I was recently asked by Harris Brine, a music writer himself, to offer my top five tips for aspiring music writers, for a feature he was writing. Meta, huh?
At that point I wasn’t really sure what the article was, or who it was going to be aimed at, but it turned out to be part one of a rather epic piece about Scottish music in 2014, for the cultural/political website, National Collective.
So, from “one of the country’s leading music journalists” (stop sniggering at the back), here are my five tips for newbie music scribes…
1. Don’t use a word just to show off.
If there’s a simpler word with the same sense, use it. Make sure your writing is accessible. If in doubt, read it back to yourself aloud.
[We all do this. Humans are hopelessly vainglorious – see?]
2. Avoid cliché.
It’s not always easy – in fact it’s usually bloody difficult – to describe music in words. But don’t be tempted to fall back on a cliché, just because the right phrase eludes you. Go off, make a coffee, and come back to it for a fresh attack.
[Unless you’re a truly brilliant, original writer, cliché is a constant trap. You’ll never escape it, but tread carefully.]
3. Have the courage of you conviction.
Don’t be afraid of your own opinions. Don’t hedge your bets and use words like ‘somewhat’, ‘rather’ or ‘quite’. As long as you back up your views with evidence, no-one can claim that they’re invalid or misguided. Critically, resist the temptation to go with the crowd, or heap praise on the new buzz band just because they’re the new buzz band.
[Note that sometimes buzz bands are buzz bands for very valid reasons.]
4. Read the best music writers.
Discover writers you respect and take note of the craft, technique and tone of their writing. What makes them so convincing, enlightening or just enjoyable to read?
[Some of my personal favourites are Nik Cohn (Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom), Ian MacDonald (Revolution in the Head) and Simon Reynolds (Rip it Up and Start Again)]
5. Surround yourself with music.
Go to gigs regularly, listen to albums repeatedly, and read music books, magazines and blogs.
[I probably average two gigs a month, a pitiful amount, but I’m putting this down to age, and living in Edinburgh]