With Drowned in Sound running some excellent articles (particularly John Doran’s) on the nature of Music Journalism (is that an undeserved capitalisation?) and its place in this most turbulent of climates, it seems a good time to react. I, for one, would never describe myself as a music journalist, but it’s true that I write about music every day. My work goes into magazines you can actually buy, it’s read by some important people and it’s gotten some mixed reaction over the past four or five years. Can I, the casual writer who knows a lot about music, ever hope to make a difference in the way that more widely-read folk have? Will I ever get paid a wage to do it?
First – why write? Because there are too many people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Literal cretins whose opinions are worse than not having an opinion. Non-committal, ill-informed. Readers, it’s safe to say that most of you don’t know a fucking thing. Honesty has to be paramount. Initially, I wanted to write for these reasons, and my feeling has only gotten stronger. I also wanted free CDs – a prospect that seemed like an inconceivable goal when I submitted biographies and reviews of albums I’d just bought to a tiny Twee-focused website. I did that sporadically (and badly) until I found a sorely-missed alternative website in America that might publish my reviews AND send lovely bundles of weird American hardcore albums. I was doing interviews with tiny bands that had never heard of the site, but I got the impression that they may have sold one or two more copies of their excellent albums because of me. That made me really happy. Then I went mental on it and started bombarding Mike Diver at DiS with reviews. Mike Diver is the best. All the while, I was confident I was right with everything I wrote, that all my opinions were superior. It probably helped that I was studying music academically at the time.
The main thing was, though, that I was writing, being read and enjoying it. I particularly enjoyed death threats from obsessive LCD Soundsystem fans, and an e-mail from one singer telling me that he totally agreed with my vicious review of his band’s latest opus. Things changed when I had to leave university and get a proper job. I did that pretty quickly and, it being a low-paid job, became obsessed with money and my lack of it. I moan pretty much every day about money, and I teach music to people after work to have enough beer money to keep me sane. I also enjoy a normal social life, and sit in parks a lot. Y’know, stuff that isn’t sitting in front of a computer listening to confounding try-hards peddling themselves ever-deeper into deserved oblivion. So what changed was that I had less time and inclination to strive to improve my work and be a Decent Writer.
Fortunately, that job is one where free CDs flow like water, and headphones are encouraged. It’s also one where I get to write professional, unbiased copy for a website. In a weird way, I enjoy that aspect of it, and now think that that would be a decent way to go in the future. I apply for jobs regularly, usually ones that require producing a lot of functional copy, because I reckon I can do it, and all this published material makes me look a tiny bit more professional than a slug holding a 2B pencil. That’s where I am now, wish me luck.
I wish, oh how I wish, that I had the guts to send everything I write to paying outlets. I just don’t think they’d be interested. As it is, I occasionally make a few quid from magazines, and I get sent ridiculous amounts of free CDs and I can get into most gigs and some festivals with a little bit of persistence. This situation is more than I ever could’ve expected when I first submitted a review of The Wedding Present’s Take Fountain five years ago. I wish I was happier with my lot, but if I can’t afford my rent with a full-time job, then that’s the area that needs attention rather than my writing. I still know I’m a better-informed writer than about 75% of those working for newspapers, websites and magazines today, but I’m just so tired of not making anything from it. I love it, I really do. I’ve had some amazing nights, some exhilarating interviews and experiences, and I will hopefully continue to do so, but the middle leagues of occasionally-paid music writing are terribly, terribly cruel. I will continue at the rate I’m stumbling on at, but something will change soon, be it a new job or a renewed vigour for the whole world of music criticism.
In truth, it’s the occasional gems in the world of music that spur my creativity in this ridiculous, pointless field. So at least that’s natural, even if my confusion isn’t.