Take this brief quiz:
2) Do you know someone who is musically inclined?
3) Do you have access to someone who is musically inclined?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you pass the quiz. Musical talent may be helpful for writing music-related articles, but it is not a requisite. With a little work, you'll find you can sell to many music magazines even if you can't sing an aria or play the Minuet in G.
Begin by studying the various markets. Music magazines cover a wide range of interests: electronic, educational, juvenile and religious. Browse through the Writer's Market or a well-stocked newsstand or music store, and you'll find articles geared to hard rockers, kindergarten teachers, computer programmers, choir directors, and instrumentalists of all kinds. As you browse, you'll discover many of the writers don't have an impressive musical background.
That's because much of the writing doesn't require it.
Consider, for example, the kinds of articles in music magazines. First there's the profile. You may know a 92-year-old church organist, a banjo-picking bank president, a hometown boy making it big as a composer. All are good human-interest topics. Even your daughter's piano teacher could be the subject of an article. Find an interesting angle, such as his military background or stamp-collecting hobby, then tie it in with his interest in music.
Profiles such as these can be sold to any number of markets. Local newspapers are a good starting place, as are regional magazines. If, however, you're looking for markets dedicated to music, go back to the newsstand. You'll discover Classical Guitar, American Songwriter and others which publish profiles of people in specific areas of music. Next, browse through a college or university library for more titles. There you may find periodicals such as American String Teacher and Music Educators Journal. Finally, go to a large church library for magazines like Reformed Liturgy and Music. All of these contain short biographies of musicians, some historical and some current.
Besides profiles, music markets also accept how-to articles. These may include instructions for building a simple flute (for teachers of children), how to practice with a metronome (for pianists, organists, and other instrumentalists), or five steps for enjoying your child's band concert (for parents). Glance through any music magazine for more how-to ideas. You'll find hundreds of possibilities.
If you have an interest in technology, consider writing for computer and electronics publications that deal with musical subjects. They're always looking for articles about new methods. Electronic Musician is one of several that accept freelance queries. Even if you're not a technology whiz yourself, you can put together a good article by co-writing with a computer or electronics friend.
Another area of music-related writing involves personal experiences. Your own memories can serve as an excellent source for articles. Why not put together a nostalgia piece on small-town band concerts? Or the family reunion in which you, as a sixth grader, first performed publicly on the saxophone? What about your daughter's piano recital, or your son's solo in the Christmas pageant at church? Almost any musical experience can become the basis for an article. I've written several pieces on learning a new instrument, polishing long-forgotten skills, and getting the most out of choir practice. All were within my realm of experience, and none of the writing required a detailed, technical skill in music.
What if you haven't had these experiences yourself? You probably know someone who has. First, consider your local school system. Most public and private schools have band and choral programs. Some also have orchestras. Getting to know the music teachers will help you generate article ideas. But don't stop there. With a little more legwork, you'll find the band parents' organizations, even the students themselves to be good sources for ideas. Attend school concerts and football games for more possibilities. There's probably a story behind the wide receiver who picks up his tuba and marches with the band at halftime. Or, the sight-impaired trumpet player who stays in line by keeping his hand on the shoulder of the musician beside him.
Next, ask at nearby churches. Most have full- or part-time music directors, choir members, and instrumentalists with a wealth of experience. Inquire about the oldest, the youngest, the most talented, the most dedicated. See which musician leads the least musical life outside the church. (I knew a ophthalmologist, for example, who played French horn beautifully every Sunday in his church orchestra.) Ask about the funniest moment at choir practice or the most tense moment at the Christmas pageant. Look for anything that can give a fresh angle to a story.
While at church, get the names of piano/organ teachers in your community. Many of them will have humorous recital anecdotes or how-to's in the making. You'll find them willing to talk and work with you as you put together an article.
Don't overlook neighborhood rock or country musicians, barbershop quartets, singing grannies, and other lesser-known groups. Check the local music shop for references. Any number of profiles and how-to articles may be generated from these leads.
Another resource is a computer or electronics technician. He or she might have an article idea but lack the savvy to put it together. Or, you may generate the idea yourself and use the technician for advice. To find such a person, begin at a computer store, then check the high school, the library, or other locations where computers are in use. Ask your son or daughter for the name of a computer whiz kid. Better yet, is there a musical kid who's also a computer genius? You'll find one if you look carefully.
Finally, a good musical resource is your community theater and concert organization. Most cities have a drama troupe who may also be involved in music. They might steer you to article ideas you hadn't even considered before. Certainly, if your community has an orchestra, make every effort to get to know a few musicians. As you discover their backgrounds, needs, likes and dislikes, you'll have plenty of fodder for articles.
In every case, when you meet and talk with musicians, be sure to ask what kinds of magazines and journals they read. Many will have copies on hand, and you can use these to generate more ideas. Ask your musical friend, "Why do you read this periodical? What section do you read first each month? What kind of information would you like to see in it?"
Be aware, though, that you'll not be able to write for just any music magazine. Save yourself time and trouble by avoiding the many periodicals whose contributors have strong musical backgrounds. Journals such as College Music Symposium, The Musical Quarterly, and Piano Today are quite scholarly, and their writers are generally musicians themselves. When in doubt about a certain magazine, check the writers' bio lines at the ends of the articles. They'll give you a good idea of the periodical's expectations.
Of course, it's not always easy to spot writers' qualifications at a glance. I had to call the editor of Downbeat to learn that his jazz and blues magazine isn't a good freelance market. Most of his articles and profiles are assigned to people within that specific musical community. By contrast, Senior Musician regularly buys short biographical sketches from a wide cross-section of freelancers.
Now that you've looked at music markets and considered the musical resources in your community, go back to the quiz at the first of this article. Surely you can answer affirmatively to at least one question. The next step is to expand that "yes" to include a list of names and contact points. Once you do that, make a few phone calls, set up some interviews, and you're on your way to an article sale. So what if you never mastered the Minuet in G?
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