“Shhhh-it!”: Idolator’s Super-Secret Music Interview Series Goes National

Nov 13th, 2008 // 4 Comments

Every week in the “Shhhh-it!” AnonIMous Super-Secret Music-Biz Interview Series (S-I!AS-SM-BIS for, uh, short) we interview a grizzled music industry veteran via the gobbledygook of instant messaging. This week we bring you Clarence “Bloodfist” Jones, an editor at a major national music magazine. As ad revenues from the music industry dry up, national print music mags have had to make compromises, taking on ad revenue from more prurient sources (tobacco, alcohol, sex, etc.) and reducing the amount of music coverage while devoting ink to video games, movies, television, and celebrity culture. “Bloodfist” sees the writing on the wall for print, and thinks that magazines are at the mercy of the collapsing music industry. He also bemoans magazines’ list obsession, particularly in the Internet era:

ClarenceBloodfistJones: Because online, everything becomes driven by the impressions
ClarenceBloodfistJones: how many hits can you get, so you deliver for advertisers
ClarenceBloodfistJones: it becomes not just about – how can we provide the best, most comprehensive coverage, but how can we run up the numbers and get people to stay longer and come back more frequently
StumpyPete1975: yeah
ClarenceBloodfistJones: it’s like we’re becoming internet drug dealers or something
StumpyPete1975: haha
StumpyPete1975: like, you throw in references to boobs and stuff
ClarenceBloodfistJones: ha
ClarenceBloodfistJones: the danger in thinking that way, though, is that you end up spending all your time making lists of the Top 25 Most Awesome Things To Happen In The History of Awesomeness!
StumpyPete1975: God, lists!
ClarenceBloodfistJones: That instead of practicing your craft, which is writing smart, thoughtful criticism and telling people’s stories, human stories
ClarenceBloodfistJones: which is why most of us got into this in the first place – because we love music, not lists about it!
StumpyPete1975: are you under pressure to make lists?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Definitely

More unvarnished truths after the jump!



