#079: Exploding Refrigerators
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.
Today in the newsletter: Evelyn McDonnell, professor and director of the journalism program at Loyola Marymount University; freelance writer Dhruva Balram; and social media expert and journalism student Sal DiGioia. Plus: Reading recommendations, a sweet job opportunity, and much more! But first…
Fact (And I Lived in Germany For 6 Years)
Last week, I wrote that Rolling Stone is paying thought leaders to write for them. It is, in fact, the opposite. Rolling Stone is asking thought leaders to pay Rolling Stone to write for the magazine. Which is, uh, quite a difference.
Elias Leight on how buying beats is messier than ever
Andre Gee writes about rap’s misinformation problem
Jessica Gelt illuminates a broad culture of sexual abuse in Southern California’s underground music world
Sasha Geffen speaks with Claire Lobenfeld about the creative process
Megan Lesing wonders what we lose when critics are silenced and shamed
Esther Wang compiles an (incomplete) oral history of why Asian Americans love New Wave
Michelle Austin photographs and interviews New Orleans street musicians weathering the pandemic
Amanda Wicks writes on the need to clear space for sober stories in country music
Helen Scales on how the Afrofuturism of Drexciya is inspiring calls for an ocean memorial to slavery
Gustavus Stadler breaks down the political and personal history of “This Land Is Your Land” [h/t David Suisman]
Q&A: Evelyn McDonnell
Evelyn McDonnell is Professor of Journalism and New Media and Director of Journalism at Loyola Marymount University. She’s the author/editor of a number of books, including Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop, and Rap, published in 1995. Co-edited by Ann Powers, it was among the first collections of music criticism that foregrounded women’s voices. In this excerpt from our interview, Evelyn describes what’s changed about her work in the past few years.
I'm more interested in the big picture and the long view these days. The little work I am doing outside the university right now is focused on editing the Music Matters series for University of Texas Press. But this connects directly back to my first book, Rock She Wrote. That book, and "The Feminine Critique," critiqued the canon of the rock press. With this series, I, along with my coeditor Oliver Wang and UT's Casey Kittrell, are creating a new canon of music criticism that is explicitly looking for new takes on new and old subjects, publishing the kinds of writers that I never got to see in Rolling Stone or Spin. So while my work is vastly different—I'm no longer looking for the hot new artist/scene/story—the goals haven't changed: inclusion of the underheard and a feminist critique of structures of power in the music industry and in publishing.
A Cause Worth Supporting
From Evelyn McDonnell:
Given recent events, I would say two causes: Fair Fight, because Stacey Abrams is changing the world one election at a time. And also the Anti-Defamation League, because racial hatred is threatening our democracy, and our lives.
Check out all of the causes highlighted by folks I’ve interviewed.
Review Gonna Be Late STOP
Will Be Great Tho STOP
Matthew Perpetua @perpetua@en_cohen @PhilipSherburne I collect a lot of old music magazines and it's amazing how every bad cliche of music writing has been going strong at least 60 years at this point
A Friendly Reminder
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Hector Saldaña, curator of the Texas Music Collection at Texas State University, was a recent guest on Big Ideas TXST
Diversity Hire’s recently had on Complex GM Donnie Kwak and Pitchfork contributing editor Isabelia Herrera
Trilloquy featured Bach and Beyonce host Maria Ellis
For the Dutch listeners: de Mengtafel is asking Dutch electronic music producers to talk about classical music
Q&A: Dhruva Balram
Dhruva Balram is a freelance writer and critic, whose work has appeared in outlets like NPR, The Guardian, Vice, NME, and many more. Dhruva was born and raised in India, but has spent many years in Canada, Australia, and the UK. It was a trip back to India in his 20s, however, and a gig at The Wild City, “India’s main destination for alternative underground music,” that clarified what kind of music he wanted to focus on in his writing. In this excerpt from our interview, Dhruva explains what happened.
When I first started writing about music, I focused on mainstream, larger acts who already had built-in audiences. Though I came up writing about groups like Odd Future and Pro Era, my writing lacked the passion it possesses now. Reflecting back on it, I considered my work pandering to the masses in a large way—especially with my choice of reviews and profiles—as I was attempting to garner a name for myself without asking myself what it is I wanted to write about. My reviews were ostensibly written through the voice of a fan, rather than a critic.
