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: I’m back to the usual format! There are interviews with MTV News editor Patrick Hosken; Drive-By Truckers expert Stephen Deusner; freelance writer Oumar Saleh; and Dr. Shara Rambarran, author of Virtual Music: Sound, Music, and Image in the Digital Era. Plus! Lots of things to read, listen to, and enjoy. But first…
Throughout July, I put a note in the newsletter about creating an informal program of matching mentors and mentees in the music journalism world. The response so far has been great, but I’ve gotten FAR more folks wanting a mentor than the other way around. Are you open to offering up your experience in a mentorship role to a young music journalist? Please email me with the subject line “Mentor” and a little bit about how you think you might be able to help! I’d love to pair you up with someone looking for help.
Patrick Hosken is Music Editor at MTV News. On the side, he has a newsletter called Medium Rotation that focuses on “the indie music you would’ve heard on college radio stations from roughly 2007 to 2013.” In this excerpt from our interview, he offers a couple of tips for music journalists just getting started.
It’s probably trite, but everyone is running their own race (and of course, comparison is the thief of joy). Early on, I got very wrapped up in the idea of wanting to say something and be heard that I hardly took enough time to figure out what it was I wanted to say. I’m still figuring that out, but at least now I know enough to not say anything and just listen 99% of the time. That advice doesn’t quite square with the current attention economy, so something that might be more practical is to not try to be an authority on or have an opinion on everything. Focus your efforts on the stuff you really care about, or the stuff you really hate, or the stuff you find the most interesting and worth exploring.
Stephen Deusner is a freelance music journalist whose work appears in Pitchfork, Uncut, and many other publications. He has also contributed longform liner notes to recent reissues by Pylon and the Glands, but his most recent project is the book Where the Devil Don’t Stay: Traveling the South with the Drive-By Truckers. In this excerpt from our interview, Stephen describes how he went about writing the book.
I wish I could say that I approached the project with utmost discipline, immediately struck a smart balance between the book and my freelance work, and took all measures to preserve my mental health. But yeah, that didn’t happen. I don’t think I ever struck a good balance with any of it, although I think partly that was out of fear—fear that I couldn’t do it, fear that I would embarrass myself, fear that I would let the band down. There’s a certain amount of fear attached to any act of writing, at least for me. You always start with this idealized draft in your head, but every word you put down on paper seems to move you further and further from it. Most days it feels like nothing will ever be good enough, because there’s ultimately no way you can match what you’ve got in your head.
The best decision I made while writing this book was to start seeing a therapist, who helped me put a lot of these fears into perspective and helped me separate the process from the product. I always felt like the process defined the product, but nobody sees all the late nights you spend struggling to put two words together. Readers can’t see all the horrible drafts you’ve abandoned. They don’t know all the times you put off writing to watch another dumb horror movie. All they see is the finished product, which can be defined by the process but is obviously separate from it.
What band taped a music journalist to the Eiffel Tower in 1979?
Oumar Saleh is a freelance culture writer with bylines in Passion of the Weiss, Fanbyte, NME, and Crack. While he specializes in rap music, Oumar has also written about comic book culture and professional wrestling. In this excerpt from our interview, Oumar describes how his approach to his work has changed over the past few years.
I’m still in the infancy stages of my freelancing career, so I didn’t have much of an approach back then compared to now. However, like every writer out there, I’m aiming to write for publications where the editors are very much hands-on with the editing process. Writing is a craft where learning and improvement never stops, and the last thing I want for myself is to see a first draft published with no edits whatsoever. It’s an amazing experience working with someone like Jeff Weiss who not only gave me in-depth notes on my pieces, but also ensured that I was pushing everything as far as it can go. It’s a daunting feeling seeing a lot of notes scattered around your first drafts, but you can only get better as a writer from there.
Dr. Shara Rambarran is a music writer, researcher, editor, and lecturer who also co-runs the Art of Record Production conferences. Shara’s latest book is Virtual Music: Sound, Music, and Image in the Digital Era. In this excerpt from our interview, she explains the idea behind the book.
The book explores how music (along with audio visuals, i.e. sound and image) shapes virtuality through digital technology, including its interactive relationship with its users. While there are many approaches to this particular topic, I mainly approach it from an aesthetic and creative sense, and the impact it has on the creator, and where relevant, consumer/listener/viewer/audience. While I explore certain acts and musical styles that have been influenced (and where relevant) enhanced by digital technology, I also discuss how music is still influenced by the past and is brought to the present thanks to digital technology. I also discuss live performances and other ways in exploring new music in the digital age. Some of the key case studies include: Danger Mouse, Grace Jones, The Weeknd, Madlib, Kraftwerk, Radiohead, Massive Attack, and Bomb the Bass.
From Dr. Shara Rambarran:
Drake Music is a UK organization and charity working in music, disability, and technology. Drake Music encourages and supports people with a disability to create and perform music with accessible music technology.
Thanks for reading! In case you aren’t aware, there are a number of special features that I’ve published in the newsletter: 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 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! 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…