Don’t mind me, just a meta-article on music writing and how it’s difficult but worth it in the end but also boring but also rewarding.
(Disclaimer: these views are solely mine and in no way meant to demean the craft of music writing, other writers, or the subjects of my writing. I’m just a dude with a music blog.)
I can’t believe I’ve been music writing for 12 years. It’s so far removed from what I wanted to do when I was younger. In fact, I fell into music at the same time I fell into depression. I was struggling with my Computer Science degree and stuck in my halls of residence with seemingly no way out but 3 albums saved my life (shout out to The Auracle).
I tried my hand at music management because I didn’t think I could make music myself. 5 years later, I graduated with a degree in Music Technology. In 2012, I started this site and it’s still going. People visit every day and leave a little wiser (I hope). But it hasn’t been easy.
When I started Sampleface, the writing just flowed out. I’d find some awesome music or artist and I’d just write about it. Nothing held me back and it was so liberating to just put my thoughts out there and carry on. But it someone questioned the purpose of it all and I began to doubt myself. Content slowly dried up and I felt guilty at the thought of ever writing. It took 6 years to bring myself out of that and while I’m nowhere near as prolific as I was in 2013-2014, I don’t feel that pang of guilt anymore. But it still isn’t easy.
My inboxes are full of submissions and requests and they come through daily. I read about 90% of them and remind myself to do something with them because they’re worthy of my time. But I don’t get round to them.
That’s not on purpose – I just have other life commitments and writing takes up a lot of time and effort that my profession gets to first. It’s difficult when you’re effectively the only person who does it all and you can’t pay anyone to help out (p.s. sign up to my Patreon to help me change that). That’s not shade on anyone who has written for Sampleface in the past but that’s just the reality of it all. This isn’t paid work and it isn’t full-time like our actual jobs.
For me, the toughest part of writing about submissions is getting into that zone and converting all those sounds and emotions of someone else into your own words. Unless it’s explicitly written, I find it difficult to convey what I hear and worry I’m repeating the same words over and over (although in one special case, I use a particular adjective on purpose and if you know, you know). How do I know what this is all about? Am I patronising the artist by describing the music in a specific way? Am I patronising the reader by describing the music at all? Shouldn’t they make their own minds up?
For the good of the blog
I also have to contend with how search engines work (that’s my IRL job). If I don’t write enough and there isn’t enough context to it, you might not find it on Google because they decided it’s not worthy of it being there.
Some of my earlier pieces for Sampleface have suffered that fate and I’ve actually spent time deleting them for the good of the site. It is what it is. And all of these thoughts and feelings go through my mind the second I decide to open a 6-month old email and get to work. It feels like a giant elastic band around my waist as I try to pull away and commit to music writing again. The adjectives and witty one-liners don’t flow out like they used to.
But there are rewards.
The benefits of music writing
I check who views the site every day. Most of the traffic goes to my articles on e-digging, online crate digging, that free jazz mixtape, or the “Angry Trumpet Guy”, Douglas Levison. Almost all the traffic comes from Google searches. Social media helps with views when the tweets and Facebook updates initially go out but that’s it. I don’t update them very often and engagement varies. I run so many accounts, it’s hard to keep up. Knowing that anyone reads my articles, let alone thousands a month, is wild as hell.
And I get messages from artists and labels to say thank you from time to time and that validates my work. They say you should never seek external validation and that you’re always enough but for music writing, you need to know it’s been read. Because music writing is boring and hard but it can be so rewarding, all at the same time.