My New Year's Resolution 2011 was "to get paid for writing a review", because I write pretty well and money is useful. Me being me, there's also some guilt lurking around the edges of this resolution. I write regularly, or at least semi-regularly, for three websites that don't pay, not including this blog. This seems to be the direction the music-writing "industry" is going, toward more unpaid, online, and (overall) poorly-written-and-edited outlets. Nonetheless, talented freelance writers remain in the field, hustling up what work they can and trying to forestall day jobs. Fine writers like Michaelangelo Matos and Mikael Wood continue to write a staggering amount of really good freelance words, but those opportunities are dwindling, especially at the sorts of once-reliable alt-weeklies that used to pay me to write on occasion.
I like reading the three websites to which I contribute, and I appreciate that my words get read by more people than they would at this blog. Nonetheless, I sometimes feel like I'm "crossing a picket line" (in the words of my drummer friend; we play mostly for free, too) when I contribute to the non-paying sites that glut the marketplace. Good music writing should be worth something, and it's sad to see it devolve toward this sort of -- what? internship? indentured servitude? I'm not really "indentured" -- where your only compensation is promos and "exposure". So that's the guilt -- I want all these writers I love to be able to earn a living, and part of me hates contributing to a financial system that's making that more difficult for them.
However, before I commit a grand gesture and resign my unpaid posts, I should admit that I LOVE writing about music. It's often the highlight of my week -- getting in there and listening and figuring out what's going on and wording that effectively and cracking jokes and editing myself down and being shocked and awed by some inspired phrase that just APPEARS on the computer screen, seemingly having bypassed my brain. (All you angry Kool & Together fans can have some fun with that.) If I didn't do it elsewhere, I'd just do it a lot more here. So if I'm being charitable to myself, I compare my reviews to the output of my carpenter grandfather -- beautiful wooden calendars, rocking horses, and furniture, sometimes sold but often given away, created out of personal satisfaction and love of craft. Surely there's nothing wrong with having a hobby! And by extension, if a marketplace exists that rewards that hobby by giving it wider exposure but no money, you can't really fault that marketplace either, as long as the terms are clear. It's mostly those asshats that run the alt-weeklies that we should be mad at. Right?
All this is my roundabout way of saying I pitched this review to SPIN but never heard back. (SPIN is now an alt-bi-monthly.) So I posted it for free in my Sheep & Goats column at Burnside:
Archivist Duncan Brooker’s third Nigeria 70 comp is a two-decade mishmash of styles and languages, legends and unknowns, sacred and secular, brief outbursts and longer jams. If there’s a common thread, it’s that this stuff has been largely invisible outside Nigeria — UNTIL NOW. Brooker curates with a hook-friendly ear for indelible moments. Highlights include Zeal Onyia’s stop-time highlife “Idegbani”, Tunde Mabadu’s vaguely porny “Viva Disco”, and the proto-English-Beat sax squonk of Eji Oyewole’s “Unity In Africa”. Everything peaks with Admiral Dele Abiodun’s 15-minute blissout “It’s Time for Juju Music”, an ideal soundtrack for your own crate-digging exploits, if only because you won’t want this music to end.
(Also, I did eventually get paid for writing a review! This New Year's Resolution was brought to you by Lisa Jane Persky, the LA Review of Books, and Chuck Eddy.)
Nigeria 70 - Sweet Times: Afro-Funk, Highlife & Juju from 1970s Lagos