I’m Todd L. Burns, and welcome to Music Journalism Insider, a newsletter about music journalism. Click here to subscribe!
Jason Lipshutz is executive director of music at Billboard, where he has worked since graduating from college in 2010 (with the exception of a one-year break in 2015). He’s had seven titles at the publication. As he puts it, “My favorite part of my job is that every day is totally different… I like being deployed in different areas at Billboard, and never get precious about any of my tasks.”
How did you get to where you are today, professionally?
I knew I wanted to do something with writing when I was growing up, but had no idea what, exactly, so I decided to enter college as an English major. During my freshman year at The College of New Jersey, I not only got really into indie music (as many college freshmen do), but got really into indie music criticism—as in, would memorize year-end critics list, try to guess what Pitchfork score the new Animal Collective album would get, become a dedicated fan of different bylines and columns (mostly at Pitchfork, and Cokemachineglow, and especially Stylus Magazine. Thank you Todd!). At some point during that freshman year, I realized that I wanted to try and join that world professionally, so I changed my minor from creative writing to journalism, started writing blog posts with titles like “Is Spoon Actually the Best Band in the World?,” and scouring for internships in New York City, which was an hour-long train ride away from my campus.
After bouncing around at a few different internships—I spent a spring semester at Seventeen, which was weird and hilarious and incredibly helpful, a story for a different day—I ended up as a web intern at Billboard, which was a very different animal back in 2008. Truthfully, I didn’t care much about the charts back then—I enjoyed pop music, but I enjoyed the new Frog Eyes album even more!—and didn’t think it would be a long-term fit for me, even as an aspiring music journalist. But I loved the staff, and became interested in chart machinations, and received opportunities to earn real bylines. I lingered around Billboard as an intern and freelancer for the next two years, and very fortunately received a call about an entry-level opening a few months after I graduated in 2010.
That was 12 and a half years ago now, and I’m on my seventh different title at Billboard. I left the company for exactly one year in 2015 to try something new at the resurgent Fuse Media, and really enjoyed my time there… but the company wasn’t committed to editorial, and truthfully, I missed the Billboard day-to-day and my team, so I returned to my professional home. And even though I still love indie music, pop music is primarily my focus, and my appreciation of it has dramatically deepened with time as it’s informed my 11-year cumulative run at Billboard.
Did you have any mentors along the way? What did they teach you?
Too many to name individually, but a few whose lessons have stuck with me: Tye Comer taught me to trust someone to write and do things that weren’t perfect and learn from mistakes (and also, thanks for still hiring me after my New Jersey Transit train broke down and I was four hours late to my job interview); Jess Letkemann taught me to never be ashamed of what you’re most passionate about; Monica Damashek taught me to lead with kindness; Gail Mitchell, Cortney Harding, BMI, Danyel Smith and Bill Werde taught me how to write a legible feature; Denise Warner and Ross Scarano taught me how to operate as a leader on a team; and Hannah Karp taught me how to find a steady balance in a noisy world.
Walk me through a typical day-to-day for you right now.
My favorite part of my job is that every day is totally different: I write and edit for Billboard’s website and print magazine, so some days I’m writing a reported piece for online, other days I’m editing a print section, and other days I’m hopping on a follow-up to major news or preparing an artist interview as part of a theme week. I have a handful of weekly responsibilities that include putting together a new pop songs round-up every Monday, writing a New Music Friday highlights list every Friday and co-writing a things-going-viral newsletter, Trending Up, with my colleague Andrew Unterberger every Wednesday. I also manage a few of our editors and work closely with them on their day-to-days (the part of my job that I love the most wholeheartedly), contribute to Billboard events, help with audio and video initiatives, take on media appearances when needed, talk about new music in Slack or in meetings or wherever I can. Obviously my focus can become dominated by one of those aspects depending on the week, but I like being deployed in different areas at Billboard, and never get precious about any of my tasks.
What does your media diet look like?
I try to listen to as much new music as I can—partly because I put together Billboard’s New Music Friday rundown every week and want to be as comprehensive as possible, and partly because the other aspects of my job require me to be as knowledgeable about the current music landscape across genre as possible. So that means rolling through new music playlists and charts on different streaming platforms, reading websites and blogs that call attention to new and interesting music, spending too much time on Twitter reading different music-related threads and arguments, and listening to various FM radio formats in my car. I find time to listen to a lot of older music and personal favorites, but probably not enough. I’ve been blurring the lines between professional and personal listening for such a long time that I can’t really separate them anymore, and I’m mostly fine with that.
Otherwise, I read a good amount of new and recent fiction (although not enough, never enough), watch a lot of prestige TV and Frasier reruns with my wife, doomscroll about politics depending on the month, and listen almost exclusively to podcasts about the NBA, most notably the Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast about my beloved Philadelphia 76ers. Listening to an hour-long podcast about Tobias Harris’ improved catch-and-shoot abilities while I walk my dog is the most relaxing part of my week.
How has your approach to your work changed over the past few years?
I used to be pretty competitive when it came to Billboard versus other music outlets—fighting for writers, for scoops, for prestige! And while I still strive to help produce the highest-quality coverage possible and couldn’t be more proud of my team, the media world has shrunken to such an alarming degree over the past few years that I couldn’t imagine feeling any ire toward another publication for putting out compelling work. Looking back at how indignant I would get over a competing story or conflicting point of view makes me feel foolish. If anything, I want more competition now—different voices and perspectives analyzing music, and funding to help support them.
