Looking to the Future: Music Journalism

When attempting to launch into a changing media workforce there will always be a myriad of professional and personal issues that will arise when doing so. To be able to go further in my desired career as a music journalist it is imperative to identify the hurdles and complications that may present themselves along the way. Meeting strict deadlines, needing a wide range of knowledge on various topics as well as coping with a shrinking demand are all examples of the kind of problems that I will have to face in my approaching career. This essay will discuss these issues as well as possible strategies and skills that I may have to put in place to overcome them.

Meeting Deadlines

Even though the pieces a music journalist writes may not have a grave immediate impact on the public, such as those written in news rooms, there will always be a certain amount of pressure to work to deadlines. Journalism, at its core, is centred around the implementation of deadlines and as Tony Rogers explains, deadlines are “necessary for the smooth functioning of the news operation” (Rogers, 2016).  Even though some aspects of music journalism do not technically classify as “news” there are still regular publications that need to have articles and therefore will need deadlines to function. During the course of my career I will be no stranger to a constant cycle of deadline after deadline as Susanne Weingarten says, “the clock is always ticking when you are a journalist” (Weingarten, 2005).

In an interview with Dan Singer of the American Journalism Review, Nate Patrin, who is a freelance writer for online music magazine Pitchfork, says he constantly receives new assignments (Singer, 2014). Patrin describes how Pitchfork aims to publish around 25 reviews in a week which is a substantial amount of material to be researching for and writing about. Even though an established publication such as Pitchfork would have a team of writers to compile these reviews, it would still create quite a bit of pressure to get them all finished on time.

Another aspect of dealing with deadlines is having to possibly face consequences when these due dates are not met. This could depend on what the cause of the delay was, or how often it becomes a problem. If it was a one-off instance that was out of my control it may not end up being a big deal however if it were to become a common theme in my future career, it could result in my employer firing me (Dash, 2010). Not only would this occur because what I had been working on essentially becomes useless (Weingarten, 2005) but it affects others around me. Those who rely on my work being on time will consequently be late also, making everybody look inefficient and incompetent (Easterby, 2010). Another example of how not meeting deadline will affect my career is the way in which my reputation could be tarnished (Dash, 2010). If I do not keep up to date with the workload that I have and stay on task, it will make others believe that I am unreliable in my work ethic making it hard for me in the future.

To be able to keep up with a fast paced media scene and be on top of future deadlines, there are certain skills and attributes that I will need to employ. One of the most crucial aspects of working to deadline is organisation. It will be easier for me to wrap my head around the amount of work I have if it is broken up to smaller and more manageable pieces (Reimold, 2012). From here, I can make a to-do list of all these components to keep me focused and on task. Being organised will enable me to maximise my productivity over the course of the time I have to write an article (Weingarten, 2005). Identifying how long it takes me to research, write and edit an entire piece will also aid in my organisation skills as it will give me an understanding of how much time I should allocate to each of these elements. Being able to identify the way in which I go about writing pieces will be a large asset in my journalistic career because once I do this, it will help me get faster the more I do it (Weingarten, 2005). If time is particularly short, it is crucial that I do not spend time over-editing the piece I am writing (Reimold, 2012). Focusing on the editing aspect will take up much needed writing time and will subsequently make the task even more stressful. If these strategies are put in place, I will be on the right track to successfully coping with continuous deadlines in my future career.

Having a wide range of knowledge

Over the course of my career as a music journalist I will have to write about an array of different artists and genres. Meg White explains that “it is still necessary for those in music journalism to have an expansive knowledge” (White, 2009) and without at least a basic knowledge of multiple genres or topics, my work will not be as critical or well-informed as it should be. If I do end up writing about an unfamiliar topic it may even negatively affect the amount of time needed to write the article which will impact my productivity (Weingarten, 2005).

Stevie Chick, a music journalist and teacher of music journalism at City University London, had an experience in his career which could have been prevented if he had done some prior research. He had gone out to do an interview with a band and one of the first questions he had asked them was where the pair had met each other (Reid, 2013). If only he had done some research he would have known that the two members were non-identical twins. If they had not taken this with good humour, Chick’s mistake could have cost him the entire interview or even his job.

To avoid any mishaps during interviews or incorrect pieces of information within an article it will be crucial to undertake certain steps before launching into writing. It might seem very obvious, however Chick always emphasises the importance of research to his students at City University (Reid, 2003). It is vital to have an understanding, and at the very least a basic knowledge, of the topics that I will be writing about and as Lulu Le Vay, a tutor at the London Journalism Centre says, “why would someone want to commission you to be a music journalist or offer you a job if you’re not thorough enough?” (Reid, 2003). In addition to specifically researching for an article, Le Vay advocates that any music journalist should be “looking at different eras of music” and have a more general knowledge about music and its history. One of the key roles of a music journalist is not just to write critiques and artist features, but to put the performances and records of these artists “into some kind of historical context and understand how [they have] been constructed” (Hannan, 2003). This can be achieved with “an ongoing and extensive program of critical listening” as Michael Hannan, Australian composer and musicologist, suggests. Although it is an impossible task to know everything about every genre of music, it will be important for me to broaden my horizons when it comes to the music I listen to, not just to change my own personal tastes, but to give myself a wider awareness of other genres of music.

