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 email@example.com.
Like what you’re seeing? Make a one-time donation here or support the newsletter on an ongoing basis by subscribing to the paid edition via the button below.
Today: Yeah, there are definitely some interviews. How about John Mulvey, the editor of MOJO? Or Rose Lilah, the editor-in-chief of HotNewHipHop? As if that wasn’t enough, we’ve also got Micro-Chop’s Gino Sorcinelli, India’s preeminent music journalist Bhanuj Kappal, freelancer-turned-copywriter Stacy-Ann Ellis, and children’s music journalist Jeffrey Cohen. Plus! A tribute to Andrew Weatherall, this week’s reading list, and more. But first...
I Will Not Be Getting Tired Of These Anytime Soon
Q&A: John Mulvey
John Mulvey is a music journalism lifer, starting his career at NME, moving on to Uncut, and landing at MOJO. In our interview, he reflected at length about his career in the music journalism business: “I’m constantly thankful, and still a bit amazed about that, and about how I’ve been able to do precisely what I always dreamed of doing as a teenager.” In this excerpt, he talks about taking over MOJO a few years ago.
One thing that had always bugged me about perceptions of MOJO was that it was entirely about old music and heritage acts, when there was this huge reviews section in every issue, and a constant imperative to discover and promote new music. I genuinely believe that while most of our readers do love The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, and so on, they have a real interest in hearing new music, too: not necessarily from artists who are interested in the concept of newness to a neurotic degree, but certainly from artists who align themselves, consciously or otherwise, with a kind of great tradition of music that stretches back 50 or 60 years, maybe longer. I wanted that enthusiasm, and that mission to celebrate new things, to be more prominent, visible, in MOJO.
Our top albums of 2019 featured Springsteen and Nick Cave and Lee Perry, but it also had room for Black Midi, Fontaines DC, Aldous Harding, and The Comet Is Coming. It strikes me as critical to the ongoing health of music magazines that we make these juxtapositions and connections between old and new; place the music we love in a bigger context, on a longer continuum.
Read the full interview with John here.
Ian Cohen (and a host of others) present the 100 best emo songs of all-time
Jillian Mapes wonders why the High Fidelity reboot exists at all
Veronica Bayetti Flores investigates which reggaetóneros perform (or at least claim to perform) oral sex
Jon Caramanica goes to Dallas to meet 10k.Caash
Kory Grow has an oral history of Black Sabbath’s first album
Matt McDermott finds out what sort of impact the Apollo/Transco fire may have on the vinyl industry
Fiona McQuarrie’s Song Book is now available as an e-book
Q&A: Rose Lilah
Rose Lilah never imagined music journalism as a career. She got a degree in Classics & Philosophy and minors in Latin and Ancient Greek. She was thinking about going back to school when she found a job posting for “hip-hop blogger.” That job posting ended up being for HotNewHipHop, and she’s gone on to become the editor-in-chief, transforming it into “hip hop’s digital giant.” In this excerpt from our full interview, she details how she got her start.
The job posting did not even mention the name of the website, but I was already on music blogs as though it was my full time job. It was something I thoroughly enjoyed consuming (reading & listening) whenever I had a spare moment, so this was a “dream job” really, despite the fact that I had no formal education in it.
I applied, I was interviewed and found out it was for HotNewHipHop—at the time I hadn’t even heard of the website, it was still when the New Music Cartel blogs reigned supreme. Long story short: I got the job and as someone with a very strong writing background and a love for it as well, I implemented some practices pretty quickly, such as our news aggregation as well as original content pieces in general.
From there, I really just helped things grow editorially. I grew our team of writers as well as freelance writers, and I eventually began writing less as I had more to manage. I’ve been with HNHH since quite early on, so I naturally grew into the role I have now, but I also actively took initiative over the years so that I could grow into this role, too. However we are a very small company so everyone is pretty flexible in their roles, meaning, I’ve learned to wear many different hats along the way.
Read the full interview with Rose here.
Music Journalism Round-Up
Greg Kot wrote his final column for the Chicago Tribune last week.
Nelson George was interviewed in Afropunk.
Ex-Pitchforker Chris Kaskie was a recent guest on Time Crisis, talking about the site’s infamous Jet review (among other things).
In the last section of this week’s Popcast, Jon Caramanica and Jon Pareles answer reader questions about their work as music critics for the New York Times. (The latest episode of Sound Opinions does the same.)
The Ringer’s Rob Harvilla talked with The Creative Independent about the value of deadlines and editors.
