Northeastern alumnus Marc Myers, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism (’79), has combined his passions for music and writing as a Wall Street Journal contributor and columnist, JazzWax founder and blogger, and author of best-selling books on jazz, rock and pop. He has been writing for The Wall Street Journal as a music and arts contributor for almost ten years. Before that, he launched and strengthened his impressive journalism career at top outlets like The New York Times, where he worked on co-op, and at Adweek and other major publications. As a dedicated and enthusiastic music columnist and arts interviewer at The Wall Street Journal, Marc specializes in pulling emotional stories out of his subjects in his monthly “Anatomy of a Song” column and weekly “House Call” column. The latter explores the childhood lives of celebrities, a critical period in life that Marc says most publications skip over. His most recent book, Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop (Grove), is a compilation and expansion of his first 45 columns for The Wall Street Journal and features interviews with some of the most talented and well-known artists of our time. From Mick Jagger and Stevie Wonder to Merle Haggard, Joni Mitchell, and Rod Stewart (and so many more), Marc has had engaging and revealing conversations with dozens of music icons. Anatomy of a Song provides readers with the sensitive stories behind these songs in the words of the artists he interviewed.
Interviewing rock stars and celebrity artists is no easy feat. The amount of time for each interview is often tight and attention spans are short. So Marc says he spends hours on pre-interview research that can include reading memoirs and prior interviews as well as exploring the artist’s work in-depth.
“If subjects don’t respect you from the outset, you’re dead in the water,” explained Marc. “For the best results as a journalist, you must go into each interview over-prepared if you want a great story. You have to be knowledgeable and animated to get subjects to open up. You also have to take charge and know in advance what you want to get out of an interview. You’re performing, fishing and producing all at the same time.”
With this high level of dedication to each interview, Marc successfully has engaged subjects on their early life, inspirations and career turning points. For his book, he teased out the challenges musicians faced when writing and recording their most popular songs. This is one of the reasons why Marc’s columns and Anatomy of a Song have captivated a loyal and growing readership over the years.
Marc has also dedicated his time and expertise to elevating JazzWax to a top-ranked jazz blog with more than 10,000 Twitter followers. Founded in 2007, JazzWax has twice won the Jazz Journalists Association’s award for best blog of the year. The goal of his blog—which Marc posts six days a week—is to educate readers about jazz and to turn them on to the most rewarding jazz albums and artists. He describes the three elements of effective blogging that make readers want to come back each day: keep posts short, write only about what you love, and maintain some element of surprise in the subjects covered.
“This allows readers to trust the content and my taste when I tell them about music that’s a must,” explained Marc. “Once trust is established, readers return regularly to see what I’m up to each day.”
Producing this volume of high-quality content can be challenging, but Marc’s curiosity and genuine love of music make researching and reporting nothing short of fun. Given his passion, it likely comes as no surprise that his love of journalism date as far back as childhood.
Born and raised in New York City, Marc moved with his family to Cortlandt Manor, a rural New York township, when he was 13. While the rest of his family embraced the change, Marc was not thrilled about being pulled away from the excitement of city life. Music became a diversion and an escape.
“Trapped in suburbia, I’d still take trips into the city by train to buy records, and when I was home, friends would come over and we’d sit together and listen to music,” said Marc. “I even had a radio under my pillow. In many ways, music became an emotional lifeline to the life I left behind.”
When Marc came to Northeastern University in 1974, he brought several plastic milk crates of jazz albums with him. Back then, he wasn’t the only one lugging vinyl to Boston.
“When I arrived in front of Melvin Hall as a freshman, I remember everyone else getting out of their cars and going to their trunks, where they pulled out stereos and multiple boxes of records and 8-track tapes,” he said. “Once inside the dorm, the first thing everybody did was set up their music and start blasting favorite albums.”
In fact, music was a powerful way to bring everyone together and helped to build a sense of community among students in the dorm. Marc was introduced to many new bands and artists – and as a direct extension, many new friends and peers.
“In the dorms, you went to friends’ rooms to hear music that was new or unfamiliar,” explained Marc. “The only way to consume music then was to sit and stare at the speakers. It was a social scene. Today, music is largely background listening while working or at the gym. Back then, music was all foreground.”
Even with this love of music, Marc studied Journalism at Northeastern, another passion he had been exploring since the fourth grade, when he started a one-page newspaper called “Tree Trunk News.” This passion continued through to high school, where he was editor of the school paper.
“This may sound odd, but I think my love of journalism began by watching TV’s Adventures of Superman as a kid,” Marc laughed. “Superman didn’t seem nearly as interesting as Clark Kent. As a reporter at the Daily Planet, he was always searching for the truth and the next big story. That was exciting.”
This admiration for a comic-book reporter and Marc’s own quest to work for a newspaper translated well at Northeastern and during co-op semesters at The New York Times. The position opened up in 1976 as a fellow Northeastern student neared graduation. Marc jumped at the opportunity to work at this top-tier national publication. After Northeastern arranged an interview in the paper’s editorial department, Marc went in with his portfolio and landed the co-op experience of his dreams.
“When I wasn’t being taught the craft by Northeastern’s dynamic journalism professors, such as William Kirtz, I was working at The New York Times learning at the elbows of some of the best journalists and editors in the country,” Marc said. “Being able to work while you study is such a powerful thing. When I graduated, I had more than 40 published clips for The Times and an offer to work there full-time as a clerk.”
But Marc put the opportunity on hold. He had been saving throughout college to hitchhike alone through Europe after graduation. He knew if he didn’t follow through on his promise to himself, life would begin and he’d never again have the chance. So in September 1979, he went off to Europe and thumbed for four months through seven countries, relying solely on car rides from locals—109 lifts in all. Luckily, when he returned home, there was an opening at The Times. Even though it was in sports, not a desired position, Marc says, he managed to write features for the section and cover sporting events when reporters had days off.
Marc left The Times in 1985 to become an editor at Adweek and then moved on to business magazines and newsletters before starting his own marketing and media consulting company in 2001.
In 2010, his friend Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal’s drama critic and fellow jazz fan, urged Marc to write for the paper. So Marc had lunch with Terry’s editor and did not look back. “I spent my entire life waiting to write about music and to interview leading actors, artists, athletes, musicians, sculptors, poets, painters and other people who are at the top of their fields.”
As for journalism as a career today, Marc is bullish. “There has never been a better time for young graduates with a passion for writing news and features, and for interviewing celebrities,” Marc explained. “There are so many more news outlets today that need smart young talented people eager to get at the truth and to make stars accessible to readers.”
Although it was Marc’s own hard-work and perseverance that opened up so many doors to success throughout his career, he looks back on his time at Northeastern fondly; it offered him a very strong foundation.
“The Northeastern experience was so magnificent for me; it was grand,” said Marc. “I couldn’t have had better training or a stronger portfolio, all of which Northeastern made possible by putting me in play on co-op. Starting at the top gave me confidence and ambition.”