Is Rolling Stone Magazine Dead? A Cover Story Nets Just 2000 New Fans

image from www.google.com The cover of a recent issue of Rolling Stone Magazine featured a relatively unknown band called The Sheepdogs. They found themselves there by way of a competition, beating out numerous other acts to be selected as the cover stars. 

A few days after Rolling Stone landed in my physical inbox, I wondered what impact this would have on the bands popularity in this very digital age. So, using the barometer that so many artists and industry people like to use to determine the worth of a band, I started watching the likes for the Sheepdogs Facebook page.

What can a feature on the front of the most regarded and iconic musical magazine get you?

Over the two-week period that this particular issue covered, the band mustered up about 2000 Facebook likes. When I first looked it stood at a little over 10,000, now it stands and just under 12,000.

Is that really the weight that Rolling Stone has in the current market?

If so, it would appear that opinionated music journalism is certainly stumbling if not already dead. Indeed, why rush out to see what Rolling Stone thinks when you can hear it for yourself on Spotify, or see the latest video on Youtube.

The old music industry used to be all about the middleman, but now the age of the middleman has gone. We are now in the age of the middle machine, it is a mechanism that simply connects us with what we want, sure it can be programmed to make suggestions based on our activities, but on the whole, we expect to search for something, and have it delivered instantly.

From an artists point of view this can be very demoralizing, the holy grail of landing a record deal is quickly vanishing. Those in the industry with the weight to bring you to the forefront of the scene are seeing their outlets disappear and become irrelevant. This destroys the romanticism of being discovered playing to a handful of people in a small bar.

The current age of social connectivity is a mechanism for the people, not for big money business. People share things that connect with them, not things they are told that they should be connecting with. Your music career now hinders on the your ability to be the best of the best, to stand out from the crowd, because once you do that, the people will do the work for you.

The Sheepdog issue of Rolling Stone stands testament to the fact that the days of manufacturing Rock stars are numbered. The Major labels try and get a piece of whatever emerges in the new industry, however, unless they realize that manufacturing artists is what is killing the value of music, they will never recover from the pit they have created for themselves.

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  1. The hype machine can still manufacture rock stars. One cover is not enough anymore. It’s more like 5 covers at the same time, endless plugs in commercials and heavy radio rotation. A song on Grey’s Anatomy helps to. Overexposure is what it takes in this overstimulated age.

  2. I like that phrase: “age of the middle machine.” But you’re surely selling Rolling Stone short. Even if Fbook likes were a solid metric (which is very debatable) you’ve got to figure most people that give a hoot about this cover contest were following along as it developed, and may have ‘liked’ prior to the actual cover unveiling.
    If they weren’t following along, it’s probably for the same reason that they are totally uninterested in the cover once it hits their doorstep.
    But really, I don’t think Fbook likes are a good metric here. You’re criticizing old school mojo with new school metrics. It’s an apple & orange kind of thing.

  3. Sorry, but this is a terrible post that can be answered with one word: “No.” For one, Facebook likes are a flawed popularity metric — you’re not going to see results on this until Sheepdog’s been selling records and putting butts in seats. For another thing, this is why magazine covers, when they aren’t engaging in (deeply flawed and highly dubious) promotions, reflect popularity and don’t try to spark it. Look at the differences in the numbers between posts about up-and-coming artists and already-popular ones, if you need an Internet analogue to shore up your argument.
    Basically if this had been written years ago you’d be asking “Is Vanity Fair Dead? Nobody Cares About Gretchen Mol.” And VF is doing fine. RS is too, all things considered.

  4. What was their fan count at before they were even a candidate for the cover? That might give a better representation of the magazine’s reach, as many could have become fans during the contest.

  5. of note, the sheepdogs’ default landing tab is a pretty lackluster, non-descript promo app, that has ZERO to do with the band. (a bit of digging, and it’s a garnier hair products promo “rockstar yourself”) – of note, this might be a bigger testament to bands making sure they manage their facebook presence a little better.

  6. I was skeptical about the contest idea when RS first unveiled it and even after The Sheepdogs were crowned winners I felt it was a little odd to see an unknown band on the cover. Upon reading the feature about the band, I became undeniably fascinated with their story. Their throwback sound is something I’ve never had much of a taste for, but I still checked them out on Spotify and understood why they were being well-received. I don’t think Facebook is the proper metric to use to quantify the benefits of the cover story, as their audience for live shows will probably be the area most affected by the publicity. RS is still going strong in my book.

