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5 Things Journalists and Musicians Have in Common

On the surface, the news and music industries seem like completely different animals. With a closer look, though, you can see how the Web has thrown the entire media business into uncharted territory.

1. Radio is to music as newspaper is to journalism. Both forms of media enjoyed their heydays for the greater part of the 20th century. Then, the Internet came on the scene, and they were forced to adapt. Despite the rise in free digital music services, the radio remains a valuable commodity for mainstream artists to become known. In the same way, print newspaper has somewhat phased out, and digital has been thrust into the spotlight, but that doesn’t make print without clout.

Yes, history tells us that radio and print newspaper will eventually be relics. (Anyone still listen to their 8-track player while reading a paper delivered by a boy on a bike? Probably not.) Still, these media in their earliest forms have set a precedent – they’ve required that we attribute palpable value to their products. This sets a meaningful foundation for determining how our culture receives them in the future.

2.  The way musicians and journalists/news organizations make money has changed, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It used to be so straightforward: consumers either picked up a CD from a record store or bought it at a live show. Concurrently, citizens subscribed to their hometown newspaper and perhaps a daily legacy publication and scooped it from the front doorstep.

Consumers now have a wealth of options. The modern music and news industries are so oversaturated that it’s sometimes impossible to know where to start. Legacy, time-honored traditions in record labels/network news organizations or niche recording studios/blogs?

Plus, resources like Spotify, YouTube, NoiseTrade and Pandora set back hard-working musicians monetarily; synchronously, news orgs must walk a fine line between wetting the reader’s appetite with free journalism and making a profit.

Columbia Journalism Review‘s Alissa Quart refers to this as the Free Culture Method. She muses that a musician’s “mixtape giveaway” is akin to a journalist’s sharing of free content. Quart surmises that this is an easy audience-building method and that it fosters trust. She continues:

Part of the Free Culture Method is cultivating an audience around your giveaway content. The indie band Deerhoof, for example, regularly blogs and posts covers and works-in-progress on its site, and also posts its monthly “top ten” tracks from other groups. Of course, in nonfiction, there are plenty of writers who start out as bloggers and transform themselves into authors, succeeding by way of the Free Culture Method.

Both industries are working to develop a workable, sustainable digital model that satisfies everyone – happy consumers and compensated producers.

3. Online advertising is a tricky situation for news orgs and musicians.

News organizations are still tinkering with various methods of funding honest-to-goodness journalism, including paywalls and micropayments, because the page views and impressions coming from online ads just aren’t enough to keep the lights on in the newsroom. Again, it comes back to businesses having such a wide range of options for advertising.

Online music publications face the same issues, but Pitchfork’s web presence coupled with its minimalist approach to advertising has been instrumental in establishing independent artists like Bon Iver. Pitchfork has been known to think about ads more creatively and strategically, relying on sponsored content over old-school banner ads.

4. Neither industry will ever die, so we shouldn’t act like it will.

Not so conveniently, I seem to have read doomsday pieces about the death of journalism daily in the first two years of college. Since then, we’ve figured out that there are just more ways to pursue these avenues now.

As Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram wrote, newswriting will not become obsolete due to citizen journalism and the Web. Rather, it will transform “not so much as an institution, but as a state of mind and a series of beliefs, and a way of behaving.” Musicians might view their industry the same way.

5.  Despite whom we work for, self-promotion on social media and online platforms is a must.

If you want to be successful in either industry, your name must be everywhere. Create online profiles and portfolios, network with others in your craft and engage your consumers through every platform. When your fans feel connected to you, they’re more inclined to follow—and purchase—your compositions.

Journalism educator and musician Aram Sinnreich described it this way in Quart’s CJR piece:

“Like a band on tour, journalists need to e-mail and Facebook readers to stay involved with them on a daily basis, to respond to their comments, to give more than just lip service.” By being accessible to readers—instead of explaining “what the song meant,” explaining “what that article meant”—journalists can deepen reader loyalty to their work.

Working for a large organization, whether it’s a label or news org, doesn’t excuse us from personally branding ourselves.

Can you think of any other similarities between digital journalism and the music industry? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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