Music writing advice from music writers

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Becoming a full-time music writer in 2017 may seem like a pipe dream, but there are hundreds of people around the world making it happen. Thousands more are writing part-time, be it as a hobby or a way to bring in extra cash month to month.

But how do you, someone just starting out, navigate the often tricky waters of music journalism in the digital age?

There is no one way to become a successful writer, but as with any field there is much that can be learned from those who came before. We recently asked the writers of today what they wish someone told them early on, and we have collected the best responses into this post.

Please take the advice below to heart, but remember: You are your own person. No one can tell you what your voice is or how it should be conveyed other than yourself. Find a path you enjoy and follow it as far as you can.

“The thing I tell everyone who wants to work on the professional side of music is to pick one career path and practice being great at it every single day. If you want to be a writer you need to wake up every morning and write. Set a word count goal and hit it, no matter what. If the resulting article or piece is trash, don’t share it. All that matters early on is that you get into the routine of writing every day and slowly, over time, you will see the quality of your work improve.” – James Shotwell, Marketing Coordinator for Haulix / Managing Editor at Substream Magazine

“I think the most important tip that I’ve ever received is “act like you belong and no one will question it (most of the time).” – Ali Nugent, Music Director at WMCX 88.9 FM

“Always remember you’re there to do a job and gather information, not become creepy and try to be best friends with the artist.” – Rey Roldan, founder of Another Reybee Production

“Plan, but also allow yourself to be in the moment. Whether it’s for an interview, review, or entertainment, music is an experience. Let it guide you.” – Scott Fugger, writer at 36 Vultures

“Your writing, like your passion for music, is a journey… do not look to the end for that passion, but find the love in every opportunity along the way.” – Michael Pementel, writer at Metal Injection and New Noise Magazine

“Don’t lose focus of why you started writing in the first place. It’s tempting to get caught up in the numbers game, but nothing will kill your passion faster.” – Angela Mastrogiacamo, Founder of Muddy Paw PR and Infectious Magazine

“Be polite to everyone–tour managers, road crew, merch, stage crew, EVERYONE. This industry is small. Good manners go a long way; shitty manners get you no where.” – Jackie Cular, freelance writer

“Do your best to be unbiased, write news as it is, write reviews fair and balanced- the good along with the bad. Also appreciate everyone who helps you along the way. From the bands to the PR teams and their interns to your contributors and your readers.”  – Daniel M Dread, Founder of Dread Music Review

“Do not corner an artist at a show, requesting an interview. Not only is that unprofessional, it is also poor form and puts the artist in defensive mode. If you want to ask them a question, find the tour manager and ask permission from them. They will know the artist’s schedule and if he/she minds doing post/pre show interviews.” – Rey Roldan

“Don’t share your Haulix promos with pirate sites. You will get busted and your site’s reputation will be ruined” – Craig Nicholas Roxburgh, Founder of Emo Night South Africa

“Leaking privileged information may lead to a spike in short-term traffic, but this industry is small and publicists don’t forget.” – Joshua Wielding, Founder of Digital Tour Bus

“Be prepared to challenge yourself. Take on a band or genre you don’t know much about as you can’t always cover music that you like. Also be respectful to everyone you work with.” – Sean Reid, Founder of Already Heard

“Write about bands and music that you’re passionate AND knowledgeable about, it shows in what you write, and it benefits those artists A LOT more. But also keep an open mind about what excites you. Personally, I’ll listen to ANYTHING, and enjoy it, except super hate/racist/mysoginist lyric filled music. But there are certain genres–and you can tell which ones–that excite and inspire me to write more insightfully. However, that being said, go outside your comfort zone periodically; like your taste buds, your music interests change based on your life experiences and age.” – Tracy George, Founder of TAG Publicity

“It’s never personal, unless directly stated otherwise.” – Jake Denning, Social Media Manager at Mediaskare Records

“Don’t be afraid to learn everything. In this day and age where the competition is so fierce, it is vital to be a jack of all trades. Learn how to write. Learn how to edit other people’s writing. Learn how to work a DSLR. Become familiar with social media outlets. Also, before every assignment, do your research. Know that this job can be stressful and usually doesn’t pay well, but in the end, it’s worth it because it’s a hell of a lot of fun.” – Brittany Woosely, freelance writer

“Even if you think you know everything, you don’t. In fact if you think you do, you almost definitely don’t.” – Molly Louise Hudelson, Founder of Circles & Soundwaves

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.