Why Is Music Journalism Collapsing?

From The Honest Broker:

“This feels like the end of music reviews,” complained a depressed critic last night.

That gloomy prediction is a response to the demolition of Pitchfork, a leading music media outlet for the last 25 years. Parent company boss Anna Wintour sent out the bad news in an employee memo yesterday.

It’s more than just layoffs—the news is much worse than that. That’s because parent company Condé Nast also announced that Pitchfork will get merged into GQ.

Swallowed up by GQ? Is this some cruel joke?

Ah, for writers it’s all too familiar. In music media, disappearing jobs are now more common than backstage passes.

Just a few weeks ago, Bandcamp laid off 58 (out of 120) employees—including about “half of its core editorial staff.”

And Bandcamp was considered a more profitable, stable employer than most media outlets. The parent company before the recent sale (to Songtradr) and subsequent layoffs, Epic Games, will generate almost a billion dollars in income this year—but they clearly don’t want to waste that cash on music journalism.

Why is everybody hating on music writers?

Many people assume it’s just the same story as elsewhere in legacy media. And I’ve written about that myself—predicting that 2024 will see more implosions of this sort.

Sure, that’s part of the story.

But there’s a larger problem with the music economy that nobody wants to talk about. The layoffs aren’t just happening among lowly record reviewers—but everywhere in the music business.

Universal Music announced layoffs two days ago.

YouTube announced layoffs yesterday.

Soundcloud announced last week that the company is up for sale—after two rounds of layoffs during the last 18 months.

Spotify announced layoffs five weeks ago.

That same week, Tidal announced layoffs.

A few weeks earlier, Amazon Music laid off employees on three continents.

Meanwhile, almost every music streaming platform is trying to force through price increases (as predicted here). This is an admission that they don’t expect much growth from new users—so they need to squeeze old ones as hard as possible.

As you can see, the problem is more than just music writers—something is rotten at a deeper level.

What’s the real cause of the crisis? Let’s examine it, step by step:

  1. The dominant music companies decided that they could live comfortably off old music and passive listeners. Launching new artists was too hard—much better to keep playing the old songs over and over.
  2. So major labels (and investment groups) started investing huge sums into acquiring old song publishing catalogs.
  3. Meanwhile streaming platforms encouraged passive listening—so people don’t even know the names of songs or artists.
  4. The ideal situation was switching listeners to AI-generated tracks, which could be owned by the streaming platform—so no royalties are ever paid to musicians.
  5. These strategies have worked. Streaming fans don’t pay much attention to new music anymore.

I’ve warned about each of these—but we are now seeing the long-term results.

Link to the rest at The Honest Broker

PG notes that a lot of different parts of journalism has been collapsing for a long time.

In New York City and its environs, The New York Times is #3 by circulation. Newsday, which primarily covers Long Island, is #2. The Wall Street Journal, a paper that actually publishes a conservative editorial from time to time(!) has been #1 for a long time.

Newsday!!! A tabloid suburban newspaper. The ultimate snub for Manhattanites! Before you know it, a paper that covers farm news (New York Farmer) will have a larger circulation than The New York Times.

5 thoughts on “Why Is Music Journalism Collapsing?”

  1. I had no idea that Soundcloud and Bandcamp were considered part of journalism. I thought they were like Amazon (was originally) for music. I use them for acquiring music I like, as I hate streaming. I buy and download to play when I want it, not when I have access to the streaming service.

    • Same here. I used to use Soundcloud to post podcasts by my newspaper’s music reporters, but the idea was that it was a convenient way to embed music files at our site. It never occurred to me they were anything other than the audio equivalent of YouTube, except with easier downloads.

      ETA — now that I think about it, I’m almost positive we posted the podcasts elsewhere, and Soundcloud was for short interviews or music samples.

  2. Of course, the media industry will never acknowledge that the problem is that people don’t want to watch/listen to/read their “new things.”

    The ignorant peons are wrong when they send songs about personal justice on a serial domestic abuser – or not bringing big city attitudes to a small town – or rich men north of Richmond – to the top of the music charts.

      • Morgan Wallen’s “Wait in the Truck,” probably.

        And frankly, the other two were no worse, artistically, than anything that came out this year. (Sentiment-wise, I didn’t like “Try that in a Small Town,” but liked “Rich Men North of Richmond.)

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