Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by C.J. Chilvers
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Many writers have discovered the perfect way to combine their love of writing with their love for music: music journalism. While the daily tasks of a music writer are not always glamorous, they are usually a lot of fun.
Unlike most freelance markets, the music market is wide open -- there are thousands of publications needing your input. Editors in this market tend to be less demanding. The colorful nature of the subjects makes most articles almost write themselves. The only difficult thing is getting started.
Getting the Pass, Getting to the Stars
Most editors are looking for articles that include an interview with a famous musician.
The most essential tool in the music writer's arsenal is the pass. Getting a pass is far simpler than you may think. Often a single phone call to a band's publicist does the trick. Just remember, like editors, publicists are looking for writers who can make their jobs easier. Tell them why you could publicize the band effectively and you're in.
The most essential pass to ask for is the "photo pass." This will give you the right to photograph the band from the front row for the first three songs of a concert. Photos are crucial for selling the music article, especially if it is a review.
Color slides are still the film format of choice in most magazines. However, there are times when a band requests no flash photography. For those situations it is wise to bring along a few rolls of a high-speed film that doesn't need a flash (Kodak's Tmax 3200 is the film of choice).
Landing the Interview
Interviewing the band itself is a much trickier proposition. Often a special backstage pass is required. These are harder to get and usually require the writer to be backed by a widely read publication. The more popular the band is, the more popular the publication must be. It would be a good idea to establish a relationship with a magazine before approaching anyone for a backstage pass.
Sometimes it's better to interview the band outside of a concert situation. For example, it may be easier to schedule a phone interview, or even to wait outside the venue before the show. It's not unusual to find even the most popular bands standing around just outside the backstage doors.
The best way to get an interview is to establish a relationship with the band. Some rock stars eagerly accept e-mail and regularly check out what's being said about them on the Internet. Direct contact, and the interview itself, could be just one e-mail address away. Check the band's Internet mailing list for members that know the band's e-mail addresses.
Another staple of music journalism is the album and concert review. Special care should be taken in the tone of these reviews. At some magazines a humorous review with biting criticism means more sales. A much more in-depth critique is necessary for the more popular general-audience magazines. Music is extremely subjective, so the opinion expressed in the review is not as important as the way it's expressed.
You've Got the Article, Now What?
The music market consists of thousands of newsletters, magazines, web sites, and fanzines that are willing to publish your article.
Be aware, though, that there's a definite pecking order among music publications. For instance, Rolling Stone isn't the place to query with your first article. It's best to start off with fanzines, which are magazines published by fan clubs of specific bands. These publications generally have a much more casual atmospheres. In fact, the editors often prefer an informal phone call to a query letter.
The more articles you publish, the closer you'll get to the top music magazines. Soon you'll find yourself getting CDs in the mail from up-and-coming bands and invitations to cover performances.
Making a Living with Music Writing
No writer can live by magazines alone, and the music industry has a lot more to offer. Record labels, management companies, and musicians need writers for everything from demo packages to press releases. A writer can make a great living in this market, and some money as well. All that's required is a love for music.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
C.J. Chilvers is a music journalist, author, and former webmaster. He is the author of The Van Halen Encyclopedia.