What story are you telling?

I had a great conversation with my new friend Yoshi last week about journalism… specifically, music journalism. He asked me my opinion of this piece that claims that modern music journalism isn’t about the music anymore… it’s lifestyle journalism, covering the artist more than their craft and output. The article’s writer says that it’s because the writers aren’t qualified to write about music – they don’t have the understanding and training on music – so they write about the easier topic.

This article – and the ensuing conversation – got me thinking about storytelling, agendas and personal narratives.

One thing I always emphasize is how important storytelling is in life. We are wired to listen and respond to stories, and telling stories help you engage with people in a real and (sometimes) intimate way. The best stories have a point and a purpose – to entertain, to make people laugh, to sell in idea or a product. It’s powerful, and there’s a reason Don Draper focused on telling stories during his pitches. It works.

To respond to the point of the article cited above, the reason why music journalism has become lifestyle journalism now is for more reasons than just a lack of music training on the part of the writer – it’s because it works. Lifestyle journalism works because people love stories and want to read about popular figures they admire. We want a glimpse into that life. Another case in point is NBC’s Olympics coverage – the sports are often secondary to the athlete’s stories, because that is what draws the audience in.

What amuses me about all this discussion is that the best songs ARE stories – they evoke a mood, and have a point. Yes, even music such as jazz that has no words. What has happened has music journalists are jest talking about a different story now.

Additionally, it’s easier to frame a narrative and a thesis around a person – Developing that for an album or a musician’s body of work is much harder. A lot of people will be more comfortable and confident in writing about, say, how Myley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball video isn’t as good as Ron Jeremy’s parody than analyzing the chord progressions or lyrical structure . You may have more prestige analyzing the musical choices that Miley made when she created Wrecking Ball, but what audience size will such an essay have?

(Quick sidebar: I studied journalism, many many years ago… and one of the things that was taught was the importance of objectivity and how bias was bad. The thing is… it’s a bunch of baloney. I’m not talking about political agendas, but the most obvious form of bias – selecting what to cover and write about. The line of “what is newsworthy” is never clear cut, and the decision is driven by management. What to showcase, what to report on, what to bury…. bias is part of the process, and it cannot be avoided as long as human beings make these decisions.)

The way we live and present ourselves are also stories, but many people don’t pay attention to this as much as they should. These personal narratives are the stories that people conjure in their minds and they can make or break you. Another words that is used to define this is “reputation.” It proceeds you, and that story is hard to change once its told by your actions and activities.

Personal narratives are all about you deciding the story you are telling, through deeds. What are your actions telling the world? It’s an important thing to understand. What is the point of what you are doing? What is your purpose?

What story are you telling?