Musings And Shit: “So you wanna be a cool music writer for free, eh? HAHAHAHA!!”

27 Feb

Remember my post a couple of days ago about musicians getting paid for their performances? Well if you had, then you would have seen the now classic rant from Harlan Ellison at the end, simply titled “Pay The Writer.”

Ah fuck it, I’ll put it back on here, because it still makes me smile every time I watch it.

In a rather fine piece of synchronicity, the DV newspaper posted last Friday that Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen, former music writer for the national newspaper Morgunblaðið, was advertising on his Facebook profile for people to come and write album and live reviews for the paper. That nice isn’t it?I may even brush up on my Icelandic to give everything 5 out of 5 stars.

But as with everything, there was a catch, the catch being that the paper wouldn’t be paying you for your pieces. Instead, Arnar stated, you would be an unpaid “intern.” Oh but don’t worry, you will get your concert tickets and the albums “for free.” Um, okay….

Naturally this brought out a few really sarky comments from such luminaries as Gríimur Atlason, and Borko asking to write headline and privatisation news for free. One asked “Why doesn’t Davið Oddsson just do it?” It seems now that the Facebook post has been deleted.

Now Arnar Eggert is alright by me in many ways. His writing is fine (I´m currently at page 24 of his book ‘Tónlist Er Tónlist,’ even with Google Translate!), and I have no qualms with the guy himself. But I would be lying if I didn’t find this a little disappointing. Not from him, but from the paper itself. These days interns are becoming a thorny issue in many places, with the use of interns by many companies now pretty much standard practice. Even The Grapevine uses them (They’re hired for 3 months and they do get paid a stipend, but alas not that much. Many use it as a chance to have a working trip to see Iceland and do some cool shit here). If they are well-managed, they can often offer young people a chance to train and to gain some kind of experience in their chosen field. I’ve even seen that Resident Advisor have advertised for an intern during their summer stint at Ibiza. That sounds like the best fucking working holiday in the world!

But increasingly the situation is being abused by companies everywhere as a stopgap to plug holes in their workforce, using people to work long hours of unpaid work for 3 months or longer, with little in the way of actual future prospects at the end of it all. It’s gotten to the point where UK MPs are trying to change the law to allow interns to be paid for their work.

It seems that Morgunblaðið is on the bare bones of its arse in terms of money and personnel (The DV report cites a former writer who states that the paper has cut everything down to the bare minimum) so they’re obviously looking to get people to write any old stuff for them for free. But like expecting musicians and DJs to play for nothing, this just devalues the worth of any writing that’s printed. As the age of digital culture arose, it was supposed to usher in a new era of democratised prose, away from the old world of newspapers. What actually happened was it ushered in the reign of numerous music/culture/news sites that, because they made no money, spun the “We can’t pay you for what you write, but it will be good exposure,” line to simply get free content. But all it did was decimate the amount that paid writers would actually receive. I mean, why should you PAY a writer, when there are hundreds of schmucks willing to write any old shit for free? And remember, Morgunblaðið aren’t some small internet zine, but the oldest and most established paper in the country. (If it wasn’t trying to be a mouthpiece for the Independence party, then maybe more people would buy their papers. Just a thought). 

And anyway, why the fuck would you want to write for Moggin for free anyway? For training on how to be a music writer? Pah! The simple fact is that writing about music is frankly one of those cultural jobs that requires very little in the way of actual experience. If I’m going to do it for free, I would rather do it on my own time in my own way (I have written for other sites, but these are either for ones that I read, or they are run by good friends).

Of course everyone and their dad has an idea on what makes a good music writer, or what makes good music writing. I get people’s opinions on it all the time, whether I want it or not. We even get musicians writing letters to the paper about it. Many on this Island, for example, still think you need a degree in musicology or some music training (You don’t, but it might help I guess), or that what gets written in the Icelandic press is the gold standard (It isn’t, and I include myself in this).

(Funnily enough, when people tell me their opinions and I ask them what music writing they often read, apart from the local press, most just offer blank faces. That says a lot.)

The truth is, you don’t need any of this to be a good music writer, trust me (Well having a professional attitude helps, but it’s not a perquisite). All you really need is a real enthusiasm for what you are writing about. And a bit of a clue. Not much, but enough to be able to see past the crap that does get talked about music and be able to articulate what a piece of music means to YOU. It´s your opinion you are giving, not the musicians, so make sure it’s true to yourself. If your writing is good and it’s ambitious enough, then Moggin, Grapevine, NME or whatever magazine you hawk your wares to should be delighted to pay you for your efforts. If they waste your time with stuff like “experience”and “exposure,” then politely thank them for their time and say no thanks. Then curse their twisted hearts to the bowels of hell.

That’s not to say there aren’t any hints or tips that can provide some kind of clear path to getting it done decently. So for any aspiring writers, here are some essential tips that have been passed around by many people in the know. All of these tips are gold, AND least they are entertaining to read. 

Everett True’s Advice for Aspiring Critics, and You write to make an impact: A tribute to Steven Wells  – Everett True has been disparaged by some I know as “that old guy who used to write the NME,” but he’s one of my favourite writers still out there.  I don’t agree with quite a few of his music choices actually, but his writing is entertaining and more importantly, passionate. And that’s what matters.

The Neil Kulkarni guide to being a record-reviewer – Like Everett, Neil has written for many publications over the last 20 years, even when his acerbic style fell out of favour with the “we’re chums with the stars,” style of most mainstream music magazine. Check out his blog where he posts old (And new) pieces.

Finally for the high-end pseuds, below is a nice guide by Tony Hetherington that he posted in The Wire magazine a couple of years ago, which is a good read.



Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Iceland, literature, music


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

3 responses to “Musings And Shit: “So you wanna be a cool music writer for free, eh? HAHAHAHA!!”

  1. I'd Rather Be In Iceland

    February 28, 2013 at 8:18 am

    It’s so hard for not just music writers but ANY writers to get paid much these days. It’s great that there is so much to read for free online, or a minimal price (ebooks) but it does change the role of the journalist or professional author.
    Also, people are so used to reading informal online writing that I fear the art of “proper” writing will disappear. And if libraries really are disappearing it’s a shame, although even now I can’t imagine any of today’s youth loving the library like I did as a kid.
    It does seem a lot of young people are being asked to work for pretty much nothing today and I agree – say no to it!

    • bobcluness

      February 28, 2013 at 9:39 am

      Oh you are right about that. This is an issue that’s just not confined to music writing alone, but all cultural prose, and even outright hard journalism.

      Had a friend make a comment about this which is similar to one of the tips in the links I provided. He is constantly amazed how little people vlaue their work and if you don’t think your own writng is worth something, at least at a monetary value, then don’t expect other peoplen to value it either. When he tells friends about this, they look at him as if he’s an alien.

      When you write something for the Grapevine you do get paid. It is not a lot, and will barely keep you in an afternoons worth of beer. But the fact that you DO get paid, shows that at least they feel your prose is worth something.

      • I'd Rather Be In Iceland

        February 28, 2013 at 9:47 am

        Yes, it’s easy not to value your work when there is so much that is out there for free. It can also be the same in any field when you’re going for interviews or asking for a pay rise – somehow it seems hard to state that you’re worth x amount of money and then have to live up to it.
        Glad the Grapevine pays – and the more people that refuse to go along for “experience” the better.


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