Rolling Music Writers' Thread

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oops yeah

❊❁❄❆❇❃✴❈plaxico❈✴❃❇❆❄❁❊ (I know, right?), Tuesday, 11 August 2009 15:53 (seven years ago) Permalink

If you can write entertainingly, I forgive your first person narrative.

Mark G, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 15:54 (seven years ago) Permalink

xhuxk on point

max, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 15:59 (seven years ago) Permalink

xp "So why would print them?", I meant.

Anyway, bottom line is, no fucking way does the the detached pseudo-objective tone used in most glossies and daily newspapers make for better music writing than what I was printing week in and week out in the Voice for ten years (though sure, a few pieces I published may have sounded "Internetty" or whatever. Point was to have lots of different voices, so it'd be a miracle if anybody approved of all of them. I didn't want to ban Internetty writing -- which can be good too, sometimes -- either.)

On the other hand, I like the creativity with which guys like Sanneh at the Times have managed to get around the limitations against first person and swear words. A smart writer can work within those perimeters, too, and make it entertaining anyway.

xhuxk, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:02 (seven years ago) Permalink

its funny you mention sanneh--his profile of michael savage in the nyer from a couple weeks ago was very careful about not using "i" (which i think is generally a no-go in the nyer, except in the personal essays they publish every once in a while) but still managed to tell a set of interesting stories about sanneh's own encounters w/ savage that sort of hinged on sannehs own specific experiences trying to set up an interview... in the end, though, i thought it would have been a better piece if they had let him use an authorial I

max, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:06 (seven years ago) Permalink

wow that got convoluted

max, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:06 (seven years ago) Permalink

I thought about that, too.

Over the years, Savage has noticed that his disdain for the mainstream media is widely reciprocated ... So when he received an e-mail from a journalist asking for an interview, he was deeply suspicious. He read the e-mail on the air — he kept the writer anonymous, and didn’t mention that the request came from The New Yorker — and then asked his listeners, “Should I do the interview or not?”…

About a week later, Savage revisited the topic — “my continuing correspondence with a big-shot magazine writer.” He quoted the latest exchanges, along with his tart response, in which he asked, “Why must all of you in the extreme media paint everyone you disagree with as demonic? Why is the homosexual agenda so important to the midstream media?”

...

When he invited the journalist into one of his undisclosed locations, he proved to be a first-rate host, chatty and solicitous. A steady supply of beer refills lubricated the conversation (one of his earliest books was “The Taster’s Guide to Beer,” which was published in 1977), and as the temperature dropped and the sky above Berkeley started to turn orange, he seemed to be working hard to stay suspicious, despite himself. On his next show the next day, a caller asked how the interview had gone, and Savage described his interlocutor: "If I told you he looked like Obama, I wouldn't be far from the truth." Coming from him, this sounded like a deeply twisted compliment.

Sanneh has to resort to speaking of himself in the third person ("the journalist," "his interlocutor") but otherwise does a decent job with passive-ish phrases like "a steady supply of beer refills lubricated the conversation."

jaymc, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:22 (seven years ago) Permalink

no i think you're OTM, that NYer piece was convoluted. it read to me like sanneh had a personal 1 on 1 reaction to savage that was quite different than what he expected and the resulting article would have been more effective and immediate using the "I" but the NYer has always employed a certain lofty distance from its subjects, even in the 70s it wasn't really into the personal/new journalism thing. well apart from pauline kael I guess.

but journalists do have to meet readers half-way. my problem with a lot of the vintage village voice stuff is that it's so personal to the point of being impenetrable or off-putting.

m coleman, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:24 (seven years ago) Permalink

the best first person stuff illustrates how the subject of an interview interacts with other people, rather than "setting the scene"

lex pretend, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:25 (seven years ago) Permalink

i'm guessing whiney's not big on fiction as a rule.

strongohulkingtonsghost, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:26 (seven years ago) Permalink

I'm not big on fiction as a rule either, and one of the principles that was drilled into me when I started writing was that first-person is something you have to earn--expecting the reader who's never heard of you before to go along with I-I-I-me-me-me instead of saying "So what?" and moving to the next item is not generally a good idea--but I love first person writing even if (despite whatever reputation I may have for it due to the 33 1/3 book) I don't use it all that often professionally.

