Once upon a time, a guy like Lester Bangs could write a 10,000 word appreciation of an album and get it published in a national magazine. Those days of long-form rock journalism are long gone. No one was the time or interest to read something that lengthy–and more importantly, no one is paying any critics to write pieces like that any more. Hell, big publishers are going out of business everywhere. Even the NME, once a bible of music commentary, is selling fewer than 15,000 copies a week. At its peak, it was selling close to 300,000.
Music journalism and the position of music critic are in trouble. With everyone having instant access to just about any music that might float their boat, everyone’s their own critic. Where does that leave the professional writer?
American Journalism Review looks at the state of music journalism and where it might be headed.
Nate Patrin’s career trajectory in music journalism was once the norm.
Patrin grew up reading Spin and Rolling Stone in the 1990s and wrote music reviews for his high school newspaper. He began contributing to the Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages in 1999, and from there he moved up to the big leagues, freelancing for Spin and Blender.
“It was the traditional path,” Patrin said.
Between then and now, Blender folded in 2009 and Rolling Stone physically shrank its print magazine. In September, Spin Media ended the print edition of Vibe, and Spin, which became an online-only publication in 2012, had its fourth editor-in-chief in two years, Craig Marks, step down.
As the entire media industry has struggled to adapt to demands of the digital age and turn a profit, music publications in particular are facing a slew of unique challenges that have redefined their roles and responsibilities.
Patrin, who currently freelances for Pitchfork and several other outlets, is one of many writers who were drawn to music journalism’s authoritative voices and engaging stories, only to find themselves riding out the profession’s growing pains as it reshapes for the future.
“It can get discouraging, feeling like options for diehard music enthusiasts could be narrowing,” Patrin said.