By David Harfield, Editor of FanAppic.
If you're passionate about music, then being a music journalist has to be one of the greatest jobs in the world, right? You get paid to review albums, get free backstage passes to gigs and festivals and hang out with musicians; well, yes, I suppose this is all true, but what they don't tell you in 'Almost Famous' is that it can be a brutal industry to break into and once you're in, you still have to prove yourself week in, week out or some other young buck will take your place. However, there are a few rules that you can follow that can give you the edge and as someone who has worked in the industry for over 5 years, please heed my advice!
1. Write for free, but not for long
We are, rather regrettably, living in the era of the internship and unless you have some pretty serious parental contacts then it's doubtful that you are going to get a job as a staff writer at NME straight out of University. So, apply to every music magazine that's worth its salt and prepare to undergo the humiliating two weeks of servitude as an office dogsbody. However, once this drudgery is complete (and it really won't be that bad, I did mine at MOJO and the staff were all lovely!), you will have a shining beacon of authenticity to stamp on your CV, proving that you are an employable member of society. It is utterly pointless to continue working for no pay once you have built your CV up to a respectable level, unless you are getting something out of it (free tickets, albums, festival passes); start applying for paid roles as soon as you think that you're ready for them.
2. Prepare to make 'not very much' for a long time
Despite what I just said, you had better not be expecting to be rolling in cash as soon as you get a paid writing gig; many of the jobs are freelance and fairly low paid and the average wage for a staff writer on even the most reputable magazines will start at around £18K. Many music journalists supplement their income by doing better-paid writing gigs like copywriting and technological journalism; failing that, get a job in a bar and write during the day. However, don't be too disheartened; as long as you can reconcile yourself with being a little strapped for cash, the prestige, fantastic experiences and free perks far outweigh being able to buy new jeans every weekend.
3. Understand that you are not a musician
A lot of people get into music journalism and blogging to promote their own music and simply be 'in the industry'; whilst you will make a lot of useful contacts and be around successful bands and artists a lot of the time, this will only rub salt into the wound if your own band isn't getting anywhere. Make the decision as to what career path you want to take and go down it, full steam ahead. This does not, however, mean that you have to stop creating music in your own time and there are exceptions to the rule…did you know Brian Warner (aka Marilyn Manson) started his musical career as a writer?!
4. Brand yourself
The day of the music magazine has been and gone; blogs are the new way forward and if you can create your own, with a memorable name that garners a decent reputation then once people start coming to you for opinions on the latest releases, the power, my son, is yours. (Plus, you can charge people to advertise on your site…)
5. Prepare for criticism
This may seem fairly obvious, but as a music critic's job is criticise, it's only fair that the general public get to criticise your work too and hell hath no fury like an emo fan scorned. Get ready for some vitriolic messages left in the 'Comments' section of your blog; I tend to take the Andy Warhol approach to hate mail, as in, "Don't pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches."
So, if you're still interested in becoming a music journalist then strap on a rhino-hide vest and go waltzing into the night, pen in hand, following the harmonious cacophony of live music. As Hunter S. Thompson said, "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."
[Thumbnail image courtesy Greg Neate.]