science podcast turned out to be a natural outgrowth of the project’s activist beginnings.” In this excerpt from our interview, Matt describes the podcast further.
Sing For Science pairs famous musicians and renowned scientists in conversation. We use one of the guest musician’s songs as a topic for discussion and talk about it through a scientific lens with the guest scientist. For example, Norah Jones spoke with a science journalist about her Grammy winning song “Don’t Know Why” and the importance of embracing uncertainty in science; pop icon SIA with a psychotherapist about themes related to attachment dysfunction that come up in her hit “Elastic Heart”; Mac Demarco and an acoustician about the physics of sound vis a vis “Chamber of Reflection”, and the list goes on.
Though my objective starting out was to help increase science literacy and support for evidence-based policy in government, my primary focus has always been to create content that I as a fan of music and science would find interesting and entertaining. Recently I’ve begun to see that perhaps the show’s greatest value lies in promoting a form of scientific thinking we can all apply to how we relate to each other. I believe that the greater appetite for curiosity and capacity to listen we develop, the more easily we can begin to transcend the tribalistic, ideological divides that have become so alarmingly toxic in America.
Who was the first Black photographer to shoot a cover for Rolling Stone?
Speaking in Code is a classic tale. Boy meets girl. They get married. Girl and boy decide to make a documentary about the techno scene of the early 2000s. Boy spends most of his time trying to make techno happen in Boston while girl jets back and forth to Germany and Barcelona to film artists on Kompakt and BPitch Control. Boy and girl grow apart. They max out their credit cards. Boy becomes a subject in the documentary more than a producer. Everyone suffers burnout. And they all live ambiguously ever after.
Your mileage with Speaking in Code will vary depending on your interest in the relationship between filmmaker Amy Grill and David Day. The film is a slice of life in the purest sense, with zero history and little cultural context for the music, which is to say the whiteness is strong with this one. The film’s strengths lie in its glimpses into the communal living of the Wighnomy Brothers, the gear infatuation of Ableton Live creator Monolake, and journalist Philip Sherburne’s family history. Speaking in Code is a Polaroid of minimal techno, a time capsule of the years before festival EDM, and a caution sign for following your DIY dreams.
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 here.
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The first Black photographer to shoot a cover for Rolling Stone was Dana Scruggs, who took photos of Travis Scott for the January 2019 issue.
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.
Feel free to reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, it’s @JournalismMusic. Until next time…