6 Dirty Secrets About Music Journalists

Posted by Adam Bernard on Jun 14, 2016 10:00 AM
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SecretCan you keep a secret? (Photo by Kim Boek via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0)Music journalists: we’re a unique bunch. We’ll take entire weekends to debate the best alt-pop songs of the ‘90s, consider the jeans that didn’t get alcohol spilled on them the previous night our “good” pants, and have no idea why some people think it’s weird to be out until 2:00 a.m. on a Wednesday.

While those are things you may have already known about us, they really only scratch the surface. Want to know more? Here are six dirty secrets about music journalists you might not be aware of.

1. We talk about you

Even though we’re all, in a sense, competing for readers and jobs, many music journalists are friends. Heck, sometimes we’re the only people who understand each other. This means that, yes, we talk about you.

We talk about the artists who are amazing to work with, and those who are incredibly rude or flaky. If you’re an artist who’s hung up on one journalist, know that you essentially hung up on every single music journalist out there, because we all end up finding out. On the flipside, we rave about the artists who are on time for interviews and give thoughtful answers.

We talk about the publicists we love, and the ones who drop the ball too often to be relied on. If you say you can book interviews, but fall through multiple times, you will develop an industry-wide reputation as being someone whose artists we shouldn’t consider when we’re putting together editorial calendars, and deciding on who to pitch to sites and publications. Of course, if you consistently come through, we’ll talk about you like you’re a religious deity.

We even talk about which editors are great to work for, and which we’d like to throw into an active volcano. I remember back in the MySpace days there was a Hip-Hop Journalists group, and I started a thread asking which publications owed money to people. There were a plethora of responses, and so many were about one magazine in particular (that no longer exists), that SOHH did an entire story strongly requesting said publication pay its writers.

Pro tip: Be a reliable person who's great to work with, and all the talk about you will be good.

2. We receive more music in a day than we can listen to in a week

Back in the day, we all used to have towering stacks of CDs at our desks, and there was a strange sense of accomplishment as we whittled those stacks down. Something that made this a bit easier is that we didn’t receive every album. Publicists would send albums based on which publications we wrote for, and if they felt there was some potential for coverage.

Now, with sending an album as easy as putting a link in an email blast, we literally receive damned near everything. Personally, I have a folder in my inbox that I drag every album link into, and we’re talking about dozens of albums per day.

How do we end up listening to all that music? We don’t! Okay, that’s not totally true. I sort through them based on whether or not the genre or the band’s location fits one of the outlets I’m writing for. All the others get thrown to the side for if I ever have a slow day.

Pro tip: Describe your genre well, or your album won't be listened to.

[4 Tips to Make Sure They Read Your Email]

3. Our inboxes are always full

Much in the same way we receive more music than any human being can handle, if we ever tracked how many press releases we receive per hour, the number would look something like the top speed of a Ferrari.

Here’s the good news: we definitely received your email.

Here’s the bad news: it showed up to the party with 300 friends, and we’re trying to meet everyone.

Pro tip: Get to the point immediately with your pitch, and/or have a publicist we're familiar with. Yes, publicists we work with on a regular basis get their emails read and responded to at a far greater rate.

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4. We work multiple gigs

You may only know us as being from one particular publication, but believe me when I tell you no music journalist only has one gig. In the utopian times of yesteryear, perhaps we could survive on just one paycheck, but that bygone era is in the rearview mirror – a rearview mirror so old that the fuzzy dice hanging from it are fading, and the air freshener long ago lost its ability to cover the aroma of the chicken souvlaki you’re bringing home from the diner because you just didn’t feel like cooking.

Hmm, that may have been a bit of a personal digression.

Here’s the thing about all of us writing for multiple publications: if you go on a social media rant ripping one of the places we write for, you’re cutting yourself off from a wealth of potential coverage. You may have thought it was cool to post a Facebook rant about the feature website X gave you, but because of that rant, the writer knows not to bother pitching any stories on you to the three other places he or she writes for.

Writers aren’t about to pitch someone they know will throw a temper tantrum if a review or article isn’t all unicorns and rainbows.

Pro tip: If you’re angry about something a publication wrote about you, take a breath, talk about it with your friends, but keep your feelings offline. A public complaint can very easily turn into a private blacklisting.

[The Top 5 Worst Ways to React When Your Press Goes Wrong]

5. We're either wildly overworked or stressing over not having enough work

Our psychosis is real, and it's spectacular.

Work tends to come to us in waves. A friend of mine once described the life of a music journalist (especially a freelancer) as a roller coaster, noting there are peaks and valleys, and to never get too down about the valleys, because the next peak is on its way.

The only problem is while the peaks can be very, very high, the valleys have the ability to put us on the brink of depression. What this means for anyone coming into contact with us is that they’re either going to be dealing with a manic person, overflowing with caffeine and ideas, or an Eeyore type, who is wondering what other jobs they might qualify for with their resume.

A happy in between? Ha! Not only does that not exist, I’m not sure any of us would know what to do with contentment.

Pro tip: If we ever seem a little off, don’t take it personally.

6. We don't want to hear about how much you loved Almost Famous

“You’re a music journalist? You mean like in Almost Famous?” Seriously, we get it, you loved the movie, but just... no.

Exception: If you’re Kate Hudson.

Pro tip: You probably aren’t Kate Hudson, so just leave it alone.


Maybe not all of those secrets were dirty, but they’re certainly a peek into the unique minds and lives of music journalists. Now, about those best alt-pop songs of the ‘90s...


Adam Bernard is a music industry veteran who has been working in media since 2000. If you live in the NYC area, you've probably seen him at a show. He prefers his venues intimate, his whiskey on the rocks, and his baseball played without the DH. Follow him at @adamsworldblog.

Topics: ask a music journalist, press, Music Business 101


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