I wasn’t planning on blogging this week, but I just found out that Paste Magazine, based in Decatur, has ceased its print publication, and I’m guessing there won’t be much else left after that. I hate to see this mag go, because at one time long ago it was fairly decent, but I have to say that I’m not very surprised this happened, and from my perspective, it was nobody’s fault but their own. I didn’t want to pile on them when they were struggling, because as much smack as I talk to other music journalists around here, I don’t want people to actually lose their jobs or anything. But now that Paste is done, I’m going to explain exactly why they have sucked so hard recently. I have absolutely no idea what their monetary situation was, but I’ll outline the reasons I feel Paste failed, and if other print mags happen to come across this, they might want to pay attention because they could be next.
Top 3 Reasons Why Paste Failed:
1) Old People shouldn’t be in charge of covering music for kids.
Now, I’m sort of slitting my own throat on this one as I’m not exactly getting any younger, and I’m sure people who want to make music journalism a career will hate this, but it’s true. A few months ago I received a promo email from one of Paste mag’s high-up dudes, shilling for some local band. I listened to the band, and they played the most cliche’ hard rock garbage, which no one has actually cared about for at least twenty years. I thought, if this guy that helps run Paste really believes in this band, if he is willing to spend his own time backing this particular group, just exactly how out of touch with what’s happening in music today is this guy and Paste Magazine on the whole? And that was their biggest problem; Paste had become so out of touch with the music scene it was covering. They were evaluating music based on ideals that were obsolete and anachronistic. As much as they were pioneers in a lot of different ways, they were cavemen when in came to gripping the current music climate.
Now, there are certainly logistical problems to letting kids run a mag. For instance, it is difficult to find people who possess both the knowledge of current styles and sharpened writing skills. But that’s exactly what talent scouts should be looking for, and as soon as they find them, they should be looking for the next ones to replace them. Instead, these institutions are typically run by a small handful of people, lost in their own bubble, slowly racing towards inevitable irrelevance. Sure, there are exceptions, really great music writers who have weathered plenty of eras well, but for the most part, people who are getting paid the most for music journalism by older institutions are by and large older journalists who could easily be outmatched by a kid in his pajamas in his parent’s basement.
The heart of it is this: If you are not putting an immense amount of effort in keeping up with current trends, you will be left behind.
2) Inconsistent voices will be ignored.
Even when Paste was more in tune with what was going on, they were always terrible at discerning the good from the great. Nobody could possibly count on Paste’s numerical values of reviews, because there was no cohesive rhyme or rhythm to them. It felt like there was a whole bunch of different people all tossing around opinions randomly. It may seem that in theory being democratic about the many voices inside your institution will reach an even-handed, median voice, but in practice it doesn’t work. That is one of the biggest reasons blogs have taken over, because most of the time they contain a singular voice. There are lots of music journalists who I read regularly that I rarely agree with in terms of music taste, but I can always count on them being consistent with their evaluations, and thus I can make sound assumptions based on their work. Just having a hodgepodge of opinions is beyond useless for the end user. One of Pitchfork’s biggest achievements is managing their writers and numerical grades. Even though hundreds of different people write their reviews, you can always count on Pitchfork to have a reason for their tone and number grades, whether we disagree with them or not.
The only big institutions that will survive this print-tumbling era will be the ones who develop and maintain a consistent voice.
3) Music journalism isn’t as important as it used to be.
This is another one that my many music journalist friends won’t want to hear, but you ignore it at your own peril. Before anyone with the slightest bit of resourcefulness and access to the Internet could download any record they wanted, there was a need for gatekeepers to inform the masses what was worth their dollar. But now, aggregators and torrent site’s top lists do a better job of efficiently communicating the best new music then 99% of music journalists out there. With so much music being created, and attention spans of readers diminishing, there just isn’t that much demand for long-winded, deep-digging album reviews. People want to know whether they’ll like the record or not, plain and simple. Now we may all want to harken back to a simpler time when music journalism came with it a certain amount of status and honour, but today most paid music journalists are nothing more than concealed publicists, pandering to their ever decreasing amount of ad revenue. We may all wish that people couldn’t steal music, and that everyone who wants to could stay employed, but you can’t operate a business on wishful thinking.
The economics is this: Demand is shrinking, and supply is growing exponentially. If you don’t understand this, your music mag will fail, and even if you do understand this, your mag will still probably fail.
- Posted by Davy Minor on September 1, 2010 at 7:42 pm