Have you ever dreamed of interviewing your favourite bands, reporting on festivals and gigs and being privy to the latest gossip about musicians? Well it could very well happen – if you pursue a career in music journalism. It’s a dream job for many young people, but it’s definitely not easy to make reality. Where do you even start? Luckily, Blue Banana is here to help!
We’ve asked Kerrang! features editor Sam Coare to share some pearls of wisdom about how to make it in music writing, so that one day you can see your name in print next to an article about what bands eat for breakfast or an album review online!
Q. What skills or personal attributes do you need to become a good music journalist?
Well, first and foremost, you need to love music. Not just like it, but love it. And you need to know your music, too. But, really, what makes a good ‘music journalist’ is what makes a good ‘journalist’ – an understanding of who you’re writing for and what they want to know about an artist; the ability to find the real story in any situation, and deliver it in an entertaining, engaging, heartfelt way.
Q. Is a university degree required to become a professional music writer?
Of course not. Kerrang!’s staff, both freelance and full-time in the office, come from a hugely diverse range of backgrounds. Our current staff has people with multiple degrees and people who never even considered going to university.
Q. How does one go about getting work experience?
It varies from publication to publication. At Kerrang!, our work experience is handled through the GoThinkBig initiative – see GoThinkBig.co.uk for details of opportunities. At other publications, it’s worth getting in touch with the editorial assistant and asking what the process is.
Q. How did you personally work your way into music journalism?
I completed a university degree in journalism, before going on to do a professional qualification after that – all the while taking any work experience placements or freelance shifts I could get, and writing every day for anyone that would read my work.
My first full-time job came with FRONT magazine as a sub-editor. I stayed there for four years, moving up through the ranks, before departing for a year at ShortList and then onto Kerrang!, where I’ve been for two and a half years now.
Q. What can those with ambitions to work in music writing do to improve their chances of achieving their dreams?
Write, write and write some more. For every work experience placement that comes into Kerrang!, each of the magazine’s section editors takes time at the end of the week to give feedback and offer them any advice they want.
It always amazes me how few of the people we speak to write on a daily basis, even if it’s just for a private blog of their own. If you wanted to be a footballer, you’d practice football every day. Wouldn’t you? Writing is a craft, and something that takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
You need to find your voice, your style, what works for you and what doesn’t. And you don’t do that without trying, getting stuff wrong, and trying again. And then you need to get your work under the eyes of editors.
It’s a fine line between persistence and annoyance, but it’s one young writers need to find, as doors won’t open unless you’re knocking at them.
Q. Who or what inspired you to become a music journalist?
I’ve always loved and obsessed over music, but was rubbish at actually playing it. So I wanted another way to connect with it. My favourite band has always been Guns N’ Roses. They’ve a song on their album Use Your Illusion 2 called Get In The Ring, which is essentially a vehicle for Axl Rose to call out a load of journalists he felt had wronged him and his band. I heard that when I was a kid and thought it was the coolest thing.
But, really, what inspires anyone to become a writer is telling stories and communicating with people. As a kid, I would read Kerrang! and sit wide-eyed at what I was reading. I think most journalists want to leave their readers with that feeling too.
Q. What is the biggest mistake aspiring music journalists often make that prevents them from realising their ambitions?
Not writing enough. Also, and this is very much a personal feeling, though I think most people would echo it, but music journalism has changed immeasurably. It’s not simply about being able to describe an album, band or live show and tell people whether they should be buying that record or gig ticket.
Fans can hear for themselves in seconds online, and make their own mind up. There’s still a lot of music journalists out there under the impression that their word is gospel, or that people should give huge value to their opinion. And why should they?
The idea you can tell someone they should like something is crazy. Too many music journalists think it’s about them, not the reader.
Q. How important is work experience in getting a job in journalism?
Behind practicing your craft, it’s the most important thing. I tell anyone who comes in on work experience exactly that.
University or college might be able to teach you things, but where else will you see how a magazine is put together, get a chance to involve yourself in its production, to speak to the people that make it, get your name, face and work in front of them? As a young writer trying to break into journalism, how else are you ever going to be able to do all those things in one swoop?
And with regards to work experience, do as much as possible, wherever possible. There’s something to be learned – and contacts to be made – from any work experience placement. Journalism skills are transferable whatever field you work in.
I utilise the same skill set day in, day out as any other journalist. Well, maybe not phone hacking, but pretty much everything else.
Q. What tips do you have that might be of help for any young writers?
- Write. Then write some more.
- Read. Then read some more.
- Think about what you’re reading and writing. Do you like it or not? Why? What entertained you, what moved you, what made you laugh? Try taking those observations and using it in your own writing. Repeat ad infinitum. You never stop learning.
- Don’t pass up opportunities, and never think you’ve ‘made it’.
- Get used to being very tired.
Do you feel enthused yet about becoming a music journalist? If so, get writing right away and prove you’ve got what it takes. You never know, one day we might be interviewing YOU for advice about music journalism!
The dream of writing all about the bands you wear on our t shirts can become reality if you truly work hard enough!