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 Her Music Academia host Lydia Bangura and freelance writer/editor Peter A. Berry. Plus! Reading recommendations, a classic music documentary, and much more! But first…
I’ll be off next week, returning with a new edition on December 4th!
“Yesterday, I learned a very surprising fact while surfing the net: Garth Brooks, the best-selling country music artist of all time, released a full album of new music last week.” - Jason Koebler
Lydia Bangura is an operatic soprano, music theorist, and podcaster. She’s currently in the third year of a music theory PhD program at the University of Michigan, with the aim of centering a dissertation “around Black American folks/narratives specifically in the classical music space.” In this excerpt from our interview, Lydia explains what her podcast, Her Music Academia, is all about.
On Her Music Academia, I discuss my own experiences in music performance as an opera singer; I’m also using this show to document my progress in my music theory PhD program. I explore my research interests such as music theory pedagogy, Black classical music, and the intersection of performance and analysis. Often, I host musical guests on the show to talk about what they do in music: everyone from performers to music researchers, educators, conductors, composers, producers, you name it! With an emphasis on presenting marginalized perspectives in music, the podcast features not only my perspective as a Black woman, but a wide array of topics and guests.
From popular music to classical music, the podcast showcases valuable research currently happening in the field. I started it when I discovered that there are almost no Black folks in the academic study of music theory. About 1% of the entire field of music theory is Black, with only one third of that (one third of one percent!!) being Black women. So I felt some pressure, responsibility, and excitement around creating my own space to talk about the music of Black women and Black classical music, as I anticipate it being much more difficult for me to get my work published than my white/male counterparts.
From Lydia Bangura:
Here's a list of Palestine resources put together by Dr. Fatima on YouTube. Ceasefire now.
Ondi Timoner’s 2004 documentary Dig! bursts to a start with the psychedelic sounds of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Band leader Anton Newcombe struts down the sidewalk in motorcycle boots and pledges to kick off a musical revolution. Who’s narrating? None other than Courtney Taylor-Taylor, lead singer of The Dandy Warhols. “Anton was my friend and my enemy, the greatest inspiration, and ultimately, the greatest regret,” he says.
The movie follows The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols’ wild journey toward indie rock stardom. The highs include both bands’ initial attention from record labels, who court band members in swanky NYC restaurants and promise them lavish success. Each band gets their own reality check, from record labels’ broken promises to hilarious fights with “mega-celebrity” fashion photographers.
In the end, Dig! is a time capsule of an ultra-specific era of the music industry. When interviewed by The Guardian years later, Anton Newcombe said, “The postscript of Dig! is that the whole industry collapsed.” In hindsight, the signs of impending doom are all over the 2004 film. What also can’t be denied is both bands’ talent, charisma, and admiration for each other (even when they aren’t on speaking terms).
What BBC radio personality and NME journalist began his career writing for the punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue?
Peter A. Berry is a writer-editor with bylines in Okayplayer, Stereogum, and many more. Previously, he was on staff at XXL, but he’s currently freelance. In this excerpt from our interview, Peter describes what he’d like to see more of in music journalism.
Even though people are always down on critics, I love album reviews still, and I want to see more. Reading stuff from Meaghan Garvey, Jeff Weiss, and Paul Thompson really opened my eyes up to new sounds because they were able to contextualize things so well with language. Writers like those kind of taught me how to appreciate the music. We need more sites besides the standard ones to publish album reviews.
I'd also like to see more funding. We need more staff jobs. There are so many talented writers and editors out there who would have had solid salaries at big — or even alt-weekly/alternative — outlets 20 years ago. But the status quo has seemingly changed so much, and the effect trickles down in a really negative way. I learned so much from my early copy editors. I'm wondering how many publications even have those anymore? And if they do, can they give the same type of detailed, meaningful feedback I got? It grows harder and harder to imagine, and I know I wouldn't be where I am without them. But when so many great writers are struggling, and they don't have the resources to tell the stories that really need to be told, we lose something, and I think we've already lost a lot.
From Peter A. Berry:
Hartford Food System, Inc: I'm from this area, and this is a good nonprofit that helps feed people. Think about people who don't have access to good, nutritious food? I remember hearing stories about how some of my family members struggled growing up, and it always made me sick. So, giving to causes like these feels like a good way to fight against an unjust system.
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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Thanks for reading! And thanks to James Lamont for their Trivia Time question. I make playlists every single week. Check them here! 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. On X, it’s @JournalismMusic. Until next time...