Writing for EM

Questions and Answers About Writing for Electronic Musician Electronic Musician is dedicated to informing musicians about developments in electronic music
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Questions and Answers About Writing for Electronic Musician Electronic Musician is dedicated to informing musicians about developments in electronic music

Questions and Answers About Writing for Electronic Musician

Electronic Musician

is dedicated to informing musicians about developments in electronicmusic and personal-studio recording. Our goal is to teach musicians howto use technology to meet their recording needs.

EM acts as a forum for shared ideas among musicians of theelectronic persuasion. Articles written for EM should reflectthat by having a friendly but professional and informative tone. Wewant people to learn from your experiences and ideas, and the best wayfor that to happen is to present them in a clear and readablemanner.

To make sure our basic requirements are fulfilled, we've puttogether a set of frequently asked questions about writing forEM and supplied the answers. Even if you've never written anarticle before, we think you'll find all the necessary information.

Good luck with your writing. We look forward to reading yourefforts.

--TheEMEditorial Department

How do I get started?

Most articles, especially reviews, are assigned by an EMeditor. However, we do accept unsolicited articles. If you havesomething that's of practical interest to people involved in producingelectronic music, chances are it would fit in our pages. Remember, whatis obvious to you may not be obvious to someone else; some of our mostpopular articles include simple ideas that fall into the "why didn'tsomeone think of this before" category.

If you have an article idea and seek an assignment, please email aclear, comprehensive outline to emeditorial@primediabusiness.com. Ifyou have not previously written for EM, please attach a writingsample (or send us a Web URL where we can download it), preferablysomething relevant to recording and electronic music. For instance, youcan write a brief "mock" article, such as a review of a product youknow well, just to give us a sense of your technical writingskills.

We will consider your proposal, and if we approve the topic andoutline, we will specify how long the article should be, propose a duedate, and tell you how much we will pay for it. Note that yourdeadline is the day we receive the article, not the day you completeit.

In many cases, we request modifications to such proposals, in whichcase you might need to submit a second version of your outline. Once wehave agreed on the terms of the assignment, we will send you a contractand an assignment letter that formalizes the assignment. Many aspectsof the contract and assignment letter are explained in thisdocument.

How will I know if my article has been accepted?

If your article submission is unsolicited, we will email you to letyou know whether your article has been accepted. Please be patient,though; we receive hundreds of manuscripts and letters, and it takestime to go through them, especially while trying to put out themagazine each month.

If your article was assigned by an editor, you will know the storywas accepted in one of two ways: either a check will magically appearin the mail, or (more often) the person who was assigned to edit thestory will contact you with questions.

Note that an article assignment does not guarantee acceptance forpublication. Acceptance for publication means that we consider thestory to be on topic, technically accurate, sufficiently thorough, andwell written - in short, ready to be edited - and we do not anticipateasking you to do significant additional work. Even after an article isaccepted, however, we might still ask you for supplemental work, mostlyto clarify your points. With reviews, we sometimes require additionaltesting, as well.

In some cases, we may feel the article is moving in the rightdirection but needs significant rewriting and/or additional research,and we may want to discuss some of your assumptions and opinions thatwe consider questionable. In most such situations, we will not formallyaccept the article for publication until all such issues are resolvedto our satisfaction.

What kind of articles should I submit?

We like to provide readers with solutions to the various problemsencountered in the process of composing, producing, recording, andmastering music using electronics. To this end, we always needapplications stories, ranging from basic tutorials through advancedmaster classes on subjects applicable to the electronic musician whoworks in a personal studio. Think in terms of practical tips andtechniques that make life in the personal studio easier or morecost-effective or that help the reader overcome common technicaldifficulties in the recording, sound design, or mastering process.

A product-specific Master Class story should discuss how to use thedeeper and less-known or commonly misunderstood features of a popularproduct. If the product is not in widespread use, not enough readerswill be interested to justify doing a feature story. Assume the readeralready owns the product and understands the basics, so that you canfocus on advanced tips and tricks. The information presented should notbe available in the product manual or on the manufacturer's Web siteunless it is so poorly presented there that an explanatory article iscalled for.

