I’ve been thinking about writing something about writing about stuff here for a while now. The hows and whys of my continual pursuit of blogging have been on my mind some time, both on their own merits and as a part of a larger participatory culture that I’ve entered on some level. In what’s become kind of a disturbing reoccurring phenomena Gary Suarez of Metal Sucks, Human Toilet and general internet fame wrote a series of tweets about metal writers not being writers and what to do about that, which in turn inspired me to get on with writing this.
When I started this with Jason there was almost no why, just a desire to start a music blog. I had a couple of basic thoughts and that was that. It was a combination of a tiny handful of “music observations” that I thought were hilarious and an abstract desire to start writing them online. It’s a strange thing, because it almost felt external. It’s not as though I thought I’d transition to a professional writing career or had profound, meaningful or even distinct perspective. I just wanted to start writing about music and quickly; why do you think we’re named after a one-note joke that everyone knows? I wanted to get this thing going and we couldn’t think of anything else to call ourselves. I think we went about 4 days before I threw To Eleven out. I think 2 or 3 days later without any better ideas we just went with it.
The motivation for doing this has shifted for me since we started. Personally “music culture” is dead. As a teen I was a flannel-wearing grunge rocker then some kind of late stage Fat Wreck style punk for a year or so but after that, I never liked and identified with a musical subculture enough to join wholeheartedly. While I can say that I honestly love music, no one genre has ever resonated with me to the degree that it’s eclipsed everything else. One genre isn’t “my life.”
What I had in lieu of being a card carrying member of a musical subculture, and this is the days before you could have anything you wanted at any time on the internet, was friends that were really into music. You found out about things through these people who found out about them through other friends, relatives, the creeps at record shops or some combination thereof. We had a shared enthusiasm for finding new music or stuff that was new to us and sharing it with each other. There’s a level of trust that builds there, to the point when your pal says you should check out Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge of Town you’re excited that you’re gonna hear something neat, not think he’s taking a piss.
That’s my why now. In the face of time and distance, I don’t have those folks at hand anymore. Posting all the reviews I write here, I am basically going to the digital equivalent of what was there with my music nerdfan pals. When I write a review it’s because I think the music in question is worth checking out, especially because you might not have without someone saying something. I want you to walk away from a review I’ve written with some level of trust you’ll like it or not.
So the actual writing itself. When I started this I really didn’t have any idea what I was doing there either. I don’t have a background or degree in English or journalism. I wrote a lot of academic papers, but that and some occasional marketing copy here and there was the extent of my experience. For whatever reason I thought I could do it though and to whatever extent I was right. I do think having done some kind of writing helps, compared to a person that has not at all. Still, there is a degree of self-consciousness about doing this. I adhere to the concept of seriousness in craft, but I also feel weird putting my stuff out there alongside the pros, some of which I’ve become pretty decent friends with.
One thing though, advice. The topic of advice is what really motivated me to write this. There’s a lot of advice floating around out there for writers, mostly because there are a lot of people blogging there is a general feeling among the pros that the amateurs don’t really have much of a clue most of the time. I can accept that, but it’s also can be a point of contention for me. It’s those articles and that sentiment that gave rise to me wanting to write this.
The level of dismissiveness in a lot of this advice razzes me. The one that razzed me the most was 3 part article in Invisible Oranges which was a very serious how to write about music piece. To break it down it was a thing where Cosmo Lee talks about how high his standards are then goes on to discuss writing in the style of good writers such as Stephen King and the writers at The Economist among others. I took a lot of umbrage at this, just like I did with Henry Owings two years ago. I know Joe or Josephine Pro have read a million terrible blogs at this point but this is how I see it; you can write and be successful, which is rad. At that point because you’re successful, you assume what you are doing must be good, because that’s just pretty logical, right? The thing that ends up making me angry about this is that it presumes an objectiveness in what a writer is doing is the Way To Do It. Intent presumed on the part of other writers that may or may not be there. Granted there is good and bad writing. Being able to communicate effectively is a pretty basic skill, but let’s say that I find I operate with a totally different intent from Cosmo or Hank? That doesn’t makes me a bad writer (it’s other things). Likewise if I find the Economist style writing objectively fine but subjectively an un-engaging style, that is basically just the subjectivity of taste. You can’t argue IO or Chunklet are objectively better than Metal Sucks or Hellhound unless you say they all have the same intent and mission statement. Treating your goals and style as a writer like immutable laws of nature is frankly insulting to everyone not doing it your way. I have made a decision to write in a first-person, conversational style. I believe it facilitates communicating my intent, that is just me choosing to create a “problem” and address it in a specific way. You can say that I’m doing a good or bad job of it, but I’d never say “this is how you write about music.”
My advice on advice is always take it with an analytical bent. All of the pro advice I’ve read has objective truths in it, but it’s likely that you’re going to have to weigh it specifically against your circumstances, goals and intent before you take it.
For what it’s worth my actual advice on writing is as follows: Define your intent in writing before you start. Doing it for your own edification or to foster a sense of community is going to lead you down a different path than trying to create a blog that makes $10,000 a month in ad revenue. Everything you do as a music writer or person that writes about music is going to stem from that defined intent, and it’s going to all be up to you to figure out how to do what you want to do.
My second (third?) piece of advice is learn to be objective about what you’re doing. If you have writer heroes is it going to really benefit you to write like them? If you do that are you only doing it superficially? (murder me if I ever start thinking I’m the Hunter S. Thompson of music reviews) Are you doing this as a “hobby” but thinking about how you’ll be “discovered” every night when close your eyes to go to sleep? Don’t count yourself in or out, but be real with yourself about what you’re doing. It is totally ok to do what you want to do as a creative person, I am 100% behind that, but also remember that there is no cookie handed out automatically for that. In my case, covering the ambient/experimental community has been extremely rewarding because of the music I’ve been exposed to, but the popularity of that music is not close to that of metal. I don’t have a problem with that, because I went into this wanting to spread the word about stuff I like, not give my page views a huge shot in the arm.
I’ma conclude by saying thank you to all the professional writer friends I have made doing this for continuing to put up with me in my attempts at being a music writaey maans.