This month marks 6 years of The Diversity of Classic Rock. Because last year, which was my blog’s 5th birthday, was so hectic around this time of year. You know, the pandemic starting and all of us losing our minds and proceeding to play Animal Crossing to pass the time and not knowing how many months (years?) this pandemic would last. Never too late to make a really special celebration post and I have two this year. The first is my story and reflecting on the past, and it’s sad and emotional story and details that I never revealed on this blog before. This one though is going to be a lot more positive and me giving back to the music journalism/commentary community by telling you things I’ve learnt over the years. I look back at some of my old writing and cringe and say things like “I wish I did this differently”.
Often, I ask this question or some variant of this when I interview musicians: “What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?” or “What do you wish you knew before going into music?” I get lots of interesting answers. I guess it’s time to turn the tables and I get to answer the question I ask people, except since I’m a writer and not a musician, this will be about writing. If you want to find out my thoughts on these questions, keep on reading! I answered the advice question two years ago, but I’ve learnt a lot in two years and let’s see what’s changed.
What do you wish you knew before becoming a music blogger and what advice do you have?
First things first, it’s a slow burn. Content creation in general is a slow burn. Most people spend years and years grinding away writing blog posts and making videos/podcasts before making the big time, if they do at all! Here’s a way to put it in perspective with music. Music, like cinema, has a star system of sorts. Like Hollywood makes stars, the music world makes stars. Those stars grace the covers of magazines, they have prominent displays in record stores, their names are on marquees and in lights, you hear them on the radio and see them on TV constantly. That’s only a small number of the musicians out there, and they’re the top 1%. There are thousands more who try to make it and hope to, but many fail, even if they’re signed to a label or have a manager. These kinds of musicians are some of the ones I’m fascinated with, these small freakbeat and garage rock acts (like the ones on the Nuggets compilation album series) that tried their hand at fame and tried to get on Top of the Pops but never could. What could have become of them if they got fame? And even if a musician does get a taste of fame, they’re just a flash in the pan and they go back to living a normal life. Those flash in the pan one hit wonder musicians fascinate me too.
Your average musician is not Taylor Swift, they’re more like that local artist who plays open mic nights and gigs at the pub and works a day job. Your average YouTuber isn’t Pewdiepie, it’s someone who makes videos for fun and works a day job. Your average music journalist/blogger isn’t Lester Bangs. Nowadays, they’re probably some music enthusiast with a Blogspot or WordPress who writes reviews as a hobby.
99% of the time, content creation doesn’t pay a living wage. Maybe not a proper scientific survey, but you get the point. I could talk all day about how there should be a union for content creators that improves conditions like lowering the payment threshold so people can get the pittance they earn so they can buy a coffee or having transparency on bans and suspensions and not demonetising people for no reason. That’s another topic for another time.
If you want instant gratification and a ticket to fame and stardom and living the Almost Famous life, don’t become a content creator. You’re going to be disappointed and quit very quickly. It takes perseverance, tenacity, determination, dedication, hard work, and a lot of luck! Nothing in life comes with instant gratification, so if you have that kind of attitude, you need to change it. Nothing falls into your lap, unless you’re extremely rich. You have to work for what you want and take chances.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I can offer new bloggers and journalists, and this isn’t just for those who write about music, is to write everything down. Write down every idea that pops in your head. Put it in your notes app or if you’re old school, write it in a notebook or on a sticky note – whatever works best for you. Even if the idea sounds dumb, keep it in your back pocket, you can always workshop it and modify it. It’s not set in stone. Talk about your ideas with friends too and get feedback from them and even your community of readers! My blog is a one-woman operation and I have to remember that my blog isn’t just for me, it’s for classic rock fans as a whole and people who want to learn about music so I’ll bounce ideas off my friends and family and see what they think of them.
I’ll give you two more pieces of advice. Next one is to never put all your eggs in one basket. So you’ve started a music blog, or any kind of blog for that matter. That’s great and focusing on SEO and making sure your content is engaging is great, ultimately that’s what you want people do to – read your blog. Search engines aren’t enough. Social media is another great place for outreach, but remember the algorithm isn’t that great, but persist and don’t stop promoting.
