If I Were An Unpublished Music Writer

I’d start a blog and write about everything that excites and horrifies me about music.

I’d write something worth publishing every day.

I’d include visual elements that offer supporting evidence to each story.

I’d watch and write about at least one live band every week.

I’d rewrite what I wrote until the story was devoice of cliché, and I’d edit until only the story’s bare essentials remained.

I didn’t know any of this when I decided to start writing about music in June 2007. I didn’t try to find the answers; I didn’t ask questions. I just wrote about some shows that I got to see for free, and thought that was reward in itself.

I’ve changed, of course. I’m a better writer in that I’m less shit. I’m mindful of what I write. I finish a draft and immediately remove anything that I’d have written two years ago. This internal quality control requires discipline. It’s mentally exhausting. But the goal should always be to tell the story smartly and succinctly.

I’d establish my favourite Australian music sites and study their best writers closely.

I’d send the links to the best stories on my blog to the editors of my favourite sites every week.

I’d send the links to the best stories on my blog to my favourite published music writers every week.

I’d ignore street press and write for the web.

Street press is a siren’s call to the young Australian music writer. The allure of free tickets and the anti-glamour of writing for a small group of passionate music fans captures many. I have no regrets of writing for street press: its influence afforded me many excellent musical experiences, and many opportunities to improve my writing. Of course, there’s the thrill of seeing your name in print for the first time. (It’s still a buzz, two-plus years on.)

But I’d hope that there’s music writers younger than me who’ll shirk the notion that you’ve got to cut your teeth on street press and its fixed format. I won’t describe the benefits of writing about music on the web, as Andrew Ramadge already did that brilliantly.

You can write for FasterLouder, who’ll publish your words in front of an audience in exchange for thanks. I wouldn’t discourage any music writer from beginning their journey there, as you’re mostly free to approach a story however you please. (Whether this is advantageous is up to you.)

Or you can write for Mess+Noise, who’ll publish your words in front of an audience in exchange for money. The learning curve here for a street press- or FasterLouder-styled writer is steep, as I’ve discussed. They won’t publish just anything; the site’s reputation hinges on this ideal. But if you’re serious about this – becoming a music writer – the barrier to entry will inspire excellence in your work.

(Note: This post was inspired by Shaun Prescott‘s ‘Flogging A Dead Horse… Still‘)

Comments? Below.
  1. There has to be more to Australian music criticism/appreciation online — in an organised sense — than fasterlouder and mess and noise. Because, frankly, I don’t read either that much. I’d read ET’s blog more often than either of those sights, and frankly ET drives me up the wall.

    There has to be a better (less trite/stereotyped) way of discussing or promoting music than bog-standard reviews and music features. We have this web-tool-thing and /no-one/ seems to be able to use it to break out of the essential print paradigm that we’re still stuck in. Fact is, online publications still seem to replicate magazine formats, attitudes and approaches. It’s backwards and daft.

  2. ed says:

    Another great post Andrew.

    Like most writers/photographers I did contribute for FasterLouder but made a conscious decision to stop based on a number of factors; the general contempt that that they have had for their contributors for a long while (but not always), the reducing quality of the site itself (the photos used to be 640×480 but are now a lot smaller and badly compressed so look rubbish) and especially the lack of any quality control; in the end I just got fed up with showing my stuff on a site that had so much poor content on it, it just drags you down to that level. And the site seems to have further changed in recent times and it seems that contributors are being squeezed out for lists of 25 bands that should tour/release an album/wear stupid outfits on stage and record company/PR generated stories. I’ve said for a long time that it’s a marketing site masquerading as a music site and it’s becoming ever more so.

    If I had to do it again I would have started blogging properly (as opposed to on MySpace) a long time before I did. But I wouldn’t ignore street press; having loads of photos that they didn’t have the space to publish played a large part in setting up my blog and it’s allowed me to make the best of both worlds in getting access, published/paid but also being able to do my own thing on the side. I think it could work for writing but would take a bit of discipline to write a review with a small and strict word limit but then write an extended version for yourself. But ultimately blogging is all about the discipline of producing regular content; there’s no end of people who spend more time redesigning their blog then they do adding content to it.

    In reference to Shaun’s blog, I agree with the first part but not the second part of his post. There are photographers who are only interested in the big, glamorous gigs and presumably it’s the same for writers. But there are those that aren’t. And as Jerry pointed out the buck stops with the editors not the writers, that’s the same in any industry, and in a way the music press have got it easy because there’s never going to be a shortage of people who want to write for them.

    I often wonder what would happen if it all ended tomorrow and no one wanted me to photograph for them and to be honest I don’t think it would matter. I do what I do for my love of music and photography, it’s never been about the Cult Of Celebrity for me and so I’d just go back to how it all started, going back to small venues where they don’t have issues with cameras, paying $15 dollars to get in, photographing small bands and trying to take the best photos I can.

  3. I’ve never really written for (print) street press and have never really felt the lack for it. I don’t think it’s necessary, although it’s probably a good way to get your name known.

    I actually started out just posting reviews on livejournal to amuse myself and terrify my friends with my over-blown prose, then eventually found my way to Fasterlouder and now Lifemusicmedia as well.

    I’ve never received much in the way of professional, critical feedback though — improvement has been a very intuition-driven, trial-and-error process that’s been based on reading heaps of street press and basically trying to mimic what I felt worked for others. I even used to obsessively clip certain reviews that I really liked.

    “I’d rewrite what I wrote until the story was devoice of cliché, and I’d edit until only the story’s bare essentials remained.”

    I’d go one further: Don’t publish until the story’s ready. The eternal journalistic race to be first is an stupid distraction that your audience, frankly, don’t give a damn about. Don’t be first, be definitive. That way you’ll be remembered.

  4. Nathan Bush says:

    Nice advice Andrew. Your interview series is great as well, good work.


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