Does anyone miss music mags?

July 29, 2009
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Slate has an interesting piece running about the death of music magazines. Writer Jonah Weiner points to the folding of Vibe and Blender, lay-offs at Spin, and staff cuts at Rolling Stone. He further notes te notes the challenges faced in covering music in long-lead-time media, combined with the competition from instant access opinion and comment we now how online.

The problem for music mags, too, is the biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you problem faced in much entertainment journalism. Upset a source and its very easy to withhold access.

Time, too, is a big issue. The best  Rolling Stone pieces from yesteryear came from lengthy time spent with subjects. In my feature writing experience (mostly for city monthlies), the best, most telling material came from spending time with subjects, not from half-hour phone interviews supervised by publicists. But the latter is increasingly common as artists make greater effort to control information about them.

So is there still a place for music magazines? In his essay, Weiner asks: "...should we mourn dead music magazines or simply shrug as we pass the funeral?" I ask you the same question.

Your thoughts?
  • Everything that Mr. Weiner says in the article is right on. Combine this with the splintering of the world of music into so many subgenres that a general-interest music mag faces an uphill battle to remain relevant to enough of them enough of the time.

    Also witness the fact that the biggest media companies have made enormous power plays in the last decade or so. With American Idol, they've laid bare the cynical, creativity-crushing process of corporate starmaking, and made us love them for it. They're making the sausage in front of our faces, and people buy it by the pound when they send it to the market anyway. Even the Disney star factory is right there for us to see, as they trot out their latest lab-grown adolescent proto-stars in a series of ever-growing multimedia extravaganzas until they are franchises unto themselves. Their marketing machine is disturbingly brilliant. Why do they need the stamp of approval of some grumpy latter-day Lester Bangs? They're not going to get it anyway, so they insulate themselves against critical influence completely.

    So, music magazines are being rendered obsolete from two directions at once. The first reason is not so troubling, as the variety of different kinds of music out there has arguably never been richer. With all the genre-splintering and alternate ways people learn about music these days, and the health of the viral indie market, it's a great, if sometimes overwhelming, time to be a music lover.

    The second reason is troubling in many ways . . . The corporate media world has followed this trend in both music and movies in the last 10-20 years, making their products slick and cynical and critic-proof. They use their considerable marketing talent and resources to ensure their profitability and protection from such intermediaries as critics, DJs, and movie theatre owners. They don't want people to think about their products, just to buy them. If you allow them time and room to think, they may make an independent decision and choose someone else's product. There's a reason to mourn the death of the music mag. The mainstream market loses even the semblance of someone standing up for consumers and demanding quality.
  • Music magazines, like the music and entertainment industries they cover, have forever changed.

    Speaking as someone who ‘grew up’ in the music magazine business -- I spent 7 years at Rolling Stone; served as the president/associate publisher of SPIN; and acted as a consultant on the launch of Blender -- I do feel as sense of sadness as I witness the disappearance of so many great magazine titles, and the resultant hardship inflicted on many talented staffers, now struggling to redefine themselves in this digital age.

    But the truth is that change has been the one constant in the media biz. Driven by the introduction of new technologies, and the evolving consumption patterns of the general public, the same forces that saw the rise and fall of the general interest magazine (remember Life, Look, or Saturday Evening Post) independently-owned local radio and daily newspapers, is now reshaping the entire media business as consumers and the advertisers who seek them migrate online.

    The good news is that music itself has never been more popular. True, there are fewer and fewer CDs sold these days, but look at the vibrancy of live music, peer-to-peer sharing sites and music social networks and blogs. There have even been some new media franchises, like iTunes, MySpace Music and Pandora who are establishing themselves as the new music authorities, not to mention the tens of thousands of small blogs and music sites dedicated to showcasing the independent, regional and smaller artists that the larger media companies historically ignored.

    Yes, the old music magazines are fading, but the music lifestyle they cover has never been stronger.
  • The magazines should have stuck to music, they turn off many readers because of the incessant left of center politics, it is like they are writing to appease the artists and not the readers. Rolling Stone could pass as an official publication for the Democratic party. That is why I dropped subscriptions to Spin and Rolling Stone over 10 years ago.
  • Real music writing died with Lester Bangs. All the mags have turned into is a rear end kissing exercise to make sure the writers and editors get their backstage passes and invites to the parties. They sold out to the corporate establishment a long long time ago. I do miss No Depression, however.
  • Hmm. Well, one year when I was in my 20s I subscribed to Rolling Stone because I thought it would teach me something and make me feel more comfortable around music life-stylers, but I could never get into any of the articles. The pages were too big and the print was too small and the words themselves seem to be in some foreign, hipster language that I couldn't understand no matter how hard I concentrated. Sometimes now I look at some of the other music magazines at my public libray and feel that same outsider wistfulness.

    I mean, who ARE these interesting-looking people and what the H are they talking about?

    So I can't say that music magazines have ever done anything for me except make me feel less than. I won't miss them at all.

    I will, however, miss in-depth interviews and articles about artists of any kind, in any kind of magazine.

    Mind you, I don't blame artists for not wanting some journalist with questionable ethics hovering over them and passing judgment whenever they don't eat their vegetables or something.

    I won't miss the obnoxious, sensationalistic, nosy in-depth interviews that are designed to sell magazines rather than illuminate art and life.

    But I would miss the biographical ones that can only develop over several conversations and with time to gather lots of information from a variety of sources about the subject in order to place him or her in a larger context. I hope there will always be support and a place for them, somehow.

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit

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