The Rise and Fall and Rise...of Music Magazines

On Wednesday 23 May at the Citizen M, Tower Hill, the BSME hosted a panel discussion about music magazines, entitled ‘The Rise and Fall and Rise of Music Mags’, with Richard Williams (MM, OGWT, Blue Moment), Jo Frost (Songlines) and Phil Hebblethwaite (Former editor/publisher of The Stool Pigeon, freelance music journalist (BBC Music, The Quietus).

Music magazines are resilient. Despite the proliferation of websites and blogs that can easily embed audio and video files, there is still something special about the appeal of reading about music on the printed page. Look in any mag store (high street or indie), supermarket rack or music shop and you will see dozens of titles – much-loved printed magazines that cover almost every genre. Mags that appeal both to nostalgia and to their readers’ appetites for the next big thing. There are weeklies such as Kerrang! and monthlies including Uncut, Q, Mojo, Mixmag, all with substantial circulation figures.

Add to this titles such as Blues & Soul, DJ Monthly, Maverick, fRoots, Jazzwise, Songlines, relative newcomers such as Long Live Vinyl and Electronic Sound and titles that go back generations, including Jazz Journal (launched in 1946) and The Musical Times (est. 1844). Most genres are covered by at least one print mag.

There are also consumer magazines such as What Hi-Fi and Hi-Fi Choice, the industry weekly Music Week, classical music journals such as Gramophone, Opera, BBC Music magazine and titles focused on the challenges of learning and creating music: Guitar Techniques, Guitar and Bass, Sound on Sound, Future Music, Music Teacher, and so on. The Wire continues to document a dizzyingly wide span of contemporary innovation, while indie title Brick looks at hip-hop with a photographer’s eye. And that’s before we even get on to the topic of fanzines and fiercely local music mags.

These magazines may have little in common apart from a commitment to print and an obsession with music. But maybe that’s enough. All print magazines have to fight their corner of the media landscape. Though the music business is not the cash-stuffed behemoth it seemed to be in the days of the weekly ‘inkies’ (MM, NME, Sounds, Record Mirror, etc.) or the eras of Smash Hits, The Face, Jockey Slut and Straight No Chaser (which recently made a comeback), people continue to love music. Buying magazines about the music they love remains part of the picture.