As The Face’s assistant editor, Paul Rambali, observes, “There was a time when music was much more pertinent to the culture. Records aren’t selling as much, and people are spending more time playing video games, for instance. Generally, music doesn’t play such an important part in people’s lives.”
[h/t Joe Muggs for the link]
This Checks Out
Q&A: Gino Sorcinelli
Gino Sorcinelli is the man behind Micro-Chop, a newsletter that dissects beatmaking, DJing, music production, rapping, and sampling. For anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of hip-hop, it’s a must-read. And there’s a lot of it: Gino publishes Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’m incredibly (selfishly) curious about how other folks think about their newsletters, so in this excerpt from our interview, I asked Gino how he came to start one in the first place.
I decided to start a Substack newsletter for a few reasons. For one, I was really burned out on Medium after self-publishing Micro-Chop articles there religiously for about three years. In my eyes, the platform gave up on supporting music journalists in any meaningful way a long time ago.
I also had a financially disastrous summer of 2019. My finances were already less-than-ideal when I drove to Orlando with my wife to support her and her jump rope team. On the way to Florida my car overheated, and the engine and radiator died. Long story short, I ultimately had to pay off the remaining loan on my car and sell it for next to nothing. Then, when we got home, I found out that I needed a root canal and crown. So I desperately needed to generate income, immediately. A few people had already mentioned Substack to me. After doing some more research, it seemed like a good way to supplement my freelancing gigs. So far, it has given me a nice additional boost of income.
RIP Andrew Weatherall
Andrew Weatherall passed away yesterday. There will undoubtedly be many tributes to his work as a DJ, producer, and remixer. But many people are unaware of his work as a music journalist (of a sort) for the Boy’s Own fanzine. The publication was an incredibly important document of the British music scene as dance music took off in London, charting the music, the style, and the madness that came along with it. It was incredible timing: Weatherall and the rest of the editorial team (including Terry Farley and Steve Mayes) were rare groove and soul fans that got caught by the acid house bug, but never got too caught up in it. Weatherall’s nom de plume for the mag, after all, was The Outsider. In 2009’s Boy’s Own: The Complete Fanzines, 1986-1992, Weatherall explained why he took on the name: "I was The Outsider because I was a bolshie little bastard! I always want to be in a gang then I don't want to be. I want the best of both worlds. So I thought I'd be able to write a snarky piece deconstructing or taking the piss out of everything you're about to read in the magazine."
Boy’s Own was, of course, focused on music and fashion. What’s really interesting to me, though, is everything around the edges. Weatherall had a brief history of tattoo art in the second issue, for instance, that was both poetic and hilarious in equal measure. In fact, Weatherall did a lot of the early writing. Which, as Terry Farley remembered in a Resident Advisor feature from 2010, was a blessing and a curse: "My schooling and Steve Mayes' schooling was pretty non-existent. We got Andrew in because he was a lot cleverer than us, could spell and knew proper grammar. Little did we know he was a lazy fucker and would always deliver his copy about five weeks late!"
It was worth the wait.
If you’re a dance music fan and don’t have a copy of Boy’s Own: The Complete Fanzines, 1986-1992, I’d highly suggest tracking one down.
Dads In Cargo Shorts That Like NOFX
Q&A: Bhanuj Kappal
Bhanuj Kappal is one of the preeminent music journalists in India, an independent voice in a country where making a living in music journalism is even harder than it is in the US or UK. I didn’t know much about Bhanuj before sending him a bunch of questions via email, but his answers were eye-opening. Including this bit, in which he talks about how his work has changed in the past few years.
I've become increasingly disillusioned with the insular, upper class and apolitical nature of the rock and indie scenes. As those scenes have become more mainstream, their edges softened by artist managers and the needs of brands/corporate labels, I've remained on the look-out for what's replaced them rather than write about the more mainstream figures.
This—along with the fact that I’m quite an outspoken, undiplomatic asshole—does carry its risks. Access can be a problem. When I was going to do a 5,000 word feature on one of India’s biggest commercial music stars a couple of years ago, I had to spend some time convincing their PR that I wasn’t looking to trash their artist. I’m practically persona non-grata at the biggest indie music festival in the country because I exposed sexual harassment in the ranks of the company that organises it. I’ve almost been beaten up a couple of times for going a little over-the-top in my criticism of a local darling band.
