How to Become a Music Journalist
Music journalists write about music and the music business. There are several specializations within the field. Some music journalists work exclusively as reviewers -- they review new music releases and live performances. Other journalists write in-depth articles about musicians -- they conduct interviews and cover the people behind the music. Some music journalists focus on writing about the music business itself, and still, others produce a mixed bag of work, combining music reviews, interviews and anything else that warrants media attention.
Different Mediums, Different Styles
Newspapers provide varying levels of music coverage, from new release reviews to interviews with musicians passing through town. Some free local newspapers work with freelance and staff journalists to provide extensive coverage on the local music scene. Major general-interest print magazines sometimes publish in-depth interviews with music artists and when they are featured on covers. Magazines that specialize in music, such as Rolling Stone and Billboard, publish a wide range of music industry information of interest to their readers.
Music Journalism and Social Media
Widespread use of the Internet has caused some traditional music journalism outlets to go out of business or to refocus their business model on web-based and mobile formats. For example, once a prominent fixture on newsstands, Spin magazine is now only available online. The Internet has also allowed music enthusiasts to cover the industry through websites, blogs, social media sites, and forums. Online music journalists often push the most boundaries as they are not bound by the same rules as journalists who work for traditional publications.
As you might imagine, music journalism can be a lot of fun.
- You get to hear the new music first.
- You get the chance to interview your favorite music artists.
- Everyone wants press coverage, so you can count on plenty of free promos and invitations to after-parties and other exclusive events.
- You get to write about what you love—music, and you get to weigh in on important issues facing the industry.
The pros might make a career as a music journalist sound like it's all fun and games, but it's not. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. You also have to be a self-starter -- you'll have deadlines, but you'll spend most of the time working independently, so you'll need the discipline to get the job done. Some other drawbacks to consider:
- The pay fluctuates. Unless you have a steady arrangement with a publisher, you'll work freelance and only be paid when you deliver completed work.
- When you write a bad review or unflattering interview, you can expect to hear about it.
Making Money as a Music Journalist
Music journalists may be employees or freelancers. Freelancers get paid on a per-project basis; they might be paid based on word count -- a set amount for every word -- or they might negotiate a flat fee upfront. Music journalists who work for specific publications usually get paid set salaries, although sometimes they receive a base rate plus a performance bonus. Performance bonuses are especially common in online journalism.
Getting Your Foot in the Door
There are several different ways to get a foot in the door. Some aspiring music journalists find internships with music publications while they are in college, and those internships sometimes turn into job opportunities. Others take any writing job they can get -- even writing for free sometimes -- to build a portfolio of work they can eventually turn into paying gigs. Still, others start their own blogs or websites, which can also help to build a portfolio of writing samples. Sometimes, these music blogs/sites become highly successful, boost the journalist's credibility and provide a living.
Some of the most important music publications today are blogs and websites. If you're thinking of starting your own music blog or website, here are some good examples to give you some ideas of what is working for other music journalists (Note: sites may include language or images offensive to some users):
- Drowned in Sound
- Nah Right