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 YouTuber Todd Nathanson, music and migration scholar Brigid Cohen, music journalist lifer Michael Goldberg, and electronic music expert Jim Ottewill. Plus! Reading recommendations, TikToks, and more! But first…
“Hi Jay! I’m going to assume you are not subtweeting yours truly with this question.” - Steven Hyden
Todd Nathanson is AKA Todd In The Shadows, an excellent YouTube creator. His in-depth videos are smart and funny, shining a spotlight on unexpected music stories. With nearly 500,000 subscribers to his channel, he’s among the biggest music-centric creators on the platform. In this excerpt from our interview, I asked Todd whether he had any mentors in his early YouTube days.
Honestly, not really—I am entirely self-taught in this field. I have a communications degree with a music minor which taught me a lot about media criticism and music, but otherwise I had no training or experience in film production, film editing, documentaries, broadcasting, acting, or comedy. I learned it all on the job, through trial and error, and by copying other writers and YouTubers I enjoyed. The one person I would say mentored or guided me in any way is fellow YouTuber Lindsay Ellis, who encouraged me to pursue YouTube as a full-time career, and gave me a lot of pointers early in my career (for example, instead of balancing my camera on a TV tray, I could use a tripod).
Walk me through a typical day-to-day for you right now.
I typically put out two videos a month (or just one if it’s a long episode). Sometimes I’ll get struck with a funny observation about a song and I’ll build an entire episode around one joke. Other times, I’ll find a project I find interesting and I’ll do a lot of research. I actually find writing about music extremely difficult so I’ll listen to the song or album over and over again until solid opinions start forming. I’ll also do a ton of research, sometimes books, sometimes Google, and a whole ton of YouTube, looking for clips and footage that will help fill out the video.
Brigid Cohen is Associate Professor of Music at New York University. Brigid is a historical musicologist who specializes in the historiography of musics and musicians in migration. Her research and teaching examine the mass dislocation of peoples over the last two centuries, addressing conditions of empire, globalization, genocide, exile, and minoritarian citizenship. Her new book is Musical Migration and Imperial New York: Early Cold War Scenes. In this excerpt from our interview, Brigid explains what the book is about.
My book explores questions of music, migration, and citizenship in the early Cold War, with an emphasis on New York as a center of transnational exchange. During this period, New York crystallized as a “global city” under the pressure of the Cold War, when the U.S. asserted heightened economic and geopolitical dominance, while absorbing unprecedented levels of immigration. The city throbbed as the heart of a new kind of American empire, which thrived on cultural diplomacy and financial aid abroad as well as covert operations and proxy wars.
My book tells the story of how New York’s avant-garde composers grappled with these transformations. It brings radically new perspectives to bear on the concert music, jazz, performance art, and electronic music scenes that defined the postwar avant-garde. Figures at the heart of my story include familiar artists such as Yoko Ono, Charles Mingus, and Edgard Varèse alongside less known creators such as Halim El-Dabh, Michiko Toyama, and Vladimir Ussachevsky. Each of these artists drew from varied experiences of uprooting to navigate urgent questions of empire, technology, capitalist enterprise, and national violence that oriented global art movements for years to come.
From Brigid Cohen:
I recommend donating to the Little Orchestra Society in New York City. This organization provides excellent music instruction and programming in area public schools. They also stage inventive multimedia performances of classical music for children, often free of charge, while supporting young composers and diversifying the field of classical music.
What did SPIN Magazine name their album of the year in 2000, beating out Radiohead’s Kid A? (Hint: It’s not an album.)
Michael Goldberg has been a music writer and editor for decades. He was a senior writer at Rolling Stone and founded the first internet rock & roll magazine, Addicted To Noise, in 1994. This November, he’s re-issuing some of his work for those publications (and many, many more) in Addicted To Noise: The Music Writings of Michael Goldberg. He’s also just released Wicked Game: The True Story of Guitarist James Calvin Wilsey, a bio of a musician who worked closely with Chris Isaak. In this excerpt from our interview, Michael explains how he came to write the book.
On Christmas Day, 2018, I went to the Mabuhay Gardens Facebook group. In case you don’t know, the Mabuhay Gardens was the first punk club in San Francisco, back in 1976. It became ground zero for punk in San Francisco. I went to the Facebook group and there was a post that said Jimmy Wilsey had died on Christmas Eve day. And I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. Jimmy was only 61. How could he be dead? But he was.
I expected there to be obits in the local papers and in the LA Times and Billboard and there was nothing. A week went by. Nothing. It made me mad. Jimmy was an important musician. He’d been in two significant San Francisco groups. He was the reason “Wicked Game” became an international hit. He deserved to be remembered. So I contacted an editor I knew at Rolling Stone, where I had been on staff years ago, and he agreed that a story on Jimmy was needed. So I reported and wrote a 2000-word story about Jimmy. But I felt like there was more to Jimmy’s story and one thing led to another and I decided to write a book about him, so that if someone wondered about the guy who played that incredible intro to “Wicked Game,” they could find out about him. I’d become friends with Jimmy in the early ‘90s and I had this strong feeling that I needed to write a book about him. I knew that if I didn’t do it, no one else would.
Jim Ottewill is a business writer by day and a music writer by night. With bylines in FACT, Resident Advisor, MusicTech, and more, Jim has carved out a niche in the electronic music world. Jim’s first book is Out of Space, out now via Velocity Press. In this excerpt from our interview, Jim explains what the book is all about.
Out of Space explores the relationship between different cities and landscapes and the electronic music scenes to emerge from them. Initially, I began looking at what a city brings to a club scene—whether it be a sound, the networks for DJs and producers to thrive, access to particular pieces of gear or certain records—and it’s often all of the above. Another thread was looking at the kind of pressures UK club culture has faced in terms of space and getting pushed out in favour of other (usually commercial) enterprises. In London, we’re all acutely aware of this issue of gentrification and property development and how many clubs have either been forced to shut, or exist on the fringes. I wanted to dig into these tensions, what clubs have done to survive and thrive, and the future spaces they might need to live in.
From Jim Ottewill:
We live in Liverpool and the Florrie is a great cause. It’s a community centre in Toxteth which offers loads of ace support, music and networks.
Thanks for reading! And thanks to Miranda Reinert and Aliya Chaudhry for their help with this edition of the newsletter. 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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SPIN named “Your Hard Drive” their album of the year in 2000, celebrating the impact digital file sharing had on music listening.
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.
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