How to pitch the Guardian’s music section

Guardian Music
Jun 9 · 15 min read

Generally, excellent music is at the centre of all our coverage (although bad music sometimes gets a look-in). What all of our stories do have is a strong personal, social, political or historical angle, and a timely reason for covering the topic. We’re a newspaper, not a music magazine, so in order to cover relatively niche artists/scenes etc, there needs to be a topical or human element that will give it appeal to the breadth of our readership, not just music fans.

Our stories are also rich with expertise—describing the music and the effect it has with precision—but they have to be accessible to people who don’t follow music as closely as writers do. They’re packed with the colourful details that make a piece sing, and which can tell a story more effectively than the facts. We want fun, crisp, clever, well-reported ideas.

Our different sections

Our key features coverage is generally commissioned for Friday’s Film & Music supplement. We have a significantly smaller budget for web coverage during the week: more reactive pieces, occasional comment articles, the odd interview with an act we really rate but is too niche to end up in F&M. No need to state which section you’re pitching for—we can make that call.

There’s also the monthly music essay series (scroll way down for more on that) and longer news reports drawing angles out of research (such as this great piece, Why has the UK stopped producing pop superstars?) or expanding on a brief news item (‘Like a tap being turned off’: music magazines fight for survival in UK), which we might commission but could then end up in G1 (the main paper).

The Guide, Weekend, and various sections of the Observer often run music features, but have their own commissioning teams you can pitch — we commission for G2 and online.

What makes a good pitch

There’s detailed info on how to pitch different kinds of pieces (and what not to pitch) in the rest of this document. But as for the basics: a paragraph or two is generally fine, but if it’s a complex story, please lay it out for us.

You don’t need to suggest headline ideas or word counts, and you don’t need to say, “I’ve secured access with X”, unless X is Beyoncé or someone otherwise impossible to get, in which case please bash down our door.

Don’t send in a piece you’ve already written — we’re unlikely to commission that as we want to craft the right angle/tone/content for our audience.

Do add a line about who you are and where you’ve written for, with a few links to relevant pieces.

Think: is this just something I want to write? Or is it something that people will actually want to read? Show us the drama/jeopardy/humour/excitement in the idea that will make it appeal to the breadth of our audience.

It’s worth grabbing our attention with a striking email subject line, given the hundreds of messages we receive each day. Start it: “PITCH: [irresistible story idea]”

Some other points on pitching

We don’t do a lot of anniversary-based stuff, and seldom recent anniversaries (under 20 years). One exception is the Music Essay series.

If we’ve interviewed someone within the last three or so years, we’re unlikely to do them again just yet. We don’t tend to interview musicians on repeat cycles (though there are exceptions—and they might appear in F&M one album and then the Guide the next, so admittedly, it’s hard to tell when you look back at the website).

One of us will always get back to you, but it might take a little while when we’re busy. If there’s a real time pressure on your piece, say so in the subject line or at the start of your email. In general, chase 5–7 days after first pitching something if you haven’t heard back.

We love enthusiasm and fandom, but there has to be a measure of objectivity in your ideas: we’re writing for readers, not musicians. If we accept your pitch but suggest some more critical or confrontational ideas you might want to throw at them, it isn’t to diminish the artist, but to allow them to state their case—which may ultimately convince more readers that they’re worth their while.

Some notes on working with us

Filing a piece isn’t the end of the story—it’ll more than likely enter an editing process, whether either Ben or I will suggest phrasing and structural changes, ask for alternative quotes, or in occasional circumstances, retool the format. This can be a shock to newer writers. The first time I ever got a big edit, I felt humiliated—it felt like being told I had done it wrong. I was really obstinate about it and a total pain in the ass to my editor. In time I realised that it’s kind of a luxury to be edited: it’s a collaborative process, sometimes a slightly bruising word-massage, a learning experience. These days I feel sad if I don’t get edited at all. Which is to say: please don’t take edits personally. You may not love every suggestion — and you can push back with reasonable justification—but being difficult about edits doesn’t help you or us. We’re always trying to make your piece shine and do the best by readers, often on a tight deadline. It’s a balancing act.

How we pay

Print features are commissioned at 31p/word. Anything commissioned for web only is usually at a flat rate determined by the length/workload of the piece. There may be instances in which something commissioned for web ends up in print, in which case the fee will be scaled up accordingly. Payment is instigated at our end — you don’t need to invoice.

