A lot of bands hit me up and will ask, “Matt. I totally agree with what you are saying about the need to contribute to your scene, but how do I do that in a way that isn’t corny?” And this is a great question. It’s important not to look corny and it’s important to take the time to differentiate yourself. You also don’t want to just be seen as a bootlicker. You want to be someone respected as an independent entity out there, doing meaningful shit and contributing to the writing world as a whole. So here’s perhaps the best thing you can do to kickstart your music career and meet more relevant people higher up in the industry and make them think highly of you. It’s a bit of a doozy so I hope you’re ready for it. Here we go: become a music journalist. I’m not saying become a high level music journalist, nor am I saying become someone whose entire life is music journalism, but just start doing music journalism to contribute to your scene.
Now I know this sounds crazy, but I want you to think through the requisite steps with me. A huge part of how I built up my name was that by writing music reviews people viewed me in a more positive light. Because I was being painted in a more positive light in peoples minds when it came time to ask favors down the line for booking shows or what have you it was made infinitely easier because there was a ton of bands I already had relationships with. And people don’t forget these things. There is a band I am looking at working with this fall who I first got connected with when I was talking to their bass player after reviewing their band all the way back in 2010. If you spend the time to give someone thoughtful and meaningful feedback on their art they are not going to forget it, especially not in this age of too many bands and not enough journalists. I’m not saying review a band then ask them to let you open, but it certainly opens up a line of communication for the future.
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This isn’t the only way that music journalism helps your career. Word gets around about people who are writing about music on a regular basis and who are constantly creating content. People remember your name and they will want to work with you more if you keep doing them favors. As a music journalist I have been able to get my bands all sorts of premiers, exclusive reviews and even discounts on PR because I have built up a reputation with these people that is worth pursuing. The fact of the matter is, I’m contributing to their career in a meaningful way by writing about their music. This means when I need the favor reciprocated I get to move forward more easily. It also greases the wheels for meeting other higher ups. Many of the major players I first met as a teen met me because I was a music journalist. Now that I’m working with them directly, they still remember the writing and also realize they can go to me if they are needing coverage.
Not only though, does writing about bands get you a chance to be inserted deeper into your scene and to interact with more upper level industry people though. It also sets you up to be able to have a defining voice, and in turn makes people come to you for favors. This puts you in the power seat and makes it even easier to turn around and ask for people to work with you. I’m not saying barter with reviews as currency, that’s just going to lead to biased reviews. Instead realize, you now possess something people want access too – a voice. No longer are you just another dumb band who doesn’t draw anyone. You are now a dumb band who have some influence, and this is key. In one fell swoop you are differentiating yourself and giving back to the people around you in a way that they will actually be approaching you for help.
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The best part of it all is that this doesn’t actually take that long to advance in. I know that a lot of people feel like music journalism is this long term game that will never result in money, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to start getting promos sent to you and a WordPress blog set up. I’m not saying do it just for the free music, but it’s a nice perk and PR people are always looking for new people to pitch too. If you can write something halfway coherent and help to contribute to their jobs being easier you are going to get some very real traction. It’s not a hard thing to start to build a community around this, it just takes time and energy. Yet the startup isn’t that hard nor is the actual maintenance. I’ve been posting every day on my blog for seven years, I’ve had it for eight and guess what, it only takes me ten or fifteen minutes a day of writing and I get to listen to a cool new record every day. That’s a really special thing that has brought a lot of value to my life and the lives of those around me. That sort of thing doesn’t happen a lot.
So yes, it does require work but this is something that has tangible results and which is a lot of fun to do. It’s not handed to you, but it might as well be. Anything that sets you up to give back, to understand your community and to care is immensely valuable to your career in the long term. Anything that differentiates you and makes you a separate and empowered entity is the sort of thing you can’t be missing out on. This is a way to take the power back and then contribute whilst helping your band. The real question is not why you should become a music journalist but rather when will you start? The possibility is there, go to WordPress, and watch your contributions to the scene feed into your band.