I was browsing online for material to give my music journalism students at Solent in tomorrow’s lecture, when I changed across this (top result on Google for the term How To Become A Music Critic). It struck me as a good indication of what is so fucked about music journalism in 2017 – online, certainly. The original article is here.
Step 1: Obtain a Degree
According to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in 2005, over two-thirds of the metropolitan music critics in the United States were music majors in college. Taking courses in music history, theory, and performance can develop a solid knowledge base. Since music critics must have strong writing skills and knowledge of music, coursework in creative writing or other English classes may help develop knowledge of writing structure, style, and grammar. Some universities have classes or special programs set up to encourage the development of young music critics.
Begin Writing While in College
Aspiring music critics should begin to develop a portfolio of music reviews and commentary while still in college. Music critics attempting to gain experience may be able to find opportunities writing for local newspapers, magazines, access television, college newspapers, or city guides.
ET’s note: Hence Pitchfork, and its continued legion of imitators. Hence music criticism masquerading as pseudo-academic articles way more concerned with getting ‘the facts’ straight and punctuation and carefully poised flourishes of phrase and ‘objectivity’ (note to everyone: DOES NOT EXIST) rather than communicating any feeling or love of the music. Hence music criticism has been turned into philately and not particularly good philately at that, historicising and documenting and recording but in a very bloodless way that takes its cues from everyone else except for the person attempting to pracition it. No, music critics DO NOT have to have strong writing skills. That is a bonus. First and foremost, music critics love MUSIC, they are fans – and this cannot be explained in cold text, cannot be found in textbooks. It just is. Nothing to do with writing while “still in college”. Listen to Tom Ewing. Good writing brings me to the music.
And that’s it. Good writing brings me to the music. Nothing to do with career plans or college degrees or work experience or grammar or knowledge of music even (although all of these can help, of course). Good writing brings me to the music.
Step 2: Find Work
There are many local print magazines and newspapers that publish work by music critics. Increasingly, online journals and newspapers, websites, and blogs also offer opportunities for freelance music critics. Self-discipline and the ability to work under pressure are important attributes for freelance writers. Articles, such as music or concert reviews and artist interviews, should be submitted according to a publication’s style requirements. Some freelance music critics publish on their own blogs or websites.
Join the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA)
Music critics specializing in classical music may consider becoming a member of this association, which provides news about the classical music world and facilitates networking between music professionals. MCANA also offers educational seminars designed to make critics more knowledgeable and to increase the quality of music criticism in the United States.
ET’s note: Join the Music Critics Association of North America? You fucking WHAT!?
Step 3: Consider a Master’s Degree
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke also reported that almost half of the critics covering classical music have a master’s degree in music. Students in master’s degree programs may take additional coursework in such areas as music history, music theory, ethnomusicology, music librarianship, performance, and composition. Advanced expertise in the music field may enhance a critic’s credibility and improve his or her professional prospects.
ET’s note: Yes of course, because an understanding of ethnomusicology and music theory is vital to good music criticism, and you cannot be a good music critic unless you know how to write a good song. (Note to everyone: heavy sarcasm.) FACT: in the 1980s and early 1990s (during a period that some consider to be a Golden Age of Music Criticism at the U.K. weeklies, although of course all golden ages are constructs invented by those with the most emotional connection to them) writers were considered with considerable suspicion and even scorn if it was let slip they possessed a college degree… most of all if it was in (shudder) journalism.
Step 4: Build a Portfolio & Network
The surest way to advance a career in music criticism is to write, write, write. Commissioning editors and publications look for prior work that demonstrates your knowledge of music, accuracy, and writing voice. Keep your writing clips organized and archived in a portfolio to show prospective clients. Additionally, creating a personal website or blog that showcases your work to bolster your visibility and increase the chances for employment. Attend industry conferences and seminars to establish contacts with editors and agents as well.
Remember, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in a music-related major or journalism and writing experience to start a career as a music critic. In May 2015, reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts in general earned a median annual salary of $37,720.
ET’s note: this is the one true sentence contained herein. Write, write, write. But… “prospective clients”? Oh, you wankers. And while it’s nice that “reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts in general earned a median annual salary of $37,720” in 2015 but what did music critics earn?