How Do I Describe What I Do?
How Do I Describe What I Do?
Guidance

How Do I Describe What I Do?

Longtime music journalist Stuart Berman breaks down exactly what being a music critic and curator means nowadays.

My career in music journalism began back in the fall of 1998, when I did a two-month unpaid internship at Eye Weekly (RIP), an alt-weekly in my hometown of Toronto. During that time, I was given the opportunity to realize my dream of writing articles and reviews for the paper’s music section, which I had read religiously throughout my teens. But I also performed a whole bunch of other tasks, including, but not limited to, proofreading, research, sorting incoming faxes for the concert-listings editor, sourcing file photos, and covering celebrity Scrabble matches for front-of-book news items.

At the end of my term, I somehow convinced our editor-in-chief to pay me a modest weekly stipend—I think it was $100?—to come into the office a few days a week and essentially serve as the staff gofer, in addition to my freelance writing contributions. (This was an era when you could still get a room in a shared Toronto apartment for $300.) One day, our editor was giving somebody a tour of the office, introducing each staff member with their job title. When he got to me, he said, “And this is Stuart. He… uh… he’ll eat glass for 50 bucks.”

Twenty-plus years later, my situation isn’t all that fundamentally different. While music criticism is what drew me to writing, the job of “full-time music critic” has become all but extinct over the course of my career, so the key to surviving has been to find other gigs that complement and support my music-writing endeavors. And just as the music industry has transformed in the digital age, so too have the skill sets that music-media workers use to flex their knowledge.

Here at Third Bridge Creative, my responsibilities range from writing and editing display copy for streaming services, to building playlists and programming niche online stations. And through all that work, I’m in an advantageous position to keep tabs on emerging artists and trends that I can then explore further in my freelance writing work outside of the TBC umbrella.

So in light of all that, when somebody asks me what I do for a living, I’m at a bit of a loss for words. “Music critic” doesn’t really cut it anymore, because traditional music criticism accounts for maybe 10 percent of my workflow (though, still, somehow, roughly 100 percent of the emails I receive). “Writer/editor” feels like it’s tethered to an old print-media model, but then “curator” just sounds, to my ear, way too pretentious to say out loud with a straight face. So for now, I think I’ll stick with Professional Glass-Eater—I may be able to demand a better rate and higher-quality panes these days, but the teeth-grinding hustle is forever.

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