Music to Your Ears: Paying Musician Magazine Markets By David Berlin

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Magazines for musicians have been around in their present form since the early 1960s. Every kid with $25 for an acoustic guitar or $150 or so for a really nice, American-made electric was forming a rock ‘n’ roll band, while other kids played orchestral instruments such as flute, violin and double bass. The folk revival was on and magazines like Sing Out and Broadside supplemented the incomes of the popular players of the day by publishing their compositions. Kids who were really rebellious played jazz. Music was everywhere, and the magazines covered it.

They still do. Magazines like Guitar One, Bluegrass Unlimited, and Guitar Player, and lesser known magazines like Church Music Quarterly and American Songwriter need articles from freelancers and are willing to pay good money for them.

Breaking into music magazines requires a high level of both professionalism and chutzpah. You have to be willing to create a portfolio of your work on spec, shop it around, go to the winter and Summer NAMM (National Association of Music Merchandisers, https://www.namm.org/) shows and shop your work there. But let me warn you: Once you’re in this family, there’s no gettin’ out.

For guitar/bass guitar-oriented magazines, and other musician-oriented magazines, even if you don’t play, your best bet is to break in with a short profile. Bone up on gear, techniques, etc. Get into a conversation with a musician friend about gear and you’ll have a hard time getting them to stop talking. Find a band that is starting to gather a cult following (over the years, I have seen short profiles of bands like Dread Zeppelin, who did reggae covers of Led Zeppelin hits, and Rocket From the Crypt, who at one time had a policy that anyone with a particular tattoo got into their shows for free), and get an interview with them. Hugely popular major label artists have very busy schedules and are very hard to access for someone new to the game. What you want to do is find an unusual, quality band getting some attention. If you do well by them, they will remember you when they are a platinum seller. The best way to meet bands is to go to shows at bars and small clubs. Approach the guitar/bass player while they are breaking down their gear or immediately afterwards (and be quick; they won’t stay long). Explain who you are and what you want, and be polite and, if he/she is receptive, fire a few questions at him/her. This brings me to my next point.

ALL musician oriented magazines differ from magazines like Rolling Stone in that they want information about playing, buying, and judging between musical instruments. They are not “fan magazines’; that is a different genre requiring a different kind of writing.

If you can read and write and play music, you know most of what you need to know. But while you are lobbing questions at musicians, ask them about the equipment, gear, and techniques they use to play. Get taped examples if you can and transcribe them in notation later; this is the mark of a real pro. Find out how they promote themselves and any unusual or “guerilla” promotion techiques they may use (e.g. the Rocket From The Crypt example above).

I’ve included some information about markets below, but remember, you don’t have to play a musical instrument for the checks from these magazines to be music to your ears!

Your real best bet with musical instrument magazines is to go to a newsstand and pick up a bunch. Production is often staggered and not completely regular although many magazines have a strong, steady readership. This list can guide you; on a newsstand you can find others. These magazines tend to be photo heavy and may pay extra for good photos.

Guitar Player
http://www.guitarplayer.com
Pays $0.25-$0.50 per word

Bluegrass Unlimited
http://www.bluegrassmusic.com
Pays $0.25 per word

Acoustic Musician
http://www.shentel.net/acousticmusician/index.html
Pays $0.10 per word

Audio Media
http://www.audiomedia.com
Pay rates not published.

Church Music Quarterly
http://www.rscm.com/publications/cmq.php
Pay rates not published.