Journalism Tips #15: ‘How To Spend Your Summer Vacation’

Thank you for joining us for another installment in our our ongoing Journalism Tips series. We started this column as a way to help aspiring writers get their start in music, but over the couple months we have been evolving into a place writers come to have their questions about life in the business answered. Today we are continuing that effort with a response to a question posed by multiple reader in regards to how aspiring writers can make the most of their summer vacation. If you have any questions about developing as a writer/blogger in music, please do not hesitate email and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Many of our readers are wrapping up another year of school this month or next, and if they’re fortunate enough to not absolutely have to find work right away their are several weeks of childlike freedom ahead. It’s an exciting time to be young, and for the young it’s an important time to be thinking about the future. Advertisers will tell you to embrace the now or otherwise live in the present, but if you want to make a career for yourself in the music business you should see the arrival of summer vacation as a door to opportunity that only needs your drive and passion to be kicked wide open. I cannot tell you exactly what you need to do in order to make yourself noticed by the industry at large, but by following the follows tips you will position yourself for success down the line. Making the most of that positioning and networking with the people you meet through those efforts is entirely up to you.

Make a list of achievable goals and set dates for each task to be accomplished.

There is no real limit to what you can accomplish this summer, but if you do not have an idea of what you are trying to achieve from the start you are bound to spend days, if not weeks spinning your wheels with indecision. If you want to be a writer, this means setting goals for the amount of content created, as well as the dates that you plan to have certain festival/tour coverage complete. For example, those who plan to attend Vans Warped Tour on July 1 could set a goal to have all interviews and related live coverage published within 10 days of the event.

Find an internship.

The is no overstating the profound impact a great internship can have on your career trajectory. These internships does not have to be directly related to journalism, but it should be in an area of the music industry that interests you. After all, there is always a chance you will not ultimately become a music writer. Internships offer you an opportunity to explore other areas of music, such as publicity and digital marketing, where many of the skills used for writing can be leveraged. This not only gives you more options for your post education career, but it also provides you with a more well rounded understanding of how the industry functions.

Use Festival Coverage To Refine Your Voice

Summer music writing is synonymous with festival coverage, and in 2014 it’s hard to go more than 3 or 4 days without a major music event kicking off somewhere across the continental United States. Many of these festivals feature similar lineups, which will no doubt result in redundant coverage from blogs and magazines who were granted press badges just so they could spend their mornings summarizing the same set lists and performances delivered by at every festival that came before through a handful of hit-or-miss pictures and interviews. We will probably never reach a point where this type of coverage is not commonplace, but that does not mean that it’s the type of content you have to create in order to make an impact at these events. In fact, the content that typically gets the most attention are the articles that find a way to be unique in a sea of commonality. Summarize set lists and complete interviews if you must, but take the time to soak in the festival environment and convey it to your readers through editorial efforts. Write about what you saw, felt, smelled, tasted, touched, thought, and experienced. Tell them what it was like for you specifically, and don’t be afraid to tell the truth. If the festival was crowded or the sound was terrible go ahead and let the world know. Likewise, if something surprises you in a good way, even small things, highlight them as well. Every event has pros and cons. Don’t gloss over the experience.

Challenge yourself to write about something different

Writers, like musicians, have a bad habit of getting overly comfortable with material that works and hesitating whenever the idea of trying something new is presented. While there may always be a place in this world for someone who is the most well versed individual on one particular topic, the growing trend in entertainment writing is sites and magazines recruiting people who are well versed on a variety of topics. If you’re into music, that means being able to write about an up and coming country act with the same sincerity and intelligent voice as you would the next big pop punk outfit. It could also mean doing video interviews and writing album reviews, or otherwise switching the type of media you are creating while still speaking in an intelligent and welcoming voice. This summer, challenge yourself to step outside your professional comfort zone and surround yourself with material that will make you actually work. Find events and/or albums that require research, thought, and time to properly analyze, then go out and create that content. Buy a camera and take photos at every event you write a live review for instead of bringing along a photographer. Start a podcast. Interview a rapper. Whatever it is you have always thought you would never do, now is the time to toss care to the wind and give the unknown an honest attempt. You never know what you might learn about yourself.

Network. Network. Network.

No matter where you go or what you choose to write about this summer, you need to make it a point to introduce yourself to everyone you can and be as nice as humanly possible. You should also work on printing business cards as soon as possible, even if you have no real business to promote. You’re promoting yourself at these events, even if you feel like you’re only there to see a show. You’re not. In reality, especially at festivals, you’re representing your personal brand to every concert attendee, artist, manager, and industry professional who happens to be on site. Holding doors and buying drinks for the right people may open more doors than any well written article, and all it takes is putting others before yourself. Ask people who they are and what they do, but also do not be afraid to share your current activities and goals. Tell them what you are working towards and who knows? They may be able to help.

Build an online portfolio and remember to keep it updated

The internet has made it incredibly simple for people with an interest in writing to begin sharing their content with the world without spending anything at all beyond the basic cost of internet (which might not be a factor in places with free public wifi). Writers love free platforms and free promotion, but if you want to properly represent yourself online it’s worth finding $100 to spend on a custom domain and site hosting fees. Companies like Squarespace and Wix make it incredibly easy to build high quality websites in no time at all, and if you know the right phrases to Google you can often find offer codes to make those reasonably priced services even more affordable. There is a myth amongst writers in the digital age that if they take time off from creating content they will slip into the realm of forgotten people simply because the demand for new material is so high, but it is incredibly important that writers set aside time to carve out their own, professionally-focused corner of the internet. You need a place where people who are interested in working with you can find links to your work, as well as a resume, bio, contact information, and whatever else you feel obliged to share about yourself with the world. If you want an example, click here to see the portfolio of yours truly (Haulix James).

Whatever this summer, remember this: No one notices the aspiring professional who keeps to themselves and does the same thing every day. The people who makes big moves in this industry find the strength and courage within to make a change long before anyone else ever takes notice. Make this summer the time when you take life by the reigns and begin to truly leave your mark on this industry. The world is yours.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.