For the Record: Music Journalism Is Still On The Ropes.

Words by: Ben Raven
Posted: 26/5/18 12:49

Ibiza Voice's former editor chairing a panel at last year's IMS.

A decade on since the internet decimated the industry, music journalism continues to suffer.

One of the best dance music experiences I’ve ever had was at a blues club in Chicago in the early 2000s. There were no DJs playing. Instead a band of local legends ripped into the packed sawdust-littered dancefloor until dawn. Afterwards, we stumbled out, clothes soaked in sweat and booze, looking for taxis after hours of frantic dancing. One of the most striking moments of the night however, that has stuck with me ever since, was bumping into the band waiting for their bus ride home. After hearing the kind of music we'd just been graced with, a limousine seemed like a more appropriate way to shuttle this highly skilled ensemble of veteran entertainers home. Instead they stared forlornly at the road's horizon, while their audience clambered awkwardly into cabs.

The harsh injustice of this telling moment soured what had been an incredible night and it pops back up in my mind when writing about the sad state of modern music journalism. Let me start by clarifying that I count myself nowhere near as talented as the members of this particular band. However, as the industry continues to crumble, music journalists share a loose kinship with them.

Good journalism isn’t just instantaneous. You don’t just show up at a computer terminal and start reeling out pages of free flowing eloquently written copy. It is a craft and in some now rarely deployed hands, an art. But one that has been degraded and cheapened into a desperate state.

Being a music journalist these days feels a little like being stuck on a tiny desert island  that’s about to be washed away by the rising seas. It is a profession that is rapidly diminishing in options and income and the water just keeps on getting higher. Full time jobs are now few and far between. And a career in freelance journalism isn’t really a career in journalism. It’s a long and winding game of figuring out what else you can do to pay the rent and as you progress, the journalism part dwindles further to the back of your to-do list.

Freelancers often end up doing various other side gigs to keep going. But even if you’re in the minority who write for the bigger payers, the perpetual cycle of pitching stories is insanely stressful. What happens when you have an off month? You don’t pay rent, you borrow and the cycle of debt furrows even deeper lines on your forehead.

To keep the lights on, most freelance writers rely on teaching music journalism or writing artist biogs, copywriting for businesses or sidestepping into broadcast or content editing for the streaming giants but competition is tough. 

I used to be a section editor for Mixmag before leaving my job to become a DJ and producer full time. These days, I still freelance as a journalist to fill in the cracks between my main job as an engineer. In choosing music and journalism as my career plan A and B, I often congratulate myself in making the two worst career choices in the modern internet age. Both career routes have been savaged by the digital industries. Much like the way the digital download decimated music industry sales, the journalism industry suffered a similar fate in the mid 2000s at the hands of a general public who refused to pay for something they could now just get for free on the internet.

Mixmag's Nick DeCosemo conducting an onstage interview at ADE.

When I started as a journalist, Mixmag was selling just over 100,000 copies a month. When I left seven years later it was selling a fraction of those numbers. Those remaining print magazines exist thanks to skeletal crews. What were once bustling offices are now reduced to a small huddle of computers.

In order to survive, magazines have become websites, film-makers, youtube channels, event promoters. That side of the industry is exciting. The music journalism media is in a period of transition and while we wait to see how it all pans out, if you can come up with a new model that circumnavigates the problems that have beset it, the game is up for the taking.

The broken industry doesn’t encourage good music journalism in the present moment however. And the number of magazines like, the NME's recently closed print version or websites like Thump Magazine, crashing out continues to build.

When I entered the industry it was all about serving the readers. Now it is about serving the brand partnerships that are usually hovering close to a story strapline. The big corporations bring in the real money and without their input, the topflight of the dance music media simply wouldn’t be able to exist. You don’t need to have studied media ethics to realise these partnerships come at the expense of uninhibited, free journalism.

The digital media landscape has of course provided us with widely acknowledged success stories such as Pitchfork and Resident Advisor or old media titles like Mixmag that have successfully transitioned to the new online marketplace. But many of the other articles that clog up the dance music media space are instead badly written by aspiring writers with little or no training willing to write for free. Interning is an essential right of passage for journalists but these days it mostly serves as a lesson for post graduates in considering their plan Bs.

Longform journalism is steadily being eroded by the encroaching tide of dance music news — a cut and paste, copycat medium that rarely serves anyone other than the PRs paid to circulate the content in the first place. Email has become more important than the dictaphone in interviews out of necessity and subeditors, once the tyrannical overseers of correct spelling and grammar in a publication, are now a rarely employed luxury.

Even some of the biggest media outlets in dance music, churn out stories that read like they were spat out onto the internet without anyone bothering to even run a spell check.

Unsurprisingly music journalism is a mostly thankless task, frequented by writers who are looked upon with skepticism by the general public and disdain by the artists they write about. So why do we do it to ourselves?  For many it is a vocation. A calling. And for some it is all they know.

If you’re still reading by this point, so far so media twat sob story right? But just like those blues players scratching for change for the bus, we have a right to decry the death of a profession we have spent our working lives attempting to succeed at. And music fans should bemoan the endangerment of an essential cog in the music industry machine.

Before the internet, music journalists were seen as essential gatekeepers of knowledge. The people we relied on to point us in the direction of the artists we would later fall in or out of love with.

In this online age of fake news and over-saturation of information, we need gatekeepers more than ever and we need signposts to the good stuff, because there is just too much bullshit to wade through and too much good music floundering amongst the banal. 

For more Ibiza Voice opinion and trend writing, click here.

And some music on the side:

 

 


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