The idea of “useless knowledge” is inherently erroneous. I am a proud purveyor of “details of limited purpose,” like the release dates of classic albums or the career histories of obscure rock musicians. I frequently use such music-oriented facts to write feature articles, turning data that some consider a waste of gray matter into paychecks. And there's certainly nothing useless about paychecks.
Many EM readers possess similar sources of knowledge that could serve more than a singular purpose. Being an expert user of Digidesign Pro Tools, for instance, is great if you're an engineer. But such knowledge could also be leveraged by writing plug-in and peripheral user's guides or product-oriented features for manufacturers. If you're a knowledgeable user of pro-audio technology and you have writing chops in addition to your musical ones, then authoring materials for music-product companies could be a perfect way to supplement your income.
Getting started is the most difficult part of breaking into music-product tech writing. Because you will be asking a manufacturer to trust you to inform other end users about its products and how they operate, it's essential that you have hard proof of your expertise and your writing ability.
If you don't have writing samples, create some specifically to show your skills. Before you do, however, research the companies that you plan to contact. “Know your target,” says Greg Rule, editor for Roland Corporation, U.S., and a veteran pro-audio writer. “Study the company you're pitching to and familiarize yourself with its products, magazines, e-zines, newsletters, and Web sites. Nothing will turn an editor off faster than a pitch riddled with incorrect product names or redundant article suggestions.”
Then, choose a piece of your own gear — a reverb unit or a plug-in, for example — and write a short tutorial about its use in a specific application. Keep it brief, informative, and interesting. “Reveal useful tips or techniques you've discovered,” suggests Rule. “Talk about how you're using the product to improve your music.”
Upon completion, ask a couple of musical peers to read your tutorial to ensure that it excels on a technical and a stylistic level. With product writing such as this, informational clarity is paramount. “Write from a musician's perspective,” offers Rule. “Don't get too clinical.”
Back to the Feature
Writing for music-product companies isn't always technical. You can often write in the style of features appearing in audio-related publications such as EM. Many manufacturers, especially those who have in-house public relations or marketing departments, generate articles about the way performing artists, engineers, and producers (who are usually product endorsers) use their products.
Authoring a sample article of this type is another good way to show off your skills to manufacturers. Because you lack a stable of product endorsers to write about, look to your network of musically creative counterparts for a feature subject. Most likely, you know a few “buzz-worthy” local musicians in the midst of recording projects or club tours, and surely some of them are using gear or instruments in creative and interesting ways.
In writing your article, be sure to include a short description of the artist's music and career, what he or she is currently up to, and the interesting way in which this musician is using a particular product. To stimulate your creative writer within, read through a few pro-audio magazines that regularly have artist features, paying attention to editorial structure and how product mentions are dealt with. Then, formulate your article accordingly.
Make the Pitch
At this stage, your task is to prove your writing ability. Sending a well-crafted email or letter to a key contact in a firm's marketing department is a good way to start pitching your writing services. In your letter, enclose or attach writing samples along with an announcement of your availability, a description of your relevant musical background, and an explanation of why you are an ideal candidate to write about the company's products. After a day or two, follow up with a phone call reintroducing yourself, ask whether your note was received, and reiterate your eagerness to provide writing services for the firm.
“Submit your article alongside additional promo materials,” explains Rule. “That can make a great first impression and can help distinguish you from other freelance writers — especially from nonmusician writers. It shows initiative on your part, as well as your product knowledge.”
If cold-calling potential clients doesn't produce results, try getting up close and personal. The best connections are usually made while face to face, so if you live near a city where a music-products trade show is taking place, attend one for the purpose of promoting yourself. Shows such as those held by NAMM (www.namm.org), AES (www.aes.org), and NAB (www.nab.org) feature rows upon rows of manufacturer booths where products are showcased. Staffing the booths are those key contacts you've desperately been trying to reach via email and phone — all right there in the same building.
Although AES conventions are open to the public, NAMM and NAB conventions are not. For that reason, the latter-mentioned shows may be difficult to gain admission to. In those “closed-convention” scenarios, ask a friend who works for a pro-audio firm, a music store, a broadcast entity, and so on, for assistance in gaining show credentials.
Once you are at a convention, remember that manufacturers frequent these events to generate product interest and sales, not to find wannabe freelance writers. Be considerate of their time, and you'll make the best impression. Executed correctly, attending a show may help your emails and calls to be answered more promptly in the future.
Your First Gig
Continue to pitch your services until you receive your first writing gig, and then temporarily halt the pitching process. Now is the time to become knowledgeable about of your own writing speed, agility, and general workflow habits. As a fledgling writer, it is imperative that your first work be impeccable.
An initial submission of your work often prompts valuable feedback from your clients; that may include requested revisions, compliments, and suggestions that can be valuable for your future as a music-products writer. You're now a general contractor, and you need to be the best you can. Avoid the problems associated with “bad” contractors: blowing deadlines, missing crucial details, and leaving clients with a postjob mess. “Just be confident that you've nailed it,” concludes Rule. “Submitting a sloppy article can do more harm than good.”
What are the downsides to writing for manufacturers? First, pay can be unpredictable — even low — especially in the beginning. Writer's compensation (often based on word count) varies from client to client and may be determined by your own level of writing and technological expertise. I've found, however, that most introductory writing jobs pay between 20¢ and 25¢ per word (or between $200 and $250 per 1,000 words).
Second, just like most other jobs, you're paid to do what you're told. If you want to become a first-call freelance writer, give your clients a heap of convincing music-product information served with a carefully measured dose of style. You're not being paid to put quill to parchment and craft ambitious Shakespearean prose. If you can live with those limitations, writing for manufacturers can be a sweet gig, since few other employment opportunities allow you to spend an afternoon monkeying with the microphone placement on a 4×12 guitar cabinet.
So with valuable music-product knowledge inside your head just waiting to be shared with others, take a stab at writing to make it even more useful to you. Besides, knowledge is only useless if unused.
Strother Bullins is a North Carolina — based musician and freelance writer specializing in the professional-audio, music, and entertainment industries.
FIVE TIPS FOR GETTING WRITING GIGS
- Know your subject. You'll never get anywhere without a thorough knowledge of the topics (gear or artist related) you want to write about.
- Research by reading other articles and editorial material. Seeing how others have done it will help you do it right the first time.
- Build your portfolio. Write gear-instruction articles or artist-profile features to use as writing samples.
- Pitch your services via email, phone, and in person. Persistence and patience are key.
- Be professional, meticulous, and punctual. If you behave like a pro, you'll be treated like one.