Exploring this Job
You can explore a career as a music journalist in a number of ways. Talk to reporters and editors at local newspapers and radio and TV stations. Interview the admissions counselor at the school of journalism closest to your home to get a sense of the type of students who apply and are accepted into journalism programs.
You should also read the work of music journalists to get a sense of how they organize and structure their reviews and articles. Take note of when a music reporter writes a particularly positive or negative review and how he or she handles writing it honestly but tactfully.
In addition to taking courses in English, journalism, music, speech, computer science, and typing, high school students can acquire practical experience by working on school newspapers or a community organization's newsletter. Part-time and summer jobs with newspapers or radio stations provide invaluable experience to the aspiring music reporter.
Music journalists write about new releases and recent performances of all types of musicians. They research artists or bands, watch or listen to them perform, and then write a review or story. Some music journalists also write columns for newspaper or magazine publication or commentary for radio or television broadcast.
Music journalists conduct their research by attending musical shows or listening to compact discs, digital audio files, or music in other formats. If they are reviewing a live performance, they have to take notes on the concert's venue, crowd, atmosphere, and other factors that will make their review more interesting and thorough.
Though some music writers may simply report objectively on music news, most write criticism. To garner respect and credibility, their opinions on performances or recordings must be fair, but honest. To do this, music journalists compare the performance or album release with previous works of the artist or band in question and compare it with other similar music artists. For example, if a journalist is reviewing a young rock star's latest album, he or she would not compare it to work of a classical orchestra, but perhaps might hold it up to work of rock stars from previous eras, such as the Beatles, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, The Who, or the Rolling Stones.
Music journalists write more than just reviews. They also write personal articles about artists and bands. These stories may originate as an assignment from a music editor or as the result of a lead or news tip. Good music journalists are always on the lookout for new story ideas.
To write a personal music article, music journalists gather and verify facts by interviewing the artist or band and talking to people involved in the production or organization of a music show or recording. During interviews, journalists generally take notes or use a recording device to collect information to write the story once back in their office. When under tight deadline, music journalists might have little time between their last interview and publication, and may enlist the help of editors and other writers to review and help organize their material. Together, they will decide what emphasis, or angle, to give the story and make sure it is written to meet standards of editorial style and format.
Music journalists are employed either as in-house staff or as freelance writers. Pay varies according to experience and the position, but freelancers must provide their own office space and equipment such as computers and phones. Freelance writers are also responsible for attracting clients, keeping tax records, sending out invoices, negotiating contracts, and providing their own health insurance.