Please send pitches via email to music editor Ben Beaumont-Thomas (ben.beaumont-thomas@theguardian.com) and deputy music editor Laura Snapes (laura.snapes@theguardian.com).

For classical music pitches, please contact Imogen Tilden (imogen.tilden@theguardian.com).

Things we’re looking for

Artist profiles

Generally it’s not worth pitching A-list names, unless you’ve somehow managed to secure time with someone who never talks to the press (see Wiley below). We tend to run interviews with artists around album or comeback track releases — something to make it feel newsworthy and of the moment. Unfortunately we don’t have space to profile many artists who are right at the start of their career—there needs to be some kind of momentum around them. But if a smaller artist’s album picks up traction, we might profile them down the line—around the beginning of a tour, say.

As for pitching, it’s not enough to say “X is interesting”, or “Y is successful/hyped” — you need to have a take on what the latest shift in their career says about where they’re at creatively or personally, or what they represent about what’s going on in the industry, or why their new work is in sync with something happening in society. We need to know from your pitch that you’re interested in going beyond the biography: tell us the question you’re going to ask them that they’ve never been asked, the one that will cast their story in a new light.

Here are some recent profiles and the story behind the commission.

Wiley on his final album: ‘I need to not let grime die on the way out’

Wiley contacted writer Dan Hancox and offered him this exclusive interview about why his new record was going to be his last; Dan brought it to us and it instantly became the next cover of Film & Music.

India Jordan: how Tipping the Velvet inspired a joyful dance explosion

We knew we wanted to interview India Jordan at some point — they featured in our 2020 artists to watch list after an incredible string of singles. When they announced their brilliant new EP, they said the release encompassed their coming out as non-binary last year, a journey affirmed by their experiences in queer clubs such as Dalston Superstore (which features on the artwork). That’s a really rich story and a chance to introduce our readers to some brilliant music that they might not otherwise have come across. (Plus we don’t review EPs, so we couldn’t have featured it in our reviews section.)

‘Misery gives us strength’: Soolking, the rap voice of young Algeria

Soolking is a household name in Algeria, although he’s not in the UK. What makes his story work in our pages is the political side of the story: Soolking is a powerful voice in the country’s youth protests for a better way of life, and he’s also been an undocumented immigrant. That taps into so many pertinent issues — plus the music is great.

‘They’d greet us with fire extinguishers!’: the wild times of Bliza Bargeld

Einstürzende Neubauten were back with a new album. They already have a great backstory full of irreverence and brilliant music, but what made this a fun time for this piece was that the frontman of this band known for playing drills onstage and mortally offending U2 fans was now… teaching cookery on Instagram. There’s loads of great music history there, and a WTF element as well—well teased out by Daniel’s spirited questioning.

Waxahatchee: ‘Getting sober, you’re facing this stuff shoved deep down’

This is a simpler one: we thought the new Waxahatchee album was one of the year’s best and it had a great backstory — this DIY music hero growing up, getting sober, changing the way she wanted to live her life. Katie Crutchfield’s story hadn’t been told in the Guardian before so it was the perfect chance for us to do that.

This is also an instructive one about making the most of your location — we used a writer relatively local to Alabama rather than have a UK writer do the piece over Skype. Although IRL interviews feel like a distant fantasy at the moment, the intimacy between Katie and writer Jewly Hight, and the role of the location in Katie’s story, made for a unique and beautiful piece.

Shenseea: ‘I grew up listening to Rihanna. Now she’s listening to me’

In her pitch, Clare emphasised how Shenseea’s self-presentation put her at odds with the genre and potentially pointed a way forward for it, and how she dominated much bigger names at Culture Clash in Jamaica in 2019. The music was great and Shenseea was clearly a character: sold.

Trend and scene pieces

“Three’s a trend!” does not make a good piece. What does is the ability to observe some kind of musical shift, industry phenomenon or glaring disparity; come up with an original angle on what it means, and then astutely and fairly analyse it, often talking to an array of different voices relevant to the trend.

Trend pieces are some of the hardest things to do well: there needs to be a real, robust and demonstrable link between the artists or otherwise, and clear thinking behind your pitch. Whimsical or loose connections will often scupper a trend idea.

