Help Fill The Void In Music Journalism: You Don’t Need Permission To Start Writing About Music
With the death of so many music magazines and sites, more voices are needed. Lauren Rearick jumps past practical instruction for starting a independent music blog, and walks through developing a vision and establishing an authoritative voice..
Guest post by Lauren Rearick of CASH Music
When it comes to starting a music blog, the internet is a treasure trove of opinions, ideas and advice. Creating a place online that’s entirely your own isn't a new concept, but the advice that I want to share now often skips basic practical instructions in order to talk about deeper advice, including how to find a vision, a voice and the authority to feel confident in your work. And the advice is written specifically for people who aren’t men.
In 2013 I started The Grey Estates, a feminist-minded music blog that loves the color purple and garage rock. Armed with the experience I garnered as a magazine editor and freelance journalist, I set out to establish a blog that challenged the norms, breathing enthusiasm into every piece, adding a flair of cute and purple to the world of music and bringing unique ideas for features and writing to life. The Grey Estates has become a tight online community, and I’m often asked how I got started or how others can go about creating a music blog. This piece is my advice to you.
I should preface this by saying that if you’re looking to make money doing this, you can quit reading now. If you have a voice and you want to use it, if you love music and want to share it and if you can stand marking a bunch of sexist emails (particularly ones from a persistent being known as Mr. Satan) as spam, then you’re ready.
The most important thing you can do when establishing your music blog is pinpoint exactly what you hope to cover and what you want your blog to be.
Before you start posting, think about the type of space you envision creating.
Whether it’s a bit of everything or one particular genre, there’s no wrong direction when it comes to choosing what music or news you may write about. It’s a good idea to have the site’s identity in mind when you start so that you don’t stray far from that path in the future.
When I started The Grey Estates, I had a tendency to lose myself and my voice to all the emails I received. I felt the need to say yes to every premiere and to cover everything that came my way, even when I wasn’t totally into it. Looking back, I realize a lot of that had to do with feeling that if I said no, then people would think I was mean. I had to learn to stand up for myself.
I have since realized that it’s okay not to cover every single bit of music that arrives in my inbox or is posted about on the blogs of my peers. Music speaks to us all differently, and with a blog, you want to reflect the music’s impact on you individually. When I look back at some of our first posts, I can tell when I was too afraid to say no or when I was covering something out of obligation.
Let’s Get Writing
I’ll let you in on a secret — when it comes to writing, you don’t need years of experience. There’s often a misconception that in order to have a blog and to be valid enough to share your voice on the internet, you should have a degree or be a well-known professional with Twitter verification and a million followers. Having experience as a writer definitely helps, but it’s by no means necessary. In the four years that I’ve been managing The Grey Estates, I’ve found that some of the site’s most passionate, meaningful contributions have been the pieces written by new writers.
I attribute this to their excitement over having the opportunity to write about something they love. Regardless of whether you’re a writer with a degree or a teenager in their bedroom, when you hear something you love, you’re excited to tell the world about it. Blogging is making the decision to share those emotions with the world, and that’s a deeply personal and magical experience that often shines through in your words.
There’s no rules about how many words a piece should be or what you can and can’t cover. For The Grey Estates, we focus solely on what we love and put as many words as we feel necessary in a post to get that done. Listen to an album or a track until it gets deep into your soul and speaks to you, and then write.
Write until you have nothing left to say or until you feel proud of the piece.
Write what you want and describe the music how you deem appropriate. Just remember to keep in mind who your audience is and whether they’ll understand what you’re writing. There’s no need for fluffy adjectives— write exactly what’s in your heart when you listen, write how it makes you feel, what it sounds like.
(Don’t forget though: before you press publish, always double check your spelling and grammar.)
Musicians: They’re Just Like Us
The first time I ever sent a request to interview an artist on behalf of The Grey Estates, I was terrified. I was nervous to talk to someone I admired and worried that they’d say no. Luckily, it worked out, and one of the first bands I ever talked to was L.A. Witch. To this day, they continue to be friends of the blog.
Sending requests is as simple as reaching out to the artist’s public relations team or the artist themselves and asking if they want to talk. There’s no magic formula; you just need to send a message expressing your interest. Of course, not every artist or member of an artist’s team will respond, and sometimes, because your blog might be smaller, you will get a no. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask again later down the road, though.
