Contemporary Mediascape: Music Journalism
It has been said “The problematic issue that runs through the history of all forms of popular music since the development of industrial capitalism is the relationship between music as a means of popular expression and music as a means of making money” (FRITH, Simon, 2000)
I believe this statement to mean that although a music journalist is an impartial yet slightly opinionated media, record labels will always do what is necessary to make money and promote their artists by any means necessary. Hence, the music journalist can and will be used unfairly in some cases. To remain true to their passion and their career, one must not be used by such companies for their greater good e.g. to make money. However, a journalist will always be challenged on their opinions and especially their reviews. With such names as Jancee Dunn and Hunter S. Thompson, it is easy to be inspired into what seems like a glamorous career path. But, it is important not to forget the often quoted “seedy underbelly” of the music industry.
In this article, I plan to discuss the challenges and constants of the music journalist as well as the industry as a whole. While music is a trend, so to are its means of selling and distribution. Because technology is a rolling stone that gathers no moss, it means the way in which music journalism is written has changed. From fans blogging at home to paid professionals at big label magazines, the lines have blurred. As to whether it is a diminishing or a blooming field of work, it is hard to say. Although stats may decide either, the actual job of a music journalist is changing. From the way one writes down to the subject matter they are covering. Personally I believe music journalism it still as popular as ever, but where and for whom they write has changed dramatically.
Illegal downloading and file sharing
As technology advances, so to do the ways in which we access and share music. There is a constant debate to the right and wrong of file sharing and new laws are being introduced to keep up with changing technologies and those who exploit them. Because there are always those who believe art (in the form of music) should be free for everyone to enjoy, loopholes in the law and constantly evolving programs make this problem hard to combat.
“New models are emerging that eliminate the need to press CDs, deal with e-tailers, hunt down money, hand over exclusive rights to masters, or give up a large cut of profits just for the luxury of having your songs on iTunes. In terms of both Physical Media and Digital Distribution, today’s options will make producers, and artists re-think their entire career plan” (Avalon ,2006).
Recently in the US, a 32 year old woman was found guilty of illegally downloading music from the internet and was fined $80 000 for each individual song. For a total of 24 song, accounting to a total of $1.9 million US. Her attorney said “Jammie Thomas-Rasset's case was the first such copyright infringement case to go to trial in the United States” (Elianne Friend, 2009 http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/06/18/minnesota.music.download.fine)
This is a field covered by journalists of numerous fields, not just music. Because it is a topic of popular debate with differences of opinion, it is easy to make a debate based on personal opinion of what constitutes stealing. The music journalist must be able to progress with such contemporary issues as it is one of significance. However, laws vary from country to country and this poses issued with files shared in numerous countries outside such enforcement e.g. until recently Pirate Bay. In the UK recently, musicians and recording artists have formed groups voicing their opinions on this hot topic. The Times wrote last month “The Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) has spent a week in talks with record labels such as Sony and EMI, who back plans by Lord Mandelson to disconnect internet users who persistently download music illegally” (The Times, September 21, 2009). This indicates that this issue affects many people in the industry, from artists and journalists to producers and graphic artists. If CD sales go completely digital, what will become of these middle men such as the designers and factory workers who produce the CDs.
Different research is inconclusive; with varying finding that directly contradict each other. Steve Hargrave of sky news claims “Recent figures suggest that only one in 20 downloads were legal last year” (Steve Hargrave, 2009) while the IFPI, the international equivalent of the RIAA, has put out new stats claiming that only 5 percent of all music downloads in 2008 were legal. The group estimated that 40 billion tracks were shared illegally last year, or an average of almost 30 songs for every internet user worldwide (http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090116/0955383440.shtml)
Internet taking over from print and citizen journalism
While the issue of citizen journalism is one of uncertainty, it is becoming ever more popular. These days, anyone can create a blog and give their own reviews. This means that the music journalist is getting a run for its money, trying to prove why paid professionals are needed at all. Defending their pay cheque is a constant battle.
Village Voice critic Christopher R. Weingarten “People are firing geeks like me and hiring a bunch of 19-year-olds who will work for concert tickets and a pat on the head.” It's no secret that as bloggers fill the void of snarky freelancers, doing it yourself becomes doing it entirely. Perhaps more importantly Weingarten also advises, “You don’t need a critic to tell you if something’s good, you can just listen to it.” (drownedinsound.com). This new means of moving information through digital means should be a dark cloud for magazine companies that would ultimately suffer. However Nick Chan, CEO Pacific Magazines and MPA chairman said “… if you look at these current results against th