“The Updraft” Publishes Dynamic Music Journalism


Madison Olsen

Students in Practicing the Art of Music Journalism attend in-person class. Over the course of the semester, they will publish eight pieces each to the digital publication The Updraft.

When you first land on The Updraft: New Takes on Music webpage, you become quickly aware that you’ve stumbled on a resource for a wide range of music journalism. Scrolling down, you can expect to see an album review of Rina Sawayama’s latest project, an article on TikTok-famous artist Blu DeTiger, or a concert review of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Soaring Strings performance. You might not realize at first, though, that this dynamic publication is actually a class project for the ten students in the Practicing the Art of Music Journalism class. 

“During the beginning of the semester, [The Updraft] essentially put us on this huge spreadsheet of what concerts we were going to do, when,” College fourth-year Olivia Fink said. “It was a kind of introduction to what working on a publication would be like — and I’ve worked on publications before, but it just felt very different in terms of [focusing on] music journalism.” 

The students must write and publish two album reviews, two concert reviews, two concert previews, a feature, and an op-ed over the course of the spring semester. Most of the students were trained in journalistic technique in a fall introductory course, keeping the publication’s style consistent. But as the quality stays high, the musical tastes represented vary wildly, with students writing on classical music, K-pop, indie pop, rap, and neo-folk, just to name a few genres. 

“I just released, actually a couple of days ago, an album review for Proud of Me Now by Sheff G,” College fourth-year Milend Kolbet said. “I really liked writing that because he’s an up-and-coming Brooklyn artist. I’m from New York City, and it’s really cool to write about stuff that I’m listening to that I know not a lot of other people are listening to. … We talked about it in class because the professors looked [the album] up, and there were not really any other reviews. It was definitely cool to work on some niche stuff.” 

Visiting Teachers of Music Journalism Daniel Hathaway and Mike Telin, OC ’84, began teaching music writing at Oberlin a decade ago when the Conservatory hosted the Stephen and Cynthia Rubin Institute for Music Criticism. Both are seasoned in their field: Hathaway is the founder of ClevelandClassical.com, and Telin serves as its executive editor. They first taught the course as an introductory class in music criticism. A few years down the line, they changed the language to “music journalism” to reflect a more holistic view of possible writing projects. Practicing the Art of Music Journalism came to be a follow-up to the introductory course. 

“It came from the students, who said, ‘It would be really fun if we had a second-semester class where instead of just writing 10–12 exercises, we had a way of really finishing them and posting them someplace to create a portfolio for ourselves,’” Telin said. 

Students in this class have worked together each semester with Telin and Hathaway to build up their own digital publication — a product that looks different every time. Past iterations have taken monikers including ConNotations and The Critical. Students this semester chose The Updraft in a democratic process, brainstorming together about what they hoped to generate in the coming months.

“They really wanted to talk about the community,” Telin said. “‘What is this going to be? What are we interested in writing about?’ … I also don’t think we could’ve had the conversations we had with this class if we hadn’t gone through the pandemic and through the political situations that we’ve encountered over the past couple of years.” 

Conservatory third-year Nicolette Cheauré has enjoyed the opportunity to contribute to a publication for her coursework. 

“Both the fall semester and this class have been two of my favorite courses I’ve taken in my time at Oberlin, both from a writing perspective, and being able to disseminate news and conversation about music, so that we can spread that appreciation for the arts elsewhere,” she wrote in an email to the Review

Given pandemic considerations, the scope of the class’s coverage has expanded dramatically relative to previous iterations. Where before students were primarily focused on writing about Oberlin and Cleveland music, these days virtual concerts mean that journalists can write about music across the country and the globe from the comfort of their own dorm room.

“Since everything is on Zoom, all these concerts, no matter what genre they are, [are] online,” Telin said. “I mean, you can write about the world now.” 

While the introductory course built out students’ basic skills in music journalism, working to develop a publication together and upload their writing consistently has allowed them to develop a personal flair in their work and dig deeper into their favorite subject matter.

“I’m not quite hitting it on every piece I’m writing, but I’m trying to do lesser-known artists or young artists just as an extra, fun little challenge,” Conservatory second-year Emmy Hensley said.

However, the class isn’t only about the writing part of journalism. In-class writing workshops, hearing their pieces read aloud by peers, and weekend copy-editing sessions with Hathaway and Telin are valuable sites for growth — but the students are also developing as inquisitive editors, website administrators, and interpersonal collaborators in building their publication from the ground up. 

“I think the website is also really cool, because we get to explore how to work with WordPress and all that kind of stuff on the backend,” Conservatory second-year Stephanie Manning said. “And I particularly tried to pitch ideas about the website, like ‘We should have a homepage that looks like this.’ … It’s really a collaborative effort to create that, and it’s a great artifact of all the work that we’ve put in this semester, and will be in the future.” 

Many students praised the longevity of this digital portfolio and the utility of the experience. 

“I hadn’t had much of a serious writing education,” Kolbet said. “Writing things that are condensed, writing things that are straight to the point — I think it’s a really important skill to have in life no matter what you do.”

For other students, learning in the class has served as more direct career inspiration. Hensley sees it as an asset toward future work in arts administration, Manning will spend Winter Term in May working with ClevelandClassical.com, and Fink has discovered a new passion that is informing her post-graduate hopes.

“Music and writing: Separately, they’re both skills that I think I’m pretty okay at, but combined together also might be something I’m good at,” she said. “Music and writing is a pathway I could see myself doing in the future, and this was a catalyst.” 

The Updraft: New Takes on Music will continue to publish for the duration of the spring semester — follow along with their work here.