It Also Doesn’t Help That So Much Bad Music Is Being Released

Thumbnail image for keyshiacolecover1.jpgJonah Weiner's Slate article about the death of music mags has a lot of us talking, and it is any wonder? These publications are dying left and right for a number of reasons. But there was one particular portion of the article that stood out to us (no, not the disappointing experience on the set of a Beyoncé photoshoot):

Movie and TV reviewers can talk about plotlines and acting; video game reviewers can talk about graphics and game play. Music writers are charged with describing more ineffable things, and the frequent result is a pile-up of slang and shorthand references, purplish gushing, and tedious emphasis on lyrics.

Hmm. We're not sure we'd even want to be music journalists, not with popular music being so garbagey right now.

It's great writing on SB, since it's independently owned and operated and no one's forcing this topic or that topic on us. We pretty much have carte blanche around here, and that's what you see--unfiltered. We couldn't imagine working for a popular Hip-Hop or "urban" music publication, and having a boss that instructs us to review six albums in a month and we're forced by the very nature of this product to write bad reviews, which would result in some angry rapper making threatening phonecalls to the office because we didn't give him five afro-piks or whatever. That doesn't sound appealing at all.

Why would anyone want to be a music journalist right now? How can one write at length about lyrics when lyrics are so banal and incomprehensible that they're practically nonexistent? Or when everyone's using the same producer? Or the same guest rappers? You get the idea.

Would a benefit be getting to hang out with the stars? The article states "the days when Cameron Crowe could spend months reporting a story from Led Zeppelin's tour bus are long gone." Who's worth hanging out with now? Chris Brown? Not even if you wore a helmet.

It can be argued that a dope writer can write about anything, that he/she can spin shit into sugar. The question, though, is: Should he/she have to? A lot of the publications that recently fell on hard times had to come up with innovative ways every month to write about piss-poor music and the often greedy, entitled or completely dense people that perform it. Popular music isn't designed with the intent of inspiring layered, sophisticated commentary--it's designed to sell. There's a certain beauty that exists in the parsing, exploration or criticism of popular art, but how effective that commentary is largely depends on the subject. We imagine it's rather difficult to find varied, exciting angles in an artform that's ruled by homogenization.

So yes, we definitely feel a sense of sadness on behalf of our print media counterparts, but we felt this even before it was a matter of job security. For seasoned music writers, the very thing they love has been steadily trending towards crap for some time now, and all they could do was smile and do their jobs.


Spinning in the Grave: The three biggest reasons music magazines are dying. [Slate]

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8 Responses

  1. "Piss-poor music" has always existed, but I don't think it's had anything to do with the demise of music mags. The reason they fell off is because they couldn't catch up to the web. They didn't take their websites seriously enough.
    Besides, some of the best popular songs ever have lyrics that no one can or wants to understand, but they love the beat and/or melody. Also, most music lyrics (no matter what genre) can hardly hold up as real poetry.
    That said, there IS some garbage out here. But I don't think it's more or less the same precentage of garbage that's comes out every year since the birth of popular music.
    Imagine if someone came out with something called "Surfin' Bird" today. Imagine if "Oo, Ee, Oo, Ah, Ah!" came out today. We'd clown on them. But they're regarded as pop/rock-n-roll classics now.

  2. Mr. Johnson said it right. My degree is in communications with emphasis on historical commentation of popular music. My blog covers both past, present, & future of music that I think deserves the attention. I will admit it is harder these days, but again, the past tends to be revised by romanticized notions we hold.
    I think it is a crime that during the "glowing '70's" the output of The Supremes was overlooked by other less than stellar girl groups that were up & coming. Though you had people writing about them, because their music deserved attention like the "new stuff" at that time.
    Every decade since popular music began, we've had music that wasn't desirable, but I think now there is a more unbalanced element abounding. The only way to restore this balance is to change the mindset, and I believe intellectual, stimulating, and fun commentary on music & music culture is a part of facilitating that change.-QH

