I wrote recently that Craig Mathieson wears the crown of Australian rock journalism. Allow me to elaborate. He’s recently released Playlisted: Everything You Need To Know About Australian Music Right Now, his third music-related book, and his byline has regularly appeared in Rolling Stone, Juice, Mess+Noise, and Fairfax news publications. He’s even got a Wikipedia entry.
Craig, at this point in your career, which writers do you view as your contemporaries?
My contemporaries are simply the good writers, those who have a voice and critical faculties. In terms of age that group is all over the place. Most are younger ; I named Shaun Prescott, Tim Finney and Emmy Hennings as talented examples on my blog. A few are older – I’m 38 years old. And I’m still flummoxed that someone decided to knock up a Wikipedia entry for me.
You stand as an example that it’s possible to earn a decent living as a full-time freelance music journalist in this country. Am I right, or do you have another job on the side to supplement your writing?
I’ve freelanced full-time for twenty years, but it’s been divided between music and film. In the music scene I’m a veteran, in film I’m still something of a kid. My career to date comes in two parts: 1989 to 1999, which was very music-orientated, mainly in Sydney; burn out and a corporate sojourn at Sony Music during 2000 and the first half of 2001; back to Melbourne and dividing my time between film and music ever since.
The way film and music writers/critics are considered is chalk and cheese. Everyone has a film critic, but the idea of a music critic – as opposed to the music writer who might pen the odd review – being on staff is anathema. I was the film critic for The Bulletin, the ACP-owned news weekly, from 2002 until it closed in January of 2008, and that was an absolute pleasure.
Having two disciplines to write about has also made me a stronger critic – it gets you thinking about the work you’re appraising in different ways.
Do you think it’s still possible for freelance writers to earn a decent living in 2009?
I’m sure it would still be possible today for freelance writers to swim upstream as it were, but there’s the question of what they’re striving for? There are very few secure full-time jobs at the end of the rainbow and not everyone is comfortable doing the freelance shuffle, because there’s not a safety net present.
Though you mostly focus on how the musicians profiled in Playlisted sound and appear, I noticed the occasional comment about demographics and marketability. Is the marketing/promotion side of the industry of particular interest to you?
It does interest me, because it impacts on how music is perceived and sometimes, to the artist’s detriment, it can be the defining element of someone’s career, as opposed to the actual music they produce.
Before playlisted.com.au, a blog created when Playlisted was released, you’d not blogged elsewhere. Why?
I didn’t have the time or the inclination. I knock out a fair few words every week and I’m focused on maintaining a decent standard of living for my family – marriage/mortgage/offspring tends to refocus a lot of younger freelancers and move them onwards; I have a stubborn streak. Even now, doing the blog for Playlisted, I’m sporadic at best.
Aside from Mess+Noise, you seem to write exclusively for print. Aside from the fact that its publications pay better, what do you enjoy about writing for print?
As a freelancer, you can’t underestimate how important “pay better” is, but aside from that I’m attracted to the audience size, which is pretty sizable when you file for The Age or the Sydney Morning Herald. I’m also a traditionalist, in that almost every day of my life since the age of 12 I’ve read one of those two Fairfax titles, so to be a part of them now is very satisfying.
Which are you favourite music blogs, both Australian and otherwise?
Mainly the online voices of writers whose work I already enjoy, be it Simon Reynolds or Anwyn Crawford. I don’t have much time for the blogs that are focused on being first – first review, first streaming – with something. “First-ism” grows dull quickly.
You wrote most of Playlisted in the summer of 2008. How much editing and revision was required between then and its November publication?
There was a sturdy editing process, then proofing, for a solid period between April and June. I’m not the cleanest writer and I’ve never been much of a sub myself, so I’m sure it needed work (“needs more,” I’m sure someone will snort). But after that it entered a kind of publishing limbo until November, when finished copies appeared and the whole release/promotion rigmarole kicked off.
When writing, are you much of a procrastinator?
It can take me a while to start, but once I do I tend to find a groove very easily and I work quickly, until finishing, after that. It’s rare that I junk a draft – most pieces come together reasonably smoothly.
As for procrastinating at the start, unless I’m under extreme deadline pressure then I actually try to take the time to enjoy it. Sometimes it’s worth letting your mind wander a little, you might have a far better lede than that intricate one you’ve been obsessively plotting just come to you.
Finally, what’s thrilling your ears lately?
I’ve been compiling end of year lists for various publications, so this week’s scope has been a little wider than an ordinary week, but in terms of recent releases I’m enjoying Fuck Buttons, Whitley, Denim Owl and Rihanna.
I genuinely like pop music and I write about commercial releases quite frequently – to me that’s part of a critic’s job, to try and take everything in and see what may or may connect the mainstream and the alternative scenes. I get frustrated that some younger critics are almost specialists, they can become completely niche-orientated. I’d love to read them taking on something completely outside the aesthetic they’re drawn to.
Thanks Craig. I highly recommend Playlisted; buy a copy here. Keep an eye on Craig’s blog here.