When I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a princess. It was a lofty goal, but I knew the first step on the road to royalty was learning how to ride a horse: Which princess didn’t have a horse companion named Butterscotch?
So that Christmas, I asked for horse backing riding lessons. But instead, I got a guitar.
You could say I wasn’t too happy spending my free time taking lessons with scruffy old jazz guitarists instead of cantering through fields of daisy with my pony. But looking back, it was probably the best present I’ve ever gotten.
First, I learned remedial tunes, like “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” But over time, I graduated to playing the sort of real “rock” songs that made my classmates jealous. I remember one of the first times I played on stage: I was 14 and still didn’t know that my guitar strap was too long for my height.
Awkwardly, I sang and played to an anonymous audience, the stage lights almost blinding me. I’ve never gotten stage fright; instead, I’m overcome by exhilaration every time I play a show.
That energy stayed with me throughout high school. I played in bands with friends and flirted with the idea of pursing a career in music. Many of my bandmates forewent academic success to spend more time perfecting their musical craft. I, on the other hand, attempted to juggle a full course load, a job and playing music. Ultimately, music fell through.
I felt the pressure to do well in school, and my guitar sat in its case while I studied physics and calculus. I got straight A’s but wished that I could incorporate music into my education. So, I picked up a recorder and notebook and started my own music column for my high school newspaper. It was an easy way to receive academic credit while getting to write about music.
But I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed interviewing bands and photographing concerts until I received a press pass for the Sasquatch Music Festival during my junior year. As the youngest journalist covering the festival, I was nervous, but after four days of constant music, photo editing and little sleep, I realized that I could turn my love of music into a career.
And for the past three years, that’s mostly what I have done. Having interviewed over 30 bands and photographed over 70 concerts, I’ve found a comfortable niche to write about art. But it’s not just about music.
Music journalism is a platform to discuss larger societal issues that artists explore in their work. I’ve devoted endless hours researching girl groups spanning the last 60 years of popular music, from the Ronettes to Destiny’s Child. When I write about how their music inspired young women, I’m proud to count myself in that mix.
But I still wonder what my life would be like if I had truly taken advantage of the foundation set by these early female musician pioneers. What if I had devoted my life to creating music, rather than to writing about it?
After a long day of reading, writing and going to class — the average day of a journalism student — the only thing I want to do is pick up my guitar and relax. Instead, I usually have to listen to some new album that just came out or do background research on an artist I’m interviewing.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe my musical background makes me a stronger music journalist. It sounds cliché, but something special happens when two artists start talking to each other. That being said, I sometimes feel guilty spending so much of my time critiquing people who I am ultimately envious of.
These artists have the opportunity to play music every day, while I get to sit behind a computer and write about how the art they are creating could be better.
This is especially true for female musicians. St. Vincent’s already iconic guitar skills make me want to go to music school and then drop out, like she did. And there’s not much I wouldn’t do to become the fourth member of Sleater-Kinney.
I sometimes wonder if it is because of my gender that I decided to pursue a career that is somewhat more equitable for women; there’s no doubt that it’s a lot harder out there for female musicians than it is for male. Like many other female artists, I consistently felt like I had to prove myself as a musician to my male peers — which was disheartening to say the least.
And still. When I tell people my career goal — to cover arts and culture as an international journalist — I feel as if I’m straying from one of my dreams: to play music for a living. I don’t usually let these feelings get to me: I’m too busy focusing on school or one of the six publcations I write for.
But the regret always come backs when I go to a great concert or listen to an incredible new album for the first time. Especially when it is a young female artist, like Lorde or British songstress FKA Twigs. I can’t help imagine that I’m the one selling millions of records and taking over the world. I see the way that other music lovers connect to artists, and I want to create the sort of music people put on mixtapes and play at their weddings.
At the same time, it’s not necessarily true that being a music journalist is the next best thing to being a musician. Being able to write about music in a way that connects with your audience is just as much of an art form as playing a killer solo.
And in our modern age, musicians themselves are blurring the line between creators and critics. Perfect Pussy singer Meredith Graves famously penned an essay-turned-manifesto contrasting the sexist criticism of artists based on their public personas. While artists like Lana Del Rey are often famed as inauthentic, male artists like Andrew W.K. are celebrated for their personification of the party lifestyle.
While Graves was applauded for her article, it shouldn’t be up to only artists to have to highlight inequality in the music industry. As a music writer, I can critique not only art, but also the system in which it is created.
Specifically, by writing about issues of sexism in music, I can dismantle the boy’s club mentality that kept me from following my dream to be an artist. I want to be an arts journalist so I can inspire young people to pick up an instrument and start a band. It’s ambitious, but if I can get one girl more excited to be a rock star than a princess, I’ve succeeded.