Our Production Values series consists of interviews with well-knownproducers, audio engineers, or artists. These should focus on theirrecording techniques, production philosophy, and how they use theirgear to accomplish their production magic. Simply discussing what gearthey have is not of interest unless we learn why they chose thatspecific gear and, most important, how they use it.

We also like "plays well with others" articles that explain how tobetter integrate the hardware and software in the personal studio sothat they work together as a system.

What about product reviews?

All product reviews are assigned by associate editor Gino Robair;grobair@primediabusiness.com. Please contact Gino by email beforesubmitting a review, as he may have already assigned a review of theproduct you have in mind.

IMPORTANT: Absolutely do not solicit a manufacturer to send aproduct using the name of Electronic Musician. Before amanufacturer sends a product for review, the request must be authorizedby our editors. Unless we specifically instruct you otherwise, youshould contact us, and we will contact the manufacturer to request theproduct.

Most reviews start with a very brief overview (don't give us thehistory of the industry), a physical description of the product,operational details, and your conclusions, with lots of opinions. Thereview should include unusual features, useful tips and applicationsfor the piece of gear, and how you solved any problems.

During the review process, we expect you to contact the manufacturerwith questions, especially if you find problems, the documentation isunclear, or you wish to understand the manufacturer's intentions withregard to design or marketing. Don't assume what the manufacturerintended; ask. We will provide the necessary contact information inyour assignment letter.

After we fact-check the review, we will contact you regarding returnof the product. Unless we tell you otherwise, please return the productto us, not to the manufacturer. If you have not been contacted, and youthink it's time to send the product back, call us.

Requirements for product reviews:

1. Include all major features and functions (and a reason fortheir existence, if the reason is unusual or unclear).

2. Provide a product summary (refer to published EMreviews for examples). Be sure to include product name; type ofproduct; list price; Pros and Cons; minimum system requirements forsoftware reviews; and manufacturer's name, phone number, email address,and Web URL. (We can supply the manufacturer contact information duringthe editing process, if necessary.)

3. We use a 5-point rating system: 5 = superb, equal to thebest of its type; 4 = significantly above average; 3 = good and solid;2 = fair, but needs improvement; 1 = poor. There is no "zero" rating,but we allow half-points. We expect that if the product works asexpected but is not truly above average, the ratings will usually besomewhere around 3. Please try to make your ratings consistent withyour review text; the editors will challenge ratings they feel areinconsistent with the text, especially very high or very low ratings.We do not use a rating of 5 unless the product is the absolute top ofits class. There may be others in that realm, but the review producthas to be one of the very best.

To maintain consistency between reviews, we will suggest metercategories we feel are appropriate for each type of product. If thereare special features or other circumstances that lead you to believedifferent categories are appropriate for the product at hand, pleasefeel free to discuss it with the assigning editor. We generally use thefollowing categories:


Ease of Use

Audio Quality or Documentation (depending on the product type)


Quick Pick reviews do not have product summaries, and they only haveone Overall meter.

4. Become very familiar with the piece of gear so you canoffer useful applications and clever tips. Cover all the importantfeatures and functions of the gear.

5. Although we assume you'll read the entire manual (ahem),don't write your review as you would a manual. For example, it'sunnecessary to say "press the control button twice, hit return, and thesecond menu screen appears to allow you to save 32 patches." All weneed to know is "you can save 32 patches" unless the operation iseither so cumbersome or so user-friendly as to be worthy of note.IMPORTANT: Include opinions rather than just a listing of features.

6. Avoid direct comparisons with competing products unlessthey are clearly relevant, the comparison is fair (for instance, wegenerally wouldn't criticize a $300 mic for not sounding as good as a$1,000 mic), and you are extremely confident you can back up yourclaims.

What about product roundups?

Product roundups are complex feature stories because they cover allor most products of a certain type (say, powered monitor speakers thatcost under $750), and our testing and writing standards are especiallyhigh for these articles. Therefore, these stories need to be closelycoordinated by our editors. If you are interested in doing a roundup ofa certain type of gear, be sure to narrow your proposed focus torestrict the list to a practically manageable number of products.

What about do-it-yourself articles?

Although we rarely publish DIY articles nowadays, we do run them onoccasion. Here are the basic requirements:

1. Include a parts list that follows the EM format,using international units of measure. Make sure all parts are stillavailable and suggest mail-order, Web, or chain-store sources forharder-to-find parts.

