Harry’s Soapbox – The Beginner’s Guide to Music Journalism


Harry PatersonAfter a brief hiatus, Harry P, returns with his usual jovial ‘Monday morning’ demeanour and climbs back on top of his soapbox…


The Beginner’s Guide to Music Journalism by Harry Paterson

I’ve received a glut of emails, over the last few months, from both aspiring journalists and established ones, too. In the case of the former, they’ve all been looking for advice, tips and help with a view to getting into the business and writing for a living. In the case of the latter, pretty much the same but with a view to picking up work from one of the magazine for which I write.

So, helpful fellow that I am, I figured this little homily, written some time ago and, admittedly, during one of my more bitter periods, might be of some help. I do hope you find it so…

Like any industry, music journalism has its own customs, practices and norms. And, again, like many industries, it has its own lingo, jargon and sub-text. The problem for civilians, or readers, as I like to think of them, is that there is a tendency to take what a scribe says at face value. For example, when a music journalist writes, “I’m not going to give you a track-by-track analysis…” while he might well be stating a simple truth, he’s not giving the reader the whole truth. You see, what he writes and what he means are often entirely different things so, in the case of the example above, those fluent in journo-speak will nod wisely and realise what our anonymous scribbler actually meant was, “I haven’t actually listened to it so am now going to make up any old bollocks.”

So, the point of this little exercise, then, is to educate you, dear readers, in the language of music journalism. By the time you’ve completed this little study you can smile smugly at your friends when you read a music journalist writing, “Due to an accident on the M4 I missed the start of their set” because, unlike them, you’ll know what he’s really saying is, “I was getting pissed at the bar and, to be honest, I just couldn’t be arsed.”

I’ve also spared a thought for my fellow scribes and included a few examples of editor speak. Many’s the time a young, gullible, thinks-he’s-gonna-be-the-next-Pete-Makowski rookie jumps for joy when an editor tells him, “Great copy, loved it! Just what we were looking for.” Sadly, it takes a few years, a few gigs and lot more disappointments before he’ll realise that this actually means, “I’m now going to give it to the sub-editor to mangle, ruin and litter with typos and misplaced apostrophes while leaving your name (incorrectly spelled, natch) proudly in place so all your friends think you’re an illiterate dullard and your old English teacher will beat you to a soggy pulp with his walking stick when you next bump into him in the street.”

So, without further ado, away we go…

Writes: “They are a collection of many influences and don’t really sound like anyone.”

Means:  “I know feck all about music and haven’t got a clue what to write.”


Writes: “The vocalist’s full-throated screams sent shivers down my spine”

Means: “He’s a talentless clown who couldn’t sing for shit but I haven’t got the balls to say so.”


Writes: “The band’s manager thoughtfully arranged AAA passes and clearly runs a professional operation.”

Means: “I’m sleeping with her.”


Writes: “This album is a radical departure…”

Means: “They’ve lost the plot, started taking themselves all too seriously and have, consequently, disappeared up their collective rectum. Pretentious twats…”


Writes: “This is highly technical progressive metal”

Means: “Every track is a collection of fifteen generic riffs bolted together with twenty half-baked songs all failing miserably to break out.”


Writes: “They are a recycled rag-bag of Motley Crue/Skid Row wannabes.”

Means: “They’re younger, prettier and sexier than me and I hate them for it.”


Writes: “…bone-shaking riffs and more hooks than an anglers convention”

Means: “I cannot write. I deal only in clichés. I don’t understand apostrophes”


Writes: “They’re an arrogant bunch”

Means: “They’re slick, professional, tight and well-drilled and I’m consumed by a sickening wave of jealousy”


Writes: “Sadly, there’s nothing here that you haven’t heard before”

Means: “I failed miserably in my own band so I’ll work off the chip on my shoulder by pretending to write and slagging off people who have more balls, talent and commitment than I could ever hope to muster”


Says: “Thanks for the copy but I’m sorry our editorial policy does not approve of first-person narrative”

Means: “Who do you think you are? Mick Wall? Lester Bangs? Nick Kent? Listen, you jumped-up, egotistical, little shit; we are in the business of gutting our magazine of anything remotely interesting, edgy or individual, ok? We want copy that reads as though any one of our three-hundred hacks could’ve written it. I mean what? You think you’re a writer or something? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Well excuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me! Piss off and drool over your Hunter S Thompson first editions and don’t call us again unless you’re prepared to check in your personality at the door”


Says: “We’re looking for writers that understand the magazine’s culture”

Means: “We’re cliquey and, besides, the editor’s nephew got the job”


Says: “Sorry, the Editor is in a meeting”

Means: “He’s in the Crobar getting shit-faced”


Says: “Sorry, the Editor hasn’t come out of his meeting yet”

Means: “He’s still in the Crobar getting shit-faced”


Writes: “I like the idea, I really do, but I’m not sure if it would appeal to our demographic”

Means: “Jesus, will you just fuck off and pester Classic Rock instead? We don’t dig you sad-sack oldsters, OK pops?”


So there you go. Best of luck… H




  1. Thanks Harry, I’ll try to work a few of these into my next review, (although I may have done so already, one or two rang a bell…)

  2. Superb. Although: you’ve definitely used one of these when writing about Captain Horizon before! :-D

    … Oh.I’ll get me coat, then.

  3. Nice one Harry, really funny one this time, the funniest translations being the ones that are indiscriminately true…

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