Matos W.K., Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:30 (seven years ago) Permalink

matos if you don't mind me asking: you're not big on fiction as a journalistic device or (gasp) you don't like reading novels?

m coleman, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:36 (seven years ago) Permalink

I don't write fiction or about music, but first-person is the default in my area of writing (analytic philosophy). Sometimes we resort to the royal "we" if we're feeling nervous about first-person. But it was made clear to me that third-person is to be avoided, as is passive voice.

deep olives (Euler), Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:37 (seven years ago) Permalink

hang on, you're not big on reading fiction...at all?!

xp!

lex pretend, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:37 (seven years ago) Permalink

xp I don't buy the "have to earn" thing. I'm not even sure what it means. If I listen to a song sung in the first person, I might be able to relate to, and be moved by, the song even if I'm unaware of the singer's specific biography. Not sure why reviews are necessarily different. You don't have to be a famous writer to have a life that creates a context.

xhuxk, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:37 (seven years ago) Permalink

i thought he meant less that you have to earn it in the sense of being already famous or noteworthy, but in the sense that you have to earn it through your writing--i.e. you have to justify use of the first person in the piece itself, not necc explicitly, but at least in making your "I" of interest to the reader

max, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:39 (seven years ago) Permalink

When it's well done - and it does have to be superbly well done, and yes, generally (but not always) "earnt" - first-person music writing is my favourite of all music writing. (And when it's pointlessly done, the reverse holds true.)

For my own part, I avoid it at least 95% of the time - but then I come from a personal-blogging background, and taking "myself" out of the equation was a deliberate, sought objective.

mike t-diva, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:40 (seven years ago) Permalink

My first piece at the Voice (when no reader could've had any idea who I was) and a couple soon after were in the first person, fwiw. I seriously doubt they would have improved if the "I"'s had been edited out. (Whether they stunk regardless is another question, but they wouldn't have stunk less.)

Editorial "we" -- first person plural -- bugs the hell out of me no matter what, though. I never buy it, and I've fought editors to keep it out of my own writing (which usually they've been open to).

And btw, I've also edited at Billboard, where first person is almost never allowed. So it's not like I don't know that drill. I just don't like it much.

xhuxk, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:45 (seven years ago) Permalink

Of course, at Billboard, the writing tended to be more news and less review-oriented. (So first person would have probably have made no sense anyway.)

xhuxk, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:47 (seven years ago) Permalink

And I come from a journalism (and not fancy dancy "new journalism") background too. I came up covering zoning boards and sewage commissions, where objective detachment is strived for. Not saying I don't understand it there, obviously. When I'm defending first person, I'm specifically referring to criticism (though, when it comes to say artist features, I prefer criticism to be part of the deal.)

xhuxk, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:51 (seven years ago) Permalink

i thought he meant less that you have to earn it in the sense of being already famous or noteworthy, but in the sense that you have to...justify use of the first person in the piece itself, not necc explicitly, but at least in making your "I" of interest to the reader

Well, obviously I buy this, if that's what Michaelangelo means. But in that sense, you need to earn whatever you put in your writing -- so first person's no different from anything else.

xhuxk, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:54 (seven years ago) Permalink

I mean I don't read novels almost at all. Gasp!

Matos W.K., Tuesday, 11 August 2009 16:59 (seven years ago) Permalink

xpost: If there's one thing I hate even more than editorial "we", it's the sort of "we" that includes both the writer and his/her presumed readership. ("When did we all fall in love with Kings Of Leon?")

mike t-diva, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 17:01 (seven years ago) Permalink

haha please tell me you made that KoL quote up Mike

Matos W.K., Tuesday, 11 August 2009 17:02 (seven years ago) Permalink

Really: What do you mean we, kemosabe? (Those ILM threads titled "What Do We Think Of [fill in the blank]?" are almost as bad.)

xhuxk, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 17:04 (seven years ago) Permalink

Tbh, reading good first-person music writing is what made me want to write about music. (Or even reading bad first-person music writing: some Pitchfork stuff from around the turn of the century, though hard to read now, at least made me realize that criticism need not be all neutral/detached/objective.)

jaymc, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 17:08 (seven years ago) Permalink

(Which, I should add, was mighty refreshing for someone who just wanted to write about his experiences with music and his reactions to listening to certain songs or albums without the burden of serving as some kind of authority.)

jaymc, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 17:12 (seven years ago) Permalink

Avoiding first person is a good technique to get beyond the inherent subjectivity of reviewing music- it pushes the writer to find a common ground with the reader, rather than just reporting their personal reaction. I drop it if I start to get grandiose.

bendy, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 17:26 (seven years ago) Permalink

lots of reasons here why i generally prefer reading about music on the internet just my personal opinion!

❊❁❄❆❇❃✴❈plaxico❈✴❃❇❆❄❁❊ (I know, right?), Tuesday, 11 August 2009 17:35 (seven years ago) Permalink

Sanneh has to resort to speaking of himself in the third person ("the journalist," "his interlocutor") but otherwise does a decent job with passive-ish phrases like "a steady supply of beer refills lubricated the conversation."

