Perspective on music journalism from a music journalist: Q&A with Bailey Constas
Bailey Constas loves music. She said she tries to see the good in all music, even Taylor Swift.
While studying journalism at Colorado State University, Constas dreamed of being a music journalist. Coming from a family of musicians, Constas always wanted to combine her love of reporting and music. After graduation, she moved to New York and now works at New York public radio station WNYC as a Digital Producer and writer. She is also a freelance podcast producer for Slate.
Before she moved to New York, Constas worked as summer Editor-In-Chief at the Rocky Mountain Collegian the summer I started reporting there. Aside from being my former boss, Bailey is also the ultimate authority on good music and music journalism, so I called her at her home in New York. She once taught me how to write news, and today she taught me why music journalism can be flawed, but is also one of the most exciting and rewarding beats in the business.
Danny: Have you seen the new Brian Wilson movie?
Bailey: No but I want to. I’ve heard really good things.
Danny: It’s worth a watch. It’s sad, but good. Let’s talk about music journalism.
Bailey: I would love to.
Danny: You have a background in news reporting and now music journalism. Could you explain how the two are different?
Bailey: The culture is very different and that’s what I like about it. It’s much more personal.
You’re reporting on something someone created, rather than an event. You’re making something out of someone else’s creation. I think of myself more as an artist through music journalism. You don’t get that in news reporting. I like the creation as a music journalist. You’re supplementing or adding onto someone else’s art. It feels good to make art out of someone else’s art.
Danny: You are in a industry that is sometimes criticized (by me) as being entertainment writing, and not real reporting. What do you think of the quality of music journalism today?
Bailey: I think music journalism today is fueled by newsworthiness and timeliness, which is often boring, dull and doesn’t look into the depth of music. You can follow five to 10 outlets and get the same news from all of them every single day. Often times musicians make the rounds about the same album and say the same thing in every interview.
What I found sparks inspiration is when outlets spend time with musicians and go more in-depth and ask questions that don’t just have to do publicity. This allows for them to peel away the facade and avoid tabloid style-journalism.
What I like to do for my blog, Sound in the Static, is put them in alternative situations where they can be more honest about how their personal lives affect their music. I think it’s really important to see where the music comes from, instead of the typical, canned answer. I want to see: where did you write it, what was going on in your life and where the music came from.
It’s important to put musicians into their own environment and treat them like people. Trying to find a story is the most important thing that some music journalists forget to do.
Danny: What sort of outlets do you follow that do this type of reporting?
This humanizes the artist and gives the audience a look into the artist’s real lives.
Danny: Why is it important to humanize artists for reporting?
Bailey: It’s important to paint a picture and bring the audience into a story. This makes them want to read it.
When all the different human parts come together, it resonates with the reader more and puts them in the story. It allows them to make their own judgement on artistry. It makes everything more interesting.
Danny: If the best type of music journalism is like feature writing, is it important to even have a musical background or technical musical knowledge?
Bailey: I played in band in high school, I sang in choir and I’ve played in numerous bands. Right now I’m trying to learn bass and it’s hard. I wouldn’t say I play bass, but I’m trying to learn how. Just the experience of wanting to learn lends itself to more appreciation when I watch actual bass players perform.
It’s incredibly important to know fundamentals. It’s easy to go to a concert and say ‘that was bad.’ It’s harder to say ‘that was bad and I know why.’ That’s where technical knowledge is important. Being able to critique a venue for bad acoustics, a show for wonky levels, a guitarist for consistently missing riffs or a drummer for playing in the wrong time signature requires training, and that sets great reporters from okay ones.
I think anyone can have an opinion about music. Music speaks to everyone, its a part of who we are. However, I think it’s important for music journalists to know fundamental music theory to have that edge. It’s equally as important to be able to communicate that knowledge to readers who might not have a background in music. Music journalists need to be the filter and make music accessible to everybody.
Danny: What is your advice for someone who wants to be a music journalist?
Bailey: It’s important to always find the good in music. Never seek to be critical, and don’t be mean. If you don’t like it, you shouldn’t be writing about it. It’s not productive to be negative.
It’s okay to be critical, but trying to create your own art through journalism doesn’t happen when you’re destroying something.
If I review Taylor Swift, I will try to find something good about it. If I can’t find something good, I won’t write about it.
Really the most important thing is curiosity. If you don’t have that, your writing will be dull and get lost in the mainstream. You have to know how to ask questions and humanize musicians, but also what goes into it. That is what makes a really good music journalist.