StumpyPete1975: so what’s your take on the state of print right now?
StumpyPete1975: it’s a broad question, I know
StumpyPete1975: but you are a music mag
StumpyPete1975: and I’ve noticed pages devoted to reviews dwindling
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Well, it happening everywhere. To put it simply – print is fucked.
StumpyPete1975: a bold statement!
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Starting publications is hard enough in a good economy.
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Something like 90% of them fail in the first five years.
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Now? I don’t know
ClarenceBloodfistJones: It’s like a suicide mission out there
StumpyPete1975: how have y’all survived?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Well, you’ve gotta get non-endemic advertising, or you’re going down in this climate.
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Also, the web is the only area right now with huge potential for growth.
ClarenceBloodfistJones: But, with the non-endemic thing – look at Harp, No Depression, Resonance… all really cool magazines – they’ve all gone belly up this year. And they all survived on ads from a dying industry – the record industry.
ClarenceBloodfistJones: To survive as a music publication, you’ve gotta get beyond that
ClarenceBloodfistJones: But no one is safe right now, really
ClarenceBloodfistJones: I’ve got friends losing jobs left and right, and it’s getting tougher to freelance, as work goes in house during cash crunches
StumpyPete1975: and I’ve noticed music-related content getting smaller
StumpyPete1975: more video games, movies, that sorta stuff
ClarenceBloodfistJones: A lot of that is intentional – there are plenty of great movies and video games out there that we want to cover. Still it’s a sad truth that Americans’ interest is easily piqued by garbage.
ClarenceBloodfistJones: When things are going good, financially, in the industry, you can rise above that stuff
ClarenceBloodfistJones: but when it gets down to a matter of survival, you’ve gotta pick your battles and be pragmatic
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Maybe you shift your coverage a tad to pull in new people, maybe you take some ads you might not normally take
StumpyPete1975: like what?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: I don’t know… like anal beads
ClarenceBloodfistJones: we’ve had a slew of ads for anal beads lately
ClarenceBloodfistJones: and we just normally wouldn’t stoop to that
StumpyPete1975: are you serious?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Well, not anal beads, but trashy booze and smokes ads
StumpyPete1975: I was hoping it was true about the beads
ClarenceBloodfistJones: stuff that’s cheesy and is obviously trying way too hard to use sex to sell products
ClarenceBloodfistJones: stuff I’d rather not see, but hey, you gotta eat
ClarenceBloodfistJones: and survival is key – if you make it through the lean times, and live to fight another day, when you have the upper hand, you can do what you want again
ClarenceBloodfistJones: But I’m worried that day is a long way off, if it’s ever coming…
StumpyPete1975: yeah
StumpyPete1975: the reality might be that music is something people don’t pay for ever again
ClarenceBloodfistJones: I tell you what…the CD as a mechanism for delivering music, is DEAD DEAD DEAD
ClarenceBloodfistJones: I’ve decided to sell all of mine while they’re still worth a few bucks
ClarenceBloodfistJones: I give it a year or two, and then, poof, gone
ClarenceBloodfistJones: forever
ClarenceBloodfistJones: For those of us who aren’t satisfied by mp3s, the cool thing is that vinyl is back in a big way
ClarenceBloodfistJones: you can get so much new music on vinyl
ClarenceBloodfistJones: and now it often comes with a download card, so you can have that great sound, that experience of a vinyl record, but also the portability of your iPod
StumpyPete1975: yep
StumpyPete1975: but I just don’t see a rush of vinyl buyers out there being enough to reinvigorate the biz
ClarenceBloodfistJones: no, it’ll be niche at best
ClarenceBloodfistJones: But the biz is being leveled right now
ClarenceBloodfistJones: It’s like that Thomas Friedman book
ClarenceBloodfistJones: The earth Is Flat
StumpyPete1975: yeah
ClarenceBloodfistJones: The future of music is DIY
StumpyPete1975: you think?
StumpyPete1975: look at Radiohead
StumpyPete1975: but how will that affect y’all?
StumpyPete1975: I mean, not every band can be radiohead
ClarenceBloodfistJones: People will need a filter more than ever
StumpyPete1975: I’ve noticed less indie coverage
StumpyPete1975: you think they will turn to print?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: As the age of the rock star and mega pop star fades away, there will be a lot more bands surviving as touring musicians
ClarenceBloodfistJones: not making it big, but making it, lower-middle-class style
StumpyPete1975: haha
ClarenceBloodfistJones: doing it for the love of it, not the benjamins
StumpyPete1975: but doesn’t some music require money to make it?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Recording has become so much cheaper
StumpyPete1975: and ultimately, isn’t that a rock-centric view?
StumpyPete1975: but for certain types of records
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Not really, I don’t think
ClarenceBloodfistJones: recording is cheaper, and now, with o need to print physical copies of an album, the huge overhead is gone
StumpyPete1975: that’s true
ClarenceBloodfistJones: the power is back in the hands of the artist
ClarenceBloodfistJones: As for print….
ClarenceBloodfistJones: I think niche magazines will always be around, but they’ll have small staffs and will be very targeted. Newspapers, forget it, they’re gasping their last breath. Even weeklies – The company that owns the Reader out of Chicago and Creative Loafing in Charlotte and Atlanta just declared bankruptcy
StumpyPete1975: yeah
ClarenceBloodfistJones: The importance of the online – blogs and websites – cannot be overstated. It’s the overhead thing again – why pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to print something on dead trees, using poisonous ink and creating tons of trash, when a lot of people – especially younger people – would rather engage online, anyway? Online is the future.
ClarenceBloodfistJones: that’s the future
StumpyPete1975: but is it an ad-supported future?
StumpyPete1975: do you think advertising is there?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: I think so. In our experience it is. Not enough yet to support a full magazine staff, but it’s there.
StumpyPete1975: why have print magazines been so hard to translate to the web?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Because they’re too attached to the old models, the old way of doing things, they desperately need fresh ideas
ClarenceBloodfistJones: But this move online is also troubling, even while it holds financial promise
StumpyPete1975: why is that?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Because online, everything becomes driven by the impressions
ClarenceBloodfistJones: how many hits can you get, so you deliver for advertisers