2. Provide copies of data sheets for ICs and unusualparts.

3. Include complete, accurate schematics.

What about article length?

The assigning editor will work with you to determine a target lengthfor your story. This recommended length is not an absolute limit; youcan exceed it if the writing is tight and the extra length allows youto include valuable information. However, please don't go overboard andexceed your word count by more than a few hundred words and don't turnin an article that is much shorter than the assigned length unless youhave renegotiated the length with the assigning editor.

Features typically run 2,500 to 4,000 words, and columns 1,500 to2,500 words. Full-length reviews are usually around 1,200 to 3,500words. Quick Pick reviews generally run between 500 and 750 words.

What about style?(downloadable EM StyleGuide)

Relax. Write as if you were talking to friends. There's no need tosound "formal" or "scientific," but avoid being overly chatty orverbose. Aim for writing that will interest the reader. But don't tryto be funny; it probably will sound forced, and besides, our style issomewhat conservative. On the other hand, please be careful to writecorrectly, using proper grammar and sentence construction, and checkyour spelling and punctuation carefully. When in doubt, refer to theChicago Manual of Style, as noted in item 7 below.

We use italics (sparingly) for emphasis; please do not underlinewords. Put only one space (not two) after a period. Put two "hard"returns between paragraphs, and don't indent the first line of theparagraph. Do not apply word-processor Styles or use any otherformatting: no tabs, centering, etc. Using Styles and extensiveformatting is a waste of your time and ours because we have to removeit in order to apply our own custom formatting.

If possible, try to be clever and create a few potential titles andcompanion kickers. A kicker (sometimes called a "deck") is the sentenceor phrase immediately following the title that serves to capture thereader's interest and draw him/her to read your article.

For example (from the October 2002 issue):

(Title) Making the Grade

(Kicker) Dopro-audio schools deliver as promised?

Be sure to separate the article into smaller sections that beginwith very short subheads describing that section. Each section shouldbe at least two paragraphs long. You should also include a briefbiography (25 words or less); the bio is the only place you are allowedto promote yourself or your company, product, or service.

For further information, you can download and read the EM Style Guide(Adobe Acrobat format). But the best way to learn how to write forEM is to critically read recent issues of the magazine, payingclose attention to the layout, writing style, and elements of thestory.

Here are a few more ideas:

1. Use an outline to organize your thoughts.

2. Use the active voice instead of the passive. If you write,"...turn the control to vary gain" instead of, "...the control isturned to vary gain," your reader knows the knob only does its stuffafter getting a good crank, not through some otherwise unmentionedautomation.

3. Take as many words as you need, but be concise; make eachpoint only once. If your thoughts are organized, you won't repeat apoint from paragraph 3 in paragraph 6. Follow the magazine's format asclosely as possible. Use headings to separate topics.

4. Think graphically. A picture will often convey an ideamore easily and in less space than a lot of words, so use diagrams orillustrations wherever appropriate. These don't have to be camera-readydrawings; a clear, accurate pencil sketch will do. (For more on this,see "What About Graphics?") Print your letters and numerals clearlyenough to be read by someone with less than excellent eyesight.

5. Sidebars are extremely useful for quick explanations ofbasic terms and concepts in technical material. Use them to cover "minitopics" and basic concepts.

6. Check your work both by carefully reading it several timesand by using a spell checker. When you think you are finished with thepiece, re-read it one last time for good measure.

7. We generally follow the guidelines dictated in theChicago Manual of Style, which is widely available atbookstores.

8. Captions should be more than just a label; they shouldprovide useful information about what the reader is seeing in thegraphic. For example, in our Finale 2003 review (in the January 2003issue of EM), the Figure 1 caption reads, "FIG. 1: Finale'smultiple floating tool palettes can easily be reshaped, and they cannow appear in one of several style and color combinations. The Toolicons are also a bit larger than they were in previous versions." Thisis far better than simply writing, "FIG. 1: Finale's floating toolpalettes."

What about format?

Please submit the article as a word-processor file. Our first choiceis Microsoft Word, but we can read most Windows and Mac formats. Checkwith us if you use an unusual format, and when in doubt, save as a textfile. Don't forget the graphics, which should be sent as separatefiles, not embedded in the text.