Re this, exhaustively shat upon by Eric Boehlert.

http://mediamatters.org/columns/200908030038

Related:

http://mediamatters.org/columns/200908110005

Gorge, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 18:09 (seven years ago) Permalink

"Avoiding first person is a good technique to get beyond the inherent subjectivity of reviewing music- it pushes the writer to find a common ground with the reader, rather than just reporting their personal reaction. I drop it if I start to get grandiose."

I think this is one of the root issues but it also points to the fallacy of avoiding first person - the technique assumes that it's the specific use of "I" that makes music writing solipsistic or uncommunicative. It also suggests that that the choice is between solipsism and objectivity (I accept that specific publications may have other reasons for disliking it).

But it's not hard to write a review that avoids using "I" but still reads like the writer has never thought to question their personal reactions, their prejudices, their assumptions.

Learning to adopt a critical perspective w/r/t those things has a lot to do with how you relate to music generally, how you try to convey what the music is actually doing etc. etc.

Kogan is a good example of a writer who puts himself into the story but still makes the music's potential to affect different people differently the star attraction.

Tim F, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 23:33 (seven years ago) Permalink

The tendency to lean toward the first person is usually an indicator of a writer being green but not always of self-obsession. A lot of these throw away 'I thinks', 'I feels', 'as I was saying to x' etc come from a nervousness about stating an opinion without a crutch or without reflexively reminding people that, it's just, like, their opinion, man. All reviews and value judgements are obviously the opinion of the writer. We can tell because it's prefixed with a byline. It's just that if a writer is all apologetic and constantly reminding people that it's all subjective innit, they won't get ripped to shreds on the internet. Or not as much anyway.

But it's a writer's job to be authoritative. In, er, my opinion it is anyway.

It's more acceptable in features but then the reasoning still has to be solid behind it. I've been stabbed during or around three interviews. Once accidentally by a member of a band while we were larking about, once purposefully by a band member during a play fight that got out of hand and once after getting so drunk in an interview I got thrown out of the hotel by security and got stabbed randomly outside.

The first piece was written third person with only passing mention of boisterous high spirits. The incident was unremarkable. Barely drew blood. The second time was pertinent. The guy was a loon and this helped to illustrate that. Some of the piece was written in the first person. It was impossible to write it neatly otherwise. The third incident was ignored and the piece was written in the third person. A good pub story perhaps but nothing to do with the band or the story.

Once I got to an interview with Matt C from The Bronx to find out that we'd both broken our noses the night before. That was kind of on the cusp. Could have been written either way. Just about interesting enough as a jumping off point to be worth including.

As a rule you shouldn't do it unless it's an on the road/reportage piece or you have a unique involvement in the story that no one else has (or at least your readers don't). That said - and I'm twisting Eric Arthur Blair to my own ends on this - I'd break any rule about writing I have rather than write something barbaric.

(And house style rules. If you can't write a piece around I said/we said/Rolling Stone said and still make it readable, maybe you shouldn't be writing. It's fairly straightforward after all.)

Co-sign everything that guy said about a variety of voices on a magazine.

Doran, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 10:37 (seven years ago) Permalink

Re. "authoritative": should music writers attain a certain level of knowledge of music before setting up as arbiters of taste?

smoke weed every day, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 11:06 (seven years ago) Permalink

Not necessarily because knowing loads about music doesn't necessarily give you good taste in music and beyond that 'good taste' is a bogus concept on its own.

It's up to the individual writer not to make a fool out of themselves/magazine that's hired them. Canonical thinking is the enemy of good music writing but that doesn't mean you shouldn't know about this stuff anyway. I mean, I hate the Beatles and a lot of other big groups from the 60s and won't write about them as a rule but it doesn't mean I don't have a basic grounding in them.

Some writers set up this completely false binary of the job being fusty old rock professors with their "facts" and everything and young, free spirited rebels who don't know about the music but who can "feel" it and "live" it. Somehow suggesting that the more you know about music, the less you can actually appreciate it, which is obviously not true.

