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.
Today in the newsletter: Interviews with BrooklynVegan Senior Editor Andrew Sacher; new Consequence Managing Editor Gab Ginsberg; and Brian F. Wright, Assistant Professor of Music History at the University of North Texas. Plus! A chat with Elia Einhorn about the new zine Sober 21 and much more! But first…
I’m pleased to announce that later this week, Music Journalism Insider will be publishing the latest in a series of articles on music journalism history. Coming to your inbox on Wednesday is freelance writer Beatriz Miranda’s take on one of the most influential music magazines to ever come out of Brazil. Keep an eye out for it!
Andrew Sacher is Senior Editor at BrooklynVegan. He’s been working for the site for more than a decade now, and in that time he’s championed countless bands that don’t make the critical radar of sites of similar stature. Recently, he did an overview of the ska scene—an article published months before the recent spate of interest in the genre. In this excerpt from our interview, Andrew discusses what he’d like to see more of in music journalism.
I’d like to see more space in mainstream music journalism for stuff that falls a little bit more on the fringes of the zeitgeist. I think individual writers’ newsletters are of course making up for this a bit, but I’d really like to see it in major publications. Like, just for example, I’ve spent a lot of my career writing about the “emo revival” and it often feels like writers who cover this stuff are constantly in defense mode, myself included.
I wish it wasn’t such an uphill battle to talk about this type of music compared to the type of indie rock that gets consensus critical acclaim, especially when the music itself isn’t all that different. And the big disconnect for me, is that so many of the bands who seem to be perceived as less worthy of critical acclaim, are really important to young music fans.
In 2021 so far alone, we’ve seen some big 10th anniversary pieces go up for debut albums by Joyce Manor, Title Fight, and Balance and Composure, and what’s really clear to me, is that people are REALLY reacting positively to these pieces. These are classic albums to a generation of music fans in their early 20s right now, and these albums got basically no press when they came out, outside of punk-specific websites.
In 2021, those albums seem a lot more important than a lot of the stuff that had consensus critical acclaim in 2011. Are we going to keep repeating this cycle, where albums from supposedly niche communities like emo are not taken seriously until they’re re-evaluated as classics? Or are we going to recognize this pattern and make more space for this kind of stuff in real time? I really would like the answer to be the latter.
This past week, Elia Einhorn launched Sober 21 with The Creative Independent. Sober 21 is a new, free resource for musicians who want to begin the journey, or are new to the path of getting clean and sober from drugs and alcohol. I got in touch with Elia to ask him a few questions about it.
Tell me all about the project.
Sober 21 is a free resource that shares critically important tips for newly sober and sober-curious musicians from artists who have been through addiction themselves. It features Nile Rodgers, Moby, Maluca, and members of Dehd, Hole, Television, Chastity Belt, Prince Rama, Beastie Boys, RUN-DMC, Interpol, Joy Division / New Order, Painted Zeros, LCD Soundsystem, and loads more. These pieces include insights on touring safely, creating and performing sober, finding community with other clean artists, and so much more. Sober 21 lives on The Creative Independent, and as a free zine. None of the participating musicians nor myself accepted any money for this project; we donated TCI‘s offered fee to MusiCares.
Why are you personally so passionate about it?
Most people might not know it because in non-pandemic times I’m out at shows all the time, and DJing and performing in bars and clubs, but I’ve been sober for 24 years. I was a pretty bad drug addict—huffing computer duster, snorting mystery powder that was found on the street… I once took a toxic combination of drugs and passed out on the way to see The Specials at The Metro in Chicago, falling out of a train when it stopped and knocking my two front teeth out on the concrete station platform. But thankfully I found recovery, and have had such an amazing career both as a musician and in music radio and podcasting.
So many, many musicians have come to me for help with their own drug addictions and alcoholism over the years. It struck me that the same questions kept coming up, the same fears about their careers and if they could continue as a musician if they cleaned up. I couldn’t believe there was no codified resource specific to artists to share with them! So I thought fuck it, I know the folks who can share deep knowledge on this topic, I’ll compile it myself.
What was the most surprising thing you learned?
It was so cool to see the way that each musician found out what worked for their life, for their own personal sobriety. In a couple of instances, Sober 21 contributors shared quite different approaches to the same issue: for example the great club DJ Jennifer Cardini advocates for having hotel mini bars cleared of alcohol before she arrives, while DMC (from RUN-DMC) shares how he made himself keep the alcohol in the mini fridge to force himself to get past it and reframe his relationship to it. The magic here is that each approach worked for the artist that shared it.
Where can people go if they want to learn more about these issues?
The Creative Independent has it on their site for free download here, and anyone can ask for a free zine version to be mailed out to you. (It’s beautiful, and there’s only 1,000 copies, so def ask for one soon!)
And as this newsletter is read by so many journalists, I’d love to say that if anyone reading this wants to amplify this message, please get at me! Our goal is to get this in front of people who need it, whether that’s musicians struggling with addiction, or their bands / friends / families. As the pandemic restrictions slowly lift and shows resume, this info is more necessary than ever.
What band famously played at the 1973 National Association of Rock Writers in Memphis? Catch the answer at the bottom of the newsletter.
Gab Ginsberg is the newly appointed Managing Editor at Consequence. Gab previously worked at HollywoodLife and as Senior Editor at Billboard. At Consequence, Gab promises that the site will be “diversifying the genres we cover, while adding more inclusive features/franchises and introducing more voices into the mix. My personal goal is to make sure each staff member does their best possible work, and—perhaps most importantly—is fulfilled creatively.” In this excerpt from our interview, Gab offers a tip for music journalists starting out in their career.
Write as much as you can. If your pitches aren’t being answered, write for your personal blog or site so you always have something fresh to share. When I got hired for my first job, my fashion blog served as a sampling of my writing style (as well as proof of excellent grammar and punctuation)!
Brian F. Wright is Assistant Professor of Music History at the University of North Texas. His main area of research these days is the electric bass, which he’s covered in a few articles as well as an upcoming book. In this excerpt from our interview, Brian explains why the instrument is such a fascinating topic to explore.
Despite its constant presence in popular music for the last 60 or so years, there is very little detailed research on the electric bass, especially concerning its early history. So, first and foremost, I’ve found that there are lots of great stories out there that deserve a wider audience. I’ve also found that studying musical instruments (rather than particular performers or musical genres) can be a useful framework for questioning our assumptions about the past because instruments cut across multiple different musical contexts.
In my book, I write about many seemingly distinct genres, like jazz, postwar rhythm & blues, Chicago electric blues, Western swing, early rock ‘n’ roll, girl groups, easy listening, Nashville Sound-era country music, Motown, the British Invasion, southern soul, folk rock, psychedelic rock, and funk. Yet one thing they all definitely have in common is the electric bass, and by using this eclectic, cross-genre approach, I get to not only show the significant role that electric bassists played in shaping each of these developments, but also demonstrate how inherently interconnected each of these strands of American popular music actually were.
Here are three easy ways you can support the newsletter:
Insider Extra - An additional e-mail from me each week, usually featuring job listings, freelance calls, and more
How To Pitch Database - Access to a database with contact information and pitching info for hundreds of publications
Reading Recommendations - Access to a resource page collecting great pieces of music journalism, sourced from great music journalists
Advice - Access to a resource page devoted to collecting advice from journalists and editors on how to excel at music journalism
Interviews - Access to the hundreds of interviews that have appeared in the newsletter, with writers and editors from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, the Guardian, and more
Big Star. The group released its next album, 1974’s Big Star, to great acclaim.
Do you have a fun question you’d like to see included in Trivia Time? Hit reply and let me know.
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…