Music writers David Greenwald and Daniel Siegal want to create a site for in-depth music reporting and criticism, and they want to pay writers a fair wage to do that work. Sort of like the L.A. Weekly's music section, but they want to do it minus the kind of pageview-driving clickbait — listicles and slideshows — that other publications don't do nearly as well as we do.
Called Uncool, it's the kind of idea that you'd think would be immediately and universally embraced by music writers and readers alike…but within days of announcing a Kickstarter to fund the project, its proposal had already set off miniature flamewar on Tumblr, and a month into the campaign, they have only been able to raise a fraction of the project's funding.
Greenwald, who has written for Billboard, GQ and the Weekly, and Siegal, who's written for Rolling Stone's website and the L.A. Times, got the idea for Uncool after the shuttering of Brand X, the Times' weekly culture and events magazine, due to a lack of advertising revenue.
The idea was to use Kickstarter to finance its first year, which would allow them the freedom to write about the music they want to “and not be tied to marketing, and advertising and these issues that we have that ended up closing down Brand X,” Greenwald says.
The name Uncool comes from the scene in Almost Famous when Lester Bangs imparts sage wisdom to young music writer Will Miller. (Above.) It's also intended to signify that they are not about snobbery — they want the site to be a place “where someone can write about Taylor Swift one week, and an obscure jazz record from 1955 the next week.”
“We live is a time where you can go on YouTube or Spotify and watch a 1996 Guided By Voices show in full, or you can listen some amazing folk record from the '60s that you've never heard of,” Greenwald says. “It's this amazing period for discovery and there are not a lot of places that are helping people to navigate that.”
They hope to run four pieces a month on a weekly basis — three would be essays and reviews about 1,000 words each (those will pay $250 to $500), and one thoroughly reported feature that will run anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 words, which will net the writer $2000.
Too often, Greenwald says, outlets expect music journalists to subsist on their passion alone. He knows first hand, ticking off a list places he wrote for for free when he was trying to get started: UCLA's Daily Bruin, the site Cokemachineglow, Entertainment Weekly.
When music writers can find paid work the opportunities are often “bite-sized — a news item or a blog post. I don't see a ton of opportunities for a writer to get in-depth with a subject.”
“I think it is a big problem where people are not able to get to the point of making a living doing this,” Greenwald says. “There are really great outlets who run really good work that just pay a very low wage for the amount of time it takes to do that work.”
Greenwald and Siegal think if they can raise $54,000 they can produce a year's worth of Uncool. That's 12 months of a $3,300 monthly editorial budget, plus a $6,000 stipend to Greenwald and Siegal, $1000 toward web design, and the rest will go to Kickstarter fees and rewards.
They've already gathered together some of their favorite music writers — people like Simon Vozick-Levinson of Rolling Stone, L.A. Weekly's Jeff Weiss, and Rachael Maddux, who has written for Pitchfork, Paste and the Paris Review.
Maddux though, is the only woman among the ten writers (including Greenwald and Siegal) who have been tapped as contributors — and the gender imbalance prompted NPR music critic Ann K. Powers to tweet “Long form music writing? Could be cool … (get more women and POC writers tho).”
POC stands for “people of color.”
That tweet managed set off a tempest in the Tumblr-verse. Several music writers and readers took to their respective microblogging sites to share their thoughts about diversity in music journalism — alternately decrying white male privilege or affirmative action.
Of the kerfuffle, Greenwald says the list of Uncool contributors were mostly friends and colleagues but adds, “We absolutely agree with the critique and we're in the process now of talking to more writers and bringing some more people on board to help give us more of a diverse staff and a diverse range of opinions.”
Of course, it's little premature for all the handwringing over Uncool's diversity–the project hasn't even been funded yet. Last we checked, they still needed some $47 grand to reach their goal. Greenwald isn't worried yet though, “We've still got more than half our campaign left and a lot of promotion ahead in the next few weeks,” he says.
And what if the project doesn't get the money they seek? Greenwald says the hope to still make something Uncool. “I don't know what form it will take yet, but I really love all the writers that we have corralled and would love to put something together even if it's a smaller one-time magazine — but we're hoping it works out so we haven't had that conversation yet.”