The State Of Music Magazines: Terrible, Or Merely Awful?

In a recent Guardian music blog post, former Creation Records head Alan McGee–the man who foisted Oasis, Teenage Fanclub, and, ahem, Hurrican #1 upon the world–laments the demise of Arthur, and the state of rock writing in general:

[In the U.K.], there seems to be little or no ground between tabloid-style attention to chart acts and the more middle-aged, conservation work of tirelessly compiling lists and meditating on past glories. It’s a shame, because I believe that in drawing attention to what is being produced under the radar and discussing its merits, magazines like Arthur have a nurturing effect on great music and art. They connect artists with audiences and provide an outlet for intelligent discussion and detailed criticism. While the internet can be used to a similar purpose (salon.com being a good example), printed publications generally afford a greater consistency of quality and as far as I am concerned still command greater attention on the part of the reader…

I don’t wish to play the “everything was better in the 70s” card but it does seem to me that British music publications have fallen victim to the creeping homogenisation [Arthur editor Jay] Babcock identifies. Beyond the fact that the magazines offered largely fall into the two categories I mentioned earlier, the relentlessly repetitive formulas they use are such that they have become a joke among people who care about music. Aside from the obsessive list-making there is a constant tendency to compare new artists to figures of the past rather than discuss what may be of interest in their own music. Namechecking like this does not encourage people to criticise music but promotes lazy and superficial categorisation.

Trust us, if there’s one thing we know from obsessively reading the British music magazines, it’s that they’ve certainly bogged themselves down with multi-generational nostalgia (The Smiths were good! So were the Beatles!) and breathless attempts to play catch-up with the young blokes (which explains last year’s Monkey mania). So yeah, they’re in a rut, but what’s the alternative? Long, equally breathless mash-notes to Joanna Newsom? The fact is, music magazines both in the U.K. and in the U.S. are suffering from the same problem: A complete and utter lack of surprises. You can take one look at Pause & Play‘s release schedule and predict who will be on all the covers three months from now, and which records will occupy the lead-review slots. But what’s missing is the left-field pieces–those features or essays that aren’t based on album cycles or interview availability. Not needlessly contrarian or overly long, just surprising. With the newsstands so overcrowded with music titles, those are the sort of pieces that can separate Magazine A from Magazine B.

Why I’ll miss Arthur [Guardian Music Blog]

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  • NickEddy

    Also missing: people who read.

    There’s more information in the typical UK mag (thinking of MOJO, I guess, or pre-shrinkage Q, or, actually, Select [RIP]) than in the entire HEAD of an average Amurrican music enthusiast.

    Coupled with the decline in magazine readership in general, and the bolting of existing for various electric forms of rock reading, the era of smart mags may be over.

    Someone should jump into the breach, though.

    Also: really wish I could have set this comment in some W. Gibson-esque Raygun stylee.

  • Nicolars

    Also, Guardian is not in a position to bemoan the state of music journalism, considering one of their music writers is a Paris Hilton-loving neocon.

  • Silverfuture

    Are you taking a swipe with the Joanna Newsom comment? I’ll admit that Arthur may have been predictable in their coverage of the wacky folk and noise/drone/prog/metal scenes, but I’d rather read that than another list any day. I might not care much about Joanna Newsom, but i’d rather see long-winded, deeper articles than another infographic or listicle. Arthur will seriously be missed.

  • More Often Wrong


    “The Word” is still pretty good, and “Uncut” isn’t terrible, at least as far as my tastes are concerned.

    The much-maligned NME is still doing the same thing they always have: trying to invent new trends and uncover new music hotspots. The have the unenviable position of putting out the only remaining weekly music magazine. So I forgive them for their frequent indiscretions.

    All things being considered, the NME has done pretty well the past 3 decades. First to recognize Post Punk and New Wave, C86 and Indiepop, Grunge, Britpop, Garage… I mean really, they’ve basically written the history of rock music since The Sex Pistols.

    Now contrast those magazines to the peice of shit that is Rolling Stone, Spin or, gasp, The Alternative Press!

  • byebyepride

    So you’re saying magazines might print stuff that wasn’t directly tied to people buying and selling the hot new products!! Are you some kind of communist???