Journalism Tips #23: ‘You Are Not An Island’

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 running a special editorial by our very own James Shotwell about the importance of collaboration. 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.


No man or woman is an island. You may believe you can do everything and be everywhere, but the hard truth is that there will eventually come a day when your best simply is not good enough. When those moments arise, and with the way the internet works today those times will likely come sooner than later, your best course of action is to seek out like-minded individuals with whom you can partner and collaborate. Maybe they join your site, maybe you join theirs, or maybe you both drop everything and start something brand new. Either way, there is strength in numbers, especially in the music industry.

So, what should you look for in your new counterpart? That’s a good question, and to be honest the true solution is likely different for every individual reading this article because every person has their own set of wants and needs when it comes to the people who could be their new collaborator. The simple answer, however, is that you want to find someone who compliments your established set of skills while still pushing you to do bigger and better things. You need to promote and support one another just as much as you challenge each other. This sounds a bit like I am describing a romantic relationship, but that is only because there is a shared sense of intimacy when two creative minds work together. Creativity comes from the deepest parts of who we are as people, and the ability to share that with another person in a space that is free of stern judgment is a rare gift. 

I have been fortunate enough to know a number of people in my life I would consider great collaborators, but none have had the kind of motivational impact on me that followed my introduction to Mr. Jacob Tender. I believe I was on the cusp of twenty-four when I first stumbled across his writing, and at the time he was just beginning to plan what he would do after high school. He had a music blog though, and after my initial encounter time with his writing I knew there was something special about his work. I can still remember calling the other people who were helping me with my site at the time and telling them about the discovery I had made, as if he were some untapped talent that was just waiting for an opportunity to shine. Something inside told me I needed to know the person behind the words I had enjoyed reading, and within days of that first visit to his blog we were emailing back and forth about each other’s plans for the future. We shared a common love for music, that much was clear from the start, but as time went on we realized we shared a lot more than that as well. We were both inspired by similar things, both motivated to do more with our lives than anyone else we knew, and both willing to do whatever it took to make a name for ourselves in music despite the fact most people who knew our dreams thought they were crazy. It was as if I had found a brother I never knew I had, and before long he decided to leave his blog behind and join mine.

The next few years passed like a whirlwind. Jacob graduated high school and went on to enter college with a focus on music business while I graduated college and went on to enter the work force. We continued to refine our writing efforts and master the world of digital promotion, building the site from unknown music hub to internationally recognized entertainment outlet, and along the way we recruited a team of more than 30 contributors from around the globe. We covered music festivals, film festivals, music video shoots, studio sessions, and everything in between. Each move we made was made together, we discussed everything far in advance and worked collaboratively to position ourselves as well as we possibly could for growth and additional exposure. We also fought, but we never grew so upset with the other that one of us chose to walk away, though it’s likely we both thought about it from time to time. For me, however, it always seemed like we had come too far and were on the cusp of doing so many more great things that the minor disagreements were just that – minor. They came and went like rainy days, and our relationship always grew stronger as a result. 

Earlier this year, Jacob expressed to me that he was ready to take the next step in his writing career and would be moving away from the site we had built in hopes of finding paid work within the music industry. I was heartbroken. Devastated, in fact, and if I am being completely honest there were a few days where I was downright furious about the whole thing. How could he just leave? We had spent all this time working together, and then he’s just done? Because of money? What the hell?

It was a good week before my brain came to the realization that Jacob was not moving on from me or our relationship, but that he was simply trying to grow as a person. He didn’t want to leave UTG because he was unhappy with me or unsatisfied with the work being done, but rather because he knew in order to chase his dreams further he had to find new opportunities that would be able offer financial support. I had been in that exact same place, and as a result knew exactly how he must have felt realizing that UTG could no longer be his home if he wanted to continue chasing the dream he had spent the last half decade working toward. I gathered all these thoughts and expressed them to Jacob. He understand, of course, because that’s just the kind of person he is. I lose my mind at the first sign of trouble while he contemplates approaching danger and formulates a plan for escape. We talked and talked for what felt like hours, and once it seemed like there was nothing left to say we began to plan his next move.

Fast forward to late March 2014 and I am in the midst of a lengthy phone interview with Jason McMahon, owner of Substream Magazine. We’re talking about the increasing embrace of digital media over physical when Jason mentions that he has a need for someone with the skills to help the company further their web presence. He doesn’t mention money at the time, but if I have learned anything about this industry over the last decade it’s that those who prove themselves capable handling a role that needs to be filled will find themselves making money in no time, so I finish our call and reach out to Jacob before another hour has passed. I tell him about the opportunity and suggest that he take a call with Jason to discuss his ideas for the company to see where things go. He agrees, we set up a call, and less than two weeks later he’s signing paperwork to become the magazine’s latest Editor of Digital Content.

Jacob and I still talk every day, but I will be the first to admit that we do not collaborate the way we did when we first met. That’s okay though, because the things we have experienced and learned together have motivated us to dream bigger and work harder than ever before, so that when our paths do cross there is much to discuss and even more to plan. I don’t know where either of us will end up in this life, but I know we will always have each other’s back, and that provides far more happiness than any sense of job security ever could.

The music industry is a fickle place, and as a result it’s easy for people to begin to feel like they are replaceable or otherwise useless in the grand scheme of things. Through collaboration with others we learn everyone is different and everyone has a role to play. Find people with abilities that compliment your own and work together to be a force for positive change in this business. Jobs may come and go, but relationships have the ability to last a lifetime. Never take that for granted.

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.