Thursday, July 12, 2007

NME Redesign

Changes are afoot at Britain’s second–biggest selling weekly music paper:
The NME, IPC’s weekly music title, is undergoing a redesign this week and introducing a host of new elements.

Before I saddle up the horse and gallop excitedly to the local newsstand, let’s look a little more closely at what they’re offering:
The changes are the result of “extensive reader research”.
Right. You know what this means, don’t you? Yep, they’ve read the comments on for a week or so. “Extensive reader research” can be undertaken to mean exactly what you want it to mean – social science is an imprecise science and can lack a certain rigour, if you like – and when the editor insists that he views the average reader as a 15-year-old in the provinces, I wouldn’t listen to a word those readers said, either, especially if an expensive re-design depended upon the results.

There will be “more humorous editorial”. Maybe they’re planning to reintroduce the Thrills page, a feature so often lacking in humour that in its death throes in 2000 the strap line “it’s meant to be funny” was added. Or that there will be longer (slightly longer, mind, I’m not calling for the return of review essays, but 200 words isn’t a chore for reader or writer) to develop gags? Or the singles will be reviewed by one person per week? Or – and this would really be something – that they get better writers? No, didn’t think so.

“Innovations include a “Your photos” section to run alongside the letters page”. What is this? A weekly freesheet's clubbing section (at least those rags are honest that you get what you pay for)? Maybe this is the NME’s response to our celebrity-saturated culture in which most people crave fame. Well, they should realise that their demographic is anti the mass hysteria of Pop Idol and its derivatives. “Indie” might not necessarily mean “independent” or “sells bugger all records” these days, but the spirit of the venture, the thrill of the chase, the belief in the outsider are all part of its demographics’ self-imposed underdog status.

We can expect “a Weekly Planner catering for younger readers.” This move strikes me as being for kids so young that the covermounts might as well be lollipops and felt tip pens.

“Stuff We Love that extends coverage to fashion, gadgets and brand merchandise”. That sound you hear is the death knell of the magazine. The further they get away from their subject – music – the less reliable they become. Covering fashion and gadgets is not an economic necessity for the NME in the way that footballers, and soap operas and its stars, for example, became necessary add-ons to the teen and pre-teen magazine market.

What they are doing with fashion in what is a magazine read predominantly by males who mainly dress according to the dictates of the band or scene they like (or – newsflash! – jeans and a t-shirt, probably a band t-shirt at that) only their “research” can tell us. The gadgets section, that male-magazine staple, makes more sense to its readers, perhaps, but ties in perfectly to what this whole redesign is all about: it’s moving the magazine closer to the website.

The readers' photos (it’s like a networking site!), the readers’ reviews (it’s like a blog!), the humourous editorial (it’s irreverent! like the world wide web!), the staff profiles (it’s interweb-tastic!): has become the tail that wags the NME-magazine dog.

If I can give you one piece of advice, guys, is seeing as “Readers will also now have album reviews published” will you print them in the funny pages? I’d like to know which ones are which. Ta.


Tim said...

If you're not calling for the return of review essays, can I call for it, please?

FireEscape said...

You can, but I do hope you're not heard! I'm quite certain that any such pleas would fall on deaf ears anyway.
I think, Tim, it's about time you stopped reminiscing fondly about Morley and Parsons and how the NME used to take you all week to read.

Tim said...

Kids these days... grumble grumble... no attention span... moan moan... dumbed down... etc etc.

In all seriousness the fact that the NME of 1982 won't ever be recreated (because the market has changed so thoroughly) is not a good reason to stop wishing it would.

FireEscape said...

I accept your point, but from what I understand of that period much prose was deathly and overwrought (I also accept that some of it may have been very inspirational). Simon Frith made an interesting point in The Sociology of Rock that the weekly music press in part adopted ideologies - post-modernism, for example - for periods to have something to write about.
The music press, however, cannot and never could control all the meanings of music. Perhaps that was why they found new intellectual stances so easy to adopt?
The monthly market is the obvious place for the essay review, and where a number of hacks from the 80s now reside. But maybe those are too short or even lacking in academic discipline for you?

If you're free tonight, I'm seeing Harvey and Clare later. This evening's entertainment will involve one of Harvey's friend's playing in a band called Tits of Death, which sounds like a Hoxton nightmare, at the Macbeth. Still, the company will be good. We're meeting at the George and Vulture.

Tim said...

What was inspirational about the NME in the early 1980s was not (necessarily) the music, or (necessarily) the prose, but instead the fact it seemed to offer exciting new ways for ME to find meaning in pop.

I understand that the monthly market is where that stuff lives now, in so far as it lives at all, but I don't think there's anything fundamentally monthly about it: the weekly format made it more likely that people would take chances, do it quickly, throw stuff out there (including half-formed ideas), etc etc. Seems to me monthly is more likely to push people into taking themselves more seriously, surely a bad thing in the context of essay reviews.

It's all about the throwaway aesthetic!

(Sorry, I'm out and also about tonight.)

FireEscape said...

I wonder if there's a contradiction in what you're saying. You call for the essay-review, but you want it to be throwaway; in fact, you seem to be nostalgic for a certain kind of half-baked intellectualising (what you feel constituted the essay review in the weeklies). The absence of scholastic rigour seems to you a thing of celebration; I can find no reason to champion the ignorant.
I find that I respond to music criticism best when it's written on the rhythms of - and feels the pulse of - the very music it praises, when the excitement of the experience is captured in prose. Then, that's when I can feel the throwaway asethetic.
But you're right, the monthlies have none of the latter and a little too much of the dry, bookish approach to tickle my fancy.
Perhaps, though, there is an element of conditioning in why you prefer the essay review if that's what got you in to so much music when you were young...

Tim said...

I'm saying: give me something to think about and give it to me NOW! It doesn't matter if there are holes in it, if it's not perfect, what matters is the provocation.

If it turns out to be nonsense, not to worry there'll be more along in a week.

I'm not talking about ignorance: for this to work it requires dedicated and clever individuals. Perhaps they don't exist any more, but it seems more likely that the kind of writing I'm hinting at is just not wanted in the weekly music press any longer.

You're probably right that I'm conditioned to want things the way they were when they were most exciting to me (which is to say the way they were when a bit of lit theory sprinkled into a review seemed impossibly glamourous and exciting). That doesn't necessarily mean the press wasn't actually better back then!

I don't think I've ever read a review and thought: "Cor! That doesn't half echo the rhythms of the music it's discussing!" I'd very likely like it if I did.

FireEscape said...

It's the provocation that was too often the problem. Winding up readers for the sake of authorial glory and writers undermining any notion of their authority by (semantics corner ahoy) conjecturing (the formation or expression of an opinion or theory without sufficient evidence for proof). I've read too many writers contradict themselves by adopting conflicting viewpoints at discrete points. This inconsistency annoys me and I distrust all such writers. I don't think the music press is as good as it was in many ways, and one of the reasons is that they underestimate their readers' intelligence. Magazines, for example, sell themselves as aspirational products. I don't aspire to lose IQ points.

Anonymous said...

Last time I read the NME I couldn't believe how dull and innofensive the writing was. It was just porridge, the writers had no individuality, no style, wit or humour. Why did they lose genuinely interesting, funny and knowledgeable contributors? Contributors with their own opinions, not peer group-approved opinion-by-numbers? Corporate indie for a corporate age.