How one band’s album review could signal change in music journalism

The 1975 have just released their sophomore record, ‘I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet so unaware of it’. The LP went to number one in both the UK and the US, a first for the Cheshire four-piece. The media has been unrelenting in its blanket coverage of the band. Rolling Stone, Noisey and The Guardian have all published thinkpieces on the band’s divisive nature.

The NME have been the most vocal about the band in the run-up to the album. This emphasis has come a surprise. After all, this was the magazine that nominated them for Worst Band at their own awards ceremony in 2014 – an award they then went on to win. It got to the point where those in the comments section questioned whether the now-free magazine was being paid to push the record.

Pitchfork Media was recently acquired by mass media outlet Condé Nast. Pitchfork is a media group that prides itself on being a fringe publication – the place you go to find out about new bands first before all of your friends. Condé Nast is the group which counts Vogue magazine as one of its publications. On the acquisition, Pitchfork said, “We’re incredibly fortunate to have found in Condé Nast a group of people who share every aspect of our focus. Their 100+ years of experience in building brands marked by editorial integrity makes them a natural fit for Pitchfork.” Condé Nast’s chief digital officer Fred Santarpia said the acquisition brings “a very passionate audience of millennial males into our roster”.

When is it appropriate – if ever – for corporate and independent publications to fraternise? How can we be sure that despite all of Pitchfork’s talk of editorial integrity, the person now pulling the strings, with the considerably deeper pockets, will be maintaining that?

Reviews still carry weight, regardless of what your favourite artists tell you about never reading them. The pool of online influencers continues to grow. It’s gone beyond 20-something year old hacks on their laptops ranting about an album they hate. As a commodity, music is now being pushed across all socials, as sponsored content or otherwise. Consider the commercial effect of a relatively unknown band being featured in one of Kylie Jenner’s Snapchats.

Corporations are recognising this global influence – that can be seen from Condé Nast’s worrying comments above.
Should corporations and financial gain affect reviews or news coverage? Absolutely not. If a music publication or journalist gives biased views on something purely for money, they sacrifice all basic integrity. Would it be naïve to say that money wouldn’t effect reviews and coverage? Absolutely. Now more than ever, it is harder to make money within journalism, especially the music side of the industry. The desire to make a profit now overrides wanting to remain impartial.

Pitchfork’s alleged lean towards commercially sound reporting has been happening since 2010, according to some forums. A Nine Inch Nails re-issue was awarded a 9.5/10, despite the initial release receiving 5.6. The author of the later article even admitted the reissue brings nothing new to the table.

Of course, these are all very much conspiracy theories, and it’s best to assume their basis is unfounded. However, it’s hard not to consider that there may a correlation there.

From a label’s perspective, imagine how soul destroying it is to pump money into an album campaign, only for an editor to tweet his or her disdain for it. That shout into the void could prove extremely costly: much more costly than it is to pay someone off to say they love it.

It would take an insider going rogue and willing to break a non-disclosure agreement for something, if anything, to come to light, similar to GamerGate. At the end of the day, money talks, and the temptation to earn more money can often be too much.

Music journalists must look for other ways to generate revenue on their sites that don’t jeopardise their own integrity as writers. Independent publications and sites must be supported so that they can continue to thrive and deliver fairly-written content.

Fionnuala Jones

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