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 Courtney E. Smith of Songs in the Key of Death; music journalist Konstantina Buhalis; and librarian and metal music expert Joan Jocson-Singh. Plus! Joni Mitchell, Latinx punk, and more! But first…
Courtney E. Smith is the Editorial Director at Hark Audio in addition to being the host, writer, and co-executive producer of Songs in the Key of Death, an excellent new podcast about murder ballads. In this excerpt from our interview, Courtney explains what Songs is all about.
Songs in the Key of Death is historiography—it’s a storytelling podcast that examines the true crimes that inspired a murder ballad, the people who wrote the song or popularized it by singing it, and the historic times that both of those things happened in. It hopes to give listeners context around what was happening historically and when one of the most notable versions was performed. It also aims to explore how we’ve talked about these crimes in the past and what new information we have now that we should consider. Many of the songs don’t tell the real story or reflect the victim’s point of view. Giving them a voice and some life is a way to look again at a violent history.
From Courtney E. Smith:
I love Noise for Now. I have been following it since I saw the cute merch it created on Kim Gordon and Karen O’s Instagram accounts. It is an Arizona-based activist group that puts on concerts and work with artists to raise money for abortion funds, primarily across the South. I love that they’re connecting progressive artists with places like the Yellow Letter Fund and TKTK. I interviewed one of the founders for UPROXX and found her to be mindful about using privilege to funnel money from the highly white worlds of indie music into the hands of BIPOC and women-identifying people who need it.
Konstantina Buhalis is a music journalist and content creator for NGP Records and the podcast Communion After Dark. Konstantina also has a great TikTok, which is where I first encountered her work. In this excerpt from our interview, Konstantina talks about the future of music journalism.
I think TikTok will be the future for music journalism in a few ways. Whether it maintains an aspect of regular music journalism distribution, only time will tell. However, we already see the early stages for op-eds and video essays condensed into 60-second clips. In addition, many writers use the platforms to discuss albums, genres briefly, or make points and observations about the music industry. It’s a new tool, but at the same time, we have a blueprint because social media has changed the journalism landscape so rapidly that we are all used to the way this works, but this app happens to be somewhat uncharted territory.
Furthermore, I think music journalism will eventually revert to blogging and fewer mass publications. We already have a few popular blogs, but I think the blog model will eclipse traditional publications for a while. Y2K trends are in style right now, and zines are having a moment and I think print is going to become trendy and find its way back into the mainstream. It’s going to be cool to have a stack of magazines, even if it’s just for aesthetic’s sake.
Los Punks: We Are All We Have aims its lens into LA’s underground Latinx backyard punk scene of 2016. Director Angela Boatwright delivers a spiritual sequel to The Decline of Western Civilization, yet her subjects’ stories are told with the heart-tugging techniques of reality TV.
In between scenes of raging mosh pits, police busts, and glorious mohawks, the film follows several primary characters. There is April, the 15-year-old show promoter. Nacho, the singer of Corrupted Youth, who opens for his favourite band, the Casualties. Most emotional is the story of Alex, the singer of Psyk Ward, who transcends his mental health struggles to become a cook.
As they talk and sing openly about the difficulties in their community, the members of this DIY scene bond like family. That’s necessary when the punks are faced with criticisms like the devastating dad burn that Alex’s pop drops in the film’s closing scenes: “I just hope some of these people get a job so they can buy your album!”
What record producer called Chicago Reader critic Bill Wyman a “stooge” in response to a ’90s article celebrating Liz Phair, Urge Overkill, and the Smashing Pumpkins?
Joan Jocson-Singh is Institute Librarian at CalArts. She has done a great deal of research in metal music studies (specifically on gender and motherhood) and zines/special collections/DEI work over the past few years. Metal music and librarianship aren’t the first thing you tend to think of together, but as Joan puts it: “The two were married under one of the most traumatic experiences a person can have—death. I was in my early 20s during the summer of 2007 and had lost my mother to illness.... I started listening to anything heavier to deal with the stress of work, school, and my grief.... Having the support of my then husband who had already been a long time metalhead, we started going to more and more shows and I realized how rare it was to see others like me.” In this excerpt from our interview, Joan describes some of the work that she’s currently undertaking.
As a librarian, I have the pleasure to be a generalist. And with that, I have a broad range of interests that I pursue in the name of research. Right now, I just closed up a study on Rock and Metal Motherhood with my colleague Julie Turley at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY. She and I have interviewed mothers in the rock and metal musical subcultures who identify as musicians and/or music industry workers. We’re looking to investigate how these mothers do musicking (music making) that allows for self-care, how they question masculinity within the subcultures and whether they advocate for feminism and its performance within these traditional masculine spaces.
My other research is with another CUNY colleague, fellow punk scholar, Junior Tidal at City Tech College, CUNY. We’ve been granted an ALA (American Libraries Association) grant to work on a bibliography of extreme music by POCs (people of color). This work is closing up in July 2021 and we hope to provide a free LibGuide (online bibliography) that lists notable works by and for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities who have written books, papers, articles and created documentaries of “extreme” music.
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Record producer Steve Albini took umbrage with Wyman’s year-end list and essay in a heated letter.
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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…