Rolling Music Writers' Thread

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"Black sheets of rain" - wasn't that a dodgy Bob Mould solo album?

Here he is with the classic "Poème Électronique." Good track (Marcello Carlin), Friday, 27 April 2012 11:24 (1 year ago) Permalink

No, it was a fucking awesome Bob Mould album.

Bad Company's Drummer's Daughter (stevie), Friday, 27 April 2012 11:29 (1 year ago) Permalink

I think it is a little too ready to laden on Heavy Metal guitar thunder to obscure the absence of melodics interests that so distinguished Workbook and Blue Coppers.

Here he is with the classic "Poème Électronique." Good track (Marcello Carlin), Friday, 27 April 2012 12:40 (1 year ago) Permalink

whereas

would be an awesome single, if only "Pictures of Matchstick Men" didn't exist.

Mark G, Friday, 27 April 2012 13:00 (1 year ago) Permalink

I dream of writing quickly. On ILX I'm extremely slapdash, and basically type faster than I speak, but outside of that I can spend quarter-hours deliberating over the placement of a comma or agonising over a sentence structure. It's shit because once I've re-read and re-structured a paragraph for the umpteenth time it stops making sense to me, and later when it's published it just sounds wooden.

^^ same here

rusty_allen, Friday, 27 April 2012 13:20 (1 year ago) Permalink

4 months pass...

How do you plan your reviews and articles? Do you write out a structure? use a mindmap? Take notes? Or just start writing and see what comes out?

This Is... The Police (dog latin), Wednesday, 26 September 2012 09:11 (1 year ago) Permalink

Live reviews: start writing and see what comes out (more or less). When writing for my city newspaper, the first 120-odd characters get auto-tweeted by them with a link and without a headline, so the first sentence has to be a pretty straightforward "please click me" lead-in, containing the name of the act. That gets me over the initial hump.

Features: Once my thoughts come to boiling point, I scribble down a detailed long-hand plan, extremely quickly, trying not to pause if I can possibly help it. That usually gives me around 3 pages of A4. Some bits won't make it into the first draft, other bits might get chopped out later, but the overall structure rarely changes much - as by scribbling at high-speed, I find I can retain the overall shape and flow of the argument. No idea whether this is common practice - it's a self-invented method, but it works for me.

mike t-diva, Wednesday, 26 September 2012 09:51 (1 year ago) Permalink

I'm trying out different methods. Started writing disparate notes into my phone while listening to the album and doing housework. Then started on a more detailed mindmap with doodles and stuff to get my thoughts in a better order. Now I'm gonna turn that into a structured list and then refer to my original notes to create the finished piece. Probably way more complicated a process than is necessary but it could help in getting the thing to flow together better. Next one I do I'm going to try a stream of conscious "just write as fast as you can without stopping thing and see what happens.

This Is... The Police (dog latin), Wednesday, 26 September 2012 10:00 (1 year ago) Permalink

Obviously I don't review much anymore, but when I do, generally I'll make short notes about a record (ideally whilst listening to it [in whatever context] but not always), and I'll email these to myself. These might be notes about specific tracks, sounds, references, or wider thoughts about context or whatever.

When I'm ready to write, I'll sit down with the laptop or at the desktop, and gather these into a single Word document. Always put the artist and title at the top first, like putting a harness on a guide dog so it knows it's about to start work. Then I'll flesh out all the individual notes into full sentences, and shift them around the document until they find a sensible order. It's a bit like building a dry stone wall - once you've picked up a stone (or sentence, or thought, or paragraph), you're not a,llowed to put it down until it fits into a space that makes the wall (review) take shape.

comedy is unnatural and abhorrent (Scik Mouthy), Wednesday, 26 September 2012 10:24 (1 year ago) Permalink

definitely take notes. and a structure can help, but if i write one, i generally junk it along the way. but the initial sketch is enough to get me started and on to the structure it ultimately takes (especially for features/longer pieces)

Trad., Arrrgh (stevie), Wednesday, 26 September 2012 10:29 (1 year ago) Permalink

Scik's methods and mine are rather similar.

taking tiger mountain (up the butt) (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 26 September 2012 11:15 (1 year ago) Permalink

So long as I can get some words out, which I can then trash as needed.