When it comes to interviewing, the unfortunate truth is that for every good experience, there will be a bad one. When I first got started and would send requests, I often heard back asking if there was someone else in charge — as if I, a woman, couldn’t be the editor. One brave soul even asked who the man in charge was. Needless to say, that artist has never appeared on the blog.
When it comes time for the actual interview, plenty of beginning writers — and even pros — express nervousness when talking to someone they admire. That’s natural, but don’t forget that an artist is a person just like you. They want to talk about what they created and, as a fan, you’re the best and most inquisitive mind for them to talk to. Get nervous, but also get excited. Don’t lose your professionalism but don’t be too professional.
Be willing to let the artist speak at length and change the direction of your interview if needed.
One of the most helpful ways of looking at interviews is to think of it as a conversation between old friends. If I was sitting down with my friend and could ask them anything, what would I want to know?
There is also one challenge during interviews that you might be lucky enough to avoid but that you unfortunately always want to be prepared for. As with any other situation in the world, there is the possibility that your subject might make advances toward you. The music industry can be very sexist and sexual harrasment is never acceptable nor is it your fault. You always have the freedom to end the interview if you feel uncomfortable, to have others present if you are uneasy being in a situation alone or to do anything else to ensure your safety and comfort. There are lots of resources and additional information on the challenges women face in this industry, and one of my favorites is a speech from Jessica Hopper that offers important information for journalists and industry peers.
Email: The Good and the Very Bad
If you go into your blog experience with the mindset that you are doing this just for fun and you are not planning to become the next Pitchfork, then you will be surprised and delighted at every turn. When The Grey Estates started, I struggled to get anyone to come on the site for an interview or to send me music. Hell, the only person who was reading was my mom.
But I continually reminded myself that I was doing this for me and because I loved writing.
It didn’t happen overnight, but now four years later, there are days when I am overwhelmed, when the passion project becomes a full-time job, and when my inbox is overwhelming.
There are days when I can’t keep up with my emails, and you’ll find that out pretty quickly when you get started. Remember: it’s okay not to reply to every single message, and it’s okay if it takes you a few days to get back to people. The people who are respectful and worth working with are the ones who understand that blogging is often a side hustle, which means you won’t always be able to respond at the drop of a hat.
Like interviewing, there may also be people who won’t understand and who will shake your faith in humanity. About one year after I started The Grey Estates, I received my first sexually explicit message. A band wanted coverage and they believed the best way to do so was with inappropriate messages. I was dumbfounded and shocked. After marking the messages as spam, I went back to work and believed it would never happen again. Since then, it has happened countless times. I’ve been reduced to greetings that called me “cutie” or “hottie” and in some rare and freaky cases, a person called Mr. Satan uses profane and demanding greetings as what I assume is a marketing gimmick.
This sort of communication used to discourage me and I would often question whether it was worth it to continue my work. On a blog that’s all about positivity and being yourself, I found myself feeling disgusted. I wanted to quit. But I’ve learned that the best way to combat this feeling is to continue being positive and to further work on giving a platform to the voices that deserve it and may be overlooked on larger publications, including women and non-binary artists, as well as people of color. It’s rewarding to highlight smaller bands who can go lost in the inboxes of bigger publications and to work with artists who genuinely love what they’ve created and are looking to get their start.
Ultimately, your music blog will be your space, and you get to decide what to say about each artist and in each piece.Those who want to demean or sexualize you don’t deserve a place on your blog.
There are definitely days when the emails won’t stop coming and when you’ll wonder why no one seems to be reading. But then there will be moments where an artist opens up to you or a readers reaches out to tell you they found something new through your site, and that’s what makes it worthwhile.
You Can Do It!
If you haven’t been scared off by any of what I’ve mentioned, then you’re ready to get started. There are bound to be experiences you encounter that even I haven’t — and no matter how many years I continue to do this, I’m still learning every day.
Starting a music blog has been one of the most challenging — but rewarding — adventures I’ve ever had. There are days when it seems utterly pointless to continue and then there are days when one of your favorite labels ever asks you to premiere the music of an artist you love. Your blog won’t blow up overnight, and it may be a while before anyone discovers it, but if you keep at it and infuse it with love and dreams and personality, then it becomes an extension of you and everything you envisioned a music blog could be when you first started.
If what you write is about being a musician, music marketing or the music industry, we'd love to publish it on our sister blog Music Think Tank. Find submission guidelines here,