ClarenceBloodfistJones: it becomes not just about – how can we provide the best, most comprehensive coverage, but how can we run up the numbers and get people to stay longer and come back more frequently
StumpyPete1975: yeah
ClarenceBloodfistJones: it’s like we’re becoming internet drug dealers or something
StumpyPete1975: haha
StumpyPete1975: like, you throw in references to boobs and stuff
ClarenceBloodfistJones: ha
ClarenceBloodfistJones: the danger in thinking that way, though, is that you end up spending all your time making lists of the Top 25 Most Awesome Things To Happen In The History of Awesomeness!
StumpyPete1975: God, lists!
ClarenceBloodfistJones: That instead of practicing your craft, which is writing smart, thoughtful criticism and telling people’s stories, human stories
ClarenceBloodfistJones: which is why most of us got into this in the first place – because we love music, not lists about it!
StumpyPete1975: are you under pressure to make lists?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Definitely
ClarenceBloodfistJones: I mean, they’re fun, and I certainly enjoy reading them and compiling them myself on occasion – but I tend to like stuff that gets a lot more thought put into it.
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Most of the stuff you have to crank out is for quick hits
ClarenceBloodfistJones: it’s all about the bottom line
ClarenceBloodfistJones: and it definitely has value in that way
ClarenceBloodfistJones: but it’s not as substantive as a good essay
StumpyPete1975: yeah
StumpyPete1975: by the way, what’s your take on numbered rankings
StumpyPete1975: like 3.5 stars?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Well, as a lover of the arts -whether it’s music, poetry, movies, whatever, and as an amateur artist myself, I think it’s total and utter bullshit
ClarenceBloodfistJones: but I do see it serving a utilitarian function when you’re browsing a reviews section.
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Just take it with a grain of salt
ClarenceBloodfistJones: I mean, really, how can you quantify a piece of art’s greatness on a scale?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: It’s absurd
ClarenceBloodfistJones: It’s all subjective anyway
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Ratings always make me think of the beginning of Dead Poet’s Society
ClarenceBloodfistJones: A poem’s greatness can be judged…
StumpyPete1975: be gone J Edward whatever, Ph.D.
ClarenceBloodfistJones: haha
ClarenceBloodfistJones: yeah, and there’s the graphs and charts
ClarenceBloodfistJones: well, Wordsworth, he charts here, and Keats, here, and Ferlinghetti, is on a different scale
StumpyPete1975: sometimes I want to see like POW
StumpyPete1975: like a definitive statement
StumpyPete1975: like one star!
StumpyPete1975: but you never see that in big mags much anymore
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Oh, that might be interesting
ClarenceBloodfistJones: How about facial expressions?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Like maybe someone mid-orgasm for a really great record
StumpyPete1975: Alternative Press used to have the middle finger
ClarenceBloodfistJones: and someone constipated for a shitty one
StumpyPete1975: do you think that the way editors assign things leads to sycophantic reviews?
StumpyPete1975: I mean, look at metacritic…everything is green!
StumpyPete1975: basically if you say I’ve got the new Coldplay to the writers
StumpyPete1975: Coldplay super-fan wants it and you get a great review
ClarenceBloodfistJones: I think, with limited space, editors tend to lean toward things they think are worthwhile
ClarenceBloodfistJones: so I think that leads to a higher ratings on average
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Which people often bitch about, but I think it’s better to spotlight something cool, than spend the space bitching about why something sucks
ClarenceBloodfistJones: probably gonna get my rock critic license revoked for saying that
StumpyPete1975: no, I think a lot of people agree
StumpyPete1975: I agree most of the time
StumpyPete1975: though I like to see a good trash job
StumpyPete1975: and sometimes I like to see people weighing on something big
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Yeah, I think there’s a repsonsibility, especially when it’s an established artist, and people are in grave danger of blowing their cash on what you think is awful
ClarenceBloodfistJones: but, again, it’s all subjective
ClarenceBloodfistJones: If they like the artist they’ll probably buy it anyway and write you a ltter telling you what an ignorant assface you are
ClarenceBloodfistJones: I welcome that, though
ClarenceBloodfistJones: it’s much more interesting than fanmail
StumpyPete1975: do you think that this is an area where print loses out?
StumpyPete1975: the communication with readers?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: That it’s not instant, like the web?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: yeah
StumpyPete1975: these comments and such
StumpyPete1975: message boards
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Well, it’s different
ClarenceBloodfistJones: on the web, you get more knee-jerk reactions
ClarenceBloodfistJones: since people don’t have time to cool off
ClarenceBloodfistJones: when you get a letter, there’s more time for reflection
ClarenceBloodfistJones: wow, that’s kind of a metaphor for our modern world
StumpyPete1975: yep
ClarenceBloodfistJones: to quote Hank Moody – “I’m just an analog guy, living in a digital world”
StumpyPete1975: what do you think the biggest mistakes print made were?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Not seeing the writing on the wall sooner
ClarenceBloodfistJones: This change in the way people are getting their information is nothing new
ClarenceBloodfistJones: it’s been slowly happening for years
ClarenceBloodfistJones: now it’s accelerating, though, and for many print mags and especially newspapers, it’s too little too late
ClarenceBloodfistJones: But think of it like this – we’re in the early stages of a completely new era on this planet
ClarenceBloodfistJones: The last change this big was the Industrial Revolution
StumpyPete1975: bold statements again!
ClarenceBloodfistJones: and the established players who were raking it in before then, most of them didn’t make it unless they were smart enough to adapt
ClarenceBloodfistJones: there’s certainly a huge dose of Darwinism in these transitions
ClarenceBloodfistJones: like, will the current auto and energy industry wake the hell up?
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Or will they become extinct
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Same for the music industry and the print industry
ClarenceBloodfistJones: But, hopefully, it’s good in the long run (even if we’re all taking a hit right now) – there will be a purging of a lot of bullshit that has no place in this world anymore. And there will be all kinds of amazing new developments. But we just have to remember, while we leave this bullshit behind, let’s bring the good stuff with us.
ClarenceBloodfistJones: Like Records!

