Friday, 20 September 2013

Have We Helped Kill A Music Journalist ?

Earlier this month Berlin Music Week presented a panel discussion called Daft Punk, Jai Paul and the Death of Music Journalism. It was an interesting, sometimes though provoking discussion that raised points about online journalism and how there’s the potential for it to decline into just a lowest common denominator click-bait PR led profession. Thankfully the panellists involved offered an alternative view; that there is still scope for quality editorial and independent thought and writing. You can see the full discussion in the video below.

The difficulty of course for any music website is how to monetise its operations. Right at the end of the discussion you’ll hear John Doran from The Quietus explain his thinking on this with regard to possible future member subscriptions to access certain parts of The Quietus, in the same way some quality broadsheets have done.

From an inward looking view our perspective of the discussion over monetisation is somewhat different. We have no desire to make money from Breaking More Waves, it simply exists as a hobby; an online version of the type of conversations we’d have with friends down the pub, but on a bigger scale. “Have you heard the new tune by so and so yet? It’s astonishing.” “Have you seen the video about the death of music journalism from Berlin Music Week? What did you think?” As you can probably tell a night down the pub with Breaking More Waves is an enthralling night to spend an evening. (Note to self: Must talk about girls and football in the pub more – that’s what we’re meant to do, right?)

Breaking More Waves is a small relatively low traffic blog (compared with large music websites) and we have no motivation to have a huge number of hits. Sure, we’re interested in how many people are reading our posts, and get some satisfaction when something we’ve written gets shared around the web, but we’re not driven by click maximisation / income. We're unfunded and independent and proud of that. We prefer to have a small but regular readership,  that enjoys and sometimes engages with the crap we write whilst helping in a small way to gain exposure to the music we adore.

However, the debate made us think a little about monetary gain from music and music related activity. There’s been a fair amount of argument recently about how much musicians should be paid for their art and work, centralising on discussion around the likes of what Spotify pays. As music becomes more available there’s an ever greater amount of new music to choose from, so as supply increases consumers’ cash is spread more thinly, leading to the inevitable output that many musicians get paid a little less.

It’s the same with journalism. Back in the golden days of journalism, before the internet, there was a limited number of music publications and so those who produced them tended to be paid more. We even ran a paper based amateur fanzine and people paid us real cash to read it.  We never made any profit from it, but payment covered the costs of production. Now with so many music websites and the model for monetisation changing from a ‘pay to read’ to a mainly ‘funded through advertising’ model, not only has the content of much journalism changed, but the amount (if any) writers get paid has - and payments are not going in an upwards direction.

As Doran says in the discussion; if musicians aren’t earning any money then it seems obscene for music journalists to make money. A couple of years ago David Cameron would have called this work for next to nothing approach ‘Big Society’. Remember that?

The point by Doran may have been raised partly in jest (or possibly not) but there’s a serious issue here. Do enough people care about quality professional music journalism to enable it to continue or are blogs and other free sites killing the professionals by 'stealing' the traffic? Looking at other areas of media it seems that there is a large public expectation that on line journalism should be free to read. Whilst arguably not the greatest 'quality' The Sun has recently announced a drop in 60% of its traffic since the introduction of its paywall.

We suspect it's going to take real innovation for music websites to be sustainable in the long term whilst offering high levels of quality and make money - just in the same way as artists are struggling to do so. There will no doubt be some who do it very well, but many others will either fall by the wayside or end up being hit chasers offering nothing but an endless number of low quality '50 Greatest' type lists.

If this is the end result and unfunded blogs are a tiny bit responsible for the murder of a number of paid journalists, we apologise, but whilst the internet continues to provide us this glorious freedom, we're not going to stop doing what we do. 

Daft Punk, Jai Paul and the Death of Music Journalism 

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