Ask a grizzled ’70s rock hack and they’ll insist that you don’t need a music journalism degree, man, just an old typewriter, a tolerance to Jack Daniels, a spare pair of underpants (optional) and the number of a good doctor for when you inevitably catch syphilis from a stripper in Ohio. Maybe that was true then, but times change. In a notoriously competitive modern industry, a music journalism degree could give you the edge – or provide the springboard into a fistful of exciting related careers. Let’s explore four of them…
Well, obviously. Print circulations might be tumbling, but there are still opportunities out there for talented writers with a fresh voice, whether you choose the relative security of an in-house staff job or the eat-what-you-kill existence of a freelancer. A good music journalism degree will ensure you hit the ground running, giving you a grounding in such core industry skill-sets as law, ethics, research techniques and propping up the bar.
You might start out waving a dictaphone under the noses of slurring tattooed maniacs, but there’s nothing to stop you segueing into ‘grown-up’ journalism and grilling slippery MPs on their healthcare reforms (a move made by writers like Q’s John Harris). Likewise, the wider media chops you’ll pick up on a music journalism degree will make it easier to transition into radio, TV or publishing, like one-time NME gunslinger Stuart Maconie and ex-Melody Maker scribe Caitlin Moran.
For a music journalist to morph into a press officer is one of the most common and accepted professional leaps. Although you’ll now be working on the other side of the fence – protecting the interests of artists instead of trying to get them to cough up a juicy soundbite – many of the skills you’ve picked up on your music journalism degree will still serve you well, from writing engaging press releases to pitching interviews with your roster to editors.
Chances are, as a budding music writer, you’re imagining your work appearing in the big print monthlies like Mojo, Q and Classic Rock – but don’t discount more corporate avenues, who also need writers and will often pay well for their services. Drawing on the skills you’ve learnt, you could write a festival programme, the web copy for a guitar manufacturer, the sleevenotes for a new album, the social media updates for a record label or the online bio for a breaking band. The industry might be changing – but everybody still needs words…