#155: Know Your Worth
Know Your Worth
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 email@example.com. And if you’re not already subscribed to the newsletter, you can do so at musicjournalisminsider.com.
Today in the newsletter: Interviews with freelance journalist Kat Bein; Mixmag deputy editor Megan Townsend; and Kristin Robinson, the music publishing reporter for Billboard. Plus! Reading recommendations, an important music festival, and more! But first…
Let Me Suggest That You Take A Vacation From Yourself
- Marc Hogan puts together an oral history of the Tibetan Freedom Concert
- Colin Marshall makes a case for listening to complete artist discographies
- Amritpal Singh Kullar and Arjun Singh Lotay explore the history of Panjabi folk music
- Ted Gioia explains what conductors really do
- Jenessa Williams reflects on the importance of the Shotgun Seamstress zine
- Rhian Jones wonders whether streaming has killed the one-hit wonder
- Dave Jenkins celebrates the impact of Welsh artists on electronic music
- Travis M. Andrews reports on the lack of encores in live music
- Jonathan Bernstein asks, “Is politics infiltrating country music’s history of charity work?”
- Estée Blu says the music industry is not a meritocracy
Lede Of The Week
“If you want to be successful in music, you have to work hard!” I can’t tell you the amount of times that I’ve heard music industry professionals and artists alike spout the same rhetoric, without contextualising the racism, colourism, sexism, classism, ableism, ageism and nepotism that make up the dominant culture of the music industry. - Estée Blu
Q&A: Kat Bein
Kat Bein is a music and culture journalist for Billboard, Spin, Modern Luxury, and more. In addition to her freelance writing, Kat also has a newsletter and a Twitch channel. In this excerpt from our interview, Kat offers a few tips for music journalists.
Know your worth. Do not be afraid to ask—for anything. What’s the worst thing that happens, someone never replies to your email? Be on Twitter and other social media platforms, and start being a part of the conversation with other writers and subjects. If you’re freelancing, get a good accountant and form an LLC. Companies pay a lot less in taxes than people in the US. Remember that publicists and artists aren’t there to be your friends, and you definitely aren’t working for them (unless you’ve been hired to write a bio or some PR). Your editor is the one that pays your bills, and your editor is the only one that has to be happy with you at the end of the day. Treat yourself with respect. Act like you’re there representing whatever publication or team you’re representing, and REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN!
If It Hadn’t Been For Cotton-Eye Joe…
- DJ Jazzy Jeff explains the importance of flow on Switched On Pop
- Bridget Kies and Megan Connor talk about Fandom, the Next Generation on New Books in Music
- Two Writers Slinging Yang welcomes David Ritz to talk about ghostwriting
- Sound & Vision looks at the crossover between indie music and pro wrestling
- YouTube has published a guide to posting podcasts on their platform
Q&A: Megan Townsend
Megan Townsend is deputy editor at Mixmag. Previously, Megan freelanced at CRACK and DUMMY, but credits her full-time gig at The Independent as the reason she has her current gig. “I’d done a lot of work around a newsroom and it helped because it meant that I was familiar with the way online media works,” she explains. In this excerpt from our interview, Megan explains where she thinks music journalism is headed.
It’s obviously a pretty troubling time right now. Sponsored content is now the way publications are making money, when it used to be advertising, etc. In a way, a lot of us are becoming pseudo-influencers rather than journalists—our knowledge, opinion and reach is the selling point rather than sheer volume on the website as it used to be when I started out.
This could be a good thing though; it, hopefully, puts the conversation back into writers/editors hands—rather than a constant scramble for traffic. It also means there’s room for coverage of niche scenes, etc. But I think what the click-centric way of operating did bring was diversity—it made it so newsrooms/publications had to have a variation of voices to survive, rather than the traditional way of a set group of people with connections/the funds to pursue it as a vocation. It’s probably the only reason I managed to get into it.
So I think if we’re going to keep that richness and avoid homogeny, we need to be investing in young writers from BIPOC, gender-diverse and less economically advantageous backgrounds.