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  1. Chris Molanphy

    StumpyPete1975: I mean, look at metacritic…everything is green!
    StumpyPete1975: basically if you say I’ve got the new Coldplay to the writers
    StumpyPete1975: Coldplay super-fan wants it and you get a great review

    This got me thinking — and I can’t be the first person to suggest this — doesn’t this make the Robert Christgau record-reviewing model, with a single critic, better than the Rolling Stone model, with a stable of critics?

    In film criticism, pretty much across the board, a single news outlet has a single critic, or three, tops. The advantage is that your readership gets attuned to the one critic’s voice, and you don’t end up with the situation where only horror fans review horror, and every review’s a near-rave, etc.

    Whereas in music, it’s totally commonplace for what you describe above to happen: only the hardcore fan is deemed qualified to review that band, and critical faculties go out the window. I mean, OTOH, I guess you want a metal fan to review metal, not someone who’s disinclined toward the whole genre; but there’s got to be a happy medium.

  2. Anonymous

    @Chris Molanphy: That’s a nice idea, but the difference is that in any given week, maybe four or five films are released into theaters, whereas there are hundreds of new records to wade through. Most dailies that still employ a resident music critic are lucky to touch on more than 5 new releases per week. So any publication attempting to provide any kind of broad overview of that week’s/month’s releases is going to employ a larger staff of contributors to try to cover all genres. And of course, it’s cheaper to throw $30 per review at a bunch of hungry freelancers than to have a salaried critic on staff.

    Another big reason why you see more positive reviews is that any publication, regardless of the genres they cover, is going to have an A-list group of artists who they’ve reviewed favourably in the past and whose new releases get priority treatment. But then each year, you have new discoveries who then get promoted to that A-list — so when they put out their next record, they’ll get the priority (i.e., usually positive) treatment too, along with all the other older artists who were already rated favourably by the publication. So the number of artists the publication ostensibly “likes” grows each year, and with finite space, there’s less space for the slags.

  3. MrStarhead

    Paste has videogame coverage now?

  4. Lax Danja House

    And of course, it’s cheaper to throw $30 per review at a bunch of hungry freelancers than to have a salaried critic on staff.

    It’s even cheaper to throw $20.

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