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Was my thesis right? Five years on in the thick of music journalism

Collage by Brooke DorrattIn 2011, I completed my thesis on music journalism in Australia, titled Rock Sells Out? Cultural creation, industry influence and electronic evolution. I resigned as Digital Editor of Hysteria Mag last month. So I'm FREE AT LAST to dump my bargain basement opinions on whether my thesis holds any water, five years on.

“The counter-culture was a mistake”

Legendary rock writer Robert Christgau said the counter-culture’s “gospel of sexual liberation and generational identity became a smug ritual” in the 60s and 70s, and that’s no less true now. Dancing around state troopers and placing flowers in gun barrels isn’t a thing any more. However, we do have tweets and blogs and blogs about tweets about how someone or something is “problematic” because it disagrees with their world view. This is now called “virtue-signalling,” or expressing an opinion to get a pat on the back for it. Adulthood, at least to me, is the feeling you got as a kid as you cleaned your room unprompted, without your parents even noticing. You do shit because you have to, not for external validation.

Cultural capital is bullshit

I argued that cultural capital builds up around rock journalists who have access to certain artists or bands. This is only true…for other rock writers. In my experience, the public couldn’t give a shit. Only other scribes scramble for the top of the rock writing pile, reaching out for that crown of cool. Like any niche in the marketplace, achievement in the niche is self-congratulatory. Of course, the output benefits almost no one outside the niche.

Reviewer as self-entitled brat, not “tastemaker”

The rock reviewer in this day and age is not a tastemaker. You cannot tell people what they should and should not listen to. I think Emmure is complete shit, but people will fight and die for Frankie Palmieri’s right to pollute the atmosphere with his slack-jawed internet rants disguised as songs. Reviewers, especially who haven’t grown up with glossy mags are doing it for the cultural kudos (which as I said before, no one gives a shit about.) I’ve encountered many doing it for those cool points. Which are redeemable for an amount south of zero. I cannot pay the rent with cool points, so here we are.

Authenticity, schmauthenticity

Every band has a schtick. If they don’t have one, they should probably go out and find one. Authenticity is easy to emulate and filtered through PR and communications specialists. A band is authentic predicated on the fact their PR says they are. The mere act of declaration invalidates true authenticity, so nothing is authentic. The rampant amount of back room fiddling with articles and copy lays that theory to rest.

The irony of critical rock journalism 2: Electric Ironyloo

In Australia at least, every major rock publication is held at gunpoint by record labels or PR. That’s not to say it’s the friendliest mugging in the world. Because it sort of is.

Without access to labels, managers, PRs (the roles of which get so confusing after a while), you do not have a publication. Worse still, many of these labels advertise in these publications so that true “criticism” is near impossible. During the Soundwave era, before Soundwave put everything on the credit card and cried “oopsie!” when they couldn’t pay it back, Soundwave had a near monopoly on supplying content (not the content itself, but the material or access to create it). If you upset your only supplier, it meant you had no publication.

Publications that can diversify their income may have a chance. Even so, if you upset a PR, you don’t get content. So nothing has changed in this regard.

Media playing catch up – the gates are crushed and burning

The kids with their Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook are creating their own communities – they seldom need mags or publications to tell them anything. People can connect to their favourite artists or bands using social media. In many cases, a band will make an announcement themselves, leaving the media to play catch up. By the time the media does, it’s already old news.

So as depressing as that is – my thesis still holds water. In some ways, even more so. Now give me some money so I can finish paying my HECS debt off.

As for writing about rock n' roll again? I'm good...for the moment.


Music is the jam of life [The Listserve]

Last week, I was lucky enough to win The Listserve. It's an email list with 22,200 subscribers (and counting - you can subscribe here). Each day a lottery chooses one user to send a 600-word email to the entire list. Here's what I wrote:

My name is Tom, and I'm a fairly cynical guy. Friends and family always call me a grumpy guy, down in the dumps, whatever. I brush it off and frown on into the sunset. But that's fine. Because even beneath it all, I think there's one thing keeping us all spinning on this ball of water, people and green - music.I'm a student of history (and most things) and I think music keeps us all guessing, angling at what's next. That's probably the reason why we haven't blown ourselves up yet. We love a good story. What happens next? What's at the end of the rainbow? We'll keep running toward it, pushing away obstacles and jumping over challenges until we find out. No one wants to be the guy who writes "The End" when we're having such an interesting time.

But music is the way we decorate time and space - art decorates just space, TV and movies and books decorate just time. It's an invisible force that vitalises us - much like air - and brings us closer together. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Europeans invented waltz music to break down the barriers between dancers. Instead of dancing side by side, they could now dance in front of each other. Music may have precipitated the novel idea that love and marriage is for other reasons than money and prestige. Of course, this is just my theory. Well, Shakespeare might back me up.

