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 Andrea Swensson, author of Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound; John Howland, author of Hearing Luxe Pop: Glorification, Glamour and the Middlebrow in American Popular Music; and EDM expert Tristan Kneschke. Plus! Thomas Edison, Margaret Thatcher, and mentorships! But first…
Last week, I put a note in the newsletter about creating an informal program of matching mentors and mentees in the music journalism world. The response has been great so far! Thank you to everyone that has gotten in touch. This’ll be an ongoing thing, so please do reach out if you fall into one of these categories:
Are you looking to offer up your experience in a mentorship role to a young music journalist? Please email me with the subject line “Mentor” and a little bit about how you think you might be able to help!
Are you looking for a mentor in the music journalism world? Please email me with the subject line, “I’d like a mentor!” I’ll try to hook you up with someone willing to volunteer their time and experience. If there’s a specific type of person you’d like to be paired with, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
Andrea Swensson is the author of Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound, an in-depth look at the “generation of pioneering R&B, soul, and funk artists from Minneapolis and St. Paul who forged the paths that Prince and his peers would follow.” In addition to being a writer, Andrea is also a skilled radio broadcaster and has recently taken on hosting and producing the Official Prince Podcast for Prince’s estate. In this excerpt from our interview, Andrea describes the hardest part of writing her book.
[It was] cold-calling elders from the Black community and convincing them they should talk to me. Musicians from marginalized communities are so accustomed to being brushed aside, taken advantage of, and stolen from; honestly, why should they trust me? There was a certain amount of negotiating that had to happen, to assure them that this was a work of scholarship and preservation and that I wasn’t going to sell their life story and make a bunch of money off it for myself. It helped that I was writing for an academic press. I used my small advance to pay for the interviews to be transcribed and to buy all of my sources a copy of the book when it came out, and I was very transparent about all of that up front.
From Andrea Swensson:
My friend Heidi runs an incredible nonprofit in Minneapolis called Purple Playground, which is a Prince-inspired educational program that teaches teenagers about songwriting and recording. They host “Academy of Prince” summer camps at the High School for Recording Arts that have Prince collaborators (like Bobby Z., Dr. Fink, and Jellybean Johnson) stop by to host workshops about studio techniques and performing. It’s so great! And so in line with Prince’s own philanthropic work.
John Howland is the author of Hearing Luxe Pop: Glorification, Glamour and the Middlebrow in American Popular Music, which he describes as an exploration of “both twentieth-century, mainstream-entertainment traditions of ‘big production’ in American popular music, and how these ‘fabulous’ arranging traditions intersected with our popular-culture ideas of entertainment spectacle, glamour, pop melodrama, and celebrity image, as well as widely-circulated popular notions of ‘high’ culture, sophistication, wealth, and refinement.” In this excerpt from our interview, John further describes the book.
My “proper” archival research and reading, alongside a personal “junkshop” approach to gathering both further everyday historical knowledge and collecting media and materials (i.e., crate digging for records, and finding items via garage sales, literal junkshops, eBay, etc.), deeply shaped my insights as the book’s subjects took form. Personal history—for example, my father’s rich record collection and older music mentors who disparaged the “middlebrow”—likewise informed the project at even deeper levels.
…What interested me most from all this “classy” entertainment is just how damnably American this luxe-pop sound is. Indeed, for decades, from the 1930s through the 1970s, the core big-band-plus-strings luxe sound was literally the iconic soundtrack reference for urban America in Hollywood films. And despite its omnipresence and perpetual reinvention genre-by-genre in popular music practice, it had never been really talked about as tradition because most critics tend to compartmentalize popular music in discussion based on genre and according to the perceived jazz/rock midcentury divide.
Grindcore is a worldwide phenomenon where leftist punks, extreme metal shredders, and Anal Cunt fans can finally come together. Those are just a few of the demographics on display in director Doug Brown’s Slave to the Grind, an entertainingly exhaustive primer on the lightning-paced sub-underground sound and its many factions.
The film begins by breaking down the drum beats that typify several recognizable playing styles: the “cheat beat,” the d-beat, and the swiveling feet of Terrorizer’s Pete Sandoval. A brief history is sketched out from Repulsion’s invention of grindcore in Flint, Michigan, to the perpetually rotating lineups of Napalm Death in the UK. Regional variations continue to crop up in Japan, Sweden, and Quebec, where things really get weird.
Slave to the Grind differs from other scene-surveying documentaries by criticizing the actions of a controversial figure such as the late Anal Cunt singer Seth Putnam, who peppered his performances with racist slurs and Seig Heils. Grindcore might push the envelope, but that doesn’t mean people will put up with the musical equivalent of an 8chan edgelord. In 2014, noisecore heroes Deche-Charge paid him the ultimate tribute with their 101-song album, Disgrace To The Corpse of Seth.
In a 1987 interview with Smash Hits, what element of music did Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher think was “the hard part” of writing a song?
Tristan Kneschke is a freelance journalist and musician. Most recently, he penned a chapter for The Evolution of Electronic Dance Music, an anthology of essays published by Bloomsbury Academic, called “Where’s the drop? Identifying EDM trends through the career of Deadmau5.” In this excerpt from our interview, Tristan describes why he felt Deadmau5 was a perfect subject for this piece.
Deadmau5 is a household name, so he provides a recognizable instance for studying the scene’s trends. He’s at heart a savvy business person but also unquestionably really into the technological aspects of the profession, pretty much requirements for success at that level. He’s a clear character of the scene too, maintaining an introverted persona onstage but then publishing excoriating rants online. His antics made the prose less dry than a lot of academic material.
What was the most surprising thing that you found in your research?
At first I thought Deadmau5 was at the right place at the right time when he became popular, but he’s been an early adopter for many technological trends we consider commonplace, for example virtual reality, the streaming of live production sessions, and NFTs. He really has had a knack for seeing what technologies will become bigger players in the future, and has been able to capitalize on a lot of them to expand the capabilities of his career, which is why he’s so successful; it wasn’t just happenstance.
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
In the Smash Hits interview, Thatcher said, “the rhythm is easy but it’s having a good tune that’s the hard part.”
Do you have a 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…