The First Rule of The Big City

I know the first rule of maintaining a successful blog is to post frequently, so that clearly means I have no interest in maintaining a successful blog. But then, define success …

I also know some people actually blog to make a living, and good for them! That would be a fool’s errand for me, since my topics are mostly classical music, especially on the experimental and avant-garde side, and jazz, and there’s no money to be made in that music. And in all music, there’s less money to be made in writing about it then making it.

But you see the ads, they are there because any revenue they produce, which has been very little so far, can go towards maintaining this blog, which is not free to me and has been a money-losing proposition even since I ran it on the platform. I don’t sweat it, though my wife may displeased to read that, because I’m a composer. And being a composer means volunteering for economic suicide.

I accepted that long ago, after a brief but glorious delusion that I could produce a best-selling pop album and with the proceeds finance my Art! The other thing I accepted more recently was that despite the amount of words I was writing and the number of pitch letters I was sending out, I was never going to carve out any viable existence as a freelance writer (five paying gigs in two years should convince anyone, especially when one well-known publication took a nine-month pause before paying me).

I started writing about music precisely because I’m a composer, an unemployed one, and I was thinking about music in my life and in history and culture, as I always do, and, in the beginning stages of what has now been a more than six year, utterly fruitless job search, I needed to do something to keep myself from going insane [queue XTC song]. The Big CIty has done that to some extent, and it’s also been a slow-motion way, through experiencing a great deal of music, to re-introduce me my existence as a composer and since the summer I have been concentrating substantial amounts of my time composing.

Though that means less time writing about music, it’s been good for the writing. My attitude about writing, and towards listening, has changed in an important way: rather than chasing trends, following everything that’s new and trying to think in terms of promotion, I’m thinking about music through writing. Reading this excellent interview with Samuel R. Delany was an important inspiration in the way he talks about his own writing as a way for him to think through things, and the rightness of this direction for myself was reinforced by what turned out the be the most recent post, a review of the Jonathan Harvey Composer Portrait at Miller Theatre. I submitted this to the most prominent daily newspaper in this area because I knew the person they had covering the concert couldn’t make it, and I thought that since I was going to write about it anyway, might as well give it to them since they were interested in the event. But it turned out they weren’t interested in the event, they were only interested in the words typed by staffers or stringers under contract.

I write about music because without it, life would be a mistake. I think critically about music because I’m a composer and a musician, but I’m not really a music critic. You’ll find strong opinions here, recommendations, attempts to dissuade you from spending your money on certain things, and you’ll find those, mostly, inside longer essays that seek to uncover some truth, or even a minor understanding. And there will be more, through the seeming paradox that I am now about to begin to write for more outlets. My column at is up almost every week, I will continue to be in most issues of The Brooklyn Rail (print and on the web), my post as Critic-in-Residence at Galapagos Art Space continues, I have a review in the current issue of Signal to Noise magazine and will be published in the next, early in 2013 the new edition of the Grove Dictionary of American Music and Musicians will be published, and I’m proud to have contributed twenty pieces to the leading reference of its kind, I’ve started to contribute to, will continue to have the occasional review at Seen and Heard International, if I can get my ass together you’ll be able to read me at The Rumpus and in Ear to Mind, and I’m also going to inaugurate coverage of music at over the next several weeks, and I’m particularly excited about that.

That must look like a ridiculous amount of work, but it’s actually a way for me to cover more topics while writing less. Essays that bring together music in context are a more productive way to think about things than just spitting out reviews. But there will be reviews, of course, primarily here, as well as longer form things where this is the best outlet. I get a lot of interesting recordings from publicists, musicians and composers, thank you all, and on a disc-by-disc basis, The Big City is best for those, as well as for some of my stronger opinions that my be inappropriate for temperate discussions of cultural topics. I admit I have literal piles of discs to write my way through, and I will and must, out of sincere obligation and because I need to make as much room for setting up my little girl’s own bedroom. Yes, fatherhood takes up time and resources as well.

It’s a long-winded way to say The Big City blog lives, and will be stirring. I’m going to implement another redesign within the coming months, something simpler and focussed on the content, not the internet, and I need to add a look at video and streaming resources as a component, especially in a long-delayed relationship with, patience, s’il vous plaît, mes collègues. The smaller city is where you’ll find concert plugs and mental/aesthetic fragments. Finally, since it’s the end of the year time of crass consumerism, and since I’m voting in the Jazz Critics and El Intruso polls, you’ll be getting some lists, which are a good way to tell you about many good recordings with another 5,000 words gone. First to come will be, of course, Beethoven.


Author: gtra1n

I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.