#080: Disrupting The Listening Bubble
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.
Today in the newsletter: Interviews with Chicago freelance writer Jessi Roti; Jeremy Allen, author of a new Serge Gainsbourg biography; and newsletter writer / playlist maker Jennifer Baik. Plus! Reading recommendations, a few things to listen to, and much more! But first…
It’s Enough To Drive You Crazy If You Let It
Joe Weisenthal @TheStalwartDolly Parton has re-recorded her hit song 9 to 5, in a Super Bowl ad for Squarespace, as "5 to 9," as an ode to having a side hustle https://t.co/tmfbUbJqaA
Andrea Williams says the National Museum of African American Music should be a call to action for country music
Helen M. Jerome explains the unexpected connection between Jamaica and country music
Eleanor Halls says writers are now scared (and they have every right to be) when covering celebrities
Ellie Kovach on the emo twinkle
Nelson George on selling vinyl and the New York of his youth
Ben Murphy explores the connection between cars and electronic music
A bunch of sound experts talk about the most annoying sounds they’ve ever heard [h/t Marc Weidenbaum]
Elisabeth Vincentelli writes about a drummer attempting to perfectly replicate “Funky Drummer”
Hahna Yoon on the disappearing songs of female Korean divers
Micco Caporale on how Chicago’s music business is faring during the pandemic
Q&A: Jessi Roti
Jessi Roti is a freelance music and culture journalist from Chicago. In addition to her numerous freelance gigs, she’s the Play:Chicago columnist at Audiofemme. Her career journey in Chicago is one that intersects with the city's turbulent media market; I’d recommend checking out her full interview for tons of gems that will be helpful to anyone interested in that world. In this excerpt from our interview, Jessi explains how her approach to her work has changed over the past few years.
I’m much more intentional. I realized I had to be when my mental health really took a turn for the worst. Journalism, particularly when you hold an entry-level job, can be very “churn and burn.” You’ll take on extra work or go above and beyond because you want to get recognized to move ahead—but you’ll sooner be exploited than rewarded. Unfortunately, some people think that’s “just the way it is.” With that mentality, newsrooms are going to continue shrinking.
But that’s probably the biggest change I’ve made. I take more time to consider the work I say “yes” to now. Bizarre, right?
Is it great for my bank account? No, not really. That sucks, but I’d rather have less money and be less depressed and stressed out, than have more money and hate everything to my core.
A Cause Worth Supporting
From Jessi Roti:
There are so many mutual aid efforts in Chicago to support right now, it’s incredible. One I’ve made sure to revisit and elevate often is Chicaghoes for Sex Work, which is a Sex Workers’ Rights advocacy group and mutual aid resource centering Black and Brown sex workers in the city. Sex work has been an industry hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s been reported time and time again that people of color have been disproportionately affected by the virus. The industry is also constantly under attack by both local and federal governments, often putting workers in increased danger or limiting the avenues by which they can support themselves either online or in-person. Sex work should be acknowledged as work and benefits/aid resources need to be extended to these folks.
A more recent effort is this fund aimed at supporting Tracy Baim, co-publisher of the Chicago Reader and co-founder of the Windy City Times—which has covered Chicago’s LGBTQ+ community since 1985. In September 2020, WCT announced it would cease printing and exist only online. The fund has been set-up to help Tracy retire the final debts from printing and maintain the paper’s immense archive of queer history in the Midwest. It’s imperative that this pioneering work isn’t lost.
Check out all of the causes highlighted by folks I’ve interviewed.
Wesley Morris joins Object of Sound to talk about famous renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner”; Whitney Houston's 1991 Super Bowl performance of the anthem is also the subject of the first episode of Danyel Smith's new podcast, Black Girl Songbook
John Morrison is guesting on World Cafe in February, talking about the Black roots of rock & roll
As Disgraceland heads to Amazon, host Jake Brennan talks about the show’s history
Now That’s a Great Story focuses on how to land an agent (and a book deal)
Q&A: Jeremy Allen
Jeremy Allen is the author of the new book Relax Baby Be Cool: The Artistry and Audacity of Serge Gainsbourg, which looks one-by-one at the legendary French musician’s albums. Jeremy has been a music and culture journalist for nearly two decades, with bylines in The Guardian, VICE, The Quietus, and more. In this excerpt from our interview, Jeremy explains what’s changed about his work over the past few years.
