Being a music journalist can be wonderful. For one reason or another, not everyone can make it as a musician, but music journalism offers others an opportunity to connect with their passion in a way many only dream of. The opportunity to receive promotional copies of albums from their favourite bands, or from the next big thing. The opportunity to attend more shows than would otherwise have been possible. The opportunity to interview their idols. The opportunity to spend hours discussing the things you love and, if you’re lucky, a great platform from which to engage with large segments of the music community. Yet, for all its perks, music journalism can be a double-edged sword, particularly for volunteer-run sites such as Heavy Blog. Today I’ll explore three key challenges I have faced over the past couple of years writing for Heavy Blog: feedback, time and passion. Knowing that many of my friends and colleagues would have felt the same way at times, I’ll also dive into possible solutions or methods with which to cope with these challenges. My hope is to give readers an insight into the mind of a music journalist and to help my peers keep doing what they love.
First up we have feedback, by which I mean the number of comments we receive and what those comments contain, particularly in the context of the reach our articles have. For a blog of our size, we have quite respectable numbers. We get a steady stream of X clicks through to/visits on our website for each article (you’ll have to take our word that it’s a decent amount of people), whilst if something really takes off it could be as high as 5X. It’s amazing to think that we can reach such a large audience of people. Yet, despite having a veritable army of loyal readers, on average less than a handful of people comment on our posts. As a blog and as a writer we constantly ask ourselves: why is this the case? Perhaps readers agree to such an extent that they don’t think commenting is necessary. Perhaps people simply don’t have time. Or perhaps we search introspectively for an answer, concluding that what we’ve written isn’t engaging enough to warrant further comment. From a writer’s perspective, dwelling on such thoughts can be quite disheartening. It can lead us to question why we are writing at all. Why put so much time and effort into doing something when very few people seem to care?
As ridiculous as such thoughts may appear from the outside looking in, I can assure you that almost everyone on our staff has faced this question at one time or another. What works for me when confronted with such questions is to remember why I write in the first place. When I drill down to it I find that I don’t write for others – I write for myself. I write to express myself creatively, to challenge myself and to engage with my passions. I would implore other writers who face these internal questions to do the same: revisit what it is about writing that you love and focus on that, rather than any external validation. Looking beyond coping mechanisms and honing in on longer-term solutions, there are two sides to the coin. On the one hand, we as writers must focus on improving our content and developing engaging pieces that resonate with our readers and facilitate further community engagement. On the other hand, we must implore our readers to share their thoughts and feelings as we do. We cherish the interaction we have with our readers and listeners. We love you and we want to engage with you more. Ultimately, we hope the service we provide is worthy of such engagement, but the buck ultimately rests with you to make that happen. We can write amazing things and really drive engagement from our side, but both parties need to come to the table if we really want to get a vibrant buzz going.
This leads us to the other aspect of feedback: the details of the comments we receive. Unfortunately, there are segments of the metal community that are absolute trash. Their ravings and doctrines have poisoned many a thread, with entire blogs finding their comment threads over-run with a toxicity that cannot be cleansed. We at Heavy Blog count our lucky stars that 99.9% of the comments we receive don’t fall into this category. We truly have some of the most amazing readers out there, which is why we’re so intent on engaging with you. At worst, we will have some salt thrown our way when we give a hot take or our points may be misunderstood. And whilst this can admittedly be frustrating, in the long-run this feedback is a good thing. Hot takes and controversial articles allow us all to share our views and gain a better understanding of the issues at hand. At the very least, we’ll learn about the perspectives others hold and what that may mean. If the comments indicate readers clearly misunderstood the article’s intent or point, then such feedback clearly suggests our writers need to make themselves clearer. It’s such feedback that allows us to improve. Even outright disagreement is welcomed here, particularly when people take the time to explain the reasoning behind their thoughts. The bottom line here is that we’re lucky that none of our regular readers are assholes. And if you’re not an asshole, then there is no such thing as a bad comment. Even the ones we may not necessarily like will lead to positive outcomes of some sort, whilst encouragement or detailed thoughts/discussions give us that feel-good hit that makes our time investment so rewarding. This leads nicely onto the next challenge: time.
The issue of time is self-explanatory. Many people live busy lives, and music journalists are no exception. We have day jobs. We study. We have relationships and health to maintain. Running a blog, and to a lesser extent contributing to one, requires a lot of time and it’s not always easy for people to find that. One thing I have found helpful is setting aside a pre-determined amount of time for music writing on a regular basis. That could range from an hour per day to three hours every Saturday – the amounts of time and the interval don’t really matter so long as they’re consistent and they work for you. Prioritising is another key aspect of time management. Personally, I care a lot more about Heavy Blog than I do about some shitty TV show that’s on every night. Yet, every so often I’ll find myself watching said show. And that’s ok. It happens to everyone. What’s important is that I recognise this and decide to focus my efforts on things I care more about, such as the blog. Such trivial examples are commonplace and consequently, it’s amazing just how much time you can dedicate to what’s important to you by setting clear priorities and acting upon them. Ultimately though, the extent to which we prioritise our music journalism duties depends on how much passion we have for it – and maintaining that passion is perhaps the greatest challenge of all.