  3. I agree with Stephon as well, especially the first part. Newspapers and mags were caught with their pants down at the turn of the 21st century, by not learning how to divide the right amount of information to their readers on both the web and in print. And then when they pulled the pants up they started throwing all the information on the net, thus the print part got ignored. That's how that got screwed up. It really wasn't mainly about the content, it was about the format. As I'm getting a degree in journalism with a focus in music, music history and magazines, from the courses I've been taking they are prepping the new sweep of journalists to become familiar with web based ideals as well as keeping in the old school format. Web and print can live in harmony as long as the journalists and their editors who work in their prospective formats know how to handle them both to keep readers on both ends reading.
    On the content front, yes, I have been awoken in the night due to fear of having to write about the crap-o-la that artists are passing off as "music", but I always figured my mission to become a music journalist was to direct my readers away from the garbage and focus on artists that bring something new to the table or continually put out good products. I try to do the same thing on my blog. Not everybody who reads it may like everything I post, but hopefully they can get a new perspective on it instead of feeling like they are being force fed garbage.
    I always tell people, that there IS good music out there, you just have to weed through and be aggressive to find it, but some journalists aren't doing that. Why? I think, in honesty, because music journalists are probably the most biased writers out there. They know what music they like and they will forever gab positively about it, ignoring others because it doesn't fit their forte. I'm guilty of it and I know others are too (just look at Rolling Stone...THE most biased music mag out there). So I don't think its the music that is bad...there has always been bad music even in the golden rock n' roll era of the 50's...but I think that its the journalists themselves who need to do their research better and know that when something doesn't sound to sweet, they need to overpass it.
    Whew, sorry for that novel. *blushing sheepishly*

  4. Well as a widely published music journalist, I certainly bemoan the demise of publications that I grew up on, Vibe Magazine included inspite of its flaws. I also feel like tastemakers zines and blogs cannot replace the print aesthetic, especially where magazines are concerned, There's just something special about flipping through pages, enamored by both the visual and printed art.

  5. Thanks, Audio Diva. I love it when you weigh-in. In the case of what to write, depending on the outlet, some folks are given assignments. For example, I was assigned to interview an artist whose album eventually went double-wood. I suppose I could've turned it down, but it was an assignment nonetheless. On our own sites we have a bit more freedom, but when you're hired, sometimes you have to have to turn in your assignment for better or worse, especially when the outlet in question targets a certain demo. Choosing your words carefully in those situations can be quite hellish.

  6. Most magazines are garbage now, and that is large reason I stumbled upon soulbounce. I was a big VIBE reader, especially when Emil B, was editor over there. They had a lot of interesting and groundbreaking articles. As soon as he left and they started churning out the "tabloid" issue and putting Bobby Brown on the cover when he had no music out, I canceled. As far album reviews go, they are so predictable these days. I cant stand reading, "the lyrics glide over the hard hip-hop beats with crisp prodcution," or "vocal acrobatics." Can people come up with something more original? Besides that, magazines are so thin now. They are filled with so many ads. I like being able to scroll down without a bunch of pop-ups bugging the shit out of me (like on sb). I still like print magazines though, I hope someone gets it right in the future, but I doubt it.

  7. I use to write liner notes for compilation CDs and had dreams working for VIBE or Billboard. One of the reasons why I didn’t pursue it was because I had the same thoughts you guys have posted. There’s a lot of garbage out here from a music standpoint, and at one point I simply gave up listening to anything current. Honestly, I don’t think it’s because of my age or my bias for the love of New Jack Swing, but because of the lack of innovators in the game. I will say that my love for Michael Jackson may have spoiled me in looking at musical artists as true musical visionaries.
    The transition from print to new media has been interesting to watch, and I think that we simply can’t be satisfied with status quo. We have to be able to know the history, take from it what works, and move forward to provide better content for those who are looking for good music. I know it’s out there. Nowadays, we just have to look harder for it. A positive influence on new media to music is that now we have the ability to broaden our musical tastes and have our music collections more eclectic.
    Thanks for the post and the comments, I gained a lot of information.

  8. Interesting post. I have to agree with some of the other commenters though and say that the quality of the music - while pretty sucky at times - is not the issue. There has always been crappy pop and soul. The difference is in the way that people consume not only music but information in general, and that is where magazines are messing up. I worked in print journalism for years, and in the decade since I got my first newspaper gig, the business has changed 100-fold. Between 9/11 and its impact on ad sales and the rise of the Internet as a central form of information, traditional media got lost and failed to keep up with the shift in a model that the Ipod generation has made obsolete. (Just look at how the day after MJ died headlines read "Jackson Dies at 50" as if the whole world did not already know.) As one poster said, the mags should have taken their sites more seriously and made them more of a priority. They chose not to, and now they are paying for it. I'm old school with mine, so I prefer to flip through a printed magazine in the mold of golden era Vibe or Source that's gonna give me something meaty on the subject that is nearest to my heart, not cleverly worded Web snippets that tell me virtually nothing and are crafted to fit a very narrow agenda. Blogs and "tastemakers" are great, but serious music heads will always want their music news and commentary from credentialed, properly trained journalists and essayists. The need is there, they just have to find a way to make it work in today's climate.