Ned Raggett, Wednesday, 26 September 2012 11:46 (1 year ago) Permalink

Live reviews I write as they come. Album reviews need more thought, but I usually only do capsule ones, so it's not trying.

For features, I generally have a fairly clear idea what I'm going to say before I start writing. I don't plan them out, per se, but I'll have been thinking about the points I want to make between doing the interviews and starting to write. The intro's always the hardest part - the wrong intro might steer you away from the narrative you want - or it might be too similar to other recent intros I've done. Earlier this year, I scrapped a piece 2,300 words in because I realised the intro had taken me in the wrong direction. Once the intro's done, it usually flows easily. You can't start writing a long piece and just see what comes out, though. As an editor – I now do much more writing – I realised that one of the commonest problems for writers is trying to put in too much: they had seven things they were desperate to say, but really there was only room for five, so they'd try to cut all seven down to a form skimpy enough to include them all. Doesn't work. You have to be ruthless in leaving things out if they clutter up the cleanliness of your narrative (I don't mean if they disprove your narrative; if that happens you're telling the wrong story. I mean if it's fascinating but peripheral). And the more work you've put in, the more you'll have to leave out.

I'm lucky, in that I write quickly and cleanly. But I realise not everyone suffers as few agonies over writing as I do. That's not a boast by the way - a decent writer labouring over a piece is more likely to produce sparkling prose than a decent writer whose first draft is fine for publication. But there are advantages to being able to churn out 4,000 words in an afternoon, and have all of them make sense.

Manfred Mann meets Man Parrish (ithappens), Wednesday, 26 September 2012 12:34 (1 year ago) Permalink

The number of times I've had my reviews sent back with the intro chopped off I couldn't tell you. And almost always it reads better for it. I find my OG intro works more as a springboard for further ideas but ends up being superfluous to the finished piece.

This Is... The Police (dog latin), Wednesday, 26 September 2012 13:30 (1 year ago) Permalink

Reviews: I listen once, then listen again while typing. Then a third listen while moving sentences around, making adjectives more insulting, adding profanity and ethnic slurs, etc.

Features: I listen to the latest album while thinking about questions I'd like to ask whichever bandmember I'm going to be granted 20 minutes on the phone with. I look the band up on Wikipedia, Allmusic, and maybe metal-archives.com. Then I spend a couple of hours looking up previous interviews online, and thinking of additional questions I haven't seen them asked in those articles. Half the time, the thing I think is most interesting about the band is something no one has ever thought to ask (presumably because the subject wasn't raised in the press release). I email back and forth with my editor, usually trying to argue him out of some gossipy approach that focuses more on the artist's personal life than the music. If I have time, and/or if it's going to be a long feature, I get hold of their previous albums and listen to those. Generally speaking, by the time I actually get on the phone with the person, I have a pretty good idea of the story I'm going to be writing, and can in fact probably write the first 1000 words or so without even speaking to anyone. Then we do the interview, and if I've radically misinterpreted something about their music, or the reason the bassist quit, or whatever, then I transcribe, punch in quotes, and revise my narrative accordingly. Then I let the story sit until the next morning, re-read it, and move stuff around, insert ethnic slurs and profanity, etc., and ship it to the editor. A day or so later, the editor sends it back asking for more gossip about the artist's personal life, or asking me to do a quick phoner with the guy who recently quit the band, so I do that, and send it back. Then I wait for my copy of the issue, and the subsequent check, to hit the mailbox.

誤訳侮辱, Wednesday, 26 September 2012 13:35 (1 year ago) Permalink

How do you record it? I still use tapes x speakerphone. Haven't messed me up yet (but I usually do email exchanges). Transcription helps me to focus, pre-edit, kinda fun usually.

dow, Wednesday, 26 September 2012 19:18 (1 year ago) Permalink

How do I record interviews? I use a digital recorder - an Olympus DM-20, to be exact (which they don't make anymore - mine has served me well for several years). I have a cord so I can patch it directly into the phone line for most phoners; otherwise, I call the person on my cell phone, put them on speaker, and put the recorder down on the table next to the cell phone. This gives me excellent recording quality, believe it or not - it's a pretty sensitive device, but is also very good at cutting out extraneous background noise and preserving voices.

