#090: Unlistenable Faux-Art

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 music.journalism.insider@gmail.com.

Today in the newsletter: Interviews with Latin music expert Leila Cobo; zine maker and publisher Miranda Reinert; newsletter producer Armando Bellmas; and The New Nine editor-in-chief Amanda Treadgold. Plus! Reading recommendations, podcast picks, and more! But first!

Makes Ya Think

Reading List

  • Cherie Hu on how we define independence

  • Annie Zaleski goes deep on artists re-recording their own music

  • Ernie Smith considers digital preservation from the corporate perspective

  • Terry Matthew charts the history of the Soviet ANS synthesizer

  • Alex Wexelman has a screed about the memeification of music

  • Mariana Timony asks the writers of Tone Glow to reflect on what music means to them, as folks begin to emerge from quarantine

  • Luke Ottenhof illustrates how conservatives are co-opting protest music

  • Noah Yoo explains the implications of the recent K-pop / Spotify showdown

  • Alice Fordham writes movingly about an Iraqi women’s choir, in a piece punctuated with beautiful photos

  • Nathan Taylor Pemberton profiles the pandemic year of an NYC club

Q&A: Leila Cobo

Leila Cobo is an author and VP/Latin Industry Lead for Billboard. She’s just written a new book called Decoding "Despacito": An Oral History of Latin Music, which features oral histories of 19 defining songs. It’s the first time that the production behind these songs has been covered in such depth. In this excerpt from our interview, Leila describes why she wrote the book.

Well, I live and breathe Latin music. I’ve made it my life’s mission to make sure this music is seen and heard and recognized as it should be. This doesn’t mean pandering; quite the contrary. It’s about covering insightfully and smartly the best the music and its industry have to offer and of course, all those wonderful stories that happen in our countries and that would otherwise never see the light of day. Until just a couple of years ago, our music was largely ignored by the mainstream and this allowed Billboard to noticeably grow its footprint in this beat. So, I truly know the depth and breadth of Latin music and the Latin music industry, and I also understand the place it holds as an intrinsic part of popular American culture. 

This isn’t new; remember, back in 1999 we had the “Latin explosion” with Ricky Martin, to give just one example. The book, in fact, begins with an anecdote of Perez Prado on the Billboard charts in the 1950s. Now, there’s a new awareness for the music, thanks to “Despacito” and to the growing global presence of Latin music in many charts around the world. If there was ever a time for a “history” of Latin music, it was now. And I wanted to tell it in the most entertaining, compelling way possible: By the players themselves.

Read the full interview with Leila here.

Podcasts!

  • NPR music critic Ann Powers recently talked about her career on QC Pod

  • Eric Weisbard was a guest on Fluxpod, talking extensively about the SPIN Alternative Record Guide

  • Nadia Idle, Keir Milburn, and Jeremy Gilbert dig into the politics of folk on #ACFM

  • Ethan Diamond, CEO of Bandcamp, was a recent guest on How I Built Resilience

  • Endless Scroll hosted Aliya Chaudhry for a chat about pop punk on TikTok

Who’s Gonna Tell Him?

Q&A: Miranda Reinert

Miranda Reinert is a zine maker and publisher, newsletter writer, and co-host of the Endless Scroll podcast. Before starting an excellent newsletter that has become one of my favorites of the past year, she wrote an article for Music Journalism Insider about making zines. In this excerpt from our interview, Miranda talks about what she’d like to see more (and less) of in music journalism.

More print media. Maybe that’s a bit of a pipe dream, but it’s the thing I like best. Living in Chicago and being able to grab a copy of the Reader exposed me to so much journalism I never would have accessed if not for a physical product. Gold Flake Paint and Hooligan are both brilliant, beautiful physical music magazines that have exposed me to so many new musicians and artists just by virtue of having something in my hands that feels like one whole piece. When you're reading something online it's easy to pick and choose articles and will likely click things you're more familiar with. Print isn't like that. Even something like the New York Times Music Issue, which looks nice online, is so much better in your hands. I hope more people will make zines and physical counterparts to what they do online.

What would you like to see less of in music journalism right now?

Coverage that’s less about a musician’s identity and more about music itself. I’m especially sick of interviews that feel like they’re exploiting BIPOC and trans musicians because stories of trauma get clicks. Those musicians should be allowed to tell their own individual dynamic stories as musicians and as people without being treated as some kind of spokesperson for a group they belong to or as a case study in trauma from racism or transphobia. It reads as degrading to me and I’d like to see music media move away from those narratives.

