Some music journalists see themselves as part of a music industry made up of record labels, publicists, touring and management companies. Others feel that their obligation is first and foremost to a particular musical scene and to the fans, artists, and enthusiasts who constitute it. Many journalists oscillate between these two poles of identification. In all cases, however, tacit ideas about authenticity, autonomy, and ethics of music journalism shape the way these networks operate.
Perhaps the most important people in a music journalist’s network are commissioning editors, responsible for recruiting, mentoring, editing, and organizing payment. Editors are typically a journalist’s sole point of contact with a publication, but at small magazines, editors are the publication—they are frequently the only full-time employees and may write a substantial amount of the content as well. All decisions, work, and correspondence are routed through the editor, who has to embody the functions and values of the publication itself. (When we asked whether the publication had a ‘house style,’ the editor of one website remarked: ‘Yeah there is, but it’s in my head.’) Furthermore, it is common knowledge that editors are just as often as poorly paid and overworked as the journalists they manage—something which complicates the question of determinacy in creative labor critiques, as the agents of exploitation are themselves exploited in a similar way.
Given the intimate nature of music networks, journalists are part of an insider culture and must also maintain good relationships with artists—and those who control access to them. Journalists typically have only limited, highly formalized contact with more established musicians, whose busy touring and promotional commitments are overseen by managers and publicists, often in the form of the ubiquitous ‘fifteen-minute phoner’: a short telephone interview slotted between that of scores of other journalists also writing features plugging the artist’s upcoming tour or release.
Certainly, the deep immersion reporting associated with magazines like Rolling Stone—and mythologized in movies like Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous”—is virtually unheard of today. Many journalists express frustration at the overwhelmingly promotional nature of interviews. However, we also found that journalists can enjoy more generous, informal contact with emerging artists in smaller local scenes to which the journalists often also belong, to the extent that they may even socialize with and work alongside them. Editors have different policies regarding this proximity—in some cases, they appeal to the residues of journalistic ethics of objectivity and try to avoid conflicts of interest around journalists reviewing the work of people they know. But in some niche publications, editors value journalists more for the close contact they maintain with artists than for their ability to write compelling and innovative reviews.
Music journalism involves both close and distanced relationships with artists, and the representational role journalists play as cultural intermediaries gradually shift along with this, frustrating some journalists as they move from being supporters and intimate critics to promotional vessels for more established artists. Many journalists find themselves being able to do the work they love to do, and yet the riches and fame of their efforts go to the artists they write about.
Find an error? Take a screenshot, email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll send you $3!