The decline of the music media?
by Andrew Duke
"My job is to make albums, yours is to describe them." (Speedy J's response in the July/August 1997 issue of Magic Feet when asked about his "Public Energy No 1" album on NovaMute.)
Magazine. Megazine. Webzine. Zine. The foundations for new print and web-based magazines are laid every day. Many produce their first issue and, in spite of the statistics, join the global fight for readers. Two out of three magazines go out of business before their first anniversary, with the gulf widening between the worlds of the glossy and the photocopied.
The magazines you see on the news stand or at your local record store come in all types. There are magazines that have grown into corporations. Ones that feel all photos of women must be accompanied by a sexist cutline. Mags that merely repeat press releases verbatim. Vehicles started by promoters as essentially a giant flyer for their parties with some words sprinkled throughout to give them that "magazine" look. Vanity projects abound where a number of pages are devoted each issue to pics of the editor with various "celebrities". There are fashion and youth culture rags masquerading as music magazines. Media machines that say you're the bomb one week, a bum the next. Publications with writing so verbose you'd need a dictionary and a map to navigate them.
"Labor of love" is certainly a cliche, but it usually fittingly describes the underground music media. While sniping at the majors and praising the independents is a favored hobby for some, the free press is not without problems of its own. Money for these zines, or lack thereof, is usually the biggest obstacle. Because these are often started without a business plan, the editors soon learn that the urge to get the word out alone does not pay the bills. And after going in the hole from production and distribution costs, the reality of putting together a magazine slams home.
Some magazines are under the impression that accepting no advertising makes them underground. But not attempting to at least break even on a venture is shortsighted at best. Those who do seek advertising revenue often complain of advertisers who don't take them seriously enough to pay on time--or at all.
The goal is to have a balance between advertising and copy, but we've all seen the result when the editorial department can't keep up with their super successful ad counterpart--the next time you pick up a mag and it takes just five or ten minutes to read all of the copy, count the number of pages of ads versus the written stuff--often the percentage is heavily weighted in favor of the ads.
There are many artists who refuse to do interviews or restrict the number they do. Why? The complaint heard time and again is that they are tired of getting asked dumb questions. And these questions are always the same, they say, just asked by different writers. With a lack of diversity in the music press, you need only buy just one mag. If one role of the music media is to talk to musicians, what does their growing lack of cooperation imply? Is true music journalism disappearing? Does honesty no longer rule over bias? Is the goal to be informative and critical gone? Speaking of which, are writers now afraid to be critical? Whether coming from the hype machine or the trainspotter's digest, mythology seems to reign supreme when it comes to certain areas. The code becomes "artist X or label Y can do no wrong" and future reviews become announcements of a new release, not critiques. Plus there's the magazines that give glowing reviews (of albums often universally panned elsewhere) to artists soon DJing or performing at events they've sponsored.
It's time to rethink our beliefs. There is no music bible, all have their strengths and weaknesses. Journalists merely become publicists with these lazy styles of writing, and magazines lose their value and integrity. No one benefits when the music press loses its journalistic values, its zest to be creative, to be daring, to be unique, individual, and, above all, original.