Work on your social media game and graphics game too. I find that as I’ve written The Diversity of Classic Rock, I haven’t only become a stronger writer, I’ve also improved in other skills like social media marketing and graphic design. I’m not the best at these things, but I think my skills are adequate. My specialty and what makes this blog stand out from the other classic rock blogs is that I’m all about the comprehensive long reads and in depth deep dives on specific classic rock topics. This is a sit down and have a cup of tea and maybe some snacks blog or the thinking classic rock fan’s blog. For a long time, I neglected other ways to reach out to classic rock fans and that was a big mistake. Not everyone has the time to read my essays, even if they’re easy to understand and approachable. In August, I started an Instagram for the blog and since then, it’s grown and gotten a lot of engagement. I took a different approach to that social media page – making it museum of sorts for classic rock and a place to learn about classic rock for those in a hurry with bite sized info. The engagement has been great and I’ve gotten quite a bit of praise in a short amount of time. The word spread pretty quickly in the classic rock fandom because I made these posts aesthetically pleasing, informative, and shareable. Make your promotion of your work on social media interactive and engaging.
The last piece of advice I’d share is to take chances! I said it before in the original advice post two years ago. Doing the same thing over and over again gets stale so don’t be afraid to shake and mix it up and try something different. Sometimes it works out, but other times it doesn’t. Thinking about it from a music perspective, lots of legendary musicians took that experimental approach to their work, never staying complacent and doing the same thing album after album. Those are the ones that we celebrate the most, even if we don’t like everything they do. As well, content creation is all about hustling and getting the word out there. If you talk about a musician in a blog post, tag the musician! They might see it. As long as you’re not annoying about it, you’re not a clout chaser. Who knows? They might like it or share it! There’s a better chance of that happening if you’re writing about up and coming musicians rather than A-listers, but there are some smaller classic rock acts who are very active on social media and will like a lot of posts related to their work. If there’s a musician you want to interview, ask! You want a review copy, ask! The answer is always “no” if you don’t ask. If you ask, the answer might be yes. You only get one shot at life, take chances! That’s how successful people got where they are. Why just be safe?
Now let’s go back to things I wish I knew before I started writing. Writing a blog is what I do day in and day out. Since covid, I haven’t been doing much else besides writing my blog and I have to admit that it wasn’t the healthiest thing for me. Without being able to go anywhere or do much else, I felt stuck and trapped in my room with nothing else to do but write. I powered through and made 2020 a productive year, but at what cost? My mental health. It’s so easy to become addicted to your work and beat yourself up because you think you’re not doing enough and you’re comparing yourself to your peers. Comparing yourself and feeling a bit competitive with others can be healthy and a necessary kick up the butt to strive for improvement, but it can get really unhealthy so just keep that competitive spirit in check. Always stay humble and never let praise and compliments get to your head and never forget where you come from. I’ve seen people go from humble to full of themselves and getting high off compliments. Don’t become that.
I became addicted to writing and slowly becoming sick of it and it was really not good for me mentally. The reality of creating content is that it’s not a typical 9-5 you clock in, you clock out, you’re work’s done at the end of the day kind of job. No, when you create content, you never clock out. There’s always something else you could be doing to work on your content. There’s always something else you can learn. There’s always work to be done. I guess I’ll stick in one piece of advice here, have some sort of physical separation between you and your work (like an office/study room) if you can because if you’re a content creator, you use your phone or your computer to create content and seeing your phone of computer is a reminder that you could be doing work. Or at least set working hours and days off for yourself and make a promise to yourself to not do any work past a certain time or not work on certain days because that’s leisure time.
To follow the last point, no matter how passionate you are about a topic, you’ll get tired of it. Classic rock is something I love so much and it’s my special interest. Few things bring me happiness as much as classic rock does. But believe it or not, I get tired of it and I need a break away from it and it’s not like I only listen to a couple bands or classic rock subgenres. I listen to all sorts of things and sometimes feel overwhelmed by it all and just want to get away even though I see classic rock as home. Have some other interests and hobbies besides your blog and what it’s about. Before the pandemic, I loved going to the gym and I can’t wait to go back. Travel was another escape for me and I desperately want to go back to it. Linked with travel is photography. I love taking pictures and editing them and showing them off. Video games can be a fun escape too. Fashion and makeup is another big interest of mine and I love styling myself in my vintage clothing and accessories and then topping it with 60s makeup.
