Courtney E. Smith (@courtneyesmith) is the author of Record Collecting for Girls: Finding Your Inner Music Nerd, One Record at a Time (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011). Her debut book of music essays was featured in Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, Elle, and many other outlets. It’s easy to understand why. Her book a super-fun look at how we connect with music and the role it plays in the lives of many female music nerds out there. Courtney’s chapter on “Where have all the girl bands gone?” should be required reading for any feminist who says she likes rock & roll. (Note: If you don’t know who Goldie & The Gingerbreads, Fanny, and Joan Jett are yet, pick up Courtney’s book for a concise history.)
Courtney started on her professional writing career with the Subterranean blog, a companion blog to the only indie rock video show in America, MTV2 Subterranean, which she programmed and produced. What you might not know is how hard she worked on the difficult feat of giving women musicians equal airplay in that role. She’ll share what it was like to be on the inside of the machine during a unique time in the history of indie rock, especially in New York.
When she’s not working on her next book, Courtney is currently an editor and writer at Refinery29, the third most trafficked website for millennial women. She shares how she pivoted to this role and intentionally fits it into her lifestyle.
If you’re someone who dreams of writing a book or realizing a creative project while still paying the bills, there is so much to learn from Courtney’s experience and this conversation. We discuss how she structures her week to bring the necessary focus and structure to her writing process, as well as what it’s like to write from two very different ends of the spectrum. And, let’s be real, we geek-out about indie rock, too.
Selected link love + resources from the episode
- Connect with Courtney on social media: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn
- [Please link all books to Amazon and all music to the artists’ websites. Link movies to IMDB.com.]
- Record Collecting for Girls: Finding Your Inner Music Nerd, One Record at a Time by Courtney E. Smith
- Howl by Allen Ginsberg (book)
- Tim Ferriss/Cheryl Strayed podcast on The Tim Ferriss Show
- MTV and MTV2
- Mercury Lounge (NYC music venue)
- Apple Music
- Tuma Basa (Hip-Hop Head at Spotify)
- Oh My Rockness
- Feedly (app)
- Apple Newsstand
- Chuck Klosterman and Rob Tannenbaum (author)
- Beatles and The Rolling Stones
- Blur and Oasis
- Ghettotech (music genre)
- Women Entertainment Network
- Alice Isn't Dead (podcast)
- Cherry 2000 (movie)
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (book)
- Intersectional feminism
- Two Dope Queens (podcast)
- And all the other artists we mention in the episode: Brittany Spears, Death Cab for Cutie, Fall Out Boy, Father John Misty, Jesus & Mary Chain, Ludicris, Mac DeMarco, Pavement, Smiths, Sonic Youth, White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
- Kickass Theme Music: “Things Are Getting Better” Written by Rishi Dhir. Performed by The High Dials.
- Stay in the loop about future Le vital corps Salon episodes: Twitter | Facebook | The List (sent twice monthly including helpful health + lifestyle information)
Quotes + selected highlights from the episode
All of this wisdom is from Courtney herself (with some minor edits for readability).
[00:12:06] This Wednesday, I am giving myself the whole day off, and I have scheduled a massage, and a mani/pedi, time to drink a mango margarita just because you do need to—when you have a flexible schedule like this, you do have to also schedule in time for yourself where you plan to be off and not just constantly working, which is—when you’re freelance and working for yourself, something that threatens to—it creeps. The workload creeps into your schedule.
[00:13:57] I think the idea—what I learned in writing my first book was that creativity is not spontaneous. You can’t just let it be spontaneous either because it will ruin your schedule. You have to learn to flex your muscle whenever you have the time scheduled to do so. That doesn’t mean you can’t, if you have a sudden burst of insight or whatever, that you shouldn’t stop to write it down. Or if you really feel in the mood to sit down and write, obviously I do it. But this whole idea that I should just wait for an idea to come to me, or I should just wait to be in the mood to write, that’s a falsity. That is not true. That’s not how professional writers operate.
[00:18:14]: There’s nothing. You just really have to some days admit that your writing is terrible, like you’re just on the wrong project. When that happens, I set that idea aside. If I’m in the mood to keep going, then I will pick up a different idea and work on that instead. If I’m not, then I pick up something that I’ve wanted to read, someone else’s work, and try to find some inspiration in it. But some days, you’re just not good at this. That’s the other thing about writing.
[00:23:04]: Everybody’s had that moment when they’ve been in their house too long, and you’re like, “I really have to not be here now.”
[00:34:03] I look back now, and it’s shocking how much power I had over the music scene in my 20s. It’s ridiculous. It’s stupid. Why were they listening to me? But it was also fun sometimes, and sometimes you got to meet people who were amazing, and so much fun to work with, and just the best, and it made you want to do even more to help them.
[00:49:28] I find that in the last decade, my relationship to the way I’ve listened to music and to albums has changed completely. It used to be my CD Walkman and walking around New York, and listening to albums over and over, or listening to mix CDs over and over, and I knew them back and forth. It felt like there was less to consume, although I don’t think there was. Even a decade ago, there wasn’t. But it felt like I just knew things more intimately, and I had a more intimate relationship with artists. And now it’s 100 percent Spotify, and I listen to stuff while I’m doing something, mostly.
[00:50:40] I know that’s something that happens as we get older as well. We start to cling to the music of our youth and care less about new things.
[00:59:40]: I felt like I had to move away to understand if I was sick of doing this job, or sick of living in New York, or what my deal even was.
[01:03:57]: I really love those kind of music essay books, like the Klosterman books and Rob Tannenbaum’s books. I like books that combine your feelings and your experiences with music. I really love reading those, and I wanted to write one because it occurred to me that there were no women writing those books, and I don’t understand why. There should be. There should be a lot more. So I did.
[01:07:57]: I like to imagine people arguing back to my book, because I definitely have done that with other people’s writing. I don’t want you to agree with me necessarily. If you do, that’s cool. We can like the same things, and I get it. And if you don’t, that’s fun, too. It’s actually kind of great if you don’t. So it’s not all a likeable point of view. I think a lot of people disagree with my point of view on The Smiths, but that’s fine. I accept that.
[01:11:22] I never wanted to be a musician, but I always loved music, and I’ve always been a big appreciator of it. I started making mix tapes when I was about 8. So I think there’s a role for everyone, especially in a big—we were in New York during a huge creative scene where there was a massive boom of local bands who became huge. There’s a role for everyone. You don’t have to be the person on the stage to be important there. You can be the person in the audience, and that’s an important role, too. You’re not an imposter. You’re an appreciator.
[01:26:16]: (On Netflix binges) Well, it’s a nice way to make it feel like you have your own little world and you’re totally eschewing responsibility. You get the satisfaction of doing something just for you, but also being able to create a little cave where you feel safe to do it in.
[01:37:05]: I’d like to see them giving less of a sh*t about responding to people online in various forums who are just trying to troll them. Just ignore. You don’t have to interact with every idiot.
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