Music Journalism in an Age of Niches

The shenanigans over the Guardian end-of-year list are surely a sympton of far deeper problems. The internet-era music world is fragmented into myriad overlapping niche scenes, and it’s harder for one publication to cover it all. But to cover a small subset of niches and pretending it’s the “mainstream” doesn’t work. Because beyond the mass-market corporate pop of Adele and Coldplay there is no mainstream. It’s all niches.

The Guardian is full of former NME types who have grown accustomed to acting as gatekeepers and tastemakers. But it’s a different world now; what worked in 1995 isn’t going to fly in 2015. If a broadsheet wants to continue with in-depth music coverage and wants to continue to be relevant, it needs to reinvent itself.

To start with, they must engage with those niche scenes they had been pretending weren’t relevant, and ensure they have the writers, either staff or freelancers, who understand those scenes.  Only then can they genuinely have have the broad coverage of music they currently only claim to.

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3 Responses to Music Journalism in an Age of Niches

  1. Flightless says:

    Recently I’d thought something very similar when a friend sent me a link to the patronising excuse for a review in the Independant of the Nightwish gig we’d been to at Wembley. It was obvious that the writer knew little of & cared even less for the style of music they make. The paper seemed to have felt it couldn’t ignore a sold out Wembley, yet didn’t send somebody who could write without it looking like they begrudged being there. All that does is make a lot of people who went to the gig and saw how great it was think the review has no credibility.

    Most of the time I expect the mainstream press to be snide and uninformed about the majority of the kinds of music I like. However currently it also feels like part of a decline in overall standards of journalism in major media. If you looked at the website Being Outside Cricket you might see great blogging about how often national papers virtually recycle ECB press releases rather than think for themselves. While not about music, it’s a similar disconnect between a section of the press in a corporate bubble and the wider public.

    I suppose at least the idea that “any publicity is good” means that some people may investigate Karnataka, Nightwish or some other wothwhile stuff because of it.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Ugh. Just read that Nightwish “review”. If anybody sneeringly dismissed a hip-hop gig in that way without even attempting to engage with what was happening in the room, they’re (rightly) be dismissed as a racist idiot.

    I’ve not seen this happen on a regular basis to anything other than rock and metal. Why do editors think that sort of garbage is acceptable?

  3. Colum Paget says:

    # Because beyond the mass-market corporate pop of Adele and
    # Coldplay there is no mainstream. Its all niches.

    Couldn’t agree more, but this means that a general outlet *can’t* keep up with all music. Thus it must choose a subgroup, and sell exclusively to them. Human nature being what it is, this means it will praise that subgroup telling them that they’re the most significant thing since the big bang, and dismiss all outgroups as false religions or lesser races/cultures/genres. By and large this mirrors what’s happening in politics, where the field is dividing up into niche groups who all hate each other and view unbelievers as less than human.

    # The Guardian is full of former NME types who have grown
    # accustomed to acting as gatekeepers and tastemakers.

    Now, *that’s* privilege.

    # But its a different world now; what worked in 1995 isnt going to
    # fly in 2015. If a broadsheet wants to continue with in-depth music
    # coverage and wants to continue to be relevant, it needs to reinvent itself.

    No, it needs to die. The old music press is a dinosaur and the comet hit some time back. In an age of niches only niche outlets are going to survive. This is not entirely a good thing, I admit, but it’s what the environment demands.

    # To start with, they must engage with those niche scenes they
    # had been pretending werent relevant, and ensure they have
    # the writers, either staff or freelancers, who understand those scenes.

    Unfortunately no, they should pick one niche and champion it. That is what works.

    # Only then can they genuinely have have the broad coverage of
    # music they currently only claim to.

    As you’ve pointed out yourself, it’s increasingly impossible to cover music, it’s become too fractured.

    Colum