  7. You yourself give credibility to the post by confirming that magazine covers reflect popularity and don’t spark it. This also suggests that music magazines chase the popular artists to boost readers rather than being a discovery engine.
    Your analogy about Vanity fair is irrelevant because years ago there was no internet. A better analogy would be record stores, no one needed to go there anymore to get there music fix so places like Tower shut down.
    I never said that facebook was a highly accurate gauge, but I simply stated that it is a barometer that many artists and industry people like to use as a guide to the popularity of a band. However when looking at the numbers of fans of a varying degree of artists it would seem a reasonable depiction of popularity.

  8. I agree their landing page sucks. Probably a contractual consequence of winning the RS competition, again drawing credibility away from Rolling Stone.

  9. man, that’s a lazy title — Rolling Stone is NOT dead, I saw it in more airport passengers’ hands than any other magazine last weekend.
    but the real question is — does a single magazine in a vaccuum create fans? hellnaw. instead of attacking the institution (been there, done that), ask what did the band and its management do to take advantage of this opportunity? did they buy facebook ads targeting rolling stone fans or bonnaroo fans (another prize) in key markets where they have a history or can tour? weren’t they supposed to play on fallon or something as part of the prize as well? if they did, did they use the video to its fullest advantage?
    did the band pass around the article to their fans, and offer a new track free if they liked or tweeted the article?
    i hear from SO MANY tech startups that they just got written up in mashable or tech crunch, as if they’re set for life. and then they wonder why new users drop off four days later.
    ain’t none of this a magic bullet in & of itself, you gotta have a team to use these events to help spread the word for you.

  10. First off, yes you can manufacture pop stars — what do you think we are hearing on top 40 radio every day? Who is in the top ten songs on iTunes on any given day? Secondly, I would argue gatekeepers are more important than ever given the incredible volume of new music we now have access to on the internet. Perhaps, our gatekeepers will change and evolve from RS to a DJ at Slacker Radio deciding what to add to Alternative radio to a song we hear on TV to a new artist NPR music is showcasing. But when you go on Spotify, a “middle machine” if there ever was one, WHAT will you search for? The machines alone are inadequate.

  11. The funny thing about this is that Sheepdogs signed to Atlantic as a result of the competition – did Atlantic believe that simply buying the cover of Rolling Stone would be enough to launch their newly discovered act? I don’t think the band are to blame for the lack of organization around the RS cover campaign.

  12. Press never sells albums. Gotta get on radio. End of story.
    Plus, Rolling Stone reduced its size. Looks awful.

  13. ‘Tis true. I found them because of the contest & liked their FB page & followed them on twitter immediately. I also bought all of their previous albums.
    If I remember correctly, the other artist who made it to the final round of this competition had a much larger FB “fan” count, so I’d say it’s a very safe bet that FB likes are NOT a good measuring tool.

  14. Agreed. I think if they offered something for you to listen to on your first click to their Facebook page such as a song, etc. they would probably have gotten more page likes, which would have been better for the band. With the Internet attention spand lingering around 4-5 seconds for the initial visit, if it doesn’t deliver, what music fan is going to like a fan page about Garnier?

  15. Who Gives a FLYING F _ _ _ ! about Facebook…. it’s you either LIKE, or nothing …BOGUS
    LISTEN…There was no story, REALLY…YET! Now the STORY is in RS print and online…so the JOURNEY really begins NOW! It starts for the great STRATEGIST MASTERMINDS who will be STEERING and SHEEPING…’Uh…SHAPING the band’s FUTURE or NON in R&R HISTORY. They’ll have to play their butts off just like every other artist who wants their VOICE to HEARD.
    ONE YEAR from now, let’s see how the Litter is making out! AND A HUGE GOOD LUCK!!
    Personally and professionally I think they’ve got the character, the chops, the tunes, the stage presence and where-with-all to pull off the GREAT Rock’N’Roll Swindle
    Woof! Woof!

  16. I must be the lone voice is agreement with the author. At one time Rolling Stone cover was THE prized goal of any musician, back when Rolling Stone was a music magazine.
    Today, when they put anyone -including politicians – on the cover – they have lost the status of being the top music mag.
    The Facebook Fan gauge is a good one – In today’s world of social media, a look at how many fans got clicky with the ‘like’ button after the mag hit the stands is a quick snapshot of the impact of the results.
    Like the author said:
    QUOTE: People share things that connect with them, not things they are told that they should be connecting with. Your music career now hinders on the your ability to be the best of the best, to stand out from the crowd, because once you do that, the people will do the work for you.
    Well put.