誤訳侮辱, Wednesday, 26 September 2012 19:26 (1 year ago) Permalink

I use an inear mic, plugged into my digital recorder. It works fine, though you have to check you've plugged into the mic jack instead of the headphone jack.

In terms of prep for features interviews: I read every interview I can get my hands on, and reputable past reviews. It's not just about seeing what questions have already been asked, but seeing if themes emerged from those pieces that were never properly developed. It's undoubtedly true that the best answers are given to questions that have not previously been asked. I also listen to as much music - not just the latest album - as I can. If you only listen to the latest album, you can't know how things have changed. These days, I often ask on Twitter if anyone has something they want asked - I often get one question I'd never have thought of on my own, and always mention where it came from when I do the interview.

Manfred Mann meets Man Parrish (ithappens), Thursday, 27 September 2012 10:14 (1 year ago) Permalink

When writing reviews, are you ever tempted to read other people's reviews first?

This Is... The Police (dog latin), Thursday, 27 September 2012 10:25 (1 year ago) Permalink

Yes. But I try not to. Don't want to be part of a critical hive mind, and don't want to lift their thoughts.

Manfred Mann meets Man Parrish (ithappens), Thursday, 27 September 2012 10:32 (1 year ago) Permalink

what really bums me out is when i'm reviewing something and, having written it, i check out someone else's review and find that they've happened upon a similar/identical angle and phrase. it feels like i've been cheating, even though i haven't.

Trad., Arrrgh (stevie), Thursday, 27 September 2012 10:34 (1 year ago) Permalink

yeah i like to either write a review more or less in a vacuum, without having anyone else's opinion effect mine too much, or if i've been surrounded by the discourse around a record then i try to write something that takes all that into account without directly respond to or regurgitating what other people have already said. but if i go out of my way to read reviews while i'm writing one, i feel like i'm just opening myself up to be influenced (either in opinion or how to write about it) so i try to avoid it.

the definition of fuckshit bird (some dude), Thursday, 27 September 2012 10:41 (1 year ago) Permalink

yeah i never ever read reviews first - partly this is something i've always done, i prefer to consume something myself and THEN gorge on other people's opinions (i do this for films too), and partly to avoid my own writing being overly affected (worst case scenario is subconsciously nicking a turn of phrase aargh).

don't really have a set "plan" for writing - what do you think i am, an organised and professional person? the states in which i have written some stuff that came out well* is LOL - but for reviews, i'll take notes as i listen - words i want to use, any ~insights~ i have, lyrics to note down, basic "this sound is in this song" stuff. for features, i'll work with the transcript below. writing often feels like stitching these disparate phrases/arguments/quotes together.

*my odd future/homophobia piece: written in a north london hospital waiting room, where i had to spend six hungover hours being passed around between doctors the day after fucking up my ankle to the point where i literally couldn't walk at a birthday picnic, which was also the day i'd discovered i had no money left in my bank account (always the large payments that are the most delayed, bah), and i'd spent what i thought was my last tenner on a cab to the hospital. also my amy winehouse obit was written when i had a massive fever and could barely focus on the laptop screen. also at least one piece i've done was written at a house party.

lex pretend, Thursday, 27 September 2012 10:56 (1 year ago) Permalink

i loved your bit on Dylan btw lex - really well handled considering all things and a lot of fun to read too

This Is... The Police (dog latin), Thursday, 27 September 2012 11:20 (1 year ago) Permalink

without wishing to pry too much into people's financial personal lives, but how much do you make from reviews/features as an average? I've been writing for magazines for the last few years but it's all been free work, much to my mum's annoyance. How high up the ladder do you have to go to start getting paid?

Blue Collar Retail Assistant (Dwight Yorke), Thursday, 27 September 2012 11:27 (1 year ago) Permalink

having been paid for exactly one article in my time, i wouldn't know. but my guess is it's all about working one's way up and contributing for bigger publications and sites as you go. this is where being prolific is obviously a boon (i find i can only really spare the time out of my other commitments for one piece per month on average). i know people who started in roughly the same circumstances as me who somehow were able to pump out about 2-3 reviews a week for various publications and are now working full time on it as their work is now well-recognised.

there's nothing wrong with asking for a fee or at least some form of contribution (don't ask, don't get) but as with all things you have to be able to prove your writing is worth the cash and often this helps if you have a strong and varied portfolio.

