Publish and be Damned - The Future Of The Music Press

 
 
The past decade has seen the music industry changed irrevocably but whilst much of our focus has naturally rested on the recordings business every aspect of the industry has in one form or another had to face up to a radically changed landscape. Few areas have felt this disruption as keenly as the music press.  Not only have they like their colleagues in the mainstream media had to deal with the near collapse of the print market just take a look at last week’s news fromThe Observer for proof if needed but the very nature of what the music press exists for has been called into doubt. 18 years ago when I first picked up the NME it all seemed so very different.  It’s hard to imagine now with music virtually omnipresent in our lives available on demand whenever and wherever we want but there was a time when it felt like an incredibly scarce resource.  No MySpace no Spotify few if any bands had an online presence and even if they did I certainly didn’t have access to it.  Specialist radio shows provided a small window of opportunity to hear the music you wanted but even then the importance of the music press cannot be overstated and every month I’d wade through half a dozen different titles in the search of the one killer album that month that was worth blowing my meager shelf stacking pay on. Not only did writers like Steven Wells and Everett True exert a huge influence on the decisions of a generation at the record store counter but for a teenager growing up in an average London suburb they gave me access to what might as well have been another world.  They could make bands and they could at least make a fairly decent stab at breaking them should they choose to. Looking further back music journalists were wild improbable figures every much as dangerous and crazed as their subjects.  Critics like Lester Bangs may have been untrustworthy biased egocentrics but they understood that we wanted stories and were given the time money and space to deliver them. Fast forward to today and every foundation that the music press has been built upon seems to be being chipped away.  Locked in a vicious spiral of plummeting sales cautious editors have looked to shore up their readership by wheeling out the same old bands time after time; a tactic that may delay their demise but also over time has diminished their relevance. Couple this with an increasingly fractured music scene that throws up a new genre every other week and you take away the big titles’ other power to define a scene in the way that a magazine such as Select did throughout the Brit-Pop years.  Rather than look at the wider picture people increasingly turn to specific sites that cater exactly to their particular need a role that blogs in particular are incredibly well suited to catering to. With a plethora of streaming services now available not to mention the numerous illicit options available the days of umming and ahhing for hours over the purchase of an album or single seems a ridiculous notion.  Indeed the very notion of ‘owning’ music is itself becoming a more and more nostalgic concept.  When you can listen to nearly any track you like within two clicks of a mouse and make up your own mind the authority of the critic is fatally undermined. Even artists and importantly their pr people have wised up to the fact that they can just speak directly to their fans without the need for a middle-man.  Where once a journalist might have spent several days with an act today the average interview lasts 20 minutes slotted between soundchecks; and bands that once seemed as remote as the gods of Olympus are broadcasting their 140 character stream of consciousness direct to their fans. Still despite this bleak outlook it’s not the end of the road yet the best (music) writing provides passion excitement and stories it throws up the completely unexpected and makes us laugh or pull our hair in frustration something that iTunes Genius or a press release masquerading as editorial will never do. Over the next few newsletters we’ll be looking at how the music press is rising or not to the challenges it currently faces.  Just like the recordings business the music press is faced with both pitfalls but also huge possibilities and how it comes to define itself in the coming years will have a major impact on its future survival. Next month we’ll look at the rise of blogs and the impact that has had on the traditional music press. Are blogs a quicker faster more independent alternative or to quote DrownedInSound’s albums editor do they just exist for people too s**t to have gotten published any place else"? by John Power c/o Musictank.co.uk "