#001: Welcome To Music Journalism Insider!
Plus: The week in music journalism + job listings
Welcome to Music Journalism Insider! In this inaugural issue, we’ve got an interview with former Pitchfork editor Mark Richardson, a whole bunch of job listings, and a round-up of the week’s best journalism. But first… what the hell is this thing?
My name is Todd Burns, and I’ve been involved in music journalism since 2002. I co-founded an online publication called Stylus Magazine that helped launch the careers of a number of writers I didn’t have any business editing. I later went on to work at eMusic (for a minute) under J. Edward Keyes, who now helms the ship at Bandcamp Daily. The big boss at eMusic was Michael Azerrad. I remember him giving me a piece of advice once: “Don’t box yourself in, talking only about one type of music.”
So! I naturally went from there to edit Resident Advisor, an electronic music magazine. A few years after spending almost every weekend in a Berlin nightclub, I got a call from a creative agency that was working on the Red Bull Music Academy project. I started editing their web magazine at the beginning of 2013, and found myself with the space and blessing to do just about anything I wanted. So I did! Podcasts, online radio, weird digital projects, interviews, documentaries, and an online magazine that never had to pivot to video.
All good things come to an end, and so did that.
My work with Red Bull ended last week, but it was announced earlier this year. I also had the good fortune of becoming a dad in late April. Which is to say, I’ve been doing a lot of looking inward lately. I’ve come to two big conclusions: 1) I’m (still) in love with music journalism. And 2) I want to go through my one trip on this Earth believing that there are others that feel similarly.
So! With that preamble out of the way, welcome to Music Journalism Insider, a newsletter about music journalism. They say it’s in a bad place right now. It feels like there’s less work than ever to be had. The pay for that work is lower than it’s ever been. And what’s more, music doesn’t seem to be at the center of the cultural conversation in the way it maybe once was. Everyone seems to be forming a union. You know. Just in case.
I don’t know. Call me crazy, but I think things are as good as they’ve ever been. Maybe even better. Everything’s more diverse: the people telling stories, the stories being told, the formats through which they’re telling them. I have an incredibly tough time keeping up with all of the incredible work that comes out each week.
I’d like to celebrate the good stuff and talk plainly about the bad, too. I look at Music Journalism Insider as a sort of trade publication for music journalism. But I’m merely one person, and can’t keep track of everything that’s happening out there. So please feel free to email me anytime. Tips, corrections, complaints, general banter: I’m here for all of it. I want this newsletter to be exceptionally useful to those that read it. If you’re a music journalist and you aren’t getting something out of it, then I’m doing it wrong.
A note on programming: I’ll likely be in your inbox two or three times a week throughout November and December. (I’ve got a lot of interviews lined up that I’m excited to share, including chats with Chris Richards (Washington Post), Jillian Mapes (Pitchfork) and David Toop (The Wire).) And, depending on how things go, I’ll likely be making parts of the newsletter paid starting in January 2021. (Did I mention my family got bigger this year?)
OK, on with the show!
Ryan Reed finished his daily news shift at the news desk for Rolling Stone. [Twitter]
Lindsay Zoladz has left The Ringer to go freelance. [Twitter]
The Week in Music Writing
Each week, we’ll be highlighting some of the best music journalism on (and off) the web, whether it be writing, video, podcasts, or something else entirely. The excellent MusicREDEF does this on a daily basis through their must-read newsletter, so you may see some overlap… consider these sections an additional co-sign of great work.
Bad interviews. We’ve all had them, but this interview with Van Morrison published in The Guardian seems like it was a particularly tough one. Especially because the writer loves Van’s work so much. When asked why he unveiled two songs off his latest album for his live show, Van replied:
“Cos those are the ones the band learned. I don’t know, is this a psychiatric examination?” It is not. “It sounds like one,” he says. “The band learned those two songs, so those are the ones they knew. There’s not really any great intellectual Bernard Levin debate, you know. It’s just, it’s just … it’s just music, that’s all it is.”
Otherwise, metal mag Kerrang scored an interview with Threatin, a guy who “became a viral sensation after faking his entire career.” The electronic music world was busy talking about race and privilege, in the wake of (white, Russian) DJ Nina Kraviz showing off her cornrows on social media. And Huck showed how (UK) hip-hop magazines shaped (UK) rap.
A Short (Non-)Commercial Break
The Week in Music Books
This week, the book of note is Flea’s Acid for the Children. When I saw this book announced, I casually looked for the ghostwriter to see if they’d be up for an interview, but couldn’t find one. Apparently Flea decided not to bring one in. I found that curious… and apparently so did Alex Pappademas, who dwells on this topic at some length in his recent New York Times profile of Flea:
David Ritz, the author of 46 biographies, has helped bring forth the life stories of Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles. He did not write “Acid for the Children,” but he will politely acknowledge that his editorial input is probably the reason it is less than 1,200 pages long…. (Flea remains a bit in love with the voluminous original version of the book: “I do see a beauty in it.”)…. [Flea]’s suspicious of books that credit a ghostwriter, and didn’t want to write one that did… “That really pissed David Ritz off,” Flea said, laughing. They began a creative conversation anyway.
Other notables out this week:
Why Lhasa de Sela Matters - Fred Goodman
Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Story - Billy Vera
Tony Conrad Writings - Edited by Constance DeJong and Andrew Lampert
The Week in Music Podcasts
Oftentimes, the most interesting music criticism comes from those outside of the discourse. Jason Concepcion isn’t that far outside of it. He does work for The Ringer after all. But he’s more likely to be recapping a Game of Thrones episode than he is to be talking about music. That changed this past week when he was invited on the always-excellent Heat Rocks podcast to talk about one of his favorite albums of all-time, Herbie Hancock’s Thrust. It’s not one of Herbie’s most critically beloved albums, but Concepcion makes a strong case as to why it should be.
