Music to write copy by

7 02 2010

Here at CJS we have recently dived head-first into the relentless routine of production days.

Unforgiving deadlines, strict word limits and gripping features are now the order of the day, and we need to be focused on the job in hand.

While a clear mind and a readiness to communicate are musts within the confines of the newsroom, many of us will no doubt find ourselves constantly on the go, chasing stories and writing features away from the order-in-chaos.

I cannot be alone in using music to help focus the mind, and in this post I will share with you just some of the bands and artists I turn to when I have work to do.

Be it revising for a testing public admin exam or writing a 750 word feature on Formula 1, music tends to help my productivity. I’m sure it does the same for some of you too.

At the very least, I hope I can introduce a few more names to your Spotify playlists and provide a gift that stays with you for years to come.

1. Electric President

I was introduced to Electric President just over a year ago, andĀ  the Floridian duo instantly won me over with their blend of haunting vocals and mellow beats.

Alex Kane’s electronic input perfectly complements Ben Cooper’s vocals, both providing a subtlety lacking in the work of may of their peers.

They have been compared to Postal Service and The Weakerthans, but such comparisons do an injustice to a band whose music will engross but not engulf the listener.

2. Mogwai

As far removed as possible from the energetic Gremlin with which they share their name, Mogwai are on a level which most bands can only dream of.

For more than a decade they have treated fans to expansive post-rock so grand in scope it makes Lord of the Rings look like Superbad.

They went some way to getting the recognition they deserve after being asked to compose the soundtrack to Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait in 2006. Since then, they have gone from strength to strength with recent album The Hawk is Howling showing the band’s unerring ability to captivate observers with every movement, much like Zizou himself.

3. Jurassic 5

Of course, I appreciate that different people work best when listening to different genres of music. As such, I feel it would be both ignorant and inappropriate of me to omit hip-hop in my discussion of music to write by.

Kings of the genre, in my humble opinion, are California-based act Jurassic 5. Showing more versatility than many of their peers, J5 span all elements of hip-hop, often providing more relaxed and mellow music but never being afraid to show more aggression and panache on live favourites such as A Day at the Races.

Their music might not seem conducive to writing at first glance, but check them out for yourselves and you may well be pleasantly surprised, even if hip-hop isn’t usually your cup of tea.

4. Explosions in the Sky

The word ‘epic’ is used all too frequently when it comes to today’s music. But one band which really does merit that description is Explosions in the Sky.

The Texan quartet have spent the last decade or so making music you thought couldn’t be bettered…and then bettering it. Their crashing guitars and vocal soundscapes add an unquantifiable sense of grandeur to whatever you are doing while listening to them.

So stick any one of their albums on, be it one of the earlier classics or the new groundbreaking material, and it will feel like that MPs’ expenses story you’re writing is the next Ulysses.

5. Sigur Ros

Perhaps the most famous of the five bands I have mentioned here, Sigur Ros have still taken far too long to gain the recognition they deserve.

No one else makes music quite like the Icelanders, whose vocalist Jonsi Birgisson sings in an invented language – Hopelandic – as well as in his native tongue.

It is perhaps the use of Hopelandic which give the quartet their almost magical quality. But the whole-hearted desire to experiment also has something to do with it.

Their music puts you in a state of mind so peaceful all other concerns will be brushed to one side, letting you focus your energy on almost anything.

If you are yet to discover this masterful band, I urge you to sit back, relax, and enjoy.

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Climbing up the (pay)walls

6 12 2009

In the beginning, there was news.

Then people, for argument’s sake let’s call them journalists, thought it would be a good idea to print news. The newspaper was born.

Many years later, the internet came along.

The internet quickly became a repository for anonymously abusing people, watching pornography, and of course reading news.

When the UK’s national papers jumped on the online bandwagon they thought it would be a good idea to make their content free to whoever wanted to read it.

Sales of physical newspapers were not in as dire a state as they are now and anyway, if sales started to fall away they could always start charging and people would be happy to pay up, right? Wrong.

“Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today.” – Pink Floyd, 1973

Last week, former Cardiff Journalism School student and current UK editor of paidcontent.org Rob Andrews came back to his old stomping ground to give a talk about the problems facing newspapers as they try and bring in money from online sales.

The main issue is very simple. People don’t want to pay for something they can find for free somewhere else.

Rob explained how difficult it is for online sales to put money in the kitty

You see, you should never underestimate people’s willingness to shop around for freebies.

And with so many news aggregators around online, it is becoming easier for people to find free news if they are determined enough.

While some papers, including the Financial Times, have experienced some success after setting up paywalls, Rupert Murdoch’s ambition to do the same with The Times is likely to be less fruitful.

Because you’re worth it

Now I’m not saying many – if not all – of the UK’s national papers deserve income from their online stories.

While the stories themselves may be the same as those available for free elsewhere on the web, The Times and its counterparts frequently display a far greater standard of journalism.

Take, for example, this brilliantly-written article from Daniel Finkelstein.

It shows a lot of depth that cannot be found elsewhere, yet people will still prefer to read articles like this which are free, informative and to the point.

Keep it snappy

When I went on a work experience placement at BBC Sport, one of the first tasks I was given was to write four-paragraph stories.

I was told that four paragraphs are all you see on the first page of Ceefax, and that on the website you have to scroll down to get to paragraph five.

People don’t like scrolling down, I’ve heard. It requires too much effort.

The difference with the FT and other similar sites is that they provide expert information.

People go on sites like this because they are looking for something specific. And by ‘something specific’ I don’t just mean ‘Who is Katie Price going out with this week’ or ‘What film did I see that actor in?’

I mean information that people can trust, specialist information that readers need to be able to rely on.

Mmmm… free goo

Recent trends seem to show that people are moving towards free sites, no matter how uninformed or useless the information they provide is.

And the polls which Rob showed us seem to suggest that forcing people to pay for news will be ambitious at best.

The one potential saving grace, which seems like a fairly remote possibility, is that Murdoch’s plans will drive readers back to print media.

Is this the end for print media?

But have people really just stopped reading papers because they can get the exact same stories for free, or is it because they simply don’t like carrying a paper around with them every day and ending up with a pile of useless ‘old news’?

The Evening Standard would seem to side with the former, jumping theĀ  gun by becoming a freesheet and – one would assume – seeking to get advertising companies on their side early and generate something approaching a steady revenue.

And while Murdoch hopes to buck the trend, few have been able to convince themselves that paywalls are the answer to journalism’s woes.

After all, the success of paywalls requires something far more difficult than writing an award-winning story. It requires convincing people to change their habits.