A Cause Worth Supporting
From Megan Townsend:
Arts Emergency! It’s funded by individuals and it gives young people a fair start in the arts.
Stuff You Gotta Watch
In the summer of 1970, a handful of America’s hottest rock acts including Grateful Dead, The Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Janis Joplin embarked on a train tour through Canada fueled by alcohol, drugs, and end-of-an-era hedonism. The event, initially billed as the Transcontinental Pop Festival, was thoroughly documented by a film crew so that a movie akin to Woodstock could be released later; but after the financial disaster the tour represented, the project was shelved and the footage disappeared.
Fast forward 30 years later, and Gavin Poolman, son of original producer Willem Poolman, found some of the reels in his garage and invited childhood friend John Trapman and Beatles Anthology director Bob Smeaton to look them over. In the meantime, more footage is discovered in the Canadian National Film Archives vault—and work on Festival Express begins.
Candid and with a slight touch of melancholy, the documentary is a brilliant attempt at making sense of those dizzying days that later became a symbol of a crucial turning point for counterculture: Grateful Dead were fresh out of the infamous New Orleans drug bust which would inspire their classic single “Truckin’.” The Band, having made the cover of Time magazine earlier in the year, were consolidating their heavyweight status. The Flying Burrito Brothers had just fired an increasingly intoxicated (and absent) Gram Parsons. Janis Joplin would overdose in a hotel room three months later.
Though the filmed performances showcase why these artists became legends, it’s the fly-on-the-wall, behind the scenes action that turns Festival Express into such a fascinating snapshot of an era. All this is juxtaposed with present-day testimonies of promoters, musicians, journalists, and other lucky folks who lived through it all.
Pivoting to Video
- Polyphonic reveals the untold story of disco
- Traxploitation explores the ska wars between Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan
- Paul Gorman talks with magCulture about his new book Totally Wired
- Nahre Sol exposes the hidden truths about classical music conductors
- Grady Smith tells the story of the TikTok girl band that ruined his life
Which Australian writer served as the principal music critic of the Sydney Morning Herald for more than 30 years?
- UK writers: Update your ALCS account!
- Leor Galil has started a newsletter
- Van Magazine has produced a set of Cards Against Classical Music
- Gabriel Szatan has started a newsletter
- The Boston public library has digitized its vinyl collection [h/t WFMU]
It’s A Drug
Q&A: Kristin Robinson
Kristin Robinson is the music publishing reporter for Billboard. It’s a relatively new gig for Kristin, who just started freelancing in the late 2010s. Previously, Kristin studied at USC and their Music Industry program, with a slew of internships at places like Atlantic Records, Fender, Live Nation, and more. In this excerpt from our interview, Kristin offers a tip for music journalists just starting out.
When I was a freshman in college, I was friends with someone who I thought was the coolest. They kept getting all these amazing opportunities in their field while I was still struggling to get my foot in the door in the music business.
Once I was complaining to them about how I wanted to intern for a certain record label, but I felt like they were ignoring my application. I was acting very defeatist about it. They stopped me and said, “Okay what can you do right now to get them to notice you?”
They sat down with me and came up with a bunch of solutions to make me stand out. It was nothing revolutionary, but it changed my perspective. I remember realizing that’s how they was so accomplished. They weren’t a genius. They just kept trying and trying and trying. Not everything worked, but they trusted that it would someday.
I didn’t get that internship, but I found a different one, started a small business, began networking with people from that company, and eventually, a few years later, my resume was good enough that I got that gig.
I stopped thinking that some things were out of my reach. The people you idolize are usually no smarter than you. Sure, they might have a leg up on your due to connections, money, etc., but I think most dreams can happen with persistence.
- New issues: American Music and Rock Music Studies
- Call for Papers: International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres Congress 2023 [Proposals due December 31]
The Closing Credits
Thanks for reading! 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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Trivia Time Answer
Roger Covell was a music critic at the newspaper from 1960 until the late 1990s.
A Final Note
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 email@example.com. On Twitter, it’s @JournalismMusic. Until next time…