The Reality of Being a Black Female Journalist in Today’s Music Industry

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[Editor’s note – as with all the articles in this month’s social justice issue, the following is a first-hand essay. The author’s experiences and opinions are her own, and we encourage you to join the discussion in the comments section below or on our social media pages.] 

Yes, there have been nights where the liquor flowed recklessly while I was covering a show and I spent the next morning wondering how the hell I made it home in one piece. What I found even more baffling was the fact that I not only made my deadline (impressively with hours to spare), but my review was meticulously written and every detail was chiseled to perfection. After being a music writer for nearly a decade, I have figured out the illustrious balance between work and leisure, between exertion and enjoyment. But my journey as a black female music journalist in a mostly white and male dominated industry–an industry where the boundaries are infinitely obscured and there will never be a standard set of rules to follow–has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride stippled with misconceptions.

Because of my gender, people often assume that when I’m on assignment, I’m actually: a groupie masquerading as a writer completely devoid of any actual musical knowledge, a freelancer who solely receives bylines because my superior (who must be male) has designs on me, or an ornamental spectator who happens to attend concerts strictly for the people watching and occasional free booze. When I introduce myself to a group of new people as a music writer and share that I even have my own website to display my portfolio, their eyes grow big–almost incredulously–as they mindlessly remark, “That’s cool” before rolling them and quickly moving onto another topic.

Whenever I’m around a group of guys who consider themselves knowledgeable about music, their response to my profession is even more callous and they somehow equate my success as a threat to their masculinity (my ex-boyfriend once yelled at me for getting him photo pit access to one of his favorite live bands). The fact that I’m a black female music journalist who loves all genres of music is a difficult concept for some to swallow.

When I once recalled to a friend the borderline prepubescent glee I experienced while singing into Adam Lazzara’s microphone at the epic Taking Back Sunday 10 Year Anniversary show in Boston for Tell All Your Friends, she interrupted me mid-story to inquire how many black people were at the concert. I honestly cannot count how many ignorant comments I received over the years regarding my extensive musical palette. The remarks have ranged from people telling me they thought black people only listened to rap music to an instance of another black person approaching me at a music festival because he was shocked to see someone who looked like him in attendance.

I have never been ashamed of the diverse range of influences I’ve amassed over the years; I will unapologetically wax poetically about my favorite rapper then pen the most poignant live review on a ’90s alt-rock band you’ve ever read. But the most hurtful assumption when it comes to my career in journalism is that my career is grounded in luck, not hard work.

Apparently, simply flaunting my sexuality is enough to get me on guest lists and in tour buses and in magazines and on blogs. My ethnicity supposedly makes me exotic, and therefore a fetish. The truth of the matter is: I’ve busted my ass to get where I am today. When websites offered to pay me only in exposure and experience, I took the opportunities without muttering a single complaint. My days often consist of waking up hours before my shift at work to edit an article, scheduling an interview with a band on my lunch break then dragging myself to a show after work because I promised my editor a write up on it in the morning.

My social calendar hinges on what acts are coming to town and which publicists are looking for coverage. I’m virtually on the brink of carpal tunnel from how quickly I’ve learned to reply to editors asking for pitches, pacify PR folks requesting confirmation for an interview that was supposed to run, and reach out to writers covering a certain assignment because someone bailed the last minute. I have lost countless friends and hours of sleep chasing my dream. But music is my passion, my love, my everything. I have the best damn job in the entire world–and I wouldn’t change a thing.

For more, visit www.candacemcduffie.com.

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