Posted by: Dominic Umile | 08/14/2009

Reading: The Wire, Slate, and then some

The Wire MadlibWhilst checking out Kate Simko’s lovely soundtrack work as well as a free dubstep mix from Beat Pharmacy/Brendon Moeller (h/t Sonic Router), here is a sampling of some written words I’ve enjoyed after work, on the way to work, during work, etc. I paid to read some of this, and the others are miraculously free on the Internet.

I’m wading through an extensive book about the history of dub music, inside the studio and out. I’m not far along yet in Michael Veal’s Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae, but I’m highly recommending it — it packs lengthy indices and footnotes, and it’s definitely for anyone who has a deep interest in the technical and cultural factors that shaped this fascinating genre of Jamaican music, right down to what went down behind the engineer’s mixing boards.

The August issue of The Wire magazine, alongside its regular helping of essays, show and record reviews, has a feature built around the first interview that producer/emcee/DJ Madlib has given since 2006 (have a glance here). It’s a great read; go pick it up, and keep an eye out for his Guilty Simpson collaboration as well as another beat smorgasbord from his little brother.

Over at the Chicago Tribune, I checked out Christoper Borelli’s story about how Netflix operates — “If you work at this warehouse, you have signed a confidentiality agreement that you will not divulge its location. You can tell people where you work, just not exactly where,” writes Borelli. Great, spooky stuff.

You may have seen Jonah Weiner’s bit at Slate about the death of print-based music criticism and the dwindling worth of the music critic in general. And then maybe you saw Robert Christgau’s response to Weiner’s work. If you’re like me, you read both with a great deal of interest.

And then I remembered that there is a lot more out there for me to concern myself with than this, because since college and even years afterward, I’ve been exploited as a freelance writer more than I’d like to divulge by print publications big and small, and no matter how often I’d been previously ripped off, I kinda just continued because it was something I loved to do. Disclaimer: Even if I were given a chance to make a living off writing about music (as this was a time when that sort of thing was out of reach for common folk like ol’ Umile), the paychecks would likely be miniscule and the lesser discussed responsibilities associated with the core work is enough to make me vomit. It’s always been more of a hobby, because writing about music for a living — for me, anyway — would be one of those things that would soon lose its luster if I were rocking it 40 hours weekly. This mindset keeps me from fretting about things like this:

  • We know we agreed on a fee months ago, before you submitted the work. We’re just unable to issue it to you because of a difficult period in our accounting department at this time.
  • It’s not syndication just because it appears in a sister paper’s blog in another city. It’s a blog.
  • Thanks for your patience on the freelance pay delay. It’s going to be at least another six months.
  • Yes, that sounds great. Two hundred words by the tenth. And no, we don’t pay freelancers.
  • Thanks for waiting on our response for three weeks. I’m unable to use your pitch.
  • You’ll have to make time for the interview around the artists’ time, despite the sacrifices you’ve already made. My other freelancers are flexible and are able to work with publicists on things like this.
  • These are distinctive ideas, but we’re trying to cover better known artists these days.
  • Oh yeah, I remember when you filed that with us. At this point, we’ll probably never run it though.

Doesn’t that sound worthwhile?

My personal complaints aside, the decline of print media’s music criticism is terrible news — a lot of people value thoughtful dissections of new and old music as well as long-form music journalism in general, particularly from seasoned veterans in the trade. But magazines that, as Weiner points out to some degree, offer valuable real estate to bands like Creed should expect that someday things are going to head south in the accounting department.

For an eternity, music freelancers have been immensely undervalued for their efforts. The idea that we should prepare and disseminate obituaries for the music critic because a few slick, prominent publications no longer have the resources to cover My Chemical Romance in the capacity that they once did, or that people have found it easier to steal music is premature and a considerably irresponsible generalization of music enthusiasts all over the place.

Fact is, people are still going to read about music. They’re just going to have to look in places other than those tame monthlies lining your neighborhood newsstand.

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