To be a music lover is a full time job in itself. With daily tasks such as curating hour-long playlists for every specific mood a human can go through in the span of a day, along with dissecting the lyrics to your favorite songs, it’s a demanding occupation. Looks great on any resume, if you ask me. However, finding an official title for this to put on a paycheck makes it even better.
Nueva York’s Gio Santiago is one of the lucky few. Initially working as a Pitchfork staff writer and executive editorial assistant. Now, they proudly work as an events audience coordinator and marketer at Conde Nast. With experience such as working in live music as a member of the Brown Concert Agency throughout their college years, along with running a music review platform on Instagram during the pandemic, Santiago is no stranger to channeling their love for music through multiple outlets.
It goes deeper than simply listening to a track a few times, though. “The way I thought about music before I joined Conde and before I worked at Pitchfork was just very different,” Santiago revealed. “I was a music lover before I was obviously really interested in music and doing research… but I feel like ever since I joined Conde Nast and Pitchfork, I learned to become a journalist, I learned how to become a researcher, how to think about things like, what is the context of the music in a larger culture around us or within society?”
“I knew that I had a role and responsibility as a music reviewer, as a music critic. As somebody who curates for a larger audience, it was my responsibility to be well researched.”
Santiago does not take this responsibility lightly, which can be seen in their work and process as they follow a specific criteria. “One, does my background, does my identity, does my expertise … Does this artist or this album that I’m reviewing accurately reflect my expertise? Or is this going to be something that I take on, and that I understand, is going to require a lot more research or talking to other individuals about?”
The value of identity is equally as important in Santiago’s work. It’s more than the research that may or may not be needed, but the specific relatability between Santiago and the artist, along with whether or not their values align. “Is this somebody that I want to cover?” They ask themselves. “Are they queer, are they trans, are they a person of color? Those are things that are very important to me. Are they pushing the boundaries of the genre they’re working in? … Or are they continuing a conversation that deserves to be happening, or it hasn’t gotten enough care, attention, or spotlight?”
Upholding and staying true to your identity is something that can be challenging in any field, especially when your peers and those in higher positions don’t share the same background. Santiago reflects on experiences they had while reporting on these artists they related to in which their editors, “Come in and be like, ‘Well, why are we focusing on this?’ and just plainly talking about the music and I’m like, no this context is extremely important … and I am the one who is able to provide that because of my background, because of my identities and my life experiences. This is something that you may not understand the cultural relevance or importance for because this is not something that you interact with or is part of you in your identity.”
“Journalism is a very white upper middle-class industry, so a lot of people don’t know how to responsibly interact with music, art or film that isn’t well regarded or well viewed or talked about as much in mainstream media. I think my background really influences the kind of work I take on and how I interact with the types of projects I do.”
While having such an authentic voice in their writing due to their background is a gift that cannot be copied, it does come with its own struggles. “Writers of color, critics of color, artists of color … often find that people misunderstand or they are not getting the sort of respect or understanding that they deserve because of the type of people that hold power in these scenarios or in your career … who do not have a lot of experience with your background.”
“I came from a low-income background, I was a low-income student. I was a first-generation student in college, I was fortunate enough to go to an Ivy League university, but I was really one of the first people in my life, in my family, to be able to do those things. I didn’t come from a big media background or family, which is how a lot of individuals in my career, or in journalism, actually get their jobs. They’re able to network or meet people because of their families or their backgrounds or access to wealth, so I’ve often found myself as really lucky in many ways that I’ve been able to infiltrate this space and be part of it … but not everybody’s able to access that, so I also want to recognize that privilege.”
Santiago consistently shows both in their journey to their position now and in their work the importance of maintaining authenticity and putting that into your own work. In an industry in which identity is suppressed and the myth that complete objectivity is enforced, they continue to admirably reflect their background and identity in everything they do.
Even with the idea of sticking to who you are, though, Santiago stresses the importance of accepting change – something you can truly apply to aspects of life. “The music industry is changing faster than it ever has before. I see myself in the future and the way that it evolves is just being able to shapeshift; being a diverse and versatile worker. That’s how I see myself. Open to new ideas, open to new positions. That’s the only way you can survive in media and have a career here.”
“It’s really just being open to the fact that change is very normal and natural in this industry, and you have to pivot and shapeshift, and diversify yourself along with it.”