Doran, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 11:23 (seven years ago) Permalink

good for you for fighting the power

max, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 11:32 (seven years ago) Permalink

i can't believe people are still arguing this stuff.

strongohulkingtonsghost, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 11:37 (seven years ago) Permalink

^^^ probably listens to the beatles

max, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 11:38 (seven years ago) Permalink

i'll fight you for that.

strongohulkingtonsghost, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 11:38 (seven years ago) Permalink

with a broken copy of rubber soul.

strongohulkingtonsghost, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 11:39 (seven years ago) Permalink

i dont think u have earned the right to fight me

max, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 11:40 (seven years ago) Permalink

It's more acceptable in features but then the reasoning still has to be solid behind it. I've been stabbed during or around four interviews. Once accidentally by a member of a band while we were larking about, once purposefully by a band member during a play fight that got out of hand and once after getting so drunk in an interview I got thrown out of the hotel by security and got stabbed randomly outside. And once in the arm with a broken record by the ghost of a well-known music bloggist after I made some heavy accusations.

max, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 11:42 (seven years ago) Permalink

for example's sake, here's a review i wrote last year that uses the first-person twice in the first two sentences, and then never again. especially writing in that venue, it felt honest and useful to state up front my own skepticism about the band. it tells the reader -- whatever their own position on the band -- where i'm coming from, and also establishes a little bit of critical tension. i'm sure i could have written the same thing without the first-person, but it would have been less direct, and i don't think would have improved anything.

flying squid attack (tipsy mothra), Wednesday, 12 August 2009 13:47 (seven years ago) Permalink

It works fine, tipsy (and your review is first-rate).

Anatomy of a Morbius (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 12 August 2009 13:49 (seven years ago) Permalink

that is a really nice review, but I would have edited the first sentence out if you had turned it in to me since its burying the lede. Ppl are picking up the article to read about DBT, not tipsy mothra.

can au jus (Whiney G. Weingarten), Wednesday, 12 August 2009 13:55 (seven years ago) Permalink

not to dog yr review, becuz it is a v nice review.

can au jus (Whiney G. Weingarten), Wednesday, 12 August 2009 13:55 (seven years ago) Permalink

no that's fine, i've had editors who think the same way. i don't have strong feelings about it, it just isn't always a big deal to me as a writer or an editor. (and thanks.)

flying squid attack (tipsy mothra), Wednesday, 12 August 2009 14:04 (seven years ago) Permalink

a pretty large amount of my freelancing is live reviews, and i don't always write in the first person, but sometimes in those situations you kinda have to -- i think when strongo was my editor a more 'editorial we'-or-avoid-it-altogether thing was reccomended, but now that he isn't i get away with straight up first person more. it's just awkward to go by yourself to a show where there's maybe 5 other people in the audience, and then later on not be able to talk about the experience without referring to the obvious fact that you were just a guy in the room and not some omniscient observer. i don't think i've used first person in record reviews much at all, if ever (although i use it a lot in casual, vaguely review-y blog posts because who cares, and also i hate when one-person blogs refer to themselves in the third person like they're Rolling Stone or something).

ringtone lizard (some dude), Wednesday, 12 August 2009 14:10 (seven years ago) Permalink

(should note here the "editorial we" was a diktat imposed from above. there's actually little i hate more than the editorial we. (about six months before i left cp i just gave up and started shoving first person in anywhere it made a piece flow better.))

strongohulkingtonsghost, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 14:12 (seven years ago) Permalink

yeah -- not blaming/crediting you with the policy at all, dog, just saying i think you enforced it more

ringtone lizard (some dude), Wednesday, 12 August 2009 14:14 (seven years ago) Permalink

(that's not to say i wanted people running wild with first-person, either, but it makes anyone sound less goofy than referring to him/herself like the king/queen of a small, bankrupt nation.)

strongohulkingtonsghost, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 14:14 (seven years ago) Permalink

Posted this on a freelancers thread but maybe its better here:

http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/6707243/music-journalism-usa-today-times-picayune-daily-news

Music coverage at metropolitan dailies has taken a major hit in recent weeks, with writers at several legacy city papers leaving their full-time positions.

Jim Farber announced on Sept. 17 that he had been let go from the New York Daily News, where he had been covering music since 1990, in a round of layoffs that hit the paper's highest-profile talent particularly hard. New Orleans’ Times-Picayune dissolved its music department in a 21 percent budget slice of the paper's content operation. The Advance Publications-owned title laid off music writer Alison Fensterstock and offered her colleague Keith Spera a metro reporting job that would, according to a Facebook post, allow him to "write the occasional music-related news story."

The 2.8-million circulation national daily USA Today, meanwhile, said goodbye to its longtime music writer Brian Mansfield. The Nashville-based 18-year veteran of the paper reveals his next move will take him out of traditional journalism into a new role as content director at public relations firm Shore Fire Media (Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, St. Vincent).

