Writing About Music, Part 1: Introduction

The first installment in a series about music journalism asks, "How can I get started in writing about music?"

In recent months, I’ve heard a frequent question: “How can I get started in writing about music?”

This question is usually a red herring. Often, the person who asks it really wants to know: How can I achieve the same level of success as you (seem to) have?

There are many reasons why some writers become successful, and others don’t. Not all of those reason have to do with good writing. Many writers achieve infamy through hot-take social-media posts, gathering followers and then prominent assignments based on that following. One could charitably argue that these antics are merely a form of workshopping. Indeed, by the time those prestige gigs roll in, some of them grow into very fine writers. Others, unfortunately, remain better at spewing eye-catching viral rants than actual stories.

Then there are writers who are good at networking. They hang out at the right concerts, go to the right house parties, befriend the right people…etc. Both strategies are necessary to gathering an audience for your work.

I admit that I entered the industry during the early stages of Web 2.0, when Internet-focused magazines had just begun. Discussion surrounding the issues of the day centered on chat rooms, message boards, and comment sections in published stories. Landing cover bylines in print magazines were the prize, not a byline on a heavily-trafficked website. By the time social media emerged as a dominant force, my career was somewhat established, so I didn’t have to hustle for retweets. Even now, my low follower count indicates that Twitter isn’t a focus for me; my Facebook account is private, and my Instagram account is dormant. Or maybe people just don’t consider my thoughts that important. Who knows?

I believe it’s important to discuss ways to bring your work to a wider audience. However, I also believe that having a successful career is the end result, not the starting point.

At times, music journalism and criticism can be one of the lowest forms of writing in the profession — for many reasons that I may cite at a later date. But at its best, it can be as thought-provoking, informative, and inspiring as any other type of non-fiction prose. These qualities are achieved through practice, not gamesmanship.

During the next several months, I will share my experience, opinions, and expertise on the craft of writing about music. Please keep in mind that I am hardly a brand name. Yes, I have supported myself from writing for nearly 20 years. But I haven’t won any major awards, and I haven’t published books at major publishing houses. I’m not someone an editor at a major magazine calls for a hot cover story. I’m not what I like to call an “ivory tower critic,” an author whose name carries a kind of institutional significance. I just like to write, and I sometimes get paid to do it.

Hopefully my thoughts on this subject will be of some use.


Writing About Music: Homeschooling

In part two of an occasional series, I explore some of the music that had a profound impact on my childhood, including Earth, Wind & Fire and Hall & Oates.