What I learned from being a music journalist
Posted on June 29, 2014
In 2012, I left my job at a rehab center teaching creative writing to pursue freelancing full time. It was a hard decision, because I loved the kids and the people I worked with, but it was the only move that made sense for my career. I wanted to be a writer, and I was just going to give it a shot instead of waiting for the magic publication or the letter from an agent that declared me one. During the beginning parts of freelancing, I would write on any subject for any any publication. I ended up writing about everything from video games to profiles on lame congressmen to strikes to music.
Music felt like a natural fit for me. I went to college for music as a percussionist, and I played drums in the jazz band at Stetson University. I had a foundation of music theory, and I taught many of my friends how to play the guitar. When I was in the jazz band, I was always so frustrated because the leader of the band was a 70-year old trombone player who thought drummers should be more like metronomes and not be heard or seen. For the style of music we were playing, he was right, but I wanted to play with more gusto, more energy. I loved to use the bass drum, and I would hit that thing so loud eventually the band leader told me I couldn’t play it anymore. While I’m not a professional musician now, there was a time when I thought I could be, but I was more interested in rock ‘n’ roll: Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, etc. Even though now I’m just as interested in elaborate compositions or piano sonatas by Philip Glass.
I started to pitch publications for music journalism. I had a background in music, and I thought writing about music would be a natural fit. I started landing some assignments, and I attended concerts and wrote about my experience. I was writing about music mainly for the OC Weekly. One day, I received an email from Nate Jackson, the music editor at the OC Weekly who is also a great poet, and he asked me to attend a K-Pop event at the Honda Center. At the moment, K-Pop was gigantic. You couldn’t leave your house without hearing Gangnam Style or seeing some spoof of the music video on Youtube. It was a similar movement to the Latin music explosion with Shakira, Ricky Martin, and Enrique Iglesias in 1999. So I agreed to cover the concert, and I brought my wife as a photographer.
The band was called Big Bang. I was researching them before the concert, and what I learned was that they were a boy band, and there were five members: G-Dragon, T.O.P, Taeyang, Daesung, and Seungri. From what I was reading, they were as big as NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys in America, but they had much more of a hip hop feel, and they were heavily influenced by American rappers. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect, but I went to the event with an open mind and my notebook and my wife set to take some photos.
When we arrive at the Honda Center, I realized that I was one of the few males at the show, and most of the people there are young girls in groups squealing with excitement even before they walked into the venue. We took our seats in the 20,000 person Honda Center, and it was packed to the brim. People were singing Big Bang’s songs even before they were on the stage. And then suddenly it happened.
The lights were turned off, and the crowd turned on these yellow lights that looked like electrified lotus flowers, and then a flash of fire exploded on the stage, and these pods started emerging out of the ground, where Big Bang eventually emerged from like aliens. The scream that emanated from the young girls in the audience must have been similar to what Edvard Munch heard when he was inspired to paint “The Scream.” Once Big Bang came on the stage, the crowd went bananas. They were screaming and crying, and it was such an intense reaction I couldn’t help but be reminded of The Beatles at Shea Stadium.
The show was filled with pyrotechnics, and I danced in the aisles with my wife. It was a great show. I was entertained. It reminded me of Bad Boy records and the mix of hip hop with a smooth R&B sound that echoed the 90s. So I went home that night and wrote about the show, and I gave it a great review…at least that’s how I thought about it. You can read the review here: OC Weekly Big Bang.
But the next morning I woke up and took a look at my twitter feed, and it was filled with angry Big Bang fans demanding an apology. I couldn’t understand. I thought I gave them a great review. It turned out that one of the heads of the fan club read my review and was outraged that I had called the group manufactured and superficial. Big Bang is a major production with pyrotechnics and backup dancers and a gigantic band that should have been playing behind P Funk. Of course they’re manufactured to some exctent and put together by a production company. Of course they’re somewhat superficial, because they are all about the glitz. That didn’t take away from the show. It was just me editorializing a bit.
Well, the fans did NOT like this at all. They were demanding that I recant my statements and issue an apology on behalf of all the Big Bang fans, a.k.a. VIPs, and they would not stop hassling me until I made a statement. So here’s the truth about freelancing for the first time: You really have no idea what the fuck you’re doing, and you have no one to ask what do. There really isn’t much contact with the editor, and if you hassle them too much, then you’re worried they might not ever give you another article. At the moment, I had no idea what I should do. In fact, there was a part of me that even thought about apologizing to these fans. Maybe that would get me off their shit list.
But that’s when I sat down and watched the tweets keep on coming in, and I realized I was learning a great lesson as a writer and a journalist. No matter how people react to your work, no matter how people interpret what you say, you can only control your own reaction, and if you believe your words are true and honest, then you MUST stand by them. I never apologized, and in the end, I realized that the controversy was good for my writing: it meant more people were reading my work.
I’m not sure how people are going to react to Big Bang in the future, but when I was Googling to find my original article, I came across a book by Stuart A. Kallen called K-Pop: Korea’s Musical Explosion, and my article is used as a source. I would love to see the book one day. So I did learn a lot from being a music journalist, and if you’re interested in reading about some of my other experiences in this genre, check out “The Unforeseen Journey of a Blog Post.“