How ‘The Music Writer’s Lab’ Seeks to Nurture, Uplift and Fill a Void in the Media (Op-Ed)


At BIGSOUND 2022, a new initiative will be launched with a particular focus on improving the development of music journalists and the environment in which they create.

The Music Writer’s Lab is a joint project run by MusicNT and the Australia Council For The Arts. The idea for an initiative like this has been around for several years, beginning like most: a conversation about how things can improve and ultimately benefit a new generation of creatives.

By the time I was approached to help, the central idea of ​​the Music Writer’s Lab was in place – established and emerging music journalists would be brought together through a number of individual development sessions to exchange knowledge and, for writers emerging, potentially offer some first entry routes to the industry.

Additionally, The Music Writer’s Lab would be built on the desire to encourage new critical perspectives and reinforce the importance of critical and informed criticism in our media landscape.

It wouldn’t surprise any music journalist that today’s professional climate suffers from a lack of new voices; voices that should be amplified and lifted. And in many ways, music journalism has lost a layer of advantage. Not “before” in the sense of controversy, but “before” in the sense of the style of writing and criticism that makes a large audience wants to actively follow specific authors for specific content. It’s a real shame too, because in Australia there’s a hugely talented community of writers – both established and emerging – who, with the right platforms and support, can really achieve cultural change.

So with those things in mind, The Music Writer’s Lab moved into its more final planning and execution stages. The industry response approached to be part of the pilot season was all the encouragement needed at these early stages, to reinforce that this type of initiative was necessary.

Applications from emerging writers across the country provided an added sense of validation that the industry needs more such initiatives so that new generations of writers not only find their community, but can also learn and receive feedback from their peers in real time.

Today, six writers who have been selected to participate in the pilot season of The Music Writer’s Lab were announced.

Three are Naarm-based writers: Selin Ruby Kaya, Aidan Williams and Lillian Phillips; Sisi Sparkle and Levi Kohler are both based in Meanjin. Rounding out our first cohort of the Music Writer’s Lab is Kaurna-based writer Melissa Griffin.

Their applications were striking and full of personality, but above all, the passion of these writers for the current craft; and the investment they put into their own evolution as writers, were key contributors to their eventual selection.

In the context of BIGSOUND, these writers will participate in an intensive field day in Brisbane, where they will meet and learn from our three mentors: Marcus Teague, Rhianna Patrick and Tait McGregor. Attendees will also be treated to guest presentations by veteran songwriter, musician and music journalist Noel Mengel, and musician, songwriter, poet and producer Yorta Yorta/Kaieltheban Neil Morris (DRMNGNOW).

Their insights, integrated with those of Music Writer’s Lab mentors, make for an incredibly strong pilot season of conversation and learning.

Throughout BIGSOUND’s series of showcases and talks, emerging writers will practice their learnings and natural skills, documenting their experiences in a number of editorial tasks. Original content created as a result of their time at the Music Writer’s Lab will be released with a range of Australian media; offering not only an opportunity to acquire new signatures, but to gain invaluable experience in media relations, different style guides, professional standards and, most importantly, to build a base for themselves as active members of the industry.

Alongside the closed-door development sessions, The Music Writer’s Lab also hosted a BIGSOUND conference panel focused on Critical discourse and the Australian music industry. With Teague, Patrick and TMN/Display journalist Lars Brandle, we will discuss the current state of music journalism in Australia; where the industry is letting down its writers, the spaces where new voices are nurtured, and how a healthy environment for critical discourse can potentially be reintroduced into the Australian music industry.

It has been a truly rewarding experience to have been involved in the development of an initiative such as this, although I hope it is not the only such event that we see emerging as the industry enters a new era, stimulated by ‘currency’.

To have a music industry and community without the elevation of critical scrutiny, healthy discourse and independent voices is dangerous to exist and work. Music journalists still play a vital role in the wider music industry economy and it is our hope with the start of an initiative such as The Music Writer’s Lab, that we can highlight this and provide a space where new voices can thrive and, as a whole, the wider journalist community can see that work is being done to ensure they are supported and edified where, many times, that support may seem insufficient.

For more information about The Music Writer’s Lab, visit the official website here.

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