But the advantage of also having a finger in the political journalism pie is that you realise how little this really matters. Once you’ve been harassed and detained by cops for reporting on protests and writing about dissidents, the petty politics of the music scene tend to not be that threatening. And I’ve come to realise that my earlier “insider” status in the music scene blinded me to so much bullshit. Basically, I started as a fan-zine writer and somehow stumbled my way into becoming an actual journalist.
Read the full interview with Bhanuj here.
The latest edition of The Future of What is all about licensing music on podcasts
Fresh Air re-aired their 1995 interview with Nick Hornby, the author of High Fidelity
The latest Don’t Alert The Stans has a nice section about freelance writing
The Ringer is launching a new music-focused podcast with Chuck Klosterman and Chris Ryan entitled Music Exists
I Feel Seen
Q&A: Stacy-Ann Ellis
Stacy-Ann Ellis has freelanced for tons of publications (GQ, Teen Vogue, and Billboard among them) with a full-time gig at VIBE thrown in. Just recently, she’s added copywriting to her resume. In short, Stacy-Ann knows how things work, which is why I was so excited to ask her about her experiences in the music journalism world. In this excerpt from our interview, she offers up a valuable perspective for anyone just starting out, or for folks who are re-evaluating where they are.
In the last few years, I've realized just how valuable my words (and the time spent writing them) are, and that I need to make sure places I write for understand and respect that value, too. Essentially, I've moved away from the happy-to-be-here lens and started looking at my profession through a business lens. I'm a perfectionist and put hours and hours and hours into my work to make sure it's the best it can be, so it's okay to be more selective about the projects I take on. It's okay to go for rates that match the effort I put in. It's okay to no longer do writing favors unless it's something I truly believe in. More opportunities in line with my desires have come my way since I've had this change in mindset.
Read the full interview with Stacy-Ann here.
I’ve been going through the SPIN archives on Google Books, and it’s kinda incredible? Here are three great quotes from the first three issues. Can you guess the source of each one? Feel free to answer in the comments for this post on Substack.
1) “Crucifixes are sexy because there’s a naked man on them.”
2) “Our percussionist ____ _____ is so funny. He had this big sack of saucepans with him. One day he produced this weird buzzing noise—it turned out to be a dildo. It’s inconceivable, what this guy plays.”
3) “Gee, I don’t know how to thank you. You’ve made this trip for little Ronnie.”
Q&A: Jeffrey Cohen
As a new parent, I’ve been incredibly curious about the music that my young son will love (and hate) in his early years. (Elmo, as you might expect, is an early chart-topper.) As a result I've done some research into the children’s music journalism scene, where Jeffrey Cohen has been a major figure, though he recently announced that he's going to be stepping back from writing. In this excerpt from our interview, he explains how he got into writing about children’s music and why he’s slowing down.
I sort of fell into reviewing children's music. My older son Ben (now 19) has high-functioning autism and is obsessed with music and live performances. A family friend recorded a children's music CD, and when one of the songs was played on a two-hour radio show/podcast featuring nothing but children's music, it opened our eyes (and ears) to the breadth and scope of the genre. I started putting together playlists for Ben to listen to while he ate breakfast. I started to share Ben's music playlists, and before long, publicists were sending me CDs, asking me to attend concerts, and setting up interviews with recording artists (such as Lisa Loeb, Raffi, and Justin Roberts).
Why did you decide to do less writing about music?
I came to the realization that children's music was getting more out of me then I was getting out of children's music. So I'm putting on the brakes—hard—in 2020. Ben has outgrown the genre, although he enjoys the camaraderie with familiar performers. And his younger brother, who just turned 9, already wants to hear current pop music at home or in the car.
Read the full interview with Jeffrey here.
And Is That With Spaces Or Without?
Paid Subscriber Extras
What sort of extras can you expect if you become a paying subscriber to the newsletter? Here’s a breakdown.
Thursday Newsletter - An extra newsletter each week, featuring job listings, freelance calls, and more links to great music journalism
How To Pitch Database - Access to a routinely updated database with contact information and pitching info for more than 225 publications
Reading Recommendations - A resource page collecting great pieces of music journalism, sourced from great music journalists
Advice - A resource page devoted to collecting advice from journalists and editors on how to excel at music journalism
Interviews - Full access to all interviews that have ever appeared in the newsletter
Want to make a one-time donation instead? You can do that here.
Spread The Word, Get In Touch
Thanks for reading Music Journalism Insider! If you like what you see, please tell a friend. This newsletter—as you can hopefully tell—takes a good deal of work. I’d love to keep it going, but can only do so with your support. Feel free to reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, it’s @JournalismMusic. Until next time…