Making Sense of the Noise: The Non-existent Crisis in Music Journalism

Here’s another segment of the industry heard from in the swing from mass market to niche.

According to Dave Simpson writing in The Guardian, the closure of music industry biggie NME this year hasn’t precipitated a crisis in music journalism, as some are saying. Quite the opposite is true, he believes; declining circulation has created new opportunities, especially for more nimble niche titles.

As Simpson writes, “… to walk into any major newsagent in 2018 is to be greeted by a dizzying array of titles – far more than there were when Melody Maker, NME and Sounds shipped hundreds of thousands of copies. Today’s circulations are lower, but there are magazines for every niche or genre, from Classic Rock to Blues & Soul to avant-garde title The Wire.”

He cites Mojo editor John Mulvey who said, “I’ve read thousands of words about the so-called ‘crisis in music journalism’, but your average punter would be hard-pressed to understand that.”

Mulvey argued that the ill-fated free NME was “a last attempt to court a general audience, as titles have realized that they are no longer mainstream but specialist publications.”

These smaller, leaner and adaptive niche magazines are tuning into the reality of smaller circulations by focusing on their core specialties – what Mulvey calls a “recalibration” based on “emphasizing quality, long-form journalism in the face of an avalanche of disposable free content.”

And because these publications exist on the strength of each and every story – without the deep pockets of mass-market publishing models of old – the journalistic integrity is highly compelling to advertisers.

“The progressive rock monthly [Prog] typifies the shift towards smaller, highly focused titles who get advertising because record labels know their readership and interests,” Simpson explains.

But how do these little titles land big-name cover stars, like Yoko Ono a recent cover of the free title Loud and Quiet? It comes down to the value prop for the artist.

“When we set up interviews, PR people ask: ‘Will it go in print?’” explains Loud and Quiet editor Stuart Stubbs.

“Having print and online is best,” says pop PR Sacha Taylor-Cox. “While a magazine readership will see each page, online you could have a million subscribers, but your piece could be read by none.”

MBC PR’s Fred Mellor agrees, saying “… established acts and the industry, it seems, still take print more seriously. The best thing is being able to give a cover feature to an artist or band – they just love it.”

And so does their audience. The most interesting thing about this article is the huge variety of business models being used to generate revenue – definitely, the successful ones are marrying print and digital in ways that appeal to their core audience. Yet printed music titles remain popular for one very good reason – its hard edges.

“Perhaps music journalism isn’t as central to young people’s lives like it was when information-starved fans waited patiently for the ‘inkies’, but now, with so much instant music and such sophisticated algorithms out there, perhaps the trusted navigators are needed more than ever,” Simpson writes. As “L&Q’s Stubbs puts it: ‘Someone has to make sense of the noise.’”