*Photo by Kaitlin Oki
By Tyler Hersko
How does it feel, knowing that everything you’ve ever worked on in your life, everything you’re truly passionate about, everything that you’re best at, is absolutely, completely worthless?
Well, I don’t know. I’m 20 years old and have yet to finish even half of my major. But sometimes I still feel like I’m having a premature midlife crisis.
Unlike most people my age, I have a fairly clear idea of what I want to do with my life. I have a vested interest in music. I also really like to write, and I’d like to think that I’m pretty damn good at it too—at least good enough to land a job somewhere, anyway.
So, music journalism has always seemed like a logical career path. Or at least journalism of some sort. I can’t say I work through The Nevada Sagebrush deadlines with a big grin on my face, but I can’t imagine any realistic job I’d enjoy more, so journalism seems like a pretty good bet right now.
So far, it’s been an extremely rewarding experience. Journalism has allowed me to meet a number of incredible individuals, expand my worldview and just generally become a more cultured person.
But does it even matter?
I’m not talking about journalists who cover hard news, mind you. News reporters are undoubtedly an essential part of modern society. I’m referring to those in the field of entertainment journalism. While the inherent uselessness of faux-news websites that do nothing but appeal to society’s lowest-common-denominator — see: TMZ, MTV, etc —are apparent, what about the Billboads, Spin and Rolling Stones of the world?
Let’s break down the roles of my supposed dream job, that of a music journalist. I go to events and conduct interviews, acquire quotes and write unbiased stories about what transpired.
Or, I may write an album review. I listen to the record, put it into context, identify its strengths and weaknesses and then write an article summarizing my opinion.
On one hand, getting paid for having front row tickets to the hottest events in the entertainment industry and for writing about how much you love/hate a particular thing may sound like a blast. But on the other hand, is it possible that I’m essentially preparing to spend the purported best years of my life talking about other people’s stories and imposing my personal beliefs on an unassuming and overly impressionable audience?
This is an issue that has greatly perturbed me for the past several months, but only came to me in full force while I was writing an term paper comparing and contrasting, among other things, the differences in dynamics and tone color of AC/DC and Beethoven. Doesn’t that seem like an utterly pointless and detached practice? Maybe, but either way, is it really that different than what more contemporary music critics do?
Opinions are just that: opinions. What makes a music critic’s rating any more valid than that of a casual listener. Sure, Nickelback is a shit band, but if you disagree with me, who am I to argue? What makes me any more righteous than you?
If we’re being serious, that’s basically what music reviewers, my dream job, do. I try to maintain an objective, measured and down to earth tone — basically, I read a lot of Pitchfork reviews and then write in the opposite style — but that nagging feeling of futility is becoming evermore difficult to ignore.
It was, of course, my choice to view entertainment journalism in such a light. Sometimes, I feel like I should be doing something more: creating my own stories, instead of talking about others’. At other times, I regard my trepidation as nothing more than an idiotic disregard for my own talents and abilities.
I don’t think that’s it’s an issue of thinking too negatively, either. There’s a stark difference between positive thinking and blind optimism, and I believe that these concerns are very real.
The mental war usually leads to a questioning of whether or not anything in life actually matters. After all, we’re all going to die sooner or later, so we might as well do what we truly love, right? It’s usually at this point that I decide I’ve taken the sophomore slump to a nihilistic extreme and just give up thinking about it.
Thanks in part to some recent researching and quips from my professors, I’m far from wholly satisfied with this career path. But after a great deal of contemplation, I’ve decided to remain steadfast.
It’s no secret that journalism is hardly thriving today. Studies take an almost masturbatory pleasure in reporting the competitiveness and extreme instability of the profession. An unassuming remark by one of my professors claiming that “magazine writers earn almost no money,” compounded by the fact that I so dearly wish to write about heavy metal music — which is quite possibly one of the most niche and underground genres of music — caused me to die a little inside.
I care very little about money, but shit, a man’s gotta eat.
So why am I still here, writing this piece? My reasons aren’t revelatory. There is no grand conclusion, either for my personal problems or this article; expecting such, as I did for a time, is nothing more than childish naiveté.
I started writing because I wanted my voice to be heard. I’m not an outspoken individual, nor have I ever had a particular talent for public speaking. But shortly after I started writing, people began to listen.
What does music journalism, one of my very few passions, truly mean to me? It’s not an essential profession. It isn’t noble or selfless. It’s an overly specific part of a struggling medium that demands dedication and effort unbecoming of its seemingly scant rewards.
But it gives me an opportunity to participate in and share something that I truly believe in. It gives me a voice, meaning, and purpose.
And in the end, isn’t that all that really matters?
Tyler Hersko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.