Back in November 1978, a young music journalist named James “Jas” Obrecht introduced the world to an up-and-coming musician named Eddie Van Halen, who was on the verge of revolutionizing rock n’ roll guitar playing.
Since that story for Guitar Player magazine, Obrecht built an award-winning, 40-year career writing music books, feature stories, scholarly articles and reviews while also spending the last 16 years as a Creative Writing and Advanced Composition instructor at Washtenaw Community College.
This fall, Obrecht’s two careers blend together when he offers WCC’s first Music Journalism (JRN 164) class, in which he will teach the fundamental skills needed for a career in music journalism.
“With the recent upsurge in publishing opportunities for authors of music-related books and articles, the time feels right for a class in music journalism,” Obrecht says. “It will allow me to draw from a lifetime of experience.”
While building a reputation as a coveted instructor at WCC (his Advanced Composition class was the first of 34 sections offered this fall to fill), Obrecht has continued to be a prolific author. He published Early Blues: The First Stars of Blues Guitar (University of Minnesota Press) in 2015 and Talking Guitar: Conversations with Musicians Who Shaped 20th Century American Music (University of North Carolina Press) in 2017. He recently completed Stone Free: Jimi Hendrix in London, which will be released this fall by the University of North Carolina Press in the United States and on Duckworth Overlook in the United Kingdom.
Despite the collapse of traditional journalism outlets – and arts and entertainment writers were often among the first victims of newsroom budget cuts – Obrecht insists there are still opportunities for music writers. Music, he says, is a universal subject with a substantial following that will always generate enough interested readers.
“If you are passionate about a subject, chances are others share that passion and there are publications devoted to it,” Obrecht said. “I’ve been lucky, in that I turned my youthful passion for music into a 40-year career interviewing and writing about rock and blues musicians.”
Obrecht built his Music Journalism class to shine a light on an often overshadowed and seldom-taught business, providing objective insight on artists and other mainstream music topics. Anyone with a devotion to music and interest in writing can get expert advice on merging the two into a career path.
“Students will learn how to research, write, and edit reviews and articles, as well as how to query editors, score assignments, conduct artist interviews, proofread, make deadlines and write headlines and pull-quotes,” Obrecht said. “The course will also cover securing rights and royalties, copyright law fundamentals, and writing for foreign markets. Best of all, we’ll look at our copy together.”
Obrecht says the knowledge needed to build a career in the field transcends experience in the music blog world. In addition to proper training and discipline, the journalist's musical background plays a critical role, as well.
“The best music journalists – and the ones with the most longevity – know how to play an instrument,” Obrecht said. “A better interview occurs when a musician feels that he or she is speaking to another musician.”
- Story by Julia Ochoa-Corante