A beginner’s guide to writing about music

Music Blogging, Music Criticism, Music Writing, Writing about Music, Laptop with Headphones,

The world needs people who can write about music with style and grace. You do not need to have the sharpest wit or the best economy of words, and you definitely do not have to know everything about every artist working today. As long as you have a perspective on the music you hear that can easily be expressed, not to mention a desire to share that perspective, then you more than qualify for the job. 

Writing about music is not glamorous. The likelihood of anyone making a career in music writing has always been slim, perhaps even less likely than becoming the next great musician, and the number of opportunities for full-time employment are shrinking more with each passing year. Most writers quit within the first five years if not sooner. Those who don’t either find success or develop the skills needed to convince themselves someone, anyone, gives a damn about what they have to say.

In fact, the only reason that anyone should even try writing about music is because the act itself interests them. If you’re curious about how your opinions will be received, or if you want to know if you have what it takes to grab a stranger’s attention, then writing about music is a good place to start. All financial shortcomings aside, you’ll rarely have more freedom or opportunity to explore the many colorful personalities that popular this planet than you do when writing about music. It’s a chance to explore life in the shoes of rock stars and nobodies alike, not to mention those of the people who support them. It’s an opportunity to see all the world has to offer and to understand the price of becoming more than what you are now. 

Best of all, it’s free (at least at first).

If you’ve made it this far and you still want to write, then congratulations. You may actually have what it takes to do something worthwhile in music writing. The only way to know for sure is to create. 

In the simplest terms, that’s all you need to get started. You need to create. Find something you’re passionate about — a song, an artist, an album, a tour, a concert, a label, a trend — and get every thought you have about that thing out of your head and onto the page. It doesn’t have to be pretty or witty or even coherent. Just get your thoughts in front of you and take stock of what you have to offer. Review your words, correct your grammar, and slowly begin piecing everything together in a way that forms a clear thought.

Writing, in this instance, is not unlike sculpting something out of stone or clay. Your thoughts are the giant block you start with, and with each edit you begin to form something meaningful. You may make mistakes, but everyone does. What matters is how you respond to mistakes, and whether or not you allow yourself to give in to that little voice in the back of your mind that claims you’ll never create something as great as the vision you have in your head.

And that, my friends, is the challenge all young and veteran writers must face each day. We all must decide to ignore the voice telling us our work isn’t worthwhile and press on, writing more and continuously searching for exciting stories we wish to tell. The kicker is that no one vanquishes that voice for good. It will be there each and every morning, regardless of what happened the day before. It is the greatest foe of any writer, and the only person capable of making it stop — even for a moment – is the writer.

If you can do all that, if you can write about what interests you and ignore the negative voice in your head, then you can worry about the basics of navigating the music business. That, surprisingly, is the easy part of this whole process.

Step 1: Start a blog. Don’t worry about buying a URL or setting up a visually engaging site. Find somewhere you can post your work and make it your own. Tumblr, for example, is a great free option.

Step 2: Write often. Reviews, stories, etc. Write whatever you want, find where your interests lie, and then write about them further still. 

Step 3: Once you have a body of work there are three ways to move forward. You can either begin pitching content ideas to Editors, launch a proper blog of your own, or join forces with other young writers. Figure out what works best for you and chase it with all you have in you.

Step 4: Make friends with publicists, labels, and bands. Email links to the talent you cover, as well as their representatives. Pitch coverage ideas by sharing proof of similar work you have done in the past. Ask people what they need or want from the media and help them achieve it (without being dishonest in your work). Make yourself known as a person who delivers, and work will soon follow.

Step 5: Promote your work. Share it on social media, yes, but don’t stop with a single post. Look for forums, subreddits, and other areas where your content may be appreciated. Search the subject of your work online and send links to your content to other people expressing interest in that same subject. Be aggressive, but also be kind. Don’t force your work on the world.

Step 6. Write more. Network more.

Step 7: Repeat.

The hardest part of writing about music is getting started. If you can do that, which you can, progress and recognition will soon follow. 

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.