Elvis Costello once famously quipped, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture – it’s a really stupid thing to want to do.” The question of whether one art form can meaningfully be used to describe another is perhaps a question best left to philosophers and the sleep deprived, but there is certainly something to be said for questioning exactly what it is that the music press is meant to do.
There can be no music journalist alive who at some point hasn’t asked themselves ‘why am I bothering with this?’ The most obvious explanation of the role of the humble music journalist is as a researcher, reporting what’s going in the music world and picking out the best music so that the ordinary person does not have to wade through it all themselves. But this is not necessarily a fair system. The enormous power of the large music companies has led to undue weight being given to a few select ‘hyped’ bands. Indeed, a quick look through an issue of mainstream music magazines like Q and the NME does nothing to dispel the feeling that the music press is little more than a cog in the music industry promotion machine. They endlessly hype the same latest bands, or constantly try to move old stock through never ending ‘top 100’ lists of the same set of ‘classic’ songs and artists. There are better avenues for the less mainstream bands, particularly online where websites like Pitchfork Media and Stereogum offer their own alternative (although also, of course, biased) take on the music world. Indeed, there are a huge range of blogs and sites covering almost every genre you can imagine.
But there is more to music journalism than simple reporting on new music. Interviews and investigative articles are equally as important and perhaps a more interesting side of the music press. They give the journalist a chance to look deeper at the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of new music. Back in the ‘glory days’ of rock journalism, Rolling Stone made its name by investigating not just the music itself but the cultural and political movements that gave birth to it. In the 70’s and 80’s, NME offered articles about important, and often controversial, issues of the day as well as in depth music analysis. Music journalism really does have a lot to offer, both in terms of getting people to hear new music, and in helping them better understand the music in the world around them. Hopefully this is what we have achieved in these very pages in front of you.