Morgan Enos is a musician, essayist and music journalist specializing in classic rock. He records and performs as Other Houses and has bylines in Billboard, HuffPost, the Recording Academy, Vinyl Me, Please, TIDAL and more. He is also the co-founder and editor of North of the Internet, a series of conversations with creative people. He can be found at his website.
Gig Economy is a Talkhouse series in which artists tell us about their work histories, from part-time pasts to the present tense, in order to demystify the many different paths that can lead to a career as a working musician. Here, Morgan Enos (Other Houses) talks how his career in music led him down a different path in the industry: journalism.
—Annie Fell, Associate Editor, Talkhouse
I’ve been a poor musician from coast to coast. In California, I played Big Star and Jon Brion covers at a Morro Bay pub. I was paid $20. In Brooklyn, a booker handed my band $2 to split among our three members. Sad times when a 5 PM bar show in a sleepy tourist town nets more than a gig at one of New York’s trendiest DIY spots.
Being a musician is largely an unprofitable, thankless gig. So what do you do when that’s all you want to do? For a while, I didn’t worry about it. I spent my teens and early twenties working on a string of variously inspired music projects; writing songs and playing them live was what I wanted to do with my life, full stop.
To put gas in the tank, I worked in coffee shops, gave guitar lessons, picked up one-off landscaping gigs and even helped elderly people learn how to use their email. Growing up in a rural town, I didn’t really think I had many other options. I was always headed for the furniture business, like my dad; I fleetingly considered studying English or going to pharmacy school.
I was enjoying making music more than ever. My power pop band, Other Houses, had hit on its best lineup by far and recorded its best release, Fortune Selector. My grungier, louder band, Hollow Sunshine, had taken a left turn, releasing a quick succession of EPs that explored electronic music, ambient, and worldbeat. Despite all this, other impulses were bubbling up. And, eventually, I got tired of the grind—of doing work so distant from my industry of choice.
Things started percolating for me when I met my now-wife, Brenna (and former Editor-in-Chief of Talkhouse Music). She’s a music journalist and a young adult author, and encouraged my own writing as we got to know each other. Especially after I moved from California to Brooklyn, both to be with her and pursue my music career in what I hoped were more prosperous climes.
Moving to a new city allowed me to move to another mindset: Instead of grinding it out in pubs and tiny clubs, I wanted to work in the music realm—no matter what it took.
For the first few weeks in Brooklyn, I sat on our ratty couch drafting emails to my musician friends from sun up to down: let me get your band on blogs. After rough experiences with publicists, I just figured I could do the job better, my own way. Manage expectations. Charge a fair amount. Actually answer emails.
One thing led to another. My newly found publicity partner, Julien, and I branched out into interviews; we conducted hundreds of them on a site called North of the Internet. I put NOTI on a resume for an internship, then a freelancing relationship, with Billboard. More than PR, this felt right to me. This felt true.
Growing up, I didn’t just discover new music; I pored over the minutia. I devoured reviews of everything; even things I knew I’d never hear, watch, or otherwise be exposed to. In high school, I covertly read Robert Christgau columns on a flip-phone under my desk; I pored over the Rolling Stone Album Guide until it fell apart in my hands.
I never dreamt I’d enter the music world this way. But I was eager to play the role to the hilt. For months, I privately labored over my interviewing style, trying to excise every ah and um and uncomfortable pause. I tried to absorb Stephen King’s knack for metaphors and Ernest Hemingway’s revulsion to ornamental language. I’m not there yet. But I love learning the craft—just as much as when I workshopped my first song.
Sometimes, working in the music business is paralyzing as an artist. In PR, I feared my creation becoming a pitch in the abyss of an editor’s inbox. As an editor, I foresaw a grim future in which a tiny readership demands that I entertain them for free. Now, in journalism, I see all the competition I’m up against.
I’m writing songs again; a lot of them, actually. I don’t have a plan for my music career, per se. I’d still rather go interview an artist I love than half-heartedly sell myself to a tiny Brooklyn crowd.
But I’ve learned it doesn’t need to amount to an identity crisis. Journalism, like music, is just sending out a signal as accurately as possible and hoping it resonates. And whether writing music or writing about music, I happen to gain a lot of fulfillment having it both ways.