Remember to save some art for yourself

self-preservation, art appreciation

Music writing can be a double-edged sword as far as fandom is concerned. The fact you’re in a position to influence a group of consumers makes it possible for you to get closer to your favorite artists than you probably would otherwise, but it also means you have to continue following those artists’ every move long after your initial interest in their work has begun to fade. This is honestly a best-case scenario because more often than not writing about music means you have to not only know but learn to appreciate the works of many artists whom you would otherwise not make time to experience. Establishing a career in writing requires that you be engaged with the wide world of music, and that entails keeping tabs on far more artists than those you personally enjoy. Over time this can make the joy of writing feel a lot more like work than most would care to admit. But that’s because writing is just that — work.

This is not a complaint, per say, but rather a matter of fact. You cannot make it in music writing simply by covering the artists you enjoy when you enjoy them. You need follow-through, and more importantly, you need to engage the fans of artists regularly to ensure people continue to care about your writing and/or publication exists.

When I began writing about music I did so because I felt there were artists I knew and enjoyed that most of the world had yet to recognize. If you could find my first hundred articles, I can almost guarantee every single one would be based on an artist or group I admired at the time, and if I’m completely honest, I would also wager most of those posts are fairly similar. They each praise a group I loved at the time, and they each argue others should feel the same. I built my initial following by covering bands like A Day To Remember, Chiodos, Secret Secret Dino Club, and The Wonder Years whenever possible, and I made it a point to interview someone from the band every time a new piece of news presented an opportunity for discussion. As word of my work grew, so did interest from others bands and labels about having their talent promoted through my channels. I was completely blown away by these requests, so of course, I agree to almost everyone that hit my inbox, and as I began to network with the industry at large my writing began to encompass more and more bands. Some acts I enjoyed, but most were perfectly average in my mind, and looking back now I know the only reason I covered them is that I felt that it is what my (arguably non-existent) audience wanted. Whether or not that was true is something I’ll never truly know, but I do know that covering a wide array of talent helped me navigate the industry and secure full-time work in the business I love the most. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Do I continue to cover any and everything that comes my way as a result? Hell no.

It’s incredibly difficult to land a job in music that allows you to share everything you love all the time. Most jobs are far more focused than that, be it covering solely alternative music or perhaps just hip-hop. Finding a paid position that covers everything is rarer than a Morrissey performance that goes off without a hitch, and they are becoming increasingly hard to come by as the demand for specific content curators continues to rise. I used to have a big problem with this because I felt, and still do believe, that everyone is able to enjoy a little bit of everything. I might not love country music, but there are several country artists I enjoy. The same goes for musicals, top 40 radio pop, and obscure shoegaze bands. None of these areas of music are where I spend the majority of my time, but they each are filled with wonderful talent that is deserving of exposure and praise. Just because this is true however does not mean I am the person to tell you these acts exist. I can tweet about it, sure, but I cannot dedicate every minute of my day to telling you about everything I love as I once did. That is not my job.

At first, the need to separate the work I am paid to do the work I would like to do was incredibly frustrating. I felt as though my initial mission to help more people discover great music had been compromised by the need for a paycheck, but over time I came to realize that was not true. Having full-time employment gave me more freedom than I had ever had before as far as creative pursuits were concerned, and though I couldn’t argue the need to cover everything I could do more to help a specific set of artists and bands than ever before. Instead of writing about 40 or 50 acts a week I wrote about 10 at most, but I made sure to make each piece released as good as it could be. Having fewer artists to cover made it possible for me to dig deeper into my coverage and, ultimately, provide higher quality content to my readers.

But what about all that other stuff I loved? Did I turn my back on a world of talent just because they didn’t fit my 9-5 lifestyle?

Of course not.

I still love a wide array of bands as I always have, but these days I keep some things I love to myself if for no other reason than the ability to enjoy certain songs or records without turning that enjoyment into work. Before I had full-time work in music, I viewed everything I enjoyed as something I would eventually cover, which in turn made everything I enjoyed some form of work. Maybe it wasn’t hard work, but it was work nonetheless, and as a result, my relationship with music began to change. The idea of listening to music for the sake of simply enjoying it became an absurd concept, as I hadn’t purely enjoyed music for years on end. I liked it, and I wouldn’t know what to do without it, but at the end of the day I was trying to put food on my table based on what I was listening to, and that put a lot of undue pressure on myself, as well as the talent.

When I speak to aspiring writers and music professionals today, I encourage them to experience as much music as possible. As soon as I do this, I immediately tag my comments by adding that not every great song or record needs to become the sole focus of their work moving forward. It’s not only perfectly acceptable, but it’s also needed. If you lose your ability to simply enjoy music, you will be unable to accurately critique it. The reason anyone begins chasing after a career in music in the first place is based on their love of enjoying music in their youth, and when you lose the ability to appreciate music in that way you begin to lose track of why you work in music. It’s not about clicks, and it’s certainly not about being the first person to hear the next buzz-worthy release. It’s about celebrating art and the appreciation of art, as well as making others aware of undiscovered talent. You can only do this to the best of your abilities if you too are still able to be wowed by music. If you’ve lost that passion, or even if you believe it has begun to fade, take a step back from writing and unplug from everything except your stereo. Put on the records that first inspired your career aspirations and reconnect with the source of your drive to succeed. Never lose your passion.

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.