This Is... The Police (dog latin), Thursday, 27 September 2012 11:35 (1 year ago) Permalink

Not much money in this, honestly, and the places I've written for the longest have cut their rates over time.

That said, what I make from freelance has supplemented my primary income over the last decade or so to the point that I depend on it, for better or worse. I write for fewer outlets than I did 5 or 6 years ago, whIch is fine because my spare time is increasingly diminished. I'm not really in the hunt for new outlets though if something intriguing (and dare I say better paying) opened up I'd be interested.

(Especally for book reviewing.)

Raymond Cummings, Thursday, 27 September 2012 11:58 (1 year ago) Permalink

It was easier in the print days to avoid reading other reviews tbh.

taking tiger mountain (up the butt) (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:00 (1 year ago) Permalink

The Guardian's freelance charter is online and has information on fees:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/info/guardian-news-media-freelance-charter#Fees

I'm not sure whether other outlets do the same.

Temporarily Famous In The Czech Republic (ShariVari), Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:02 (1 year ago) Permalink

I don't write for free anymore (except for Burning Ambulance, of course), but I've been doing this since 1996. The Wire pays 25 pounds a review; All Music Guide pays $15; Alternative Press pays $20; Jazziz pays $40, but that's because they run the reviews in print and online.

I'm lucky in that no other writers are reviewing most of the albums I'm reviewing, so there's really no "critical discourse" to get caught up in.

誤訳侮辱, Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:05 (1 year ago) Permalink

without wishing to pry too much into people's financial personal lives, but how much do you make from reviews/features as an average? I've been writing for magazines for the last few years but it's all been free work, much to my mum's annoyance. How high up the ladder do you have to go to start getting paid?
--Blue Collar Retail Assistant (Dwight Yorke)

it varies so wildly, from Prefixes fabled $2 a blog post to [non-music magazine's] fabled $2 a word. It's all just balance. I definitely know multiple people who live comfortably in the most expensive city in America solely on freelance music writing. Though I dont really know anyone who's like ballin outta control

wood grain, chestnut / cody, CHESNUTT (Whiney G. Weingarten), Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:06 (1 year ago) Permalink

Pretty sure I earn more per minute as a writer than as a lawyer actually.

Tim F, Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:11 (1 year ago) Permalink

OTOH i'd never be able to spend ten hours in a row just writing music reviews without a serious task master.

Tim F, Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:16 (1 year ago) Permalink

yeah tbh i (currently) live (reasonably) comfortably in the most expensive city in the UK, so. there are peaks and valleys and the particular valley i referred to was more down to a bank mix-up meaning a backlog of money hadn't gone in (obv i am too disorganised to check these things regularly). i don't think any freelancer i know earns their crust solely through writing, and certainly not solely through music writing.

lex pretend, Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:19 (1 year ago) Permalink

Yeah I think the problem is less dollars per hour than the difficulty of securing enough work LET ALONE being creative all day.

Tim F, Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:23 (1 year ago) Permalink

oh god yeah, some weeks i end up thinking, if i earned this much every week i'd be BALLING and i'm not even that tired. but instead they are balanced out by the weeks in which one earns peanuts

i mean, i'd still take the freelance lifestyle over everything, regardless of the ££

lex pretend, Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:26 (1 year ago) Permalink

Freelancing definitely isn't for me, I need structure and security, and good company during the office day. Luckily I work in a relatively creative job with plenty of copywriting and photography and interviewing (academics, who aren't that dissimilar to the types of musician I occasionally interviewed - i.e. smart and locquacious, rather than Oasis) and not too much bureacracy.

