I hit the music blogging equivalent of the big time recently when I was offered a contributing writer role on one of the biggest indie music blogs on the planet.
I never intended to become a music blogger. I’m probably the last person you’d pick as having any interest in indie music, let alone an enormous driving passion for the space. And yet in 12 short months I’ve turned myself into a serious music writer on a serious music blog. What makes this even more remarkable is that I have no connection to the music industry whatsoever and I’ve never taken a writing class in my life.
So how did I do it? Here are some thoughts including what I think are the bigger lessons at play here.
1. I was already good at writing.
Long before I started writing about music, I already considered myself somewhat of a writer and blogger having maintained a personal blog for years.
That counts for more than you think. Blogging can be hard to do well because it’s difficult to get into the habit of regularly doing it. Most bloggers start out with good intentions of writing something every day or every week but very few are able to sustain it over the long term, regardless of the topic. Once you’re in that zone of always scanning your environment for your next post and making the time and headspace to devote to it, you’re winning the blogging war. Writing about music is exactly the same.
Bottom line: Blog well. Blog often.
2. I asked for what I wanted.
The two music blogging roles I’ve ever had, I got them both because I asked.
I mentioned to a friend that I was thinking about writing about music. He encouraged me to do so and before long I’d written some random commentary about a couple of random tracks. I liked what I was doing and quickly realized that if I wanted to have any kind of audience outside of my immediate friends and family, I needed to collaborate with a bunch of others music writers.
I found a niche blog that I liked, emailed them and asked if I could write for them. On the back of only a handful of posts on my own blog, they accepted me as one of their staff writers.
I spent a year writing for this blog. Solidly. I posted regularly and over time I started to see my audience, feedback and reach expand. I learnt the basics of how to write about music, I discovered a bunch of new sounds and artists and I found out how the industry and publicity machine works.
I started feeling an upswing and momentum that was taking me beyond my current blog and audience. I wanted to ride the good body of work I had built and leverage it. My thinking was – if I’m going to write for a music blog, I might as well write for one of the biggest and the best.
Like I did with the smaller blog 12 months earlier, I emailed the head editor of my favorite big-time blog and asked if I could join. After gentle persistence at my end and many email negotiations later, and I was offered a contributing writer role.
Bottom line: Ask for what you want.
3. I’ve been listening to music for a long time.
I built up my music knowledge and exposure over years and years. It goes back to when I was a kid and my father would fill the whole house with Pink Floyd and Jimmy Hendrix records. Or the every Saturday morning my brothers and I spent watching music videos on Rage. I have listened to so much music over the years that it’s developed into a big working catalogue and library in my head of what’s good, from where, what album and how music tastes have changed. It’s that back catalogue that helps me to spot a good artist or track to write about today.
I credit my younger brothers for exposing me to an electronic sound in my youth, thanks to their collective obsession with Radiohead, their interest in making music themselves and their awareness of the emerging drum and bass scene in Melbourne. The musicality and ear for music I have developed from years of dance training probably counts here as well.
The point is – you can’t teach someone good music taste, you either have it or you don’t. Because whether you like it or not, the music you listen to defines you. Do you like the idea of indie or non mainstream music and just don’t know where to start? Or do you still listen to the same CDs (!) you did when you were 17? Do you only know music that’s fed to you on the radio/tv/internet or do you take a more active role and explore different genres to find what appeals to you? All of these things say something small about your personality.
Bottom line: Develop excellent music taste.
4. I want to do it better than everyone else.
It might look easy enough to punch out 150 words about a cool piece of music but it’s a lot harder than it appears. The challenge of coming up with succinct, catchy and smart writing and the skill of being able to describe what you hear is what keeps me coming back to music writing. I want to do it better than everyone else.
It can be hard to stand out from the crowd of music bloggers because we’re all writing about the same thing and usually off the same press release. The information and detail you have to work with can be limited. With a little research and if you’re smart about it, you can always find an angle that no other writer has touched before.
Many music bloggers forget that your body of work as a writer is a collective that should reflect your own personality. To do this you have to inject elements of yourself; your opinions, your personality and a consistency into every post you write. That’s what brings the humanness and the interesting to music writing – not overdone and flowery descriptions of bass lines or vocals that some music writers try to outdo each other on.
Bottom line: Get so good they can’t ignore you.
5. I turned an interest into an option.
There’s a lot to be said for individuals who take on side projects outside of their day jobs and do them exceptionally well. I now have a dedicated avenue and an amazing platform to regularly indulge an interest outside of my day job. I have turned an interest into an option and something big enough that I could use it as a door to an entirely new career or industry, should I ever want to.
Bottom line: Create options for yourself.