At the beginning, put your name, social security number (so we canpay you), street address, telephone number, and email address. We do alot of business by email, but sometimes we need to talk with you inreal time, so please tell us the best time to phone you.

What about graphics?

We expect you to supply graphics (such ascharts, diagrams, photos, computer screen shots, and tables) toillustrate your points. For technical illustrations, we can use clean,handwritten copy; a computer printout; or draw or paint files in anycommon Mac or Windows format (e.g., TIFF, EPS, PICT, PCX, BMP, GIF,JPEG, Illustrator, or Photoshop). Our computer illustrator will renderyour draft into final form. Screen shots can be in any of the samecommon formats.

IMPORTANT: Don't forget to supply captions andwrite figure callouts in the text (e.g., "see Fig. 1") when referringto a specific graphic.

Photos should be high contrast, fine grain (i.e., low ASA film)prints, slides, transparencies, or high-resolution (300 dpi or higher)TIFF, Photoshop, or JPEG files. Please be aware that spaceconsiderations and inadequate material often prevent us from usingsubmitted photos. Do not write directly on the back of photo prints, asthat destroys them; to identify photos, make a photocopy and write thefigure number and caption on the copy.

We cannot guarantee the return of submittedgraphics, but we'll do our best. If you want us to return any submitteditems, please send an SASE and attach a return address to eachitem.

What about providing online example files (EM Web Clips)?

We also encourage you to supply audio, video, and Standard MIDI Fileexamples that we will post on our Web site to help readers understandyour points or simply provide extra value. We can accept audio files inWAV, AIFF, or good-quality MP3 format. Video files should be inQuickTime or Real format. MIDI examples should be in Standard MIDI Fileformat unless they are product-specific, such as a Logic file toillustrate something specific to that program, a Finale or Sibeliusfile for notation, or a synth patch for a synthesizer-specific MasterClass or review. Like graphics, EM WebClips need captions, so pleaseinclude a few words about each clip.

Note that copyrighted material can be used only with permission ofthe copyright holder, and we will only use clips of 30 seconds or lessunless we have written permission to use an entire piece.

When will my article appear in print?

Publications dates vary. Shorter articles are easier to work intothe magazine than longer ones; timely or highly informative articlesalso get priority. Our usual lead time is three months, but articlesare frequently bumped to later issues due to space considerations, andwe keep some articles on file for future use, so it can take longer fora manuscript to make it into print. We know waiting is a drag, butplease be patient; things are busy around here, and the magazine haslimited space.

How much and when will I be paid?

We will send you a contract with the agreed-upon amount filled in.Note that this amount includes all expenses; we have already accountedfor extra money in our offer to cover for your phone expenses, shippingcosts, and so on.

The amount we pay is negotiable and depends on the subject'scomplexity, the level of reader interest, the quality of writing(concise, well-edited articles are always a plus), and whether or notcamera-ready graphics or high-quality photos are part of the package.Most author-submitted photos are unusable, though, so it's fine to sendthem, but don't go all out unless you are sure of yourcapabilities.

EM pays upon official acceptance of your article forpublication (see "How Will I Know If My Article Has Been Accepted?").Before our accounting department can issue your check, we must have thesigned contract, so please sign the contract and return it as soon aspossible. Please allow two to four weeks after acceptance for us toprocess the payment.

Please be aware that EM retains a variety of reprint andreuse rights on published material.

Sounds good. Where do I send my article or story pitch?

Email proposals to emeditorial@primediabusiness.com.They will be forwarded to the appropriate editor.

Email finished word-processor or text files and graphics files to emarticles@primediabusiness.com.We do not accept hardcopy submissions, except for graphics.

Send graphics that are not in electronic form to assistant editorMatt Gallagher at:

Electronic Musician

Attn: Matt Gallagher

6400 Hollis St. #12

Emeryville, CA 94608

Please mark each graphic and include a note explaining what articlethe graphic is for, what the graphic is (e.g., a photo or technicaldrawing), and the figure number used to identify it in the article.

If, after reading these guidelines, you have further questions,please email us at emeditorial@primediabusiness.com or call one of theeditors at our main office. Our general office phone number is (510)653-3307. Our office hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time,Monday through Friday.