Becoming a Music Writer

I’ve had the good fortune to combine my two greatest passions—music and writing—over the last 20 years. Since I was a little child and my parents played The Supremes, The Stones, and The Beatles’ White Album nonstop, I have loved music. Writing about music appeared to be my calling when, in my sophomore year of high school, I decided I wanted to be a journalist, like the Professional Writers of Austin.

I fell in love with the live music scene in New York when I came there to attend college. Several evenings a week, I went to the Village to see performances at storied venues like the Bowery Ballroom, Sine, and Nightingales. I heard musicians like Jeff Buckley and Sinead O’Conner before they gained enormous notoriety. I once daydreamed about doing interviews with bands like REM, U2, and The Cure as I thumbed through Rolling Stone and Spin.

I’ve interviewed some incredible musicians in the twenty years since I graduated, including Bela Fleck, YACHT, and The Polyphonic Spree. I have written for several outstanding publications, including Eleven Magazine, LICNotes, and Examiner.com. In many respects, my transition from musician to music writer was seamless.

I wanted to offer some hard-earned advice I gained along the road since so many authors have asked me how I got started in the industry.

Use it

Immersion in the industry is the most excellent way to learn it. Before I started writing my first review, I started working as a music promoter for a big organization called Universal Buzz. I did everything from promoting local rappers to securing radio plays for events like Garage Fest and Vans Warped Tour. Working for a music promotion agency will not only expose you to new bands, but it will also educate you on how to discuss and appreciate various musical genres. Smaller companies like Randolph Entertainment Group are constantly seeking fresh talent to promote their artists.

The next step is to choose a band you like and volunteer to support them by writing a press release, developing a press kit, writing a review, or reviewing them. You’ll pick up priceless experience. Most bands, particularly young ones, are strapped for cash and time and want all the exposure they can get. Most bars also have street crews who aid in promoting their shows and new albums. Making connections while working for one or two will be very beneficial.

Develop your hearing

Knowing as much as possible about the subject is one of the secrets to writing about what you love. A music writer must also have the ability to identify undiscovered treasures. Spend some time discovering new bands and keeping up with the current crop. You can keep up with the most unique and obscure performers by subscribing to websites like Bandcamp and ReverbNation. You will also establish a reputation for yourself if you find them and write about them. The most successful journalists have always been at the forefront of discovering the finest bands first and, as a result, have had outstanding careers. Examples include Bill Holdship of Creem Magazine, Mark Brown of MSNBC.Com, and The Rocky Mountain Times.

You have much more chance to find the next great thing while in Austin. If you haven’t seen any upcoming bands, go to Antone’s, Mohawk, or The Beauty Ballroom. You never know—you may find the next Jimmie Vaughan or Spoon.

Improve your qualifications and taste

Developing your reputation as a tastemaker is one of the most important aspects of being a lifelong music enthusiast. While diverse musical tastes are important, creating your preferences is even more critical. Comparisons of musical influences and styles are a staple of the most excellent reviews and interviews. You need to be familiar with bands like The Velvet Underground and The Heartbreakers, even if you’re writing a review of The Strokes’ most recent album, to communicate the mood of the songs you’re writing about.

Some budding songwriters make the error of being excessively technical or colorful. Instead of breaking down each note or making every band seem like it’s the best you’ve ever heard, you want to convey a certain mood while writing about a song or an artist. Your writing will be more successful if it is sincere and thorough. Since music is visceral, it’s essential to express in words how you feel while you listen to it.

Create a portfolio.

Becoming a music writer has never been more advantageous because of the abundance of music blogs and websites. For journalists to cover local performances and write reviews for big-name bands, blogs and websites like BrooklynVegan, Vents Magazine, and The Deli often post job listings. Your odds of writing about the band you’ve always wanted to interview increase the more diverse your articles are.

Are you interested in a career as a music journalist? Have a particular question about entering the field? Bring it on if you want to share spicy tales about your musical endeavors! Your inquiries may be sent to Sigillito in the comments section.

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