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5 Things to Know When Writing About the Music Industry

Author Ashley M. Coleman gives you her top five tricks for writing about the music industry—even if you're not an industry expert.

Stories about the music industry can certainly command the interest of book lovers. An industry often shrouded in mystery, readers love to see behind the curtain when it comes to music, entertainment, and celebrity. But writing fictional stories about music is not always easy. Building characters who are supposed to be famous and referencing music no one has heard can leave a void for readers.

(Ashley M. Coleman: On the Importance of Writing Rituals)

In my debut novel, Good Morning, Love, I wanted to give readers an insider look into an industry that many people connect with (because we hear music everywhere we go) but may not understand. My years of experience in the industry certainly helped me in my own writing process. So, I’m sharing five things that can help you write more authentically about the music industry regardless of your personal experience.

Ashley M. Coleman: On the Importance of Writing Rituals

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1. Lyrics are expensive to clear.

I’m starting here to help editors who must have this uncomfortable conversation with their writers. Lyrics are the intellectual property of songwriters and, unfortunately, you can’t use them in your books without clearance to do so. I know exactly how it feels to have a perfect song that relates to your character. While you can reference a song title or artist, any use of lyrics needs permission and, unless you have a great personal relationship with the writer or publisher, payment, to be used in your story. The good news? Here’s a chance to flex your own writing muscles. You can take a stab at writing original lyrics yourself.

2. Get to know the jargon.

There are a lot of words and abbreviations used in the music industry that may not be obvious to the public. From DSPs to EPs and LPs, you can quickly get lost. While you don’t want to get too deep into the technical language to confuse your audience, you also don’t want to call an amp a speaker or a playlist an album. You want to ensure your era aligns with the right musical playback from vinyl to CDs or mp3s. These things can be easily researched or discussed over a few phone calls with someone who works in the music industry. You’re bound to get some really remarkable stories in addition to some relevant terms to add to your musical vocabulary.

5 Things to Know When Writing About the Music Industry

3. Don’t forget musicians are people too.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the expensive clothes, fast living, and attractive people, but readers connect to characters’ humanity. When writing about stars, the stories we love the most have peeled back the layers of celebrity. What’s behind all the fame and fortune? It was important to me in Good Morning, Love to be sure the rising star Tau Anderson had depth. While he is young, rich, and famous, Carlisa Henton is a woman who demands more than what’s on the surface.

4. Work on your description.

It’s a dance to immerse your reader in an audio experience through a written medium. Great description is key. If you want to get a better idea of how to describe music, start by reading music reviews. In these types of articles, writers will often break down details about albums and songs. It’s a great way to look at how a writer can describe things sonically. You can even listen to songs that put you in the mind of the music your characters may create. I love writing to a great playlist in general. But it also helps put me in the state of mind of my characters to know exactly what mood or feeling I’m trying to evoke in my writing.

5. Real musicians will know.

I don’t know about you, but I have sometimes watched musical films and wondered if they talked to people who work in music. It’s a small industry and most of us want to see the work we do depicted well. There are small nuances in music you can easily spot if they’re written poorly. For instance, being a left-handed guitar player is not as common. They often play their guitar upside down unless they can afford a special model for left-handed players. If you write about a left-handed guitar player, this may be something easy to miss, but something music makers would notice. There are a host of small things that may not seem like a big deal; however, the minutiae are often the key to creating authenticity in your story about the music industry. 

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