Unofficially, this is music week for bloggers interested in culture and economics. Over at Knowledge Problem, Lynne Kieslinghas some thoughts on implications of the long tail market for the music industry, and Mike Giberson contemplates format changes in Washington radio (refs. and links below).
This Blog Sits At is eager to make itself useful, and on Friday, I offered thoughts on Pink’s new album. Today, I want to share an email I got from John Galvin. I had been wondering what magazines I should be subscribing to in the music category, and in matters of this kind I do nothing without advice of counsel. John has more than once wowed me with his command of popular culture in general and music in particular, so I turned to him.
Here, by kind permission, is the email with which John laid out a couple of music magazine subscription options.
Hi Grant – Your request is both flattering and well-timed: I have recently (for about the fourth time in my life) embarked on a get-back-in-touch-with-music campaign, energized by the recent (and far-too-late) addition of an iPod to my life, and a realization that I’ve been living in the land of ‘new releases by bands I already know I like’ for too long. I’ve re-subscribed to magazines, forced myself out the door to shows at local clubs, and have made music sites and bit torrents part of my daily internet regimen.
Musically, I was raised on mostly American mid-80s through early-90s alterna-indie-rock, and so my suggestions reflect that. That said, I think you should subscribe to, or at least monitor, the following:
Magnet (www.magnetmagazine.com) – this magazine, more than any other, covers the music I like/love. Some of the regular contributors piss me the holy hell off (especially Jonathan Valania), but it’s usually in a productive way (except Jonathan Valania). Their most frequent sin is a "hipper than thou," "oh you don’t know that already?" tone…but that’s to be expected, and perhaps desired, in one’s music journalism. (And anyway, they don’t violate as egregiously in this area as my next suggestion.) Comes out of Philadelphia, with a CD in every issue, and LOTS of album reviews. Short, one- or two-page sections on other genres (e.g., folk, jazz) – just the right amount for this reader – are at the back. When you subscribe, online or by subscription card, you get the current issue in the mail about 3 days later, in a hand-addressed envelope. No “please allow 6-8 weeks”: this isn’t a big corporate mag. While they put together a top-rate, slick publication with great cover photos, it’s obvious even from the transaction of the subscription that there’s a room somewhere in Philly, filled with guys (sic) who love this music and want other people to love it, too. To be read to understand and keep current with the enduring indie-rock-loving, alt-country-loving rock critic culture. For the music I like, Magnet is the best one-stop place to keep up-to-date with new bands and developments and (re-)releases for established acts.
Paste (www.pastemagazine.com) – Only on its 20th issue or so, this magazine covers more than just music. Comes with a CD/DVD every issue. Has an artsy orientation and is more concerned with what’s intellectually hip in white alt.culture than with what’s good music, per se (cf. the recent cover of Philip Seymour Hoffman…mind you, this is only a problem if you want your music magazine to be a *music* magazine; nothing wrong with Philip Seymour Hoffman on the cover of a magazine). Paste comes from a "why everyone you know who’s smart likes this already" rather than a "why *we* like this" perspective. (The latter of which better describes Magnet, which is why I like it more.) I use it to make sure there’s nothing major I’m missing, and because they write about so much of what I like – but their coverage of artists I already know about often irritates me, leaves me feeling condescended to, that they’ve missed something, that they were too ‘meta’ about the ‘significance’ or ‘importance’ of their topic. If NPR was a music/arts/culture magazine, it’d be Paste. Don’t get me wrong: it’s beautiful, slick (er, matte), and always engrossing; the DVD material alone is usually worth the price of admission.
Fader (www.thefader.com/blog) – I’m personally not all *that* enthused by this magazine but I think it’s still useful and pick it up on the newsstand now and then. It covers (from a very "white" perspective) an intentionally wide range of musics…always 2 different covers for every issue, usually of conflicting music styles (the current issue is available with either Ghostface Killah or Sweden’s Love Is All gracing the front). Black music is frequently covered but from a music critic point of view, never a hip-hop culture point of view. That’s just a for instance; they are intentionally "multi-cultural" so I use hip-hop as merely an example. Fader is always super-hip: hey, here’s that Brazilian band you’ve just *got* to know about.
And for a website to know what indie/alt-music culture is up to on a regular basis: www.pitchforkmedia.com. This is where I go, daily, to make sure I know about upcoming tours of bands that I’ll want to see, new albums, etc. There’s culture here, but it’s my culture, so it’s invisible to me – I go here to learn about stuff and routinely say to friends, "Did you see on Pitchfork that….?"
The British mags Q and Mojo are worth keeping tabs on if your inner music fan has any anglophile in him at all, and maybe even if he doesn’t. American music journalism treats its heroes with an awestruck reverence, saving irreverence only for fans, and those artists “we” have all agreed to find silly (e.g., Britney Spears, Kenny G, Courtney Love). British music journalism refreshingly channels its irreverence toward great and crappy artists alike, and that reason alone makes Q or Mojo a good occasional purchase.
Hope that helps.
Very helpful indeed. Thank you, John, for that superb survey. I am placing my subscriptions now.
Giberson, Michael. 2006. Washington Area Radio Reshuffles the Deck Chairs. April 4, 2006. here.
Kiesling, Lynne. 2006. Has the death of the music lapel started. Knowledge Problem. April 3, 2006. here.