“Shhhh-it!”: Idolator’s Super-Secret Music Interview Series Goes National
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 impressionsClarenceBloodfistJones: how many hits can you get, so you deliver for advertisersClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 frequentlyStumpyPete1975: yeahClarenceBloodfistJones: it’s like we’re becoming internet drug dealers or somethingStumpyPete1975: hahaStumpyPete1975: like, you throw in references to boobs and stuffClarenceBloodfistJones: haClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 storiesClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 knowStumpyPete1975: but you are a music magStumpyPete1975: and I’ve noticed pages devoted to reviews dwindlingClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 knowClarenceBloodfistJones: It’s like a suicide mission out thereStumpyPete1975: 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 thatClarenceBloodfistJones: But no one is safe right now, reallyClarenceBloodfistJones: I’ve got friends losing jobs left and right, and it’s getting tougher to freelance, as work goes in house during cash crunchesStumpyPete1975: and I’ve noticed music-related content getting smallerStumpyPete1975: more video games, movies, that sorta stuffClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 stuffClarenceBloodfistJones: but when it gets down to a matter of survival, you’ve gotta pick your battles and be pragmaticClarenceBloodfistJones: Maybe you shift your coverage a tad to pull in new people, maybe you take some ads you might not normally takeStumpyPete1975: like what?ClarenceBloodfistJones: I don’t know… like anal beadsClarenceBloodfistJones: we’ve had a slew of ads for anal beads latelyClarenceBloodfistJones: and we just normally wouldn’t stoop to thatStumpyPete1975: are you serious?ClarenceBloodfistJones: Well, not anal beads, but trashy booze and smokes adsStumpyPete1975: I was hoping it was true about the beadsClarenceBloodfistJones: stuff that’s cheesy and is obviously trying way too hard to use sex to sell productsClarenceBloodfistJones: stuff I’d rather not see, but hey, you gotta eatClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 againClarenceBloodfistJones: But I’m worried that day is a long way off, if it’s ever coming…StumpyPete1975: yeahStumpyPete1975: the reality might be that music is something people don’t pay for ever againClarenceBloodfistJones: I tell you what…the CD as a mechanism for delivering music, is DEAD DEAD DEADClarenceBloodfistJones: I’ve decided to sell all of mine while they’re still worth a few bucksClarenceBloodfistJones: I give it a year or two, and then, poof, goneClarenceBloodfistJones: foreverClarenceBloodfistJones: For those of us who aren’t satisfied by mp3s, the cool thing is that vinyl is back in a big wayClarenceBloodfistJones: you can get so much new music on vinylClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 iPodStumpyPete1975: yepStumpyPete1975: but I just don’t see a rush of vinyl buyers out there being enough to reinvigorate the bizClarenceBloodfistJones: no, it’ll be niche at bestClarenceBloodfistJones: But the biz is being leveled right nowClarenceBloodfistJones: It’s like that Thomas Friedman bookClarenceBloodfistJones: The earth Is FlatStumpyPete1975: yeahClarenceBloodfistJones: The future of music is DIYStumpyPete1975: you think?StumpyPete1975: look at RadioheadStumpyPete1975: but how will that affect y’all?StumpyPete1975: I mean, not every band can be radioheadClarenceBloodfistJones: People will need a filter more than everStumpyPete1975: I’ve noticed less indie coverageStumpyPete1975: 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 musiciansClarenceBloodfistJones: not making it big, but making it, lower-middle-class styleStumpyPete1975: hahaClarenceBloodfistJones: doing it for the love of it, not the benjaminsStumpyPete1975: but doesn’t some music require money to make it?ClarenceBloodfistJones: Recording has become so much cheaperStumpyPete1975: and ultimately, isn’t that a rock-centric view?StumpyPete1975: but for certain types of recordsClarenceBloodfistJones: Not really, I don’t thinkClarenceBloodfistJones: recording is cheaper, and now, with o need to print physical copies of an album, the huge overhead is goneStumpyPete1975: that’s trueClarenceBloodfistJones: the power is back in the hands of the artistClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 bankruptcyStumpyPete1975: yeahClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 futureStumpyPete1975: 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 ideasClarenceBloodfistJones: But this move online is also troubling, even while it holds financial promiseStumpyPete1975: why is that?ClarenceBloodfistJones: Because online, everything becomes driven by the impressionsClarenceBloodfistJones: how many hits can you get, so