The last thought I’ll leave you with is a core value of mine: lifelong learning. Linked with what I said before about staying humble, you may think you’re an expert on something, but you have a lot to learn. You may think you know everything about your special interest or what you’re writing about, but that’s not true. As much as I think it’s a flex to know pretty much everything about classic rock, I’m always happy when I learn something new and especially when it’s from a reader or a friend. I think we can all learn something from each other. Who says that because you’ve been a fan of classic rock for a decade or multiple decades that you know it all? I’ve spoken to lots of new, but keen classic rock fans who know all sorts of interesting tidbits and facts about classic rock. Keep an open mind.
You know the Dunning-Kruger effect? The less you know about something or the less qualified you are, the more you think you know and the more you know about something or the more qualifications you have, the less you think you know. As a teenager, I thought I knew a lot about classic rock because that’s what people around me told me, but I’ve learnt a lot since then and almost every day I learn something new. Life is one long educational experience. Never stop learning. Never stop being curious. Never stop asking questions.
Shoutout to Patrick and Jeffrey from Maryland for supporting the blog!
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I really enjoyed this. I haven’t been here in a while but this is all excellent advice and I agree with all your tips. Especially writing everything down! Even if it is crap, write it down. Like you said, not everything you write has to be published. Sometimes I find a rough draft of something I wrote years ago. It’s not good enough, but there might be a kernal of an idea or two in there that is worth using elsewhere.
I would also say take a picture of anything relevant. It’s always nice to have visual content at hand because sometimes when the words flow, I can’t think of any images to add!
Well done, and congratulations on keeping at it for this long. I know it’s not easy and I know what it feels like to want to pack it in.
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Thank you so much Mike! It means a lot hearing this from you since you’re a great writer too and so knowledgeable about rock music!
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Aww thanks Angie. I makes my heart warm to see folks your age digging back and not only appreciating the classics, but also making sure people hear it and don’t forget these great bands. I think we both share a feeling that we were made for different eras!
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Thanks for this – very useful and interesting! Last summer I started writing a blog about 70s and 8os music we grew up with on the radio in India – https://www.raghavprasad.com. I’ve really enjoyed sharing the music and all the memories that these songs bring up for me, but have had to ensure I don’t get obsessed by it ! Haven’t done any social media yet, its really been a friends and family thing really – but it’s been real fun so far. And to your last point – I’ve learnt so much about my favourite bands and songs writing the blog. Thanks for the tips !
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That’s awesome! Thank you! 🙂
Nice post with lots of good advice. I started writing in the 1990s with my own self published zine and followed much of what you suggested. I was always on the lookout for new and varied subjects to write about, networked like crazy, and wasn’t shy about asking for review copies and interviews (and often got them). Eventually, several actual publications were paying me to write for them and I had a blast doing it. When the writing field largely collapsed in the 2000s, I tentatively started a website to post my work, but soon lost interest. The pandemic gave me an excuse to start writing again and so far I’m enjoying it. Who knew I’d become a fan of post-hardcore screamo bands? I look forward to reading more of your work. Keep writing!
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[…] As someone who has been writing for years now, I have learnt a lot about the industry and how nasty it is and have even spoken at length on my bad experiences. Many of these bad experiences fall under the category of being taken advantage of. Lesson learnt: never let yourself be taken advantage of. Let me tell you a cautionary tale of a mistake I made early on in my life as a writer so you don’t make the same mistake. If you like storytimes, you’ll like this one! If you want to see more meta posts, check out this one about advice for writers. […]
Thank you for these tips! I’m a very impatient person, so I need to accept that being a blogger will not be easy and will take a lot of willpower to keep going. After I became a communications major during my junior year of college, my love for writing grew to the point where I started my own blog! You gave great advice in this post. One that stood out to me was “don’t be afraid to take risks!” Whenever I promote my blog posts on social media, I don’t tag the musicians mentioned in the post because I don’t want to bother them and I don’t want our views to conflict with one another. But, I think I’ll start tagging them from now on, it wouldn’t hurt!
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Thank you Lana! Glad my advice has been helpful. Good luck! 🙂
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Thank you so much!
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