Since working in India, my approach to writing about music has flipped on its head. Now, my main focus is profiling underrepresented and marginalised voices in the industry and spotlighting artists from diverse backgrounds. I look to build audiences for artists outside of the traditional Global North gaze, especially in spotlighting the fascinating scenes present across South Asia from Karachi’s electronic music scene to India’s politically-charged protest music.
A Cause Worth Supporting
From Dhruva Balram:
Currently, the world’s largest protests are ongoing in India as upwards of 250 million people push back against rising authoritarianism. The farmer protests are unequivocally the most significant movement occurring in the country, arguably the world, and the farmers need everyone’s support. Khalsa Aid helps with that.
Check out all of the causes highlighted by folks I’ve interviewed.
Stuff You Gotta Watch
“The LAPD freaked out about punk rock like it was the second coming of the Black Panthers,” says Germs drummer Don Bolles in the opening moments of Desolation Center. He paints a picture of the early 1980s, in which the police shut down left-leaning events (in this case punk shows), instigating violent confrontations. With nowhere left to host gigs legally, promoter Stuart Swezey launched a series of guerilla happenings in remote locations featuring some of the most influential underground artists of the Reagan era.
Swezey doubles as the director of this feature-length documentary, flashing back to the heyday of his legendary live series with recollections from audience members and artists who were there. School buses brought fans to the Mojave desert to see Einstürzende Neubauten surrounded by exploding refrigerators, before the Meat Puppets and Minutemen welcomed fans onto a freight ship in the San Pedro harbour.
After local officials caught wind of Swezey’s events (which were sorely lacking in the areas of safety and security), he and his fellow organizers were hit with massive fines. This signaled the beginning of the end, but not before multiple people in attendance were inspired to go off and create new things in Desolation Center’s image, like Lollapalooza, Burning Man, and Coachella.
This Is An Advertisement
Third Bridge Creative is hiring a Music Editorial Lead for one of its client projects. They’re looking for someone who obsesses over both the business and creative sides of the music industry; who’s fluent in multiple music genres, a great writer, and comfortable with spreadsheets and data. This is a 20-30 hour per week contract project starting March 1, with the potential to convert to full time. Click here to learn more and find out how to apply.
Polyphonic celebrates a famous Canadian sea shanty
Rick Beato explains how people lose perfect pitch
David Bruce explains Jonny Greenwood’s relationship with the Ondes Martenot
The annual Music Writer Exercise (#MWE) begins on Twitter today
Pioneer DJ has launched a new content platform called The Bridge [h/t Shawn Reynaldo]
Punk Planet is now available on the Internet Archive
Largehearted Boy turned 19 this week
Greg Kot is leading editorial at the newly launched Coda Collection
Q&A: Sal DiGioia
Sal DiGioia is a graduate student earning a master’s degree at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Sal is a talented writer, getting his start at one of the best college newspapers in the country, The Michigan Daily, but I got in touch with him primarily because of his prowess on TikTok. (He’s written about how he built his channel.) In this excerpt from our interview, Sal answers a few questions about TikTok and his work.
Where do you see music journalism on TikTok headed?
I expect legacy media brands to take over TikTok. We are in the primitive phase of the platform, so early adopters are winning. As the spread of COVID-19 slows, and legacy publications begin to rebuild budgets, I predict many companies will hire creators to mimic news anchors on TikTok. (Call me?) Additionally, TikTok has tested 3-minute videos, which would totally alter the dynamic.
What's one tip that you'd give a music journalist starting out right now?
Trust your instincts. I started posting on TikTok because the journalists that I idolize were always discussing the same things on Twitter. I figured that folks who were not privy to those conversations would want to be. It was a gut instinct thing, and proved to be correct.
What's your favorite part of all this?
I love that music journalists are archiving pop cultural history in real-time. One of my favorite pastimes is reading old pieces about the trends, artists, or concerts that I was entranced by as a naive youth. It is fascinating to learn how specific moments were perceived by older folks at that time.
It Truly Is Special
Call for Papers: Baltic Musics After the Post-Soviet is a virtual symposium taking place early next year
Call for Papers: American Musical Instrument Society’s annual meeting will take place in June 2021
The Latin Grammy Foundation has awarded its 2021 grants
Sarah Raine has published a report about the challenges for women musicians in jazz and ways forward for equal gender representation at jazz festivals
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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…