When I was younger I didn’t take writing very seriously because I was more interested in being a musician—as stated—and I was also an alcoholic. I started to get more involved a few years after I quit drinking, mainly because I realised it was what I really wanted to be doing after all. When you’re an addict, all you care about is getting whatever you need to get out of your head. When that’s taken away, or you haven’t the stomach to pursue that way of life any longer, suddenly you have no idea what you actually like, and you have to discover what you enjoy all over again like a child. I am far more diligent than I ever was. I do my research and I care about the standard of my work, whereas that wasn’t always the case.
I think more recently I’ve been trying to eradicate ticks or little idiosyncrasies or phrases that one easily puts down on the page without thinking about it—reexamining it and then trying to put it another way. I don’t always catch them but it’s rather satisfying sometimes when you identify one of your own little foibles and then express what you mean more truthfully.
Stuff You Gotta Watch
The Blue Nile were in high spirits in 1990. Fresh off the release of their landmark second album, Hats, the Scottish sophisti-pop band embarked on their first tour of America. Flags and Fences captures footage from that trip with an impressionistic approach that perfectly matches the band’s swooning, romantic sound.
At 36 minutes in length, this BBC Scotland production could never be a cohesive look at the group’s history. Instead, it blends interviews and moody live performance clips into a dreamlike montage of big city traffic, small town strip malls, and lovers on the boardwalk. Like German director Wim Wenders’ stunning Paris, Texas, only outside visitors could view the U.S.A. through these kinds of rose-coloured reflections.
And while The Blue Nile was never much of a sales concern in the United States, it’s clear that the group has a deep abiding love for the country. At one point during the film, singer Paul Buchanan asks an interviewer: “Do you want to ask us why it’s called Hats?” The interviewer obliges. “Because of Abraham Lincoln,” he responds, smiling. “He’s got a new album out, doesn’t he?” the interviewer jokes. “He’s much better live,” Buchanan shoots back.
Video Killed The Journalist Star
Adam Neely breaks down the music theory of sea shanties
Framing Britney Spears was released last week
Humans of Classical Music is a new series of classical music recommendations (in one minute or less)
This Maria Cristina Sherman tweet about music documentaries generated replies full of great recommendations
Philip Ewell is celebrating Black History Month with a Twitter project entitled Erasing Colorasure in Music Theory
CREATESAFE has launched a music publishing simulator
For German readers: Daniel Gerhardt has started a newsletter
Detroit Sound Conservancy was awarded a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
And Others Are Patiently Awaiting Volume II
Q&A: Jennifer Baik
Jennifer Baik is an audience engagement producer for VERIFY (with TEGNA) and the writer behind the excellent Substack newsletter the b-side. The newsletter is a vehicle for Jennifer to send out playlists she’s constructed every so often, but each one also includes some great writing. In this excerpt from our interview, Jennifer explains how she organizes what she does.
In the age of streaming and micro-curated playlists, a lot of people will listen to what they want or what the algorithm thinks they want and there isn’t too much influence outside of that. My approach is essentially vibe curation and I try to take my readers/listeners through an experience rather than just a clinical walk-through of the “top ten tracks this week.” I used to be a music curator for my college radio station so that really helped me develop my own taste and get an understanding of why people like things and what I like versus what other people like (my dream job used to be one of those people Apple Music/Spotify sits in a room to make playlists.) I make a lot of playlists, so my brain basically creates a huge concept map, which can start from anything like a three-measure instrumental in a song I liked or what summer feels like in quarantine, and I start putting together tracks like a jigsaw puzzle.
My goal is to try to disrupt that listening bubble folks find themselves in or present already popular songs in a different way. When I pick songs for my newsletter, I try to put myself in the shoes of a casual listener. Good music journalism, in my opinion, should give historical context and cultural significance when needed. That’s also why I include a K-pop news section and Korean (not just K-pop) songs since, as Jay Park said, “Korean music is more than just K-pop.”
Registration is open for Music, Sound, and Trauma Studies: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, which will be held online this week
Call for Contributions: The Journal of Popular Music Studies is looking for pitches on topics related to the idea of 33 1/3
Call for Contributions: The AI Music Creativity conference will take place in July
Call for Papers: A conference entitled Music and Medicine. Musicological and Medical-Historical Approaches will be held in November
Call for Papers: The inaugural Sound on Screen conference will take place this summer; email SoundOnScreen2021@gmail.com for more info
Not Music, But Great
Jay Caspian Kang’s profile of actor Steven Yeun tackles the question, What is a typical immigrant story?
Rachel Poser talks to Dan-el Padilla Peralta, who wants to save ancient Greek and Roman classics from whiteness
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The Closing Credits
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, it’s @JournalismMusic. Until next time…