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There are several career fields where hard works is rewarded with advancement, or at the very least recognition, but the music industry is not one of them. Hard work is what is expected of everyone receiving, or attempting to receive a regular paycheck in this business, and those who advance do so because they take it upon themselves to get their name in front of people with the ability to help their careers. Nina Corcoran is one of these people, and today she shares her story with the Haulix community.
Growing up in a household where the work of The Who might as well have doubled as the soundtrack to existence, Nina Corcoran knew she had a special connection to music from a very early age. The idea of making that connection into anything more than a hobby seemed unrealistic at the time, but as she grew she began to see things in a whole new light. She applied her gift as a writer to the world of music promotion, and very quickly became ‘need to know’ voice in online writing.
I originally crossed paths with Nina when she applied to write for a site I help run, and in the years since I have become a big fan of her work. She is the type of person that always has a plan for the future, even if that plan is to simply make more plans for points further in the future, and she has never once missed a deadline. Her voice is distinct and focused, with a knack for descriptive wordplay that makes relating to her perspective incredibly easy. She also seems to find joy in the hunt for article ideas and the process of pitching said ideas to editors, which is a rare quality in young talent.
If you would like to learn more about Nina’s efforts, please take a moment to follow her on Twitter. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.
H: Please tell everyone your name, job title, and a few of the publications you currently contribute to:
N: My name is Nina Corcoran and I’m the Web Editor for WERS 88.9fm, an A+E contributor for DigBoston and Under the Gun Review, and a freelancer for various other places.
H: Thanks for joining us, Nina. We have been looking forward to sharing your story. Tell me, has working in music always been your ultimate career goal?
N: Working in music is something that seemed too good to be true, but when I became involved in it, I was surprised to see it was actually possible. For a long time I wanted to publish essays and short stories that I could illustrate, too.
H: When you think of your earliest memories with music, what comes to mind?
N: Hm, two things popped into my head: learning how to play piano when I was 6 years old and my mom always playing The Who. I feel like their music is the soundtrack to my childhood, which wound up being the absolute best. As for piano, that was the first instrument I played and I think it’s responsible for my curiosity about the whole music field.
H: Who was the first artist or group you can remember obsessing over? We want to know a bit about the fangirl side of Nina:
N: Definitely Blink-182. When they reunited at the Grammys, I’m pretty sure I cried. The next day at school I had kids coming up to me congratulating me because they knew how much I loved them…. which is really weird looking back on it.
H: Looking back now, can you pinpoint any specific moment or experience that lead you to believe music and writing were the fields for you?
N: Ever since I was very young–like in kindergarten–I knew I wanted to write. I was really shy growing up and spent most of my time listening to new bands and reading music news websites every day after school. Between that, playing music, and my mom’s love of music as well, it felt like a really natural interest. It wasn’t until partway through college that I realized music journalism wasn’t as reserved and closed off as I believed it was.
H: From my research, it seems a lot of your initial experiences in writing in music came with the start of your college career (2010). What were your very first efforts in writing (outside of personal/diary/hobby)?
N: I applied to write for WERS, our school’s radio station, my freshman year and got it. Because of its stature–it’s often ranked the #1 college radio station by the Princeton Review–we get huge artists to come in like Bon Iver or Regina Spektor. The first big band I interviewed was Peter Bjorn and John at the Paradise and I remember being so nervous that I forgot to turn my recorder on for the first half of the interview! After that, I think it came down to being recommended. When our school paper needed a music columnist, another student suggested they ask me because he knew I went to a lot of shows.
H: Was music writing always what you wanted to specialize in, or did that focus come a bit later in life?
N: It was something I dreamed of doing but thought was too far-fetched to actually do.
H: I asked that last questions because I’m told you have authored a children’s book. What can you tell us about that experience?
N: Oh! I used to want to write children’s books 7 or 8 years ago. I wrote one in high school about a turtle who is afraid of the dark so he can’t go inside of his shell and published it through an independent company that’s basically free. The pictures are terrible haha.
H: Do you see yourself creating more books in the future, either for children or adults?
N: Sure, I imagine I’ll write another in the next few years. They’re fun. I’m not sure if a publishing house would actually take it, but why not write one.
H: Okay, let’s get back to your journey in music. When you reached college you began writing more and took on a DJ role at WECB. What can you tell us about your time at that station? Was radio always something that interested you?
N: My family has our hearts tied to NPR and radio feels like an important part of growing up, but I never thought to pursue it, DJ-wise. I’ve been doing that since freshman year with one of my best friends. He’s introduced me to so much music; it’s ridiculous. We play a popular song by a band and then a deep cut off that same album and pull from as many genres as we can – garage, classical, rap, minimal electronic, swing, pop, whatever. Hopefully we introduce music to people who don’t have time to do the deep digging and didn’t realize some of these artists sound different from their hit songs.
H: During this time you were also writing for a couple fashion publications, as well as editing fiction for Stork Magazine. Can you tell us a bit about these initial writing gigs and how they came together? Were you pitching these places on certain articles and being brought on, or were there other application processes you had to follow?