Shrinking Demand

With growing technological development and the convergence of various media outlets, the way in which music journalists publish their work has changed quite a bit. The rise of the internet and its accessibility has created a whole new platform for music journalism while in the process diminishing the need for traditional print outlets. Marshal McLuhan said “should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold” (Beecher, 2013). What McLuhan is referring to has indeed started to become, more pressingly, our day to day reality with newspapers and magazines shutting down completely or shifting to an online platform due to readership decreasing.

In relation to music journalism however, it seems people are becoming less inclined to read a professional critic’s opinion and will opt for reading an “ill-informed rant” they find on a blog on the internet (Nineham, 2009). More and more media outlets are embracing the rise of the blog and are using this platform as a new way to deliver information to consumers (Grabowicz, 2014). A notable example of a music magazine that has had to face the full brunt of the internet’s impact on print and music journalism is Rolling Stone. The magazine was forced to shrink the size of its physical publications as well as taking its place in an online form (Singer, 2014). In 2009, Rolling Stone’s ad pages had dropped almost 20% and for the first quarter of 2010 they were at a no-growth rate (Gross, 2011).

Not only are amateur blogs impacting music journalism, but music streaming services are taking away the need to read reviews in order to discover new music. The convergence of print reviews and the internet has made way for these streaming services to recommend new music on the basis of what you’re already listening to. For example, services like Last.fm will “lead you to similar artists” (Nineham, 2009) as does Spotify and Pandora which are other services of this nature. The fact that you can discover new music instantly, for free, without having to read a review is why consumers are being tempted towards these services.

I will have to learn to deal with these developing issues and learn to cope with changing platforms in my future career in various ways. One of the ways I can approach this issue is to become familiar with the new technology that is emerging and be able to use it. The fact that companies and outlets everywhere are embracing new technology means that I will have to be up to speed with these new developments. If I understand and am able to functionally interact with all kinds of new media platforms, I will be far more employable. Coupled with this, I will have to have the willingness to adapt to these changes. Adaptability will be a crucial skill to have in this changing media landscape and without it, I will not be able to publish my work in a way that will be innovative and interesting to consumers.

When it comes to a future career in music journalism, being on top of deadlines and being knowledgeable about the industry all meanwhile adapting to a shrinking demand will all be issues I will have to face. Although there will be many other challenges as I make my way through a career in the journalism, media and communication sector, these three issues will be quite prominent in relation to my particular career goals. By implementing various strategies and attaining new skills, I will be able to get the most out of my work and hopefully reach a point where I am fairly successful. In addition to these strategies and skills, it will be vital to always put in as much effort as I can and do my work to the best of my ability.

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Reference List

Beecher, Eric. 2013. “The Death of Fairfax and the End of Newspapers”. Accessed May 29, 2016. https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/july/1372600800/eric-beecher/death-fairfax-and-end-newspapers

Dash. 2010. “Missing the Deadline”. Phreelance Writers, September 3. Accessed May 28, 2016. https://phreelancewriters.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/missing-the-deadline/

Easterby, Thea. 2010. “The Importance of Hitting Deadlines”. Write Change Grow, September. Accessed May 28, 2016. http://www.writechangegrow.com/2010/09/the-importance-of-hitting-deadlines/

Grabowicz, Paul. 2014. “Tutorial: The Transition To Digital Journalism”. Accessed May 29, 2016. https://multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/tutorials/digital-transform/

Gross, Jason. 2011. “Music Journalism Faces Shake-Ups, Shake-Downs and High Tech Show-Downs in 2010”. Accessed May 29, 2016. http://www.popmatters.com/feature/135739-music-journalism-faces-shake-ups/

Hannan, Michael. 2003. “Freelance Music Journalist”. Accessed May 29, 2016. http://www.musiccareer.com.au/index.php/Freelance_Music_Journalist

Nineham, Laura. 2009. “Music Criticism in Web 2.0. Accessed May 29, 2016. http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/4137372-music-criticism-in-web-2-0

Reid, Alastair. 2013. “How to: get into music journalism”. Accessed May 28, 2016. https://www.journalism.co.uk/skills/how-to-get-into-music-journalism/s7/a552475/

Reimold, Dan. 2012. “Writing on Deadline: 5 Tips for Journalism Students”. Accessed May 28, 2016. http://www.collegemediamatters.com/2012/05/08/writing-on-deadline-5-tips-for-journalism-students/

Rogers, Tony. 2016. “Deadline”. Accessed May 28, 2016. http://journalism.about.com/od/journalismglossary/g/deadline.htm

Singer, Dan. 2014. “Music Critics See Their Role and Influence Waning in The Era of Digital Music”. Accessed May 28, 2016. http://ajr.org/2014/11/13/music-critics-role-changing/

Weingarten, Susanne. 2005. “Writing Under Pressure: A Journalist’s Guide to Dealing with Deadlines”. Accessed May 28, 2016. https://www2.uni-hamburg.de/iaa/SusanneWeingarten.pdf

White, Meg. 2009. “Kissing without the sex – the role of the music critic”. Accessed May 28, 2016. http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/4137382-kissing-without-the-sex-%E2%80%93-the-role-of-the-music-critic

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This piece was written for KJB102: Introduction to Journalism, Media and Communication, a unit in my Journalism degree at QUT.

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