Content Curious’ Joshua Glazer on Transitioning from Criticism to Creative Services
Content Curious’ Joshua Glazer on Transitioning from Criticism to Creative Services

Content Curious’ Joshua Glazer on Transitioning from Criticism to Creative Services

The former EIC of URB Magazine talks about the heydays of music journalism and how creative industries are adapting to AI.

Over the past 25 years, Joshua Glazer has had a frontrow seat to the various twists and turns in the professional lives of the creative class. He was a freelance journalist for alt-weeklies in the late-90s before the bottom fell out on that market, and he later served as editor-in-chief for URB Magazine as it transitioned from a community and genre-focused publication to a national, trendsetting media brand. When URB went belly up during the transition from print to digital, he started his own creative services agency, Content Curious, where he is now trying to map out a path in a post-AI landscape. We recently caught up and discussed how he’s navigated the seemingly constant set of challenges for the creative class, and how he plans to survive and thrive in an increasingly uncertain terrain.

What have you been doing for the past 25 years, professionally speaking?  

Like so many others, I started as a music journalist, originally in Detroit in the very late ‘90s. I think 1999 was when I had my first thing published in a classic alt-weekly – RIP to pretty much all the alt-weeklies. From there, I graduated to working at national publications, eventually moving to Los Angeles to be an editor at URB Magazine, where I rose up the ranks to become the editor-in-chief. I was there until 2010, which was when the last print version was published. We kind of kicked around online for another year or two, but like so many other publications, we didn't stick the landing going from print to digital. 

After that I went and spent a couple of years overseas and came back to LA in 2015, which is when I launched Content Curious, a branding and content studio working with a lot of music clients. We also started to build out more of a business around working with tech companies, wellness brands, and some impact brands, with a focus originally on editorial content, [before] moving into UX content and gradually into more strategic branding work.

It sounds like you and I have similar shapes to our careers. I started writing in maybe 2002, really focusing on editorial for the first half of my career, and then finding ways to triage that as things changed.

Yeah, I feel like I caught the very tail end of the music journalist fantasy. The week I started at URB, they put me on a plane to go to New York and hang out with Prefuse 73 for 48 hours for a cover story. A month or two later, I got to go to Berlin for a whirlwind trip for another piece. It really felt for a hot minute like the Almost Famous fantasy of the music journalist right at the time when the economics just stopped working for such things and print not-so-slowly was overtaken by digital. No matter how many ways you try to slice and dice it, the model for digital is quantity over quality, which means more small stuff and not the big story writing that I think a lot of us got into it for.

At the same time the notion of critical opinion was flattened in a lot of ways when everyone could just access everything themselves and inform their own opinions and share their opinions. Everyone became a critic at the same time. 

I had an interesting interview earlier with Hazel Savage, the head of music intelligence for SoundCloud, and it corresponds to what we're talking about now. I hadn't thought about this dynamic for many years. But in my conversation with Hazel, she said she started her career as a record store clerk, and now she works with AI to help with music metadata tagging and curation and charting. It's just not possible to manually sort through all this music, so you need help from the AI. I guess it corresponded to what you were saying, just in terms of tech enabling the sudden proliferation of content on both the creator and media sides.

In that regard I'm conscientious of my particular hybrid power. My dream job as a music magazine editor, saying what's cool, what's not, in a lot of ways that wasn't supplanted by platforms right away, it was supplanted by bloggers. Most of them didn't make money, but they did it ‘cause they wanted to do it.  

That whole blog era of music, that was sort of the gap between [media and social platforms]. I think about tools like Hype Machine. There were a couple of years where Hype Machine was like, you don't need a music magazine anymore. You got a Hype Machine and a Hype Machine is going to aggregate it for you. As the quantity continued to grow and grow, Hype Machine could cover way more stuff than we ever could as more and more music came out. 

Out of all the ways you've seen the industry change over these past 25 years since you've been in it, how do you think the AI era stacks up in terms of pure disruption?

I think AI is different. I think that the current model we have for creative services is [ending]. Meaningful commentary and criticism as a business model is so long gone. That's what we've been talking about up until now – the end of criticism and commentary as a product in and of itself – and it's not been viable for a very long time. And that’s fine.

I divide it in my head in three ways. There's creativity, which is producing the stuff. There is commentary and criticism, where people come to get your take on something. And then there's creative services, where you are producing media, visual, text, video, in the service of another function. Creative services is producing something as part of a funnel that goes from the consumer who wants something, and the seller who provides whatever that something is, and you're the stuff in the middle that makes them aware, helps them find what they want, gets them the solution they need and makes those connections. 

I think that's the era we've been in for quite a while. Creative services is really what sustains the creative class. People with that skill set, people who were able to pivot from creativity and commentary to creative services have thrived in the digital era. And that is about to be interrupted. Not entirely, but I do think that the reality is that sometimes work is work, and even the creative stuff requires a certain degree of rote work that has to happen in the bottom. 

What I think I'm hearing is you're saying that AI could potentially disrupt this particular epoch. If criticism and journalism transition to creative services as a way for people in our community to exist, in a professional sense, do you have a sense of what's next after large portions of creative services fall through?

I wish I did. I know for myself, I have already been making the transition from writing, from the actual creation of content into the strategy level. I've gotten very involved in seeing what these AI tools can actually do and helping my clients utilize those tools. Because it seems easy, but you very quickly hit the wall with AI. I think you're gonna see a lot of people rush into AI, and then either gonna discover the stuff's good enough, or the stuff's not good enough, or the stuff never really mattered. It wasn't what propelled the consumer to begin with.

You mentioned not being able to really see clearly what's the next big thing in terms of people within our community. But also I was struck by the initiative that you're taking, your focus trying to explore different ways to kind of exist within the space. 

Absolutely, and you have to. I've perpetually been the…I don't want to say the last guy on the sinking ship, but I've been through it a few times now. I had to make the transition from critic to creative services.

I do think that ultimately as long as brands want to keep their hands on the reins to one degree or another, I think there's going to be space for people who understand  the art of the science of communication to do it. 

My advice to anybody who's in this, and who had a comfortable living making words, is you got to go up a level if you want to survive, thrive, whatever. You have to go up a level and start thinking about why your words work and frame that in a way that people can understand and frame that in a way that the AI can understand.

You can reach out to Joshua for a free AI copy consultation here.

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