Jams: She Speaks I Write about You Sing I Write Today, the popular music blog You Sing I Write (YSIW) turns this many...(hold up a high five + other thumb)! If you are still playing with your hands, the go-to music source that provides exclusive, behind the scenes features on some of today's most talented musicians turns 6 years! By today's millennial standards, that's mid-career stuff! Kudos!
Kidding aside, YSIW is a great music blog that puts hours and hours of research into its features going the extra mile (literally) so readers don't have to. Articles and interviews share a close glimpse into the life changes and thought processes behind an emerging or established artist's lyrics and stories.
Fashion & Philosophers thought it would be fun to turn the tables on YSIW's founder and writer, Annie Reuter, and have her share her journey with us on building her career and blog in music journalism. We spent the day in Brooklyn's picturesque Prospect Park sitting underneath a tree sharing stories, listening to a reggae-soul festival across the pond, and watching photography students belly-down take meticulous pictures of blades of grass. It was as awesome as it sounds.
On Humble Beginnings I started my blog in 2007 thinking my dad and a few friends would read it. My dad is my biggest fan. He follows me on twitter and when he responds to tweets, he texts me instead. It's great. The blog started as a creative outlet and became very personal. It shares a positive outlook toward life and music. I only write things and people I am passionate about and hope that people can see my love for music through the writing.
Writings on the Wall I interned for Jane Magazine and then MTV News. My articles have been featured in Marie Claire, The Boot, LemonDrop, Hoboken Patch, Billboard, Rolling Stone. Currently, I work for CBS Radio.com interviewing pop and country bands and covering shows for all of CBS' music sites. I also freelance for Billboard and Rolling Stone on occasion.
On Robin Thicke I interviewed him the week before "Blurred Lines" went to #1 and he was very personable. He wore sunglasses the whole time so that threw me off because you want an interview to flow organically and it's hard to make it feel like a conversation when you can't see someone's eyes. He shared that he and T.I. were in the studio and wanted to make a follow up inspired by one of Marvin Gaye's songs, "We had the chorus and we had our old man BBQ dance. We were just dancing around. Then Pharell came up with the hook "hey. hey. hey." And that was that." That was one of the interviews we used almost everything. We mostly discussed relationships and he talked about his wife, Paula Patton. They have been together since they were teenagers and he had a lot of good things to say about commitment and making it work. Basically, choose one person that you're willing to lower walls and allow them to hurt you because it will happen. But you choose each other and you give them everything. Nothing held back.
Interview Methodology I really research for interviews including diving into the lyrics of albums. I look for the stories behind the songs and really try to ask them different questions. These artists are interviewed over and over and I would like them to know that I care about who they are and why they've shared what they have with the world.
Favorite Interviews 1) Switchfoot - They were my first interview for the blog. It was a huge highlight to be able to sit down with one of my favorite songwriters and ask questions about certain lyrics and how songs came together. 2) Lady Antebellum - I only had 10 minutes with them so I spent the entire weekend researching them and trying to find a question they haven't been asked before. I ended up asking them "Is there a song that means more to them now than when they first wrote it?" I had them stumped for 30 seconds. It was a YESSS moment because you know they haven't been asked this before. 3) Pat Benatar - We talked on the phone for 20 minutes during her book promotion for Between a Heart and a Rock Place. She was humble, modest and so personable. It was such a pinnacle moment.
Show that Blew Your Mind Gaslight Anthem. Partly because I worked with the drummer, Benny Horowitz, at our college newspaper. I went to see his show and that show was only the second time I crowd surfed. Seeing him succeed and follow his dream was very personal because I knew him. Gaslight Anthem went on to open for Bruce Springsteen and do other great things. Everytime they come through, I will go see them. I feel like a proud mother.
Favorite music venue. Rockwood Music Hall on the corner of Allen and East Houston. They host a great mix of rock bands, singer songwriters and curate who plays their stages. I haven't been to one show there that I haven't liked.
Artist to Watch Matthew Mayfield. He was signed to Columbia and Epic Records at 19 but for some reason was dropped off the label. I saw him at a show in New York and the moment he opened his voice, it was so beautiful, I ask myself why isn't he the same status as John Mayer. His songs are emotional, guitar playing aggressive wafting into softer ballads, his voice gritty. When I went to LA, I met with him and dove into his lyrics. Artists like him write their own stuff and you know it comes from a certain place.
Measuring Success I am a girl that loves and is passionate about music. After posting an interview, bands have reached out to me and thanked me for writing a thoughtful feature. I don't really pay attention to analytics. I am a music lover that wants to share with you why you should listen to this band and go to a show. I like promoting the underdog. When I started, I didn't have access to the A-list of artists. I went to little clubs and covered shows and now that I do have access to the A-list, my outlook remains the same.
