Freelance Journalist

June 22, 2023 (Updated )

As a freelancer, Arusa Qureshi ends up covering a lot of different things. One day she might be talking to an up-and-coming band, the next she’s getting into the weeds with a plant scientist. But it’s music journalism that’s her real passion, and listening to her at the Student Publication Association’s 2023 National Conference, her passion for fostering accessibility and diversity in arts and culture journalism shines through.

Qureshi has worked on projects including a book celebrating women in UK hip hop titled Flip the Script and ‘Amplifi’, a series of gigs in Edinburgh designed to champion up-and-coming musicians of colour. She’s also the current editor of Fest Magazine — there’s a lot to talk about. We spend an hour and a half after the panel event chatting about what her average day looks like.


Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Arusa’s book is available to buy now — and her wonderful cat.

I Start My Day…

With feeding my cat!

I Always Thought I’d Be…

When I was younger, I thought I was going to be a musician because I played a lot of instruments, and that’s what I was good at.

My Typical Day Involves…

I wish I could tell you that I had a routine that I stuck to, but I don’t!

I usually end up having a lot of meetings over Zoom, so I try to get all of them out of the way in the morning. Once they’re done, I go into the office. I have an office space in Summerhall and I spend most of the day there.

There are a lot of dogs in Summerhall, so I’ll usually go and play with some dogs which, when I come home, my cat’s not very happy about. I also spend more time than I’d like to admit writing and replying to emails. Then in the evenings, I go to a lot of gigs or theatre [productions], or other culture-related things.

I wish I could say that I switch off at a certain time, but being a freelancer, I don’t switch off very well. If I get a burst of inspiration, I’ll start working on something no matter what the time is, which is not what I think you should do — but I’m really working on it!

Journo Resources
“It can be really easy to say yes to things, because you want to do it and you’re excited to do it, but the more people that say yes to doing things for free, the harder it is to get paid to do things in the long run.”
Arusa Qureshi, editor of Fest Magazine

I Got The Job Because…

I used to practise a lot writing for myself, in journals or on blogs — [it’s] how I got into writing about music. In terms of where I am now as a freelancer, I got here because I lost my job!

I lost my job because of Covid, when there weren’t many jobs around to apply for, so I was forced into becoming a freelancer, which I didn’t really want to do. Thankfully, touch wood, it’s actually been fine, and if I hadn’t lost my job, I wouldn’t have written a book.

I think sometimes you have to take these negative things and find the silver lining, and think, “This would never have happened if that terrible thing hadn’t also happened.”

The Thing Which Surprises Me Most About My Job Is…

Every day is very, very different. I could be on the radio, sitting at home with a book, or doing a talk — it’s always something different.

On A Usual Day, I’m Listening To…

Because I specialise in writing about hip-hop, I tend to listen to a lot of hip-hop. If you’re interested, my book [Flip the Script] comes with a playlist which is on Spotify, which I listen to a lot — and I update it regularly.

Arusa Qureshi’s Playlist: On Women And Hip Hop

Qureshi regularly updates a Spotify playlist that accompanies her book about women in hip-hop. Stick it on while you listen to the book!

The Best Part Of My Job Is…

My favourite thing to do is interview people, so I’m lucky I get to do that quite a lot. I just love the range of people I get to talk to. Being a freelancer, you naturally end up doing lots of different things, and even though music is still my focus, I still [cover] a lot of other things too.

For example, last week I interviewed a band, and yesterday I interviewed a plant scientist. So it’s very random, but I like that there’s so much variety in people I get to talk to and learn from.

I’m Most Proud Of…

Something I do outside of journalism is a series of events in Edinburgh called ‘Amplifi’. It’s a series of gigs which have been going on for over a year now. They [involve] a lineup of musicians of colour in Scotland every month, and it’s always people who are not well-known — sometimes it’s their first gig ever.

They all get paid really well because [the project is] funded. One of the people that has played these gigs is now playing SWG3, a huge venue, this month. People are starting to use the series as a [way of finding] some really exciting people that are doing things in Scotland, and that was the whole purpose of it, so I’m proud of that.

If I Was Starting Again…

I wish I was more confident to get going with journalism earlier, rather than being anxious because I didn’t see people like me doing it, and thinking that I couldn’t do it. I think if I really believed that I could do it earlier, I don’t know if it would be different, but I would have felt better about it.

Journo Resources
Journo Resources

Fest Magazine (L) and an Amplifi event (R)

I’d Be Wary Of…

Exploitation is a big one. It’s never okay to exploit young journalists. If you’re starting out and trying to build a portfolio, it’s okay to work for free if you’re doing it for yourself. But I would tell people to be wary of doing that for a long period of time. Once you’ve got what you need, don’t work for free any more; that’s what I always tell people.

It can be really easy to say yes to things because you want to do it and you’re excited to do it, but the more people that say yes to doing things for free, the harder it is to get paid to do things in the long run.

If People Wanted To Follow In My Footsteps, I’d Say…

Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t belong, or that you’re not good enough, or that you’re only there because of your marginalised voice.

arusa looks to her right while speaking at a spa panel event

The Thing I’d Most Like To Change About The Industry Is…

I’d definitely like more money to go to grassroots projects. But also, I’d like people in general to be able to scrutinise what’s going on in the background: where the money’s coming from, where it’s going to, who is being protected in top-tier organisations and why.

I think it’s really important to hold people accountable, for the safety of all of us. For all of us to feel welcome and to feel like we belong, it’s really important for us to collectively do that.

After Work…

I pet my cat! My cat gets attention all day. His name is Begbie, like the character from Trainspotting. He’s a monster, but I love him.

Talia Andrea
Talia Andrea

Currently in her final year studying Comparative Literature at university, Talia Andrea also writes events and music journalism. She is editor-in-chief at Strand Magazine and was awarded highly-commended for Best Project or Initiative at the Student Publication Association National Conference 2023. Talia has also recently launched FEMMESTIVAL, an all-female music festival which premiers in October 2023.

Header image courtesy of Resident Advisor