Country fans take note: Reba McEntire will be launching a new podcast in 2020. (Hard to say if it’ll be music focused, but one can hope!)
The Hit Parade - Slate’s Chris Molanphy offers an expert ride through British alternative rock in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Song Exploder - A guitarist from Slipknot breaks down the track “Unsainted.”
Mogul - This bonus episode from the new season explores why DJ Uncle Al is a Miami bass legend.
The Week in TV / Film / Video
Music journalism on television? It’s happening more and more. The New Yorker explains how we might actually just be in a “golden age of hip-hop television,” using Untold Stories of Hip Hop (WE tv), Hip Hop: The Songs That Shook America (AMC), Rhythm + Flow (Netflix), and Wu-Tang: An American Saga (Hulu) as the evidence.
Docs: Vice, meanwhile, is focusing on hip-hop in Russia. (Apparently authorities are having a tough time cracking down on it.) A documentary about the famed Apollo venue will be making its way to HBO this week. Resident Advisor just premiered a lengthy film about the electronic music scene in Sydney. And you can watch a doc about the reggae label Trojan (in the US) if you’re willing to download the Breaker app.
Interviews: DJ Premier talked with Hot 97 about the new Gang Starr album, Billie Eilish and Billie Joe Armstrong chat with one another for Rolling Stone, and A$AP Ferg recounts an unforgettable night at the VMAs.
Journalism: Theneedledrop reviews the new Swans album, Todd in the Shadows remembers The Clash’s awful Cut the Crap, 8-bit Music Theory celebrates the silence of Silent Hill 2, and Sideways breaks down Sweeney Todd.
Biden Loves Vinyl, But…
Mark Richardson (Pitchfork, Wall Street Journal)
Mark Richardson is a name that most folks in the music journalism world will know. He worked at Pitchfork for 20 (!) years, ascending to the throne as Editor-In-Chief in 2011. He left Pitchfork last year, and has since gotten a regular gig at The Wall Street Journal as the rock and pop critic. In this excerpt from our interview, he offers two tips for a beginner music journalist. (You can read the full interview here.)
What's one tip that you'd give a music journalist starting out in 2019?
I will actually offer two, both of which I think are important and I would hope be helpful for anyone starting out. The first is that the best way to get a foothold in writing about music is to narrow your focus and become an expert in an area of music not a lot of people are covering. Think about scenes and sounds where interesting music is happening and to which you feel a personal connection but that also seem under-covered. I often notice a new byline by a young writer first because they're writing about an area of music I'm unfamiliar with and doing so with authority. Trying to break through by writing about Kanye and Beyonce is very difficult—there's so much music out there that people are responding to but not enough people are writing about. A foothold in a lesser-covered area is a great place to build from.
The second is to make a point to learn about music by reading books, instead of just reading what's online. Fifteen years ago the internet seemed like an endless resource for information about music but now it seems very limited. A small percentage of music history and thought is available online, and the vast majority can be found in books and old magazines. Libraries have both. It's actually pretty easy to detect when you are reading someone who knows music only through reading online—they have the same set of assumptions and references as everyone else. Do what you can to deepen your knowledge and have the broadest possible understanding of context.
Read my full interview with Mark here.
Before We Get To The Jobs Board, Please Remember
This first edition is a bit hefty, because we’re including everything we see… even stuff that’s been up for a bit. Most weeks, though, we’ll only include jobs that have popped up in the past seven days. The only internships listed are paid (as they should be). Want to list a job? Hit reply on this email and send us the details.
Managing Editor - Oxford American [Little Rock]
Editorial Director - Vulture [New York]
Music Biz Reporter - Rolling Stone [Los Angeles]
Senior Editor (Lifestyle and Entertainment) - Men's Health [New York]
Head of Content - Resident Advisor [Berlin]
Associate Editor - Pitchfork [New York]
Editor - Dazed Digital [London]
Features Writer - Vulture [New York]
Senior Staff Writer, Latin - Billboard [New York]
Senior Staff Writer, Latin - Billboard [Los Angeles]
Senior Editor, Music, Classical - WQXR [New York]
Head of Social Media - Pollen [London]
Senior Writer - WIRED [San Francisco / New York]
Staff Writer - i-D [London]
Assistant Digital Editor - Texas Monthly [Austin]
Editorial Assistant - XXL [New York]
Social Media Coordinator - Pollen [Los Angeles]
Coordinator, Music Programming/Latin - SiriusXM [New York]
Digital Editorial Intern - Crack [Bristol]
Summer 2020 Books and Arts Criticism - Wall Street Journal [New York]
Fellowship - Arts Critic - New York Times [New York]
LAist - Looking for “stories that tell a deeper story about life here in SoCal.”
Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything - “If it has the power to impact the way we live, work or play, we want to hear about it.”
The Content Farm, In Short
Question of the Week
This week’s question, in honor of the Van Morrison piece in the Guardian: What was your worst interview, (and why)?
Hit the reply button and let me know. We’ll post some of the best answers next week.
Yes, finally. If you like what you read here, please feel free to tell a friend! This is the first edition, and—as you can hopefully tell—some amount of work went into it. I’d love to keep it going, but can only do so with your support!