How do you organize your work?
Daily checklist—making a Notes app rundown of what I need to get done at the beginning of the day, flagging emails I get to respond to that day, then trying to knock off as many items as I can. I wish I was more organized, but I’ve never been a spreadsheet guy.
Where do you see music journalism headed?
From a practical standpoint, music magazines and sites will continue to lean into coverage of popular artists for web traffic purposes, while coverage of smaller and independent artists will continue to be harder to find. That sucks, but also makes sense, as the music media world has consolidated with mind-boggling speed and a lot of talented writers unnecessarily pushed out of jobs.
One silver lining is that there will always be compelling voices with new and interesting storytelling methods outside of the music journalism establishment—maybe they’re on Substack, or TikTok, or Mastodon, or something that doesn’t exist yet—and they’ll certainly influence the next iteration of that establishment (if they want to). The other silver lining is that popular music is being increasingly democratized, with years-old songs becoming radio hits, totally unknown artists becoming streaming sensations, and songs from all over the world gaining U.S. attention because enough people have demanded as much.
For instance, platforms like YouTube and TikTok have helped an incredible amount of non-English music, from Afrobeats to K-pop to Latin pop, break into the U.S. mainstream over the past six years. Consequently, a wider variety of voices—which frankly should have already been receiving editorial opportunities before this moment—have become crucial in covering those spaces. I’m hopeful that the future of music journalism not only allows more voices to thrive as more music from the perceived fringes pushes toward the mainstream, but that they are compensated fairly in doing so.
What would you like to see more of in music journalism right now?
In-depth reporting, which I believe is tremendously undervalued in modern music journalism. Based on personal experience, the biggest reporting endeavors at Billboard in recent years have not only accounted for some of our most informative pieces and satisfying accomplishments, but they’ve been widely read and shared as well, whether they’re multi-sourced breakdowns of major issues or deep dive nerd-outs on a minor trend. Obviously those endeavors require a lot of time, diligent work and editorial buy-in, but I believe that they’re almost always worth it when handled the right way.
What would you like to see less of in music journalism right now?
Dismissal of songs, artists and trends that are connecting with young fans. Shrugging off what the kids are into (young women, specifically) is a tale as old as time in music journalism—and no, I’m not a TikTok expert either, but I never want to devalue anything that’s meaningful to a listener who doesn’t happen to be a white male with a record player. The music journalism industry has gotten better about this over the past decade, but I also think we still have a long way to go.
What’s one tip that you’d give a music journalist starting out right now?
The main advice I give to writers looking to break into music journalism is to be as reliable as possible—show up on time, hit deadlines, turn in clean copy, address edits in a timely fashion. Writers possess different levels of intuition, critical thinking and overall talent at different phases of their career, and editors generally don’t expect a virtuoso coming out of the gate. Establish yourself as someone who can be trusted, and use that consistency as a baseline to pursue the work you want to make your focus.
What artist or trend are you most interested in right now?
I’m fascinated by the recent spate of catalog songs being revived, turned into memes/dance challenges and reaching the upper tier of the Hot 100, in terms of both upending listener experiences (hearing Kate Bush on top 40 radio last summer was pretty wild!) and rearranging the modern music industry (The Weeknd’s label recently had to shift from promoting his new album to promoting a six-year-old song, “Die For You,” because it had exploded on TikTok!). As catalog songs continue to over-perform on streaming and these viral moments get amplified (and monetized) more efficiently, the next few years will demonstrate just how often older songs can intermingle with newer songs within the realm of popular culture.
What’s your favorite part of all this?
It used to be writing something I was really proud of, a cover story or in-depth feature or big reported piece… and I still love doing that, don’t get me wrong. But truly, my favorite part of my job right now is helping other members of my team shine—whether as a manager, mentor, colleague or just the guy on staff who’s a big pop dork and can help weigh in on a piece to slightly improve it.
I’ve had so many brilliant, encouraging people in my career help me figure my own shit out, that if I can help make someone else’s life easier on a given day, or their path a little clearer during a tenuous moment in their own career, then I’ll feel like I’m doing my job. Nothing is more fulfilling to me now.
What was the best track / video or film / book you’ve consumed in the past 12 months?
My three favorite music memories of the past 12 months, in no order: running into an old friend in the pit at The 1975’s Madison Square Garden, and losing my absolute mind alongside them for two hours; dancing next to my dad during Japanese Breakfast at Pitchfork Fest last summer; renting a car with my wife during our vacation to Maui and blasting Beyoncé’s Renaissance while driving around the island.
If you had to point folks to one piece of yours, what would it be and why?
My Shawn Mendes cover story from last year had the type of subject I love to discuss—a big star who doesn’t really dominate the pop culture discourse but is at a fascinating career inflection point. I like arguing why an A-list artist deserves to be reconsidered, even slightly, and I hope that piece accomplished that.
Anything you want to plug?
My Billboard colleagues—read them, follow them, get into the weeds of what they’re doing, because what they do on a daily basis is pretty remarkable.
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