It’s the same with scene pieces. It’s not enough to say, “there’s a bunch of great bands in Dublin at the moment and I want to write about them”. For it to be a good story, there needs to be some sort of shared mission, or social impulse behind the wave. This, on the socially conscious streak behind Tanzania’s hyper-frenetic singeli music, is a good example.

Why black women are still a minority in the grime scene

Yomi pitched this — as she writes, it was already obvious that British female MCs didn’t get the attention of their male counterparts. What made the problem more insidious is that there are perilously few black women behind the scenes in grime too. This piece is brief, but powerful and incisive, asking why this is and bringing in key names for potent quotes.

The ordinary boys: how Ed Sheeran-inspired troubadours swept the charts

So. Many. Bland. Boys. At. The. Top. Of. The. Charts. Why does Britain have such a bottomless appetite for white lads in hats with acoustic guitars? Why, when the rest of the world’s pop industry seemed to be pushing in ever more thrilling directions, was ours so stubbornly conservative? What did it mean? What were the implications of this phenomenon on artists who didn’t fit the mould? What did it say about Britain? I wanted to find out.

That not-so-old black magic: how African mysticism returned to pop

A brilliant spot by Danielle, who noticed that a wave of Afrobeats, Afroswing and Afropop artists were referencing juju in their work. She told the story of that history (from Fela Kuti to Beyonce), its contemporary manifestation and talked to academics and sociologists about what that means, defining a distinct African pop iconography. It has a really nice personal touch too, remembering “hysterical rumours circulating London’s secondary schools that the Brixton rapper Sneakbo could turn into a cat to get out of tricky situations” 🐱

‘Do something weird that works on TikTok’: how to write a pop smash in 2020

Aimee pitched this piece on how pop songwriting was changing in an ever-more competitive market: the songwriting methods, thematic shifts, artist compensation, the role of technology in all this. It was really well timed — from what I remember, in between her pitching it and it coming out, it had become even clearer that TikTok was pop’s new kingmaker. This is a great example of a piece that’s really in-depth and serves readers who follow pop forensically, but also welcomes readers whose engagement with pop might not go beyond reading a news story on the Christmas No 1.

My studio is an extra limb right now’: bedroom pop, the perfect genre for lockdown

Lockdown forced musicians into their bedroom. Daniel had the brilliant idea of talking to the artists who made their careers on lo-fi, DIY bedroom recordings about why this way of working is creatively fertile and full of potential, not just a pandemic-induced last resort.

The music essay

This is a monthly feature that runs online. Sometimes the pieces are reactive, sometimes there’s an anniversary (or retrospective release) that allows us to look at a slice of music history from a different angle. It’s a chance to do something a bit more analytical and chewy – and potentially more niche – that might not find a home in our broader print storytelling.

Did you see what I done? How J Hus became the voice of young black Britain

In late 2019 we ran a series of essays looking back on the decade in music. Aniefiok‘s piece on J Hus was magic, contextualising what his rise meant in musical and social terms — and also in personal terms, as he wrote beautifully about how his own identification with J Hus’s very specific artistry.

Chillwave: a momentary microgenre that ushered in the age of nostalgia

I had noticed that chillwave was coming up on a decade since this microgenre started. It was so mocked at the time, but a decade later its rise seemed to chime with the malaise of a post-recession generation, retreating to cosy nostalgia and getting baked to avoid confronting reality. I reached out to Emilie as she had covered this scene a lot when it first emerged — and taken it seriously when many weren’t.

Genesis P-Orridge: fantastic transgressor or sadistic aggressor?

There were reports that Genesis was at death’s door and I saw a lot of tributes to h/er work. But I hadn’t seen nearly as much discussion about the allegations in h/er former partner and bandmate Cosey Fanni Tutti’s memoir that Genesis had tried to kill Cosey and assaulted her a number of times. Genesis’s artistic legacy is one of transgression, which made me suspect that h/er alleged violence was just being conveniently wrapped up in all that rather than addressed in isolation. I wanted a writer to examine both sides of the story and I knew that Lottie was engaged with the issue.

Pop star, producer or pariah? The conflicted brilliance of Grimes

I wrote this because we couldn’t get access to Grimes for an interview. Which is not necessarily something a freelancer would know — but when there’s an album by, say, Beyoncé coming out, you can 99% guarantee we’re not getting an interview so we’d be interested in alternative angles and essays.