Read the full interview with Miranda here.

A Cause Worth Supporting

From Miranda Reinert:

Support the Chicago Reader. Alt-weeklies provide important, independent journalism that is constantly being threatened. The Reader is such an important institution within Chicago and so important to how I processed the world around me as a young person. I can't imagine what Chicago would be without it and I hope to never find out.

Check out all of the causes highlighted by folks I’ve interviewed.

Pivoting to Video

Stuff You Gotta Watch

Stuff You Gotta Watch celebrates music journalism in video form. This week’s column is by freelance writer Jesse Locke.

It’s hard to talk about Tim Kinsella without talking about his critics. Midway through this 2017 documentary, the endlessly prolific midwest emo hero is surrounded by pull quotes from reviews describing his music as “difficult,” “whiny,” and “unlistenable faux-art.” After 20-plus years leading his primary band Joan of Arc, does Kinsella deserve the scorn or remain misunderstood?

Your War (I'm One Of You) begins in the childhood home of brothers Tim and Mike Kinsella, tracing the tumultuous rise and fall of their teenage band, Cap’n Jazz. The film is heartrending in scenes describing guitarist Victor Virrareal’s close brush with death during an intense period of his addiction. His entry to rehab marked the start of Joan of Arc, and, with it, Kinsella’s stubborn belief that music for mass audiences always rings false.

With the testimony of admirers like Ryley Walker and Devendra Banhart, Your War makes the argument the critics have been getting it wrong. As the camera crew follows Kinsella to Tokyo in present day, he visits a clothing store opened by another superfan that shares his last name and uses Owls lyrics as slogans. Kinsella’s songs might not speak to everyone, but for those who love them, they mean more than even he could know.

Q&A: Armando Bellmas

Armando Bellmas is the producer of Ecléctico, an eclectic music discovery newsletter, and a DJ at WNCW radio in western North Carolina. Ecléctico has a very simple premise: It delivers one music recommendation each day of the workweek. But it’s done with uncommon excellence and (as the name suggests) diversity of taste. In this excerpt from our interview, Armando talks about what he’d like to see more of in music journalism.

Deep dive articles and essays that don’t revolve around the PR cycle. I understand that the cycle pays and is always there for writers, but we live in such a hype culture that it’s refreshing to read about music or musicians that are just creating instead of promoting. That’s what I like about a podcast like Rhett Miller’s Wheels Off, where creative folks talk about making work and a living. A healthy balance of that kind of writing and the hype stuff that keeps writers and journalists working and paid consistently and on time is what I’d like to see more of.

Read the full interview with Armando here.

Bits, Bobs

Define “fun”…

Q&A: Emily Treadgold

Emily Treadgold is editor-in-chief of The New Nine and Social Media Manager at Total Assault. On the "About" page for The New Nine, Emily explains, “Fangirls have always been looked down on as silly and frivolous and, I believe, for that reason they’ve been ashamed to express themselves. Yet, fangirls are some of the only people who still buy physical albums, wait in lines, and spend countless dollars on merchandise. When will we acknowledge that fangirls are vital to any successful musician?” In this excerpt from our interview, Emily further details the impetus behind The New Nine.

The New Nine all started with a simple idea: Women's taste in music, even though they've predicted everything from Frank Sinatra to Elvis to The Beatles, has never been taken seriously. We're here to change that. We want women writing about what they love, a place for them to express their feelings, and a place to feel heard. 

What's the most gratifying part of the job?

Seeing an artist blow up! There have been so many times where you really feel like a part of that journey for them. I always feel like a proud mom. 

How has your approach to your work at The New Nine changed over the past few years?

We say "no" more. When you're starting out, you have to say "yes" a lot, and now I feel like we can be more selective. 

Read the full interview with Emily here.

Academic Stuff

Hey, Thanks For This Newsletter! How Can I Support This Thing?

Here are three easy ways you can support the newsletter:

What sort of perks are there for ongoing supporters?

Insider Extra - An additional e-mail from me each week, usually featuring job listings, freelance calls, and more

How To Pitch Database - Access to a database with contact information and pitching info for hundreds of publications

Reading Recommendations - Access to a resource page collecting great pieces of music journalism, sourced from great music journalists

Advice - Access to a resource page devoted to collecting advice from journalists and editors on how to excel at music journalism

Interviews - Access to the hundreds of interviews that have appeared in the newsletter, with writers and editors from PitchforkRolling Stonethe Guardian, and more

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 music.journalism.insider@gmail.com. On Twitter, it’s @JournalismMusic. Until next time…