N: Emerson College focuses a lot on giving its students experience in their respective fields, and as a result there are a lot of on-campus organizations that mirror that. For a few years I had an online bi-weekly column where I made outfits based off 3 different songs for our fashion group. As for Stork Magazine, a strictly fiction publication, you had to apply to be on staff where you would then workshop submissions sent in. I did a little of that for Concrete Magazine, too. I wrote for our music magazine, Five Cent Sound, in the Around the World section and wrote for Gauge Magazine, a nonfiction publication, about off-beat pitches centered around that issue’s theme, like the history of birdhouses for the “Outside” issue or how HTML coding can lead to an inflated sense of self in teens for the “Code” issue.
H: You eventually moved from WECB to WERS, which is the #1 student-run radio station in the country. Please tell us about your role as a Web Director:
N: I actually have been doing both at the same time. WECB can only be streamed online whereas WERS has a dial (88.9fm) in addition to streaming online, so they’re pretty different in how many people they reach. As the WERS Web Director, I manage the station’s website as well as my own staff of writers and photographers. I assign pieces to staffers, edit everyone’s work, and make sure the site is running smoothly. We have bands perform in-studio every week and get to cover a lot of shows, so it’s quite fun, albeit time-consuming.
H: You continued to write as well, adding more publications to your resume, including Under The Gun Review and Dig Boston. Some would be content writing for one or two outlets, but you seem to be constantly working on finding new sites and magazines to feature your work. What drives you?
N: There’s so much music I’m excited to hear and want to share! I think I just want to get work in other places so more people can start listening to these bands, too. There’s nothing worse than seeing a musician have to give up on their dream because they didn’t get enough support.
H: What are some publications you have tried to work with, but have been unable to sell on a story just yet? Give us your journalistic bucket list:
N: It’s a long list – you ready? All Songs Considered, Pitchfork, Paste, Stereogum, MOJO, Tiny Mix Tapes, The Quietus, FACT, SPIN, Rookie, Complex, Blackbook, Ad Hoc, The Media, The 405, or even the music consultant for fashion magazines like Vogue or Nylon.
H: You recently had an interview with Cloud Nothings get picked up by Paste. A lot of our readers who are interested in writing professionally would love to work on freelance projects like this, but they have no idea how to go about pitching content to publications. What advice do you have to offer on this topic?
N: Do your research. Know who you’re pitching to, why it’s important to them to take it, and why your piece is different from someone else’s. Then tell them that. If what you’re pitching isn’t innovative, either in its content or your delivery, then take a step back and rework that first. There are so many album reviews or interviews out there that are almost cut-and-paste from another site. It’s one thing to cover content that needs to be addressed, but it’s another thing if you’re failing to ask some original questions.
H: Speaking of advice, let’s speak a little more generally. You are currently finishing a college degree and have more experience than several professionals currently working in music. As someone who found a lot of success before even receiving a diploma, what advice would you offer younger minds who may be reading this and considering the pursuit of a career in either writing or music?
N: Don’t let a number limit you. Just because you’re younger than most people in the industry doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying to share what you’re working on. The worst is someone says no and you’ve wasted 5 minutes writing an email or making a call. If you’re enthusiastic about something, it’s likely the person on the other end can sense that. Also push yourself. It’s easier to juggle multiple writing projects than it seems. Doing so actually keep me on schedule and makes me more focused when it comes time to write.
H: If you had to choose between writing full time and working in radio, which would you choose and why?
N: Writing full time. It’s been my passion ever since I was little.
H: While we are on the topic of future jobs, what are your current career goals and how have they changed in the four years since you began pursuing a college degree?
N: I went into college thinking I would write fiction stories and dreamed about music journalism. Now I’m pursuing music journalism and want to write nonfiction memoirs and essays on the side.
H: When it comes to receiving music for review and feature consideration, which distribution platforms do you prefer and why?
N: PR makes me feel weird. Reading a hundred emails that all push an artist with claims that they’re the best on the scene right now gets overwhelming. Word of mouth or live performances are the best way for me to consider reviewing someone’s work, but that’s not the way things work. I don’t know. You build friendships with certain labels though that make it easy to consider their material.
H: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
N: How quickly everything happens. We, as humans, tend to judge a band by the first 20 seconds of a song. We also seem to think this is okay. We push artists in and out of fame quickly, review their year’s worth of work quickly, and skip over the opportunity to hear something new quickly. I wish we could pause and realize how much time understanding the work, context, and effort musicians have made instead of acting weirdly superior to it. Most art is like this, especially with film. It drives me crazy. If musicians aren’t making genuine material, I understand how it can be difficult to feel like it makes sense to pay equal respect to everyone, but a lot of them are. If you don’t like a band now, try again later. Don’t bury their album. I’ve fallen in love with so many bands only after revisiting them farther down the road.
H: You have probably been asked this a lot recently, but what are your immediate plans following graduation?
N: I’ll be staying in Boston to write for DigBoston and Under the Gun Review, freelancing other work, practicing music more often, and searching for the perfect ice cream flavor.
H: I think that covers just about everything. Before I let you go, are there any final thoughts or observations you would like to share with our readers?
N: The only thing I can think of is to experience things. The more people I speak with, the more prominent people’s fear of trying new things is. If you’re comfortable writing about music, review a new restaurant. Go see foreign films, try a free dance class, ask someone to teach you the basics of ice hockey. The more versed you are in activities, the easier it is to speak about them. I find that writing becomes a lot clearer and more relatable when you’re able to tie it to aspects outside of the original topic. Plus it’s fun. The best time to try something–from playing sitar to speaking Italian–is when you have no experience in it because there’s nothing expected of you. The only thing you can do is get better.