  17. I stopped reading RS regularly around 35 years ago, after they left their soul in San Francisco… ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m old enough that I still use print music magazines as discovery engines, but: the discovery engine stuff is buried in the little features and in the reviews, it’s not on the effing cover!!! The point of the cover is to make the magazine jump into the paying customers’ hands!!! Any music discovery happens later.

  18. Interesting discussion and thought exercise.
    Rolling Stone:
    Dead? No.
    Irrelevant? No, but not nearly the kingmaker it once was. (Outside of music, I doubt General McChrystal thinks Rolling Stone is irrelevant after that “Runaway General” article got him in hot water.)
    Are Facebook likes a proper measure of its relevance? Maybe, maybe not, but who really knows the value of a Facebook like?
    The media market has become more fractured and the impact of any one factor has been watered down. The cover of a magazine alone won’t do it. You’ve got to get the cover plus play a big stage at Bonnaroo (or get a ton of radio play) plus play one of the late-night talk shows (which are not dead but don’t matter as much as they used to) plus have a great digital strategy plus…
    I disagree with a few points:
    As for the “people share things that connect with them” argument, you need to understand that people share what they find through legacy media outlets (radio, TV, magazines). It’s not like music fans typically run across new artists through serendipity. More often than not there was a big marketing/promotion campaign and a large team behind a discovery that felt more natural than it really was.
    As for social media being “a mechanism for the people, not for big money business,” look up how many Facebook followers Lady Gaga, Starbucks and Coca-Cola have and tell me big money has nothing to do with those numbers. Not only are people doing the work for the artists, but the artist/brand’s team is actively creating and directing the conversation. That kind of activity just doesn’t appear on its own.

  19. i wonder what their number of “likes” was before the contest. from my understanding the contest was an elimination competition and as such, people voting would have found out about the band months ago.

  20. How much did being on the cover of Rolling Stone help the Sheepdogs career? I’d say a hell of a lot. Success = Promotion. If your good (and sometimes not even) and you get some massive marketing, your likelyhood of success increases. You can rag on Rollingstone as much as you want, but it’s a nationally published magazine that also sees print in other places in the world. That’s massive recognition right there. This deal a has gotten them signed to Atlantic? Then their going to see extra promotion from that label as well. Whatever they were doing before all this I would bet that they didn’t have anywhere near the amount of opportunities and money for marketing. Time will only tell if they become ingrained or popular enough with listeners to have a lasting career.
    Free album download at http://www.facebook.com/chancius

  21. For 10 years as a traditional publicist EVERY SINGLE artist that came through my door asked me to send their CD to Rolling Stone… sigh. I met and hung out with The Sheepdogs at the ECMAs this year and they are lovely…. I wish there was a silver bullet but sadly there is not.
    magazine covers reflect popularity and don’t spark it. – True True.

  22. Jordan has it right. They did this contest b/c they were unknown to most of the world. I’ve personally known these cats since before they started the band and I can confirm that this contest has done AMAZING THINGS FOR THEIR POPULARITY.
    It’s only a means to an end. They have solid songs, a solid image, and will be a band for a long time. Everyone who likes AC/DC or any other “Classic Rock” will dig The Sheepdogs.
    2000 likes may have happened within the last few weeks but before they were languishing around the 3000 likes for a long time, we’re talking years.
    The contest was huge for them and did what they intended it to do. Got everyone talking about them.

  23. first of all, rolling stone is a lifestyle magazine, not a “music magazine”–music is only part of what they do. secondly, the band’s facebook page looks like a big fat ad (big turn off) and they have put NO music on it. why would you “like” a band page of a group you’ve never heard of if you can’t even listen to their music?! it seems like the real problem is some over-inflated expectations mixed with some poor prep by the band for capitalizing on the exposure.

  24. It’s also worth pointing out that “what impact this would have on the bands popularity in this very digital age.” is not actually what this gauges. This gauges what impact old media has on new media. That coupled with the fact that the page sucks and I’m not really surprised. Using facebook to gauge the impact it has on a bands career in this context is also very shortsighted. Old media comes from the perspective of album cycles and bands building followings the old fashioned way. I’d be more interested in how it works out for them in a year. How many people no at least know that name from seeing that cover in an airport? Time will tell!

  25. I think another interestiing question to raise is whether putting sheepdog on the cover increased the readership of Rolling Stone, a magazine already faultering in numbers?

