I’m Todd L. Burns, and welcome to Music Journalism Insider, a newsletter about music journalism. Click here to subscribe!
Jewel Wicker is a freelance entertainment and culture reporter from Atlanta, Georgia—a place central to what she does. Much of her writing focuses on the city and the many stories within it, with bylines in publications such as GQ, Billboard, NBC News, The New York Times, Teen Vogue, and more.
How did you get to where you are today, professionally?
I knew I wanted to work in music when I was a teenager. But, initially, I didn’t know what this would actually look like. Originally, I considered becoming a music manager but by the time I was a junior in high school I’d started a music blog to share my thoughts about the music and concerts I regularly attended. By college, I’d built up enough of a following to ask publicists for press tickets. I remember attending Solange’s show at Masquerade in Atlanta during her TRUE era and capturing photos of her dancing alongside surprise guest Janelle Monae.
I’d never considered music journalism prior to college, but I knew I wanted to hone the skills I was developing through writing online and having a webshow. Eventually, I switched my college major from music management to broadcast journalism and joined the student newspaper. After college, I worked as a staff reporter for a paper in central Pennsylvania before returning to my hometown to work for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was a frustration with the lack of resources and growth I felt I’d be able to accomplish as a young staff writer that encouraged me to eventually try my hand at freelancing. That was six and a half years ago.
Did you have any mentors along the way? What did they teach you?
I’ve had a ton of incredible mentors who have taught me how to advocate for myself and negotiate higher rates. The thing I’ve appreciated the most from all of my mentors, though, is they’ve never insisted I have to do things the exact same way they did. They’ve advised me but also allowed me to carve out a career that works best for me as an individual.
Walk me through a typical day-to-day for you right now.
As a freelancer my days vary a lot, but I ideally like to start my work day by 8 a.m. Preferably, I block off time to write in the morning if I have an assignment I’m working on. I tend to get tired as the day goes on so I try to schedule meetings and interviews in the early afternoon and end the day with administrative work. If I’m having a regular work day, I try to log off by 6 p.m. (with a couple of breaks in between that would put me at a traditional 8 hour workday). Of course, this doesn’t always work out. Sometimes I’m profiling an artist and I’m out at a photoshoot all day or an interview isn’t scheduled until nighttime. I try to maintain a sense of routine as much as possible to account for these days. And I’m pretty strict about only working between 30-40 hours per week.
What does your media diet look like?
It really depends on what I’m working on. Depending on what headspace I’m in or my latest assignment, I could be leaning heavily into podcasts and books and not watching much TV. Of course, if I’m profiling an artist, my streaming profile will consist mostly of music related to them. My job allows me to obsess over something for a short period of time and then move on to something else, which can be a gift and a curse when it comes to media consumption. Of course, I’m heavily on Twitter, Tiktok and Instagram so I’m constantly reading articles that are shared by friends and colleagues there, too.
How has your approach to your work changed over the past few years?
I’ve continued to broaden the way I think about being a music journalist. Reporting can take so many forms and I’m so lucky to have been able to write in both digital and print publications, curate live exhibits and co-host a podcast in recent years. It keeps my job interesting and allows me to meet people where they are with relevant information and news.
How do you organize your work?
I use Notion, Apple’s calendar app and a physical to do list to stay organized. Notion is the place where I track all of my assignments for the year, as well as my professional budget and goals. I use my digital calendar and physical to do list to map out my work days throughout each week. I am pretty strict about not working on the weekends unless I’m profiling an artist or working on a feature that necessitates it, but I do like to take a few minutes each Sunday to write out a daily to-do list for the week ahead. That gives me peace of mind and helps clamp down on some of the Monday blues.
What would you like to see more of in music journalism right now?
I think the recent work of court reporter Meghann Cuniff is a great example of having the reporting chops to cover hard news within music journalism. Oftentimes music news intersects with politics, identity and court reporting. I remember being a new reporter and being adamant that I didn’t want to do general assignment reporting, only music journalism. But the skills you get from covering hard news is absolutely transferrable. Artists don’t live in a bubble. They’re impacted by the same societal issues that the rest of us face.
What’s one tip that you’d give a music journalist starting out right now?
Be open to the idea that your career will take many forms throughout your long career based on the industry and your interests as you gain experience.
What artist or trend are you most interested in right now?
Because of the trial, I’m heavily consuming all things YSL right now.
If you had to point folks to one piece of yours, what would it be and why?
My pandemic profile of Lil Baby for GQ is always a favorite of mine because I think it captures the political and social anxieties of the moment through the lens of one of this generation’s biggest rap stars.
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