I never wrote anything for print that didn't get paid, with one exception. Little of what I did online was paid though. I was useless at pimping myself out; barely ever wrote for anyone who didn't approach me first, which is part laziness, part ego, part insecurity.

comedy is unnatural and abhorrent (Scik Mouthy), Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:41 (1 year ago) Permalink

locquacious, rather than Oasis

^great unintentional rhyme there

This Is... The Police (dog latin), Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:42 (1 year ago) Permalink

Intentional! Or I'd have said verbose, or talkative, or etc etc etc.

comedy is unnatural and abhorrent (Scik Mouthy), Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:54 (1 year ago) Permalink

Honestly officer.

comedy is unnatural and abhorrent (Scik Mouthy), Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:55 (1 year ago) Permalink

I really don't see writing as a living anymore. It used to be that hustling for assignments and completing assignments added up to something substantial, relatively speaking, but these days the hustle is more intense and the reward for work lower/less. That is, it takes a lot more work to get "enough" work, and "enough" work really isn't very much. That's my experience, at least, The degradation of the print industry and the residual fallout from the tech boom, plus ongoing malaise/recession, has gutted space and budgets. Plenty of opportunities still, but parlaying them into regular work has become an even more rarified ordeal.

As for writing, in many ways I start "writing" the second I get an assignment. That is, I'm already thinking of the final product and gathering ideas about the subject at hand. At shows I sometimes take notes, usually lines and whatnot scattered around, then I juggle those specific ideas with the general ideas that have been floating my head into something (hopefully) pointed and coherent.

Do any of you use Google Voice for interviews? I haven't risked it yet, but it provides the ability to record incoming phone calls with the touch of a button, which conveniently announces to the subject that they are being recording, for the sake of legality.

Josh in Chicago, Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:00 (1 year ago) Permalink

Pretty sure I earn more per minute as a writer than as a lawyer actually.

Does that include thinking time? Because whenever people have said to me "oh £50 for a 120 word review seems quite good" and then you say, "yes, but I maybe wouldn't normally listen to this record, so I have to find time to listen to it, and think about it, and maybe research it, 'sit and type' time might not be much, but..." I'm pretty sure I'm not getting anywhere near dayjob pay, and I'm not paid all that much.

comedy is unnatural and abhorrent (Scik Mouthy), Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:10 (1 year ago) Permalink

But you're listening to music anyway aren't you? I get the listening done while I'm doing other stuff or, if it's transferrable and not a stream, while I'm walking, and the thinking evolves during the listening process or in the shower, en the school run, etc. By no stretch of the imagination is it great pay but I find the pre-writing bit (unless it's a time-devouring box set) folds into my everyday life quite easily.

Get wolves (DL), Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:21 (1 year ago) Permalink

xpost Yeah, but I rarely write about stuff I wouldn't listen to and think about anyway, and I think about all music I hear as if I'm writing about it. So at this point it's like monetising breathing.

Tim F, Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:22 (1 year ago) Permalink

what DL said.

Tim F, Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:22 (1 year ago) Permalink

That's fair enough (obviously!). I guess I quite often reviewed music regularly I wouldn't ordinarily otherwise be listening to - these days when I write (which is infrequently) it's only ever about something I'm listening to / thinking about a lot. Over the last couple of years other hobbies (playing sport, essentially) have really encroached into time where I might have been listening to other stuff.

comedy is unnatural and abhorrent (Scik Mouthy), Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:28 (1 year ago) Permalink

xpost This^ but also I feel like I kind of have to listen to the album if I know I'm gonna write about it, and that involves listening to it in a variety of contexts, maybe even at times when I'm not in the mood for it. This can actually kill my enjoyment of a record that I really like and more often than not, even with albums I write very favourably about, I find it very hard to return to them once I've submitted my work.

This Is... The Police (dog latin), Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:31 (1 year ago) Permalink

xp That's why I don't play sport. I will die prematurely in the service of album-reviewing.

Get wolves (DL), Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:33 (1 year ago) Permalink

Played handball at lunchtime, it was awesome. Played ultimate frisbee on Tuesday, that was awesome too. 5-a-side tonight and tomorrow night, Bike ride Saturday morning, then down the allotment. Awesome.

comedy is unnatural and abhorrent (Scik Mouthy), Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:37 (1 year ago) Permalink

yeah rates vary hugely from one outlet to the next. i try to write for small/new local publications as much as i can to support and contribute to that community, but one thing i've found really unnerving is when some of those places ask ME to give THEM my rates. i mean wtf am i supposed to say? "well, this place paid me $100 for a piece of this length and that place paid me $1,000, take your pick"?

the definition of fuckshit bird (some dude), Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:47 (1 year ago) Permalink


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