Notes on Longform Music Writing: One

Recently, a press release arrived in my inbox noting that Skyscraper was making the shift from print to online effective immediately. One piece in particular stood out to me in a fairly encouraging way:

We will also no longer be restricted by word and page counts, meaning we can feature more content and go into more depth, not to mention publish content with much more regularity. We also envision the future to be larger and more diverse than we were ever able to achieve with the print incarnation.

Recently, I’ve had music writing on the brain — being out at the Pop Conference definitely played a part in this, as does the fact that a number of people involved in/fond of music writing have been doing some very public thinking on the subject. One thing I’ve been especially curious about is how one might create a new outlet for longer-form prose pieces on artists. This isn’t meant as a criticism of interviews at all, but it does seem interesting to me that the majority of online* pieces on bands tend to fall into only one category.


This week, I’m going to be thinking out loud on this topic. For this post, I’m generally going to volley out a number of links; future posts will get more specific, and look at whether certain structures that have worked elsewhere can be applied to culture (specifically, music) writing. A very relevant discussion on the evolution of book criticism can be found at the fine literary blog The Millions. Their first part focuses on criticism and its connections to newspaper sections; the second, on and revenue and community; and the third, on potential downfalls to Amazon. While some of what’s said in that discussion applies specifically to the literary world, much of it, I’d argue, is relevant whether you’re following books, music, or film.

Also worth reading: Warren Ellis on bookazines (which brings to mind Stop Smiling‘s announcement of a shift from magazines to books**), and Carl Wilson on Blender and music magazines in general. Wilson comments:

I still think there is room in the market for one more readership-oriented music publication, one aimed at the same audience that buys books about music. Something close exists in the UK (Mojo and, to a degree, The Wire) but a North American one might bring less of that musty British muso feel – like a general-interest version of No Depression, a great mag that was hampered by the narrowness of its “alt-country” focus.

I don’t disagree. Though I also wonder whether the proper model for this wouldn’t be online, at least to begin with. I would argue that longer-form arts pieces — D.T. Max’s piece on David Foster Wallace, for instance, or John Wray’s on Sunn 0))) — are being read online, and Gerald Marzorati’s address on online readership*** references someone reading a New York Times Magazine feature on their iPhone — which, I’d say, upends the conventional wisdom of online readers opting for brevity.

An interview with Stephen Elliott on his work with The Rumpus offers one of the more interesting alternatives — and, I’d say, makes for a model to watch. Though given that it’s generally unpaid for all involved, I don’t know whether it’s a model that could be repeated. (The generally excellent Dusted does come to mind, though.) And, to bring things back around to music writing, I would argue that Rick Moody’s column contains some of the best music criticism out there right now.

More to come as the week continues…

*-more specifically: online in the sense of “pieces that originate online,” though I realize that this distinction is edging into moot territory as we speak.

**-scroll down to JC Gabel’s bio for this information. I haven’t seen much about this on the sites of either Melville House or Stop Smiling, oddly enough.

***-the address’s subsequent usage of “bloggers in pajamas!” imagery is, I’ll admit, a bit frustrating.

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