On Being the Underdog Writing is all I have ever wanted to do. A lot of people had their doubts. I would tell people, YES, I want to work for Rolling Stone one day. I think I am the type of person that thrives on criticism and people doubting so I can prove them wrong and show them that I can get to that place. If you want something bad enough, you are going to work for it.
On Hard Work During my internship with MTV News, my colleagues told me to start a blog and write everyday to work on my writing skills. That October (2007), I started YSIW. That same year, MTV News also began a concert blog composed of user-generated content. I began posting my reviews on this site and since my colleagues were familiar with my writing, they posted my pieces on the homepage. Through this opportunity, I reached out to artists like Steven Jenkins from Third Eye Blind. Ending up pitching this story to a few colleagues and through their contacts, Marie Claire liked the pitch and I began writing for them in 2009.
While I worked on contract for WebMD to pay the bills, many of my workdays would end at 10pm. That was just how it went. At the same time, I knew that Billboard was looking for writers to cover country so I reached out to a journalist friend and she gave me her editor's contact. I emailed pitches and story ideas for a year. It took ONE YEAR to get a break and she ended up assigning me a different show than I originally pitched so I knew it was more out of necessity. I did the review and sent it in a timely manner. She assigned me to another show. Then another. That was how I began writing for Billboard. Persistence showed her that I was serious.
I didn't have a backup plan. Many of the bands that I interview agree that there was no backup plan for them. I had this goal, dove into it, and didn't really see walls. Many people told me to get another job but I just couldn't. In 2010, I moved to Brooklyn while freelancing. I had money saved but living as a freelancer, paying rent, bills, etc., your bank account can dwindle. I was at the point where I literally had one more month's worth of rent to my name. At 26 years old, I was questioning my life. There would be moments where things would align for a little while - an interview at Billboard, an assignment to cover a show, etc. In between those, I actually applied at a local florist and a diner just so I could make ends meet while freelancing after my contract with WebMD ended.
Eventually, I reached out to a friend who worked for CBS. Interestingly, they just started their music department in their NYC local office. My friend forwarded my resume and writing clips to the Director of Music. He reached out to me and I interviewed one Friday. The next Friday, they offered me a choice - either freelance or full-time work. This was it! I graduated in 2007 and spent five years working on my passion trying to figure it out. This was the right place at the right time. When you're going through it, it is daunting. In retrospect, it all makes sense now. Five years after graduation, I was hired at CBS with full-time pay, benefits, and vacation as an Associate Producer for Top 40. This was a dream come true!
On Persistence It took 6 years to get to this place and it was not easy. I was determined but people were telling me that this wouldn't happen. You question, "Why am I taking my third unpaid internship?" If you really want something, you will find a way to make it work. One of my favorite quotes is by American mythologist, Joseph Campbell, "Follow your bliss and windows will open where there were only walls." For me this is true. I want a job that I wake up and love to go to everyday. You do need to get paid. But it's special that I do love going to work everyday. The short stint where I took a paying job and wasn't writing was miserable. If there is something you want to do, then you will look at obstacles as small challenges to leap over.
On Faith I feel more in tune with my faith when I am at a concert than traditional church, which probably sounds strange and a little sacrilegious. I had faith that this would work out. Someone up there is guiding you even if it doesn't make sense. We are all going towards something. There is a reason.
On Women in Music Journalism Music journalism is a very male dominated industry. There was a time at a press conference, I was taking notes and a guy came up to me and asked if I was a groupie. I was shocked. Sometimes they assume a female in the room has only one purpose. But I want to show them differently.
Jancee Dunn has a music memoir sharing stories from interviews with the likes of Dolly Parton and Bono. How she started out is she met a contact at a party and in a ballsy move forwarded her resume and was hired at Rolling Stone. She became a red carpet MTV VJ and is a New York Times bestselling author. My high school English teacher told me about her best friend's daughter making it as a music writer and I never made the connection that Jancee was her until a few years ago. Seeing her make it inspires me to work hard too.
Nan Kelley is a very personable TV personality on CMT and GAC. At work, I have been doing more camera wrap up clips for CBS. Each day I do one, I wake up in the morning and feel like throwing up. Seeing Nan talk with artists like good friends gives me motivation to push myself out of my comfort zone and get better.
My first time at the CMA Festival in Nashville, I was at a press panel with rotating door of A list country artists. During Darius Rucker's interview, I kept my hand raised the whole time while journalists shouted the artist's name and their question. His publicist ended the session after several minutes and as they were trying to usher Rucker offstage, he stopped them, pointed to me, and said "You've been so patient this entire time. What's your question?" I have been fortunate to interview him two more times since then. One thing I learned, keep raising your hand. Photo Credits: Fashion & Philosophers