Monday, May 17, 2010

recent thoughts and replies on the subject of music journalism

1) Do you think that music journalism is a dying trade?

it's evolving. going through changes. as in the black sabbath song 'changes'. which is a pretty plaintive, melancholy song.

2)If so, what ways do you feel the industry has changed?

it seems to be being deprofessionalised, or at least the professional bit of it is shrinking to a hard core and the rest is becoming a sideline thing for most people, what they do as well as their main livelihood

3)Do you think that music journalists still have the influence to make or break an artists' career?

no. but it's possible maybe if they all agree on something (which is very rare these days) to raise something's profile significantly

4)In your view, has the development of the music press affected the credibility of the journalism?

hmmm, not sure i understand this. less and less reported journalism is going on within the music press now, especially as people do email interviews and so forth. but it was always somewhat erratic in terms of its standing as reported journalism, certaily in the UK very few music journalists had been through journalism courses

5) Do you think today's music press lacks substance and depth in its content?

there is such a wide sprawl of music journalism that it is hard to make a global statement. some of the writing nowadays is way more knowledgeable and authoritative in a certain sense that what you used to get in the UK music press in my day -- in part because so much more knowledge is available, on the web. we didn't have any resources like that in the 80s or early 90s -- just a few rock encycopaedias. but in some ways there is almost too much knowledge, getting in the way of an emotional reaction or some kind of take or stance that is bigger than the facts, that aims for truth

6) Given the corporate growth and globalization of the music industry do you feel that market constraints are limiting what a journalist can now write?

no, not particularly. the constraints come now with the way that pop stars and rock stars are cossetted by publicists and interview situations are more controlled. so maybe some of the randomness and fraternising that you used to get in the 70s -- with journos like nick kent being friends with rock stars -- that has gone. but that still exists with your more indie and underground type artists, they seem quite happy to converse with journalists and are often quite influenced by music criticism

7) Has the music press become nothing more than a cog in the industry's promotion machine?

again, depends on what level, what sector, you're talking about. i don't think so, but equally the industry -- and publicists -- have got very very canny about promotion, building a buzz, etc, -- but you know the music press is basically in the same business as the industry/PR, on some levels it's about hype. for me it's fine to hype things if they are actually of substance. you want to further the things you rate and believe in, and music journalism is the art of suasion and
excitement incitement

8) Taking into consideration the music industry's saturation of popular music, do you think that the music press has become a victim of its own success?

did you see the last ABCs for the UK? NME is down to 38 thousand. What success?!

9) What impact has the emergence of MySpace and other social networking sites had on music journalism?

Not sure. I guess we can be bypassed if you want, but it means a hell of a lot of work sifting through stuff. I think the press has a role still as a filter, and also as a meaning-maker. we can still find the significance, make connections, aggrandise it all.

10) Do you feel that blogs and the likes of Twitter are eradicating the need for professional music critics?

i think this relates to 9/, to some extent yes, but there were always fanzines and always fans engaging in critical discourse, and this was always part of the mulch that grew the meaning of music. now it's just more visible and accessible

11/ How have things changed since you have been involved in the industry, what is different?

too big for me to answer. the main thing is the loss of the magazine as a social milieu --in my day (the 80s through to mid90s) you would bring your copy in, not email it or even fax it, and you would hang out at the office, meet the other writers, get drunk, have arguments, ideas would be generated, vibe would be generated and that filtered into the pages. now magazine offices are like ghost ships and most mags don't have that cameraderie and collective energy, the writers rarely meet each other unless they seek each other out.

12) Where do you see the music press going in the future?

deprofessionalised in large part, more and more fragmented,fractious.... it will follow the way music is going


it would be good to steer away as much as possible from the whole steady deprofessionalisation of music journalism/"what happened to it as a livelihood/career?!?!/"doomed, doomed, we're doooomed" issue, otherwise it'll just turn into a grim handwringing session. It's bound to come up anyway, especially during the question time. It would be more interesting to talk about why music criticism might be worth doing even if it's not a good career option -- all the stuff about what's it for, how does it make a contribution to music culture, how to do it well, how approaches have changed in the last decade, what motivates us, what inspires us etc etc.

As the one on the panel who's been around since the dawn of time I've noticed differences from when I started, or from the first half of my career, to do with the disappearance of the magazine as a social nexus, a milieu. When I started out, email didn't exist, fax machines were scarce and bloody expensive, so you brought your copy in personally, by hand; that meant you hung out at the magazine, so you got to know all the writers, there was a lot of socializing, drunken discussions, arguments. A thing I've noticed on the very rare occasions that I go to a magazine office is that they are like ghost ships. There's hardly anybody there, absolutely no vibe. Cos everyone sends in copy by email, editors I think would actually discourage anyone from coming in person, cos theyr'e so overworked it's a distraction. So one thing I sense is that the music writer lifestyle has become more solitary and that it is harder for a magazine to have "vibe" in the classic sense of Creem/NME/etc. Obviously writers do find each other and socialize, hang out, etc. But that's not quite the same thing as when a magazine functions as a kind of social milieu, because you would also rub up against writers/people you don't like and disagree with as well. Friction creates sparks. Of course there are online surrogates for writerly community like ILM etc but they have their own problems.

Another is the rise of musician-critic. Obviously there have always been super-smart, articulate, hyper-aware musicians (Eno, Green, Lunch, Malkmus, et al) but… there seems to be more of them now. I'm thinking Dirty Projectors dude, Vampire Weekend (who worship Momus who is an extreme example of musician/critic), Daniel Lopatin , Ghost Box dudes, Drew Daniels, John Darnielle, etc etc. and even in dance music you have super-eloquent types like Burial or Villalobos. I kinda half-feel like they're encroaching on our territory! There's a little bit of hmm what's my role now, cos they know they're trying to do/what they've achieved. At the same time these musicians have grown up reading music criticism and so you could say that it shows that what we do actually has some kind of effect. Anyway I wondered if you agreed that there's more of these hyper-conscious musicians around now, and also if this is a development that's been accelerated by blog culture. At times it can be a little suffocating almost, the musician presents a very well-laid out map of what their music is about.

the topic of tl; dr will have to come up at some point i expect!

speed-reading seems to be imposed by the nature of the web and data/culture overload

it is interesting how these changes in structure and reception affect the mode of writing, at one point some years ago before the web really took off it seemed like music writing in print magazines was getting more congested because word-counts were being reduced, so it was like people were trying to cram 800 words of data/argument/reference into 400 words.

on the web there's no limit to space but there's the different pressure of competing with all the other text and media out there, everyone being in a hurry, so maybe there is a pressure towards brevity/impact

i seem to be unconsciously resisting it by generating ever-vaster pieces

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