We have a question that someone sent to advice@lacunae.com! (We do non-culture-industry-related questions too, incidentally...) Here it is:

I'd like to become a freelance music journalist, but I am completely clueless on how to get a job in this field. What do I do? Who do I talk to? Should I pitch articles, should I have articles/reviews ready to sell? I would prefer to not compromise my integrity, and do a minimum of kissing ass - are these even options for today's music critics?

It's really hard to jump straight from not being a music journalist at all to being a freelance music journalist--essentially, you have to have clips of things you've already published to get assignments. (I started by doing some stuff as a volunteer at a now-defunct trade magazine called Rockpool, then started working at CMJas a copy editor, did some writing for them because I was a warm body and in the building, and didn't really start doing outside freelancing until I'd written a couple hundred reviews for them.)

Things that help:

1) Write constantly--about music and about other stuff. You learn by doing, and if you wait until you get assignments to write things, you're never going to write anything. Write reviews, and substantial ones, not little 40-word capsules. Do it all the time. See if you enjoy it--if you hate writing for free, you're never going to like being edited for money either. Make strong arguments and follow them up. If nobody's leaping to hire you, start a web site of your own and stick your good pieces up there. Tell your friends about it. If someone asks you to write something for their site or for a paper, do it. When you've got links to 50 reviews and articles you've written on your site, and you pitch an editor something and she asks you if she can see some clips, you can send her a URL. This annoys some editors, but it makes things a lot easier with others.

2) Listen to everything you can get your hands on. Learn everything you can about music--things you like, things you don't know about, things you're pretty sure you're going to hate. Know your history. Ask questions. Ask yourself why you like or don't like particular pieces of music. Buy music, and lots of it--the critics who do are always three steps ahead of the ones who don't. Read about music. Read old music criticism. Read well-written criticism of music you don't care about at all. Read criticism you hate and figure out what's wrong with it. Read art criticism that isn't about music at all.

When you've been doing it for a while and have a bunch of things you can show people, find a magazine or newspaper or web site that publishes writing you like (this is important; if you don't like theirs, they won't like yours), find out who the appropriate editor is, and send him or her a nice note with a couple of specific pitches. "Specific" here means not only that they're about a particular record or artist (and bear lead time in mind!), but that you have an idea or argument to make about that record or artist, so what you write will be interesting for its own sake.

Not compromising your integrity and not kissing ass are positive assets in the long term for music critics, and always have been--the more you've got your own opinions, your own tastes and your own voice, the more editors will want to commission work from you, as opposed to the faceless millions. But don't assume that writers who don't share your tastes are compromised brown-nosers, either.

Hope that helps--