Though we're not a ritualistic society. Well, not really. Even so, our rites of passage are marked with music. Christenings, graduations, weddings, you name it - there's songs to commemorate them, across every culture. Music is everywhere. After the shocking tragedy in Orlando the other day, people came together to grieve...and sing. It's a release like no other. We cannot change the past but we can make it that little bit better with music.

People gather together to see art and watch films, but they aren't sharing the experience like music. We sit on seats divided by armrests or clump together and walk on to the next painting. I have yet to talk to someone who made a lifelong friend watching a film or proceeding past a bunch of paintings. I can recall sitting on a bench at high school, earbuds lodged way too far in when a fellow traveller walked past and asked what I was listening to. I told him it was Slipknot (don't judge - I was 13 at the time...I still love heavy metal though) and I offered him an earbud. (Imagine doing that now!)

He plucked it in, nodded away for a while and we got talking. We talked about other bands that were hot at the time (Blink 182! The Offspring!) and we've been friends ever since. Music is the neverending story. I think it keeps us grounded, and hanging on to this sometimes awful, sometimes beautiful place we call home.

So what do you think? I'd love to gain a few music loving friends through this, maybe some pen friends (keyboard friends?) I love writing - I'm a copywriter and journalist by trade - so the more correspondence the better!


You can read an archive of the Listserve here.


A Babymetal Cover and an Iron Maiden

I'm turning into one of those "bloggers in name only," aren't I? Fuck it, I was never a "blogger." Sharing useless tips for no money. FIVE TIPS TO SUPERCHARGE YOUR ONLINE ONLINEINESS SOCIAL MEDIA GURU BUZZWORD OVERKILL! Please, die horribly.

In the mean time, I wrote another coverstory for Hysteria on the weird and wonderful Babymetal phenomenon. It was more weird but we got there in the end. Download FREE, here.

Another highlight was FOR REAL talking to Dave Murray of the INVINCIBLE Iron Maiden. Yes, that actually happened. Too bad I have to deliver my business seminar Turning Phrases, Turning Heads on the same night. Ugh. Read it here.


Hysteria #40 - Violent Soho

I hate when bloggers apologise for "not posting as often," then falling silent and away. I'm not going to do that, because I'm not the apologising type. What you should do is download the latest edition of Hysteria, with Violent Soho on the cover. They're so hot right now. I talked Netflix n' Blaze with The Bennies, which was an extra special time. Mmm, special. Go on!

Download for FREE, here.


The Top 10 of Metal (and Mosh!) 2015

I'm drawn back to this empty screen each year to secrete my opinion on what I enjoyed this year. I've been doing it since at least 2009, back when I thought writing about music conferred some kind of numinous insight into music. I listen to a lot of bullshit and I'm cynical as hell. Sometimes, I leap out of my chair and whip my (no) hair back and forth in ecstacy. Some of those discs did that to me this year. Here's a numbered list of them.

1. Gazpacho - Molok

These guys are out of this world. Prog rock that's actually progressive and actually rock. It runs from ancient esoterics to futurist wanderings. This is such a trip. At the end there's this code that might blow the world up. For a second there, I tensed up and clenched my eyes tight...

2. Ghost - Meliora

It's pop music painted black. If metal had something close to Pet Sounds, this might be it.

3. Melechesh - Enki

Invoking ancient evil never sounded so badass.

4. Four Year Strong - Four Year Strong

Pop-punk? Fuck off, Tom. This can't be good. Actually no, fuck you. It's brilliant.

5. Hellions - Indian Summer

Saviours of Australian heavy music. Get into them before they burn out in a haze of cocaine dust.

6. Baroness - Purple

Sublime and surreal sounds from Savannah, again. John Baizley is a true artist in every sense.

7. Steven Wilson - Hand.Cannot.Erase

The concept reads like a Hugo winner and sounds like a stoner's dream.

8. Trials - This Ruined World

Thrash done with brains and heart. Riffs born with destinies deeper than "must imitate Metallica" are winners.

9. Soilwork - The Ride Majestic

I never thought Soilwork would make one of these lists again. Boy, I was wrong. Hard.

10. Pyramaze - Disciples of the Sun

lol Power metal. I thought these guys were just a cheap, clean version of Mercenary. Nope. Crisp production and brain-worming hooks do justice to the genre. Finally.

The Honourable Mentions

Gold Award - Black Breath - Slaves Beyond Death
Silver Award - Sigh - Graveward
Bronze Award - Gloryhammer - Space 1992: Rise of the Chaos Wizards

14. The Black Dahlia Murder - Abysmal
15. Deafheaven - New Bermuda
16. My Dying Bride - Feel The Misery
17. Killing Joke - Pylon
18. Cancer Bats - Searching for Zero
19. Earth Caller - Degenerate
20. Born Lion - Final Words


Check Hysteria's albums of the year, here!