Over the years music journalists pour in hundreds, even thousands of hours of their time – often for no financial benefit. We do this because we’re so damn passionate about the music we love that we need an outlet with which to channel that energy. To suggest that we could somehow lose that passion, lose a bit of that love towards the music we hold so dearly, may sound somewhat incredulous. Yet, it happens. It hits different people at different times, but rarely does someone escape this challenge completely. This challenge is so personal and individualised that I won’t hazard to guess at how it affects other people and risk putting words into others’ mouths. Instead, I will relay my own experiences and hope it resonates with some.
Since joining Heavy Blog in 2015 I have listened to at least 200 new albums per year. That doesn’t even count going back and listening to music from previous years, personal favourites, genre classics etc. This isn’t an uncommon volume of listening in this line of work, but it’s not just the volume that’s tiring. It’s the thought process associated with it. Each time I listen to a new album, consciously or otherwise, I’m trying to compare it with every other album I’ve heard this year. I’m trying to get a sense for whether this will make it on my end of year list. Is it a certainty? If so how does it compare with others and where should it be ranked? Could it potentially make it? What factors would that depend on and how many times do I need to re-listen to this before I can make an accurate call? Going through this process hundreds of times a year, year after year, is downright exhausting. I can’t truly relax and enjoy an album until at least the year after it has been released. Only then, when all the thought processes have been put to bed, can I truly enjoy the album for what it’s worth. Only then can I put my mind at ease. Knowing this it’s probably not too surprising that each year I’ve found myself burnt out upon the publication of our annual list. It’s generally not until February or March that my passion begins to come back and that I have the energy with which to get stuck into new releases. However, this year it didn’t come back with abundance, as it had previously. Rather than my well of energy brimming to the top, it had only been topped up slightly. Despite my lengthy ‘recovery period’ at the start of the year, it didn’t take much effort for me to feel burnt out again.
Dealing with Pressure
What is it that causes me to feel this way? Ultimately, for me at least, it boils down to pressure. I feel a pressure to be the best I can be at whatever I set my mind to, in this case, music journalism. I want to be up-to-date with what’s hot at the moment and have an informed opinion when I engage with my friends and peers in the community. So, what have I done to help ease this pressure? Maintaining lists throughout the year has been a great tool to spread the end-of-year burden throughout the entire year, rather than having it all concentrated at the end. This has helped mitigate the extent of my end-of-year burnout. Revisiting albums I know I love from years gone by has also been a great way to reinvigorate my passion and remember why it is that I love music and, by extension, music journalism so much. Exploring a completely different genre has also proven to be a good way to freshen things up and remind me of why I love exploring new music.
However, these coping mechanisms share one downfall: they take away the amount of time you can spend listening to new music in the genres you most frequently cover, and which are most likely to appear in your end-of-year list. This means you get further and further behind, with your list of albums to listen to growing at a considerable and frightening rate. This can be quite overwhelming and it is what has most affected me this year. The solution is simple. Let go, relax, and take care of yourself. It’s important to remind ourselves that we’re never going to get to everything, and that’s ok. It’s ok to drop the ‘new listening’ ball for a few months. If you miss something that’s incredibly amazing, there’s a strong chance you’ll hear about it through your friends, the publications you read, the podcasts you listen to or the shows you attend. The world won’t end, so forgive yourself and give yourself the time to replenish that well of passion and get back into it when you’re ready and able. The passion will come back. It always will, you just need to give it the opportunity to do so.
So there you have it, those are three key challenges I’ve faced over the past couple of years and a few tools that have helped me stick around to this day. I really hope that nobody perceives the intent of this article as being ‘woe is me’. After all, I love doing this. There’s a reason I started and a reason why I persist with it. Besides, everyone faces challenges in doing all kinds of things – in no way am I suggesting music journalists are unique in this regard. Rather, the intent here is to lift the lid on how music journalists feel behind the scenes. The perks of our jobs are common knowledge, but the other details tend to go unsaid. I hope some have found this an insightful peek beyond the veil at the less glamorous aspects of this occupation. Yet, more than this, I also hope that my peers in the community or those thinking of starting their music journalism journey can take some solace from my words and even learn a tip or two that help do what they love. In the end, it’s worth it.