  26. sorry however this is a horrible observation. i’ve been working social media well before the term “social media” even existed and you can’t make a judgement on what something is worth based on only ONE subject.

  27. Agree w/ @Brian that at best this gauges the impact old media may have on new media. But am flabbergasted by the post’s over-extended conclusion that “the days of manufacturing rock stars are numbered.” To begin with, despite the hopes and dreams of the internet crowd, terrestial radio shows no sign of imminent disappearance. Secondly, with all the new-media PR types scurrying around consulting bands on how to gain Twitter followers and become a social-media standout, I’d say the days of manufacturing rock stars are just beginning. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
    New media acolytes would do well to remember that old media is not simply going to crumble, even as individual outlets may see their influence flag, and some may in fact fail. Those who speak of a future in which the old and new coexist in an altered landscape speak with a more reliable voice than those who preach of the utopian day when “the people” rule and, somehow, moneyed interests are eliminated from our lives. People remain people, despite the media around them. New tools don’t make everyone suddenly all kumbaya.

  28. I don’t really care what the Sheepdogs sound like, and I will not be checking them out any time soon. Not my style.
    But if you actually read the article, the Sheepdogs are far from a ‘manufactured’ band. They’ve done their time. Don’t smear them just because they won a silly contest.

  29. I have seen zero mention of an admittedly subjective part of all this–is the Sheepdogs’ music particularly good and/or appealing? (I’m not saying yay or nay personally.) Being on the cover of every magazine in the country might not make up for having lackluster music. Could be that hundreds of thousands visited Facebook, and only 2000 thought highly enough of them to hit “like.” People don’t form opinions based solely on a band’s visibility. I hope.

  30. A cover is supposed to SCREAM OUT and say…pay attention. ROLLING STONE is supposed to lead not follow and they do….it’s just there are others NOW that do the same thing for other TRIBES.
    The SNOOTY’s at PITCHFORK….have a fair a amount of INFLUENCE in the muisc sphere as well, but if I had my druthers I’d take ROLLING STONE hands down…. ‘cauz it prince more wodrz I can unnerstan. And it’s more WORLDLY

  31. If there is not significant payback for the amount of money that has to be put in to achieve success by manufacturing an artist, how can it be sustainable?
    The cost to put the Sheepdogs on the cover would have been huge, which undoubtedly came in part from their deal with Atlantic. The payback is worth a couple of thousand fans? That doesn’t seem sustainable.
    You say people remain people, which is true, but businesses don’t remain businesses unless they move with how the people interact with new tools around them.

  32. This is about Rolling Stone and how the majors used it. The Sheepdogs may not be a manufactured band, but their appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone was certainly manufactured.

  33. What about the music aspect? I see everybody talking about the likes, and the gauging of popularity, but isn;t all this about the music?? Shouldn’t a band be well known for their music??? Sure you need to look cool and all, and a Facebook page is only part of the equation… Especially with friend generators, facebook add’s ect… You can’t judge a band on social media insights alone…. The music is what’s dying here… I know plenty of bands with thousands of likes, but when you go to their show….Nobody’s there… they’re probably at home busy “liking” other bands they’ve never heard and plan on not supporting… People take music for granted these days!!

  34. As someone who has had a hand in promoting events for decades, I say you are looking at this all wrong. Rather than asking whether RS is dead, you should be asking whether Facebook is even relevant.
    How many of us do anything in the course of our daily lives and feel compelled to automatically Like it on Facebook? How many online news stories have you read this week without Like-ing it on Facebook? How many videos have you watched this week and automatically felt compelled to Like it? How many internet searches have you done without hitting that insidious Like button found on virtually everything on the web?
    We have constructed pages on Facebook to promote our events and found the total number of Likes we have received are not even close to the number of ticket receipts we collect for each event.
    Could it be that people simply do not feel the necessity of replying to Facebook invitations, let alone Like something to show our approval?
    Knowing that Facebook compiles these Likes for each individual and from that constructs a profile that it sells to advertisers, I feel that hitting Like with everything I do is giving Facebook too much info regarding me a person, too much knowledge of me the consumer and too much power over each of us.
    Rather than asking whether RS is dead. ask whether Facebook is relevant.

  35. The Sheep Dogs got about 8000 new likes during the contest. Other acts in the contest also grew larger fan bases as a result. Not too sure why you only looked at Facebook. There are a dozen places to measure a bands following and Facebook isn’t really one of the main sites used for this purpose. Music fans usually use YouTube or MySpace not Facebook to find new bands.

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