License to Lie – What Made Music Magazines Great

image from thomaswarnesmedia.files.wordpress.com It is no secret that music magazines, like many publications, are in decline. Part of the reason for this appears to be straightforward – information on artists and their music is now abundant. From music blogs to Wikipedia to an artist's Twitter account, fans now have unlimited access to the updates of an artist and will likely hear their new music weeks before a magazine can write about it. So, why subscribe to a publication that aims to update you about things you know about, music you've heard, and to get an opinion you don't need? The internet accomplishes all of this at a much faster pace. True, due to these many realities, music magazines have shifted their focus to analysis, opinion, and interviews that can't be found elsewhere.

However, in an age of constant leaks and breaking news, music magazines simply aren't primed to keep up with a well-curated blog. This is, of course, why many publications now have blogs too. Yet, there's still more to it than that.

"Perhaps people don't like reading about music anymore because musicians themselves are a bit dull," Johny Dee at The First Port writes. "For every Lady Gaga there are thousands of Justin Biebers who, despite making music that people like, don't really have anything of note to communicate beyond their hair product preferences." The trouble is that artists have always been a bit boring.

In the past, however, journalists had license to lie and feed into the mythology of an artist. Even if they or their music wasn't all that interesting, a good writer could spin it as otherwise, and not in a misleading sense, but an "enlightening" aspect.

Nowadays, fans are one-click away from seeing through the smoke and calling a writer out in the comments. Not only that, but the Internet has destroyed the folklore that surrounds an artist. Writers can't feed into a myth that doesn't exist.

Back in the day, Dee argues, journalists could prod artists a bit harder too in an attempt to uncover interesting facts and manufacture a bit of controversy. "Now," he writes, "they wouldn't dare through fear of upsetting Artist A so much that they refuse to attend their awards ceremony." Plus, since music magazines aren't the only avenue for an artist to express their opinion, there's less pressure on them to make themselves sound interesting. If they don't like how a journalist conducted themselves, an artist doesn't have to speak to that music magazine ever again.

Thus, it's the artists, not the journalists, who are now in the position of leverage.

The result: evermore boring questions get asked to disinterested and boring artists. Readers still get access, but it feels less privileged and exciting. Why?

Because without the license to lie and feed into an artist's mythology, let alone, ask challenging follow-up questions, journalists are left with little to work with.

And since music magazines don't hold as much power and influence over an artist's career, they don't have to play ball either. This is why music magazines, as great as they are, just aren't so great anymore. The power dynamic shifted.

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  1. What’s wrong with lying? That’s the bulk of the human condition. Might as well stigmatize breathing.
    Artists should definitely encourage multiple, conflicting timelines for their personas and brands. If myth-making isn’t being done by music journalists, others will fill the void. This is crucial stuff!

  2. Exaggerating things is fine, that’s one of the last things that a journalist can do without being shout at by his readers on this stupid thing we call the Internet.
    So… It’s okay that you exaggerated “exaggerating” into “lying” 🙂

  3. The NME still has a lot of credibility in the UK and is seen as an unofficial halfway house between an unknown act and the BBC. So not dead, then.
    In the past, music press writers have helped encapsulate moments in a way blogs can’t. In fact blogs are having the same effect on writing as online distribution has on music. In a deluge of words, the words seem to lose their importance.
    The idea of an article like the famous ‘dinosaur’ piece in the NME in 1976 appearing on Pitchfork seems far fetched now and, if it did, how could it have the same cultural effect when its audience would be from Brazil to Barking?
    The only common experiences we have now are either so mundane or so extreme that we can only generalise about them.
    It’s the insipid watering down of human reaction.
    Great writing happens in context. And, with the piece above, Hypebot is (surprise!) celebrating yet another (tick!) reduction to mundanity of something that used to mean something, all in the cause of authenticity.

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