Advice For Aspiring Music Writers: Don't Quit, Just Don't Suck
The funny thing about Luke O'Neil's article earlier this week (titled "Advice For Aspiring Music Writers: Quit Now") is that "quit now" was the exact answer I gave when someone asked me last year what I would tell to a high school class of aspiring writers. My "quit now" was borne from a frustration that stemmed equally from both my own occasional tendency toward extreme negativity and my burning desire to be able to afford to eat something more than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich once a day. It was borne from the fact that I was watching peers get $80k/year jobs at banks while I kept a mental tally of how much money was in my bank account so that I knew whether I would overdraw at the ATM trying to line my pocket with twenty bucks. It was borne from the idea that, if somebody told me to quit what I wanted to do at that age, I would tell them to politely go fuck themselves and keep working at it, and file it away for a big "fuck you" after I got there.
Which is partially why I disagree with O'Neil's article, which largely picked apart the Kickstarter campaign of Boston-based music blogger Max Nagel, who is currently trying to raise $12,500 in order to get more people to read his blog, or something. I don't totally disagree with O'Neil, who makes a series of valid points about the state of music "writing" on the internet today. I agree that this Kickstarter project is largely delusional and insane (did you know that if you give Nagel $125 he'll let you write a story on his blog that nobody reads? You even get the added bonus of not putting it on your own blog that nobody reads for free! I know a deal when I see one). I agree with his assessment of the music "writing" community -- that the majority of it is just DJs pointing at songs and then moving on. I agree that there is an overabundance of music blogs out there, most largely flogging their own friends' bands. I also know, way too well and along with most of my fellow freelance friends, about how shitty it is to not get paid on time (or at all) for something you spent way too much time doing.
But here's what I don't agree with: the value of stepping on the kid's dream just because you stumbled across it. The world and life in general will do that for him after a while anyway. But there is a lot worth discussing here.
Let's get this out of the way first: being largely delusional and insane is part of being young. If you're not screwing up at least sometimes, you're probably not putting yourself out there very much. I'm not trying to sound like a Thought Catalog post here, but asking people for money to help fund a dream I had would probably not be the most cringe-worthy thing I have done in my past half-decade writing about music. I personally don't think this particular Kickstarter campaign will work, mainly because it is misguided and a touch hubristic, which is generally the reason most of them fail. But that doesn't mean everyone's gotta pack it up for good.
One of O'Neil's early points in his piece centers on the idea that writing about music takes the fun out of the subject matter, and will wind up making you hate music in the end due to all the shitty bands out there. But regardless of your opinion on the approximate percentage of shitty versus non-shitty music that exists in the world, this is a more universal complaint than just in the "music writing world": if you write about any one thing for long enough, you're gonna get fed up with it after a while and have to alter your approach. Hell, if you do ANYthing for long enough, it gets boring, infuriating, soul-crushing, etc. Radiohead's not still writing about being creepy. Pete Townshend stopped writing about dying young (after he didn't). Lil Wayne... okay, he still raps about the same thing every time, but that's probably because he's Not A Human Being (II). There are plenty of reasons to not become a writer, or to stop writing after a while.