If fans, clicks, tickets and record sales are the measuring sticks for success in music, then the trade press is the barometer of the health of the music industry. When the industry contracts, the trade publications are hit hard as readership dwindles, subscriptions shrink and ad-sales dry up.
So as the industry rebounds, the titles that scrutinize the business and its players should get fresh legs? The answer is all around you. And you’re looking at it right now.
Steve Redmond, the U.K. music biz veteran and now SVP, Global Corporate Communications at BMG, based in Berlin, surveyed the landscape and found the music trade space is in great shape and, in some cases, growing new limbs. Writing in Music Business Worldwide, the U.K.-based music trade site launched in 2015 by Tim Ingram, the former Music Week editor, Redmond makes the point that, after years of cutting and bleeding (and in some cases, dying), there’s “suddenly change is in the air.”
Los Angeles-based film, TV and theatre trade Variety threw down the gauntlet by poaching two senior Billboard writers (Shirley Halperin in L.A. and Jem Aswad in NYC) to lead its bolstered music coverage, while Billboard moved quickly with the recruitment of the Wall St Journal’s music industry expert Hannah Karp as news editor. Soon after, the brilliant and experienced writer Melinda Newman returned to the magazine as West Coast Editor. Newman was Billboard‘s West Coast Bureau Chief from 1998 to 2006.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Germany’s Musik Woche and the U.K.’s Music Week have enjoyed well-received redesigns and, in late September, MBW announced the launch of an industry periodical, a hard-copy quarterly that no-one would have predicted in the gloomiest post-Napster years. The new print title launches this week. It’s a sign of the times and the times are pretty good right now.
It’s a similar story Down Under
The local industry is on the upswing thanks largely to streaming and professionals having three main sources for their industry news. The latest entrant is, of course, The Industry Observer, which Seventh Street Media launched in March with ex-The Music Network editor Poppy Reid at the helm. The changes keep coming for TMN, which been sold on several occasions over the past decade and is now guided by Jake Challenor and his social-first digital agency Jaden Social. Street Press Australia’s TheMusic.com.au is a popular, evolving portal for news and analysis which can rely on coverage from a national team of writers.
It wasn’t always this good. As the industry struggled with piracy and the disruption of digital, the trade press took a pounding. Music Week’s sister titles fono and MBI folded, as did Billboard’s brethren Music & Media and R&R, and German newspaper Der Musikmarkt and the U.S.-based Gavin Report failed to survive the noughties. Those which made it through the lean years were scaled right back.
So rejoice in these days of health and celebrate the survival and success of the trade press. “Some say we don’t need a trade press at all. Let’s save the money and save the bother, they say. But they’re wrong,” writes Redmond. “Efficient markets depend on an open interchange of information. The business press facilitates that. And in an industry which isn’t always renowned for straight-dealing, daylight really