Friday, November 5, 2010

I'm Back

It's been almost six months since it happened and I knew at the time what it was, but I'm still absorbing it.
What happened was that in May I had nifty stretch where I did three pieces for the Wall Street Journal in less than a month. As a writer who was flat out proud to write for the publication six times a year, this was a big deal. And it didn't happen out of the blue; my editor called me a few weeks before the launch of the Journal's Greater New York section and told me to expect a lot more WSJ in my inbox.
It also meant that I was a music journalist again, and this is the thing that I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around. I didn't see that coming, really, I didn't.
Ten years ago, I not only made my entire living writing about music, I made so much I was beginning to consider early retirement. A year later I was scrambling; all the music journalism work I'd accumulated disappeared. It was shocking; I'd deluded myself into thinking that the workload was a reflection of my veteran savvy in the biz. That was only going to increase, so naturally, the workload would grow too, right.
Instead, I fell prey to market forces, and the dotcom crash eliminated close to 60K in annual work.
Bye bye early retirement, hello disconnect notices, harassing calls from credit card reps, and of course summonses to housing court.
Sometime in early 2003 I awoke to the notion that I couldn't stomach the pose as an underemployed music journalist anymore. I simply needed to devote myself 24/7--and 52 if necessary--to fixing my financial situation. That might mean calling on any talent I had and seeing how I could develop it. I knew a lot about gourmet food, cheese in particular, so off I went to find a job at a store and dumb luck enabled me to land a 3/4 gig at a shop near me. The shop gave me an entree back into the world of high end cheese. I began shopping some casual sports essays around to daily papers and in a coupla weeks that turned into a weekly column on the NBA for the NY Sun. I still wrote about music occasionally, i.e. six times a year for the Journal, weekly for Newsday (but I could see the writing on the wall that would soon end, and it did in October 2005). The same week that it did, I got a second sports column. By early '06 I began to think of music journalism as a small and declining part of my income. On the one hand, there was WSJ and there were a few pieces in New York magazine, but the Journal work amounted to about 10% of my income and NY mag didn't seem sustainable (and it wasn't).
It didn't really matter that much to me. The sportswriting was growing. I was good at translating the new math of sports to the general audience and it seemed like that would be a good niche going forward. Music J would be a nice little sidelight to the sportswriting and ultimately to this idea that a friend gave me to start a business built around holding cheese tastings.
With a something like a 50-35-15 structure between sports, cheese and music, my income stabilized and I retired all the debt that had made my life miserable in 2002 and '03. I was just starting to think of ways to diversify my sportswriting endeavors when the unthinkable happened. The site I wrote for decided in not so many words to stop covering sports regularly.
I definitely didn't see that coming.
Some people think I should write about book about cheese, and they're right. Some people think I should write about music, and they're right too. One very cool guy gave me a book idea about sports, and it would be a blast as well. But I think the book I should write first is about scrambling in the crappy post-millennial economy. I'm really good at it. I've spent 2010 in constant fear of 111 Centre St. and I haven't paid a utility bill that wasn't accompanied by a threat all year. Does it worry me, no, not really, I need the energy I'd spend worrying to research story ideas or some such.
So it was probably that I was in such a red alert scramble that I didn't appreciate what those three WSJ assignments in May meant. However, as I ponder the beauty of my recent piece on Bill Frisell, and that it's the first piece of four in five weeks for WSJ, it's starting to hit me--I'm a music journalist again.
Didn't see that coming.
I'm not a one basket kinda guy anymore though. I'm furiously at work rebuilding the sports work and growing the cheese thing. Still for the first time in eight years, the bulk of my income will come from music journalism.
It's nice to be back.

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