Writing Advice #1: Laura Snapes, Pitchfork

Contributing Editor at Pitchfork Laura Snapes gives some top tips for aspiring music writers:

“I’d like to say I got my start after seeing some amazing gig and being hit by the urge to tell the world about it, but the truth is more sedate. As a kid I was a Radio 1 obsessive, and I was particularly into Jo Wiley’s show and her interviews. The idea of being an interviewer (as I thought it was called then) seemed like a dream – what could be a better job than asking musicians you liked about how they made what seemed to me like literal magic? So I started pursuing any opportunity I could to interview bands – a few years later I worked in a small record shop that did instores, so I’d speak to those bands, and got a few opportunities through the local press before starting my own fanzine when I was 16.

It didn’t run for many issues but it gave me great experience, and got me a few work placements, including one at the BBC and later NME.

A decade on, I feel like I’m fobbing young writers off when I tell them there’s no failsafe way to get into music journalism, but I guess that’s one of the great things about it – it’s a form that’s enriched by the wildly different paths that different writers have taken to it.

But there are some fundamentals: read widely! Read all kinds of music writing – new, old, web, print, long serious pieces, short funny pieces, and really examine what it is that you like about them, what works about the style, what feels like natural expression to you. The more you read, the more natural forming compelling arguments about music will become. (Also, read things that aren’t about music – enrich your knowledge base and appreciation for different styles.)

And write LOADS! I remember once reading a piece by an older writer about how if you couldn’t write 3000 words in an hour you were useless and shouldn’t bother. It scared the shit out of me and I still can’t write 3000 words in an hour (at least, not good ones), so disregard the advice of anyone who tells you that you should be sacrificing your physical and emotional wellbeing to do this.

But do keep practicing, and do your best to be original (without being contrived).

Young music writers are often told never to write for free. In general I agree with this – never write for free for anyone or any publication that could be paying you. But the fact of the matter is that you probably will have to write for free, but you can do it in a way where you reap the benefits: start your own tumblr, link up with different music writer communities on there – the people you would like to be your peers – and get involved in discussions on Twitter.”