Thursday, October 27, 2011

Corporate Rock media still sucks (kind of)...

In the last week, I've spent two very long stretches of time in airports waiting for planes (six hours in Athens and ten hours in Bangkok). To ward off the boredom, I bought a different issue of Rolling Stone in each of these airports and pretty much read them front to back. Back in the late 80's and early 90's, I was a regular Rolling Stone reader but not exclusively - I rabidly read several different music magazines each month including NME, Melodymaker, Spin, Juice (the Australian Spin offshoot), Select, Q, Alternative Press etc etc... I eventually decided that I should be spending more money on music than reading about it and eventually reduced my reading to more occasional one-off purchases when I saw something of interest. However, regardless of where I am, I will always browse the music section hen I visit the newsagent.

ANYHOW, reading Rolling Stone seemed like a weird exercise in nostalgia because even though the music landscape has changed, their approach to writing about it has not and I was kind of surprised about how boring the music writing was. As Rino point out recently, they have a weird obsession with Eddie Vedder (a photo in each issue - they really should have a column called What's Eddie up to this month?) but even the bands I love who were covered in the magazine were just very dull and not compelling or interesting in any way. I remember when the notion of "the Rolling Stone interview" meant some kind of indepth, candid portrayal of the artist but there was no such perception, depth or analysis in these issues (although they did a strange soft hatchet posthumous piece on Steve Jobs). A good review in Rolling Stone meant substantial record sales for bands and record companies pandered to the wants of the magazine but it doesn't seem that way anymore. Of interest though was that all the articles on politics and the environment were top notch and far better than their music writing (in particular, articles on Obama's war room and the environmental crisis in Australia were excellent). Maybe Rolling Stone needs to recast themselves as a news magazine rather than a music magazine.

This all lends itself to something I've been thinking about for a while as the arbiters of taste have moved from traditional print media to sites such as Pitchfork. I'm pretty sure a good rating on Pitchfork equates music sales (or at least, a high number of illegal downloads) but I'm not sure that these grassroots websites are any better than traditional media forms. I've seen a number of good records slammed on there and even though it's ironic and hypocritical that someone who writes and blogs about music (even though I am a lone crazy yelling into the abyss of the internet), the power they now wield seems substantial. If you want evidence of that, read the Merge book, where they describe the problem they faced when Pitchfork gave Arcade Fire's Funeral a 10 and all the copies of the record sold out and it took weeks to re-stock supplies (admittedly, a great problem for Merge to have). But I guess that's my point, Pitchfork seem to be merely a new iteration of the Rolling Stone model. Sure, it seems different because it is web rather than print based and free for readers but the model and importance of artists appearing on Pitchfork seems to be increasing. A few year ago, I think a Tom Waits interview on Pitchfork would have been a coup but now it seems perfunctory.

So what does this mean? Nothing really but it seems to me that the Pitchforks of the world are merely becoming the new corporate media. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily but as they now hold festivals, publish books and hold events, that grain of independence that sparked the site will be tested and no doubt compromised (my inner conspiracy theorist still finds the glowing review of the last Bon Iver record followed by the announcement he was curating a Pitchfork Festival too much of a coincidence - that record is terrible). Anyhow, whatever, I still find Stereogum funnier...


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