The Evolution of Music Journalism: A Conversation With Jim Walker
Jim Walker has had a long, eclectic career in the music and entertainment industry that began in Los Angeles. In 1987, he wrote the theme song “Something to Remember Me By” for the high-school comedy film Three O’Clock High. He has even made forays into voice acting, providing the voice for Star Fox in the popular 2008 video game Super Smash Brothers Brawl. Most recently, Walker composed original music for the documentary film Burlesque: Heart of the Glitter Tribe.
Now residing in Portland, Oregon, Walker continues to record music and voice act in his studio. I spoke with Jim about how the landscape of music journalism has evolved throughout his life, and how he has seen the internet as a driving force of change in the coverage of the music industry.
Tell me about how you consumed music news throughout your life, as a young musician in L.A. versus nowadays living in Portland, Oregon. Have you seen any paradigm shifts in music journalism?
When I first got into music, I was in 6th grade. I was all in on Kiss. Kiss, Kiss, Kiss!! I was in the Kiss Army. The way you joined was there was a form inside the album that you filled out, and you sent in 5 bucks for the year (or whatever it was) and they sent you a sticker and you were in. That was music news back then. In my teens I poured over Circus and Cream magazine for news on Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin. God, I loved those three bands. Still do. Ozzy is my spirit animal. Once in awhile I’d get to read about those bands in Rolling Stone, though that rarely happened because it was way more expensive than other mags. Then MTV happened. Music News on the hour with Kurt Loder and Martha Quinn. That became rather exclusively where I got my music news in the 80’s. I was glued to that stuff.
What are your main sources for reading about music in the news now? Were they different when you were younger?
As I’ve gotten older and care much less about the bands who are coming up, I’ve in turn lost interest in most current music news. The internet is now of course where we all go to find out anything. I’ll usually go straight to an artist’s website to find news. I like to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth rather than play Telephone by getting a middleman involved.
It’s so much different now. But then again — everything is. It’s supposed to be. Evolution.
What format of music journalism do you engage with the most? Do you read written content, watch videos, or listen to podcasts?
Definitely written. I still read tons of biographies about music and artists I’m interested in. I think when someone commits to actually writing a book they also commit to an unknown but massive amount of time and research to get it right. It’s a serious commitment.
Being a producer and sound engineer, I love this magazine called Tape Op. It’s a recording magazine where gearheads can dweeb out on the latest music technology, but also old analog stuff too. There are interviews with current and upcoming musicians and producers, as well and older established musicians and producers. And the magazine is FREE! Tape Op is where I learn about 90 percent of the new artists I listen to. Great stuff.
How do you think the internet has changed music journalism?
I love that the playing field is level and that everyone’s voice can be heard. Everyone’s a pundit now. That being said: Opinions are like assholes — Everybody has one. So there’s definitely a lot of noise out there. Cutting through it can be a challenge. Same thing with making music: everything is so affordable and easy to use now, everyone can do it.
Should they? That’s a debate for another time.
A lot of people don’t like that idea though, that pretty much everyone has keys to the same door now. They think maybe the club should be a little bit more exclusive. Like unless you’ve studied music journalism you shouldn’t be able to write about music. Or if you haven’t gone to Julliard you shouldn’t be composing. My feeling is everybody should have the opportunity to do whatever they want. The pursuit of happiness and all that. The world will let you know fairly quickly whether or not you’re going to be able to make a living doing it. It’s cold out there.
How do you think music journalism affects music as an artform? Are they intertwined in some way, or are completely separate entities?
I default on this question to a quote by David Lee Roth: “Music journalists love Elvis Costello and hate me because they look like Elvis Costello.”