Historic features

New angles on well-told bits of music history; incisive stories about rarely-told bits of music history, pegged to an anniversary, a new book, an archive, a radio or film documentary, a resurgent interest in an artist, all that kind of thing.

‘They made the Sex Pistols sound like Take That’: the fury of Midlands punk

We’re interested in features that show the importance of music to people’s everyday lives, and that reanimate pieces of social history. It’s important that we represent the breadth of the country and tell the stories of people who don’t always have their voices heard, or who have been ignored by the mainstream press. This pitch by Dave Simpson, on the punk scene around Stoke-on-Trent’s Clay Records, was an instant commission.

‘I found the roots of electronic music in a cupboard!’: the tale of India’s lost techno pioneers

This was pegged to a Radio 4 documentary on a group of Indian students who accidentally “invented” minimal techno two decades early, whose lost work had been rediscovered. There’s so much intrigue in this story: musical, social, historic, scientific. Unsurprisingly it was really well read.

‘I will kill you if you give this song to anyone but me’: how Peggy Lee was perfect for Is That All There Is?

Kevin pitched this around what would have been Peggy Lee’s centenary. What made it interesting was the array of potentially unexpected artists lining up to pay tribute to her and what she meant to them — it suggested a different side to Lee than the graceful balladeer she’s generally remembered as. That was worth digging into.

‘Pills, mills and bellyaches’: how Blackburn out-partied Manchester

Fergal pitched this pegged to the launch of a new archive on the almost totally forgotten Blackburn rave scene. Not only is it a great story (featuring someone leaving dinner with the rave-averse Jack Straw to go and help set up a soundsystem), it has a lot of contemporary resonances: it’s about people gathering to dance when right now, that’s not allowed, and it’s about culture and young people thriving in the face of political oppression and disenfranchisement.

Kemistry & Storm — the tragic story of the drum’n’bass originals

Lauren pitched this piece pegged to a concert commemorating 20 years since Kemistry’s death in a car accident that her closest collaborator survived. She spoke to all the key players, incisively telling the story of this key moment in drum’n’bass, but also intimately telling the story of a friendship cut short by tragedy. Even if you’ve never heard the music, that’s really resonant.

Strong reporting

News reporting is a big part of what makes the Guardian great, and while we have an extensive team of national and foreign reporters, we sometimes supplement them with freelancers. On-the-ground coverage, sharp angles extracted from bland data, forensic digs into fleeting news stories all make for great pitches.

‘It’s a tough island to live on’: why coronavirus spells doom for Ibiza

Understandably we were getting a lot of pitches on the impact of coronavirus on the music industry. Quite often people would pitch stuff too close to things that we had already run, or ideas that were too speculative. But this was great: it’s about a specific issue that we hadn’t yet touched on, Marcus had already done a lot of research into it, and he had the key contacts to do the story justice. It was commissioned in a flash.

Why has the UK stopped producing pop superstars?

Rhian Jones looked at figures about UK album sales figures and noticed that far fewer British albums were making waves overseas than in previous years. Looking at data or studies and pulling out an angle – particularly an angle that the data collators or study founders might not have wanted to be noticed – is a strong basis for reporting.

Things we’re not looking for

Pitches for album or live reviews

We meticulously plan these sections to make sure they’re as balanced as possible, so we don’t take pitches for them. There may be rare exceptions: say you live in a remote location where an extraordinary event is happening, it’d be worth getting in touch about.

Foreign festival coverage

We don’t review festivals outside the UK — the pieces just do not get read. However if there’s an incisive story behind a foreign festival, then it could potentially form the basis of a feature: take this piece on an Inuit festival in Nunavut, northern Canada.

Personal essays

We very seldom run pieces about people’s personal relationship with music.

Track/video premieres/reviews

We rarely run these. The only exceptions are big comeback singles by massive artists — Taylor Swift, Adele, Beyoncé etc — and our music critic Alexis Petridis or another member of staff generally writes those.

Ranked pitches

This is a weekly feature that we share with film, and 99% of the time it’s written by a staffer or contracted writer, solely for budgetary reasons.

HELLO IF YOU HAVE READ THIS FAR!

That is the end. Hopefully this has been helpful. If you still have questions, just ask. We’re looking forward to reading your pitches.

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