Saw Alison Fensterstock speak at an EMP re New Orleans bounce music and other subjects, and have read her stuff. Its a shame she has been laid off

curmudgeon, Thursday, 24 September 2015 19:39 (one year ago) Permalink

"Music Coverage Endangered" in a world where there's like three Noisey posts on the fucking Future/Drake tape

posts baloney - whine iverson (Whiney G. Weingarten), Thursday, 24 September 2015 19:53 (one year ago) Permalink

obviously great but not surprising -- the thinking is almost certainly "show previews can run in briefs, national music stories can be wire."

fwiw the person who got me into journalism in the first place is still at the paper but again it's more metro/lifestyle

a self-reinforcing downward spiral of male-centric indie (katherine), Friday, 25 September 2015 05:51 (one year ago) Permalink

*NOT great. christ. (as if anyone doesn't know my stance on newspaper layoffs by now)

a self-reinforcing downward spiral of male-centric indie (katherine), Friday, 25 September 2015 05:52 (one year ago) Permalink

four weeks pass...

re: writing for free

I've never done it because I generally don't think we should, but do you all make exceptions for, say, a badass publication that covers great shit and all-around rules but exists largely thanks to the efforts of volunteers? (They do sell ads.)

Like I love this magazine - a sort of fringe-ish but substantial publication in a big city - and pitched a story idea and they say no one gets paid for contributions. Which I don't have any reason to NOT believe.

Should I be more skeptical?

alpine static, Friday, 23 October 2015 22:53 (one year ago) Permalink

If it's something like ESOPUS or whatever that clearly exists to exist, the do it.

If it's like Brooklyn Mag or the L Magazine or whatever the version of that is in your city, then pass with a quickness

bricc baby hitlo (Whiney G. Weingarten), Friday, 23 October 2015 23:11 (one year ago) Permalink

Or just go pick any Vice vertical and they'll pay you a little bit more than free!

bricc baby hitlo (Whiney G. Weingarten), Friday, 23 October 2015 23:13 (one year ago) Permalink

more the former than the latter, imo

thanks wgw

(xpost)

alpine static, Friday, 23 October 2015 23:15 (one year ago) Permalink

two months pass...

Sometimes I wish there were, or had been, a music publication that worked on a similar model to the old Mean Machines mags I used to read: A small, familiar editorial team; not afraid of being ribald or humorous; two-page major album features including 2-3 capsule reviews by different members of staff representing differences of opinion. Could that have worked?

canoon fooder (dog latin), Wednesday, 13 January 2016 10:44 (ten months ago) Permalink

Mean Machines? gaming zine

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 14:29 (ten months ago) Permalink

yeah from the early 90s. I used to love it when I was a spotty teen. They weren't afraid of making fun of themselves and the content they were covering. I guess Select had a similar sense of humour in its heyday. But yeah, I never knew why it's always been the case that publications and sites depend on the view of just one person when talking about an album for example.

canoon fooder (dog latin), Wednesday, 13 January 2016 14:31 (ten months ago) Permalink

Down Beat publishes 3-4 reviews a month where 3 different writers cover each album. But that's jazz so nobody knows about it.

the top man in the language department (誤訳侮辱), Wednesday, 13 January 2016 14:43 (ten months ago) Permalink

http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/media/2016/01/8587714/grantland-redux-mtv

5 Grantlanders now at MTV Music News website plus Greg Tate and others

From Jess*ca Hopper tweet--Brian Phillips, David Turner, Hazel Cills, Molly Lambert, Amy Nicholson, Meaghan Garvey are @MTV now.

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 17:40 (ten months ago) Permalink

Oh, and Jessica is now editorial director at MTV news! I guess Pitchfork has some job openings now

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 17:44 (ten months ago) Permalink

Have people ever gone to MTV.com for music writing before this? I can't remember ever reading an article there. I just assumed it was there so people could stream whatever episodes of The Challenge or Teen Wolf they'd missed.

the top man in the language department (誤訳侮辱), Wednesday, 13 January 2016 18:15 (ten months ago) Permalink

I never have.

So I missed the old news from November 2015 that Hopper was leaving Pitchfork
http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2015/11/13/music-critic-and-editor-jessica-hopper-on-her-departure-from-pitchfork

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 18:21 (ten months ago) Permalink

http://www.mtv.com/news/2727414/brother-from-another-planet/

Greg Tate's piece on David Bowie from the site

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 18:24 (ten months ago) Permalink

jessica was the one who let me do the dollar bin column for pitchfork review. haven't heard anything since she left. so i guess i'm not doing it anymore. it was fun while it lasted!

scott seward, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 18:38 (ten months ago) Permalink

Don't see who her successor there is, listed online...

curmudgeon, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 19:40 (ten months ago) Permalink


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