Dying Music Magazines

Slate examines why music magazines are a dying breed.  Jonah Weiner, who authored the piece and worked for the defunct Blender from 2002 until last March, offers three reasons. 

I don’t necessarily agree with two of his reasons — that music magazines were early social networking, except that you know, social networking actually exists and that there are fewer cover stars that can sell magazines in the current climate — but, he does make the valid point that music nerds, the people buying the magazines, don’t really need them anymore. 

Time was, record companies sent advance copies of albums to music journalists. They, in turn, offered a distinct service to fans with timely, expert evaluations of new music. In the early aughts, labels, frightened by online leaks, tightened their grip on advance music, and listening sessions became the norm for most popular acts. Often held without the complete CD, these sessions encourage partially informed, snap judgments. They’re less than ideal in other ways, too: A colleague once reviewed a G-Unit album while 50 Cent sat directly across from him, nodding vigorously to the beat. Along the way, labels have tried other experiments. I’ve seen album advances come as preloaded iPods (the Pussycat Dolls), vinyl (the White Stripes), cassettes (Justin Timberlake), and a Discman glued shut (Tori Amos). As advances of high-profile records slowed to a trickle, Blender and other magazines working with long lead times were forced to run many big reviews several months late or skip them altogether.

Meanwhile, with the proliferation of online music, sanctioned and otherwise, music fans don’t need critics to play middleman the way they once did: If a fan wants to decide whether he likes a new album, there are far easier ways than waiting for a critic to weigh in, from streaming tracks on MySpace and YouTube to downloading the whole thing on a torrent site or .rar blog. The value of the music reviewer has always been split between consumer service (should people plunk down cash for this CD?) and art criticism (what’s the CD about?), but of late the balance has shifted from the former toward the latter—answering the question of whether to buy an album isn’t much use when, for a lot of listeners, the music is effectively free. It’s a valid point that the professional critic still wields an aura of authority rare in the cacophonous world of online music, but between taste-making blogs and ever-smarter music-recommendation algorithms like Apple Genius and Pandora, the critic’s importance is being whittled down.

I won’t mourn the death of music mags, but unfortunately the great music journalism/writing hasn’t transfered over to the internet.  For the most part. 

Most music outlets now are nothing more than recycled press releases, music videos, etc. (I’m guilty of this as the next person) and not really anything of lasting substance. 

Yes, that’s a broad generalization, but still, as Weiner notes, “for every artist profile reduced to a charade (my hour with Beyoncé), there’s a piece like David Peisner’s fascinating 2006 Spin article on the role of music as torture in the war on terror or 2008 Britney Spears stories by Michael Joseph Gross in Blender and Vanessa Grigoriadis in Rolling Stone, which offered engrossing, intelligent reporting into Spears’ nadir without a smidge of “access” to the star herself. In the absence of the great feature writing that music magazines do underwrite (and unless Web writing, video interviews, artists’ blogs, and other new forms fill the void), we’ll be hearing only part of the song.”

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