you deliver for advertisersClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 frequentlyStumpyPete1975: yeahClarenceBloodfistJones: it’s like we’re becoming internet drug dealers or somethingStumpyPete1975: hahaStumpyPete1975: like, you throw in references to boobs and stuffClarenceBloodfistJones: haClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 storiesClarenceBloodfistJones: 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: DefinitelyClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 hitsClarenceBloodfistJones: it’s all about the bottom lineClarenceBloodfistJones: and it definitely has value in that wayClarenceBloodfistJones: but it’s not as substantive as a good essayStumpyPete1975: yeahStumpyPete1975: by the way, what’s your take on numbered rankingsStumpyPete1975: 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 bullshitClarenceBloodfistJones: but I do see it serving a utilitarian function when you’re browsing a reviews section.ClarenceBloodfistJones: Just take it with a grain of saltClarenceBloodfistJones: I mean, really, how can you quantify a piece of art’s greatness on a scale?ClarenceBloodfistJones: It’s absurdClarenceBloodfistJones: It’s all subjective anywayClarenceBloodfistJones: Ratings always make me think of the beginning of Dead Poet’s SocietyClarenceBloodfistJones: A poem’s greatness can be judged…StumpyPete1975: be gone J Edward whatever, Ph.D.ClarenceBloodfistJones: hahaClarenceBloodfistJones: yeah, and there’s the graphs and chartsClarenceBloodfistJones: well, Wordsworth, he charts here, and Keats, here, and Ferlinghetti, is on a different scaleStumpyPete1975: sometimes I want to see like POWStumpyPete1975: like a definitive statementStumpyPete1975: like one star!StumpyPete1975: but you never see that in big mags much anymoreClarenceBloodfistJones: Oh, that might be interestingClarenceBloodfistJones: How about facial expressions?ClarenceBloodfistJones: Like maybe someone mid-orgasm for a really great recordStumpyPete1975: Alternative Press used to have the middle fingerClarenceBloodfistJones: and someone constipated for a shitty oneStumpyPete1975: 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 writersStumpyPete1975: Coldplay super-fan wants it and you get a great reviewClarenceBloodfistJones: I think, with limited space, editors tend to lean toward things they think are worthwhileClarenceBloodfistJones: so I think that leads to a higher ratings on averageClarenceBloodfistJones: Which people often bitch about, but I think it’s better to spotlight something cool, than spend the space bitching about why something sucksClarenceBloodfistJones: probably gonna get my rock critic license revoked for saying thatStumpyPete1975: no, I think a lot of people agreeStumpyPete1975: I agree most of the timeStumpyPete1975: though I like to see a good trash jobStumpyPete1975: and sometimes I like to see people weighing on something bigClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 awfulClarenceBloodfistJones: but, again, it’s all subjectiveClarenceBloodfistJones: If they like the artist they’ll probably buy it anyway and write you a ltter telling you what an ignorant assface you areClarenceBloodfistJones: I welcome that, thoughClarenceBloodfistJones: it’s much more interesting than fanmailStumpyPete1975: 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: yeahStumpyPete1975: these comments and suchStumpyPete1975: message boardsClarenceBloodfistJones: Well, it’s differentClarenceBloodfistJones: on the web, you get more knee-jerk reactionsClarenceBloodfistJones: since people don’t have time to cool offClarenceBloodfistJones: when you get a letter, there’s more time for reflectionClarenceBloodfistJones: wow, that’s kind of a metaphor for our modern worldStumpyPete1975: yepClarenceBloodfistJones: 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 soonerClarenceBloodfistJones: This change in the way people are getting their information is nothing newClarenceBloodfistJones: it’s been slowly happening for yearsClarenceBloodfistJones: now it’s accelerating, though, and for many print mags and especially newspapers, it’s too little too lateClarenceBloodfistJones: But think of it like this – we’re in the early stages of a completely new era on this planetClarenceBloodfistJones: The last change this big was the Industrial RevolutionStumpyPete1975: 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 adaptClarenceBloodfistJones: there’s certainly a huge dose of Darwinism in these transitionsClarenceBloodfistJones: like, will the current auto and energy industry wake the hell up?ClarenceBloodfistJones: Or will they become extinctClarenceBloodfistJones: Same for the music industry and the print industryClarenceBloodfistJones: 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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