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What Is The Future Of Music Journalism?

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We’ve all heard Elvis Costello’s well-worn statement that ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture’. Presumably Mr Costello’s venom towards music criticism started roundabout the mid-80s, i.e. the point at which his musical output stopped being any good, and certain factions of the music press took it upon themselves to alert their readership of this fact. Funny coincidence, that.

The statement, however, stems from a much different era: one in which journalistic bastions like Rolling Stone, the New Musical Express and Melody Maker were pretty much the only outlets for intelligent music writing. For better or for worse, music journalism (at least, the cover-story interviews and opinion pieces) was the province of a select few ‘personality’ writers – your Nick Kents or your Lester Bangs or your Cameron Crowes or your Stephen Wells. The punk ‘revolution’ (use of inverted commas on the term ‘revolution’ due to the fact punk consisted almost entirely of middle-class kids playing dress-up) saw the rise of fanzine culture, but until the rise of easy-access web publishing within the last six or seven years, influential music writing was a select and private little treehouse club.

Now? Now many would argue that such considered, in-depth journalism is in decline. Not exactly news to many within the field, who’ve been bemoaning the fact that intelligent writing is becoming increasingly scarce in an era of SEO-targeted soundbite-speak. Still: the news that Spin magazine is to eliminate its annual 1500 short album reviews in favor of 140-character Twitter summations has raised a few eyebrows.

It would be easy to assume that all music journalism (and journalism in general) will be heading this way – short, concise, lacking in personality and tone but heavy in quick-glance accessibility. We’re doomed to a culture of chronic attention deficit, in which opinion and insight are eschewed in favor of one-shot facts and stats. Right?

Well … not exactly. What everyone seems to forget is that – while click-grabbing headlines and easy-to-digest material is often the lifeblood of web writing – intelligent music journalism still exists, and isn’t going anywhere. The doomsayers would have us believe otherwise, but look at it this way: Spin has always had a roster of quick, one-glance album reviews (not to mention personals, advertorials, letter pages etc). These formats are fragmentary by nature: so what’s wrong with utilizing a more ‘disposable’ and direct format like Twitter to reinvent these formats? The stuff that people buy Spin for (the steak rather than the potatoes) will still exist, as long as it is profitable – and it seems to have retained enough of an audience to make it that way.

We’re about mid-way through the transition from print media handing over the ‘dominant genre’ baton to web media. There are going to be a few difficulties; a few hiccups. People are going to claim that music writing isn’t ‘genuine’ unless it’s printed on rapidly-yellowing dead trees, and that a new generation of iPhone twiddlers aren’t going to know the joys of such intelligent writing. This is nonsense, as anyone who peruses the verbose offerings from sites like Pitchfork (not to mention BAMM’S own long-form journalistic offerings) will attest.

So: what do you guys think? Is this Twitterfied move from Spin a good or bad thing? Progress or heresy?

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