One of my regular correspondents on Twitter recently published this blog entry. I thought I’d reproduce it here, because I find it to be quite revealing: partway explanatory of what goes on behind the scenes at the mainstream rock press.
I like Everett True. Many don’t but I do. He’s a personality and modern music writing has a paucity of those. But that doesn’t mean I always agree with him. This week he’s been posting up the archive of one of his much-missed projects Plan B, a fine magazine which gave birth to many a great up and coming new music writer. But while that’s a brilliant public service it gave me occasion to read his editorial from Issue 0 and now, a few years late, I need to disagree with one of his quips.
Recounting a trip to lecture some media students, Everett talks about dismissing, “NME and Q as being put together by people embarrassed to be writing about indie music…” That’s the point at which he and I take different paths.
Both Q and NME have been terribly compromised publications for years but that isn’t down to the people working on them not caring or not loving music as much as Everett does. It’s because those magazines are cogs within large corporations with confused agendas, turned into toys for editors enthralled with a philosophy of “brand”, “content partnerships” and other phrases that translate to bad magazines.
Everett’s advice to potential Plan B contributors was “be yourself” but that’s not always been a choice at NME or Q (although NME under Krissi Murrison is 1000% sharper than the dull days of Conor McNicholas running the paper into the ground). Q is like the Borg. It gobbles up writers and pulps them into a bland mush.
The Atlantic has just published a list of what makes great editing in celebration of its 153rd birthday. One point stood out for me as a big failing at Q was this: “Don’t over-edit. You will often estrange an author by too elaborate a revision, and furthermore, take away from the magazine the variety of style that keeps it fresh.” Too often Q has been like a mangle, squeezing until all the writer’s personality is left in the bucket.
That is not the fault of the people who work on Q [I was front section editor there for just over a year]. They are a sharp, smart, committed team with a real love of music. But the product they are made to produce is a sad compromise, under the cosh of powerful PRs trading access for writing about bands that just aren’t up to snuff. Q has to play safe.
Editors aren’t given the scope to be imaginative – they can’t take risks and there have been some terrible decisions (putting Johnny Borrell aka the least palatable man in music on the cover?!). No one in the office besides the boss backed that move but it happened anyway. A few months down the line the revisionist history had begun: “Who’s idea was that then?”
Plan B was wildly inventive and individualistic. It could never sell more than a nominal number of copies. Q is bland and it struggles to maintain the sales figures it once easily pulled in. Neither is the solution for what a music magazine should be now.
In some ways, the question is whether a traditional music magazine, a bound collection of pages, still has a place. I think it has but a successful one needs freedom of movement that an oil tanker like Q doesn’t have right now. The ship can be turned around but the captain needs to accept that the iceberg it’s headed for is there to begin with. Right now, they’ve got their hands on the wheel and their eyes closed…
(Some random thoughts about this)