Journalism Tips #25 – ‘You Need To Have A Plan’

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 having a plan. 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.

The greatest piece of advice I believe anyone can give you on the topic of finding success in the music industry is to find something you love doing and do it the absolute best of your abilities. Work hard each day and, eventually, people will take notice. I cannot guarantee you will find work in your desired area of the business right away, but through focused determination anything is possible as long as you give it your all. 

The second best piece of advice, which I realized recently that we rarely ever discuss, is the importance of having a plan. Yes, just like a football team, construction project, or army heading into battle, you and whoever you choose to work with in your pursuit of a career in entertainment must have a plan if you ever hope to get anywhere. If not, you will be doomed to eventually begin spinning your wheels, stunted by your own lack of motivation.

So, what should this plan entail? For starters, what you hope to accomplish. Every website that is regularly updated today exists because someone walking the planet had a vision for something that they did not believe could be found in the world. This could be as simple as a place for a particular individual or group of individuals to share opinions, or it could be something much more grand, like a political movement or call for social change. Whatever the case, it’s best to have some idea what you want before you ever begin to craft content. The world does not need another corner of the net dedicated to copying and pasting entire press releases. There are literally thousands of sites like that already, and to be perfectly honest most have no audience at all. If you want an audience, you need a purpose, and in order for your work to serve a purpose you need a plan.

Planning your web presence can be as simple or complex as you desire, but for the sake of making life easier over the long haul I advise writing every thought and idea you have down up front before you decide anything. Weigh the pros and cons of your various ideas, click around to see what type of competition exists, and then purchase your very own URL. Before you can build an audience you need to know who you are as a website. Why do you exist? What do you feature? Why do you feature it? Additionally, what do you hope to get from your site? If the answer is money, you might as well go to school and find a degree in something with a demand for skilled laborers. Music writing is about passion, and those trying to conquer the blogosphere with any other motivations will eventually be exposed for the frauds they are.

I started my first music site, Under The Gun Review, because I believed there was no one in the world who thought about music the way I did, and for whatever reason I felt that gave me all the reason needed to start my own blog. For the first few months, this was all the reason my site needed to exist. It was a fresh voice in the crowded world of music writing, but a fresh voice nonetheless. As months became one full years of writing, however, I realized that in order to grow my efforts would need to do more than simply vent whatever words were swimming around in my mind. If I wanted to become a true member of the music writing community I was going to need to write stories others had never thought to write, interview bands no one had interviewed, and do everything in my power to share the best bands no one had listened to with everyone with a desire to discover something new. I needed to be the bridge between the average music fan and the best sounds the world had to offer outside, which was a task I gladly accepted (after essentially making it for myself).

As soon as I realized I had been writing for the wrong reasons, things began to change. My views increased, networking became easier, and other aspiring writing professionals were coming out of the woodwork to contribute to my blog. People were happy to learn that someone still cared enough about undiscovered music to spend their day writing about the ‘best of the rest’ so those who knew nothing beyond what was played on terrestrial radio could have an outlet for new sounds. My site grew, as it continues to do, and I found myself becoming far happier with my work. 

Sometimes I reflect on how I spent that first year of my life as a so-called music writer, and more often than not I feel a bit like a fool because I believed I could create something that existed for my own selfish desires and make other people care. I learned, as so many do every single day on this planet, that the true rewards in life comes from doing things for others. The best part of my work week as a music blogger now is finding a band or album or song that is relatively unknown and sharing it with anyone will to listen. I don’t care if the post receives twenty clicks or two-thousand, though the latter is always appreciated. As long as I know I am putting my all into the words I am writing and that I am being honest in the things I say then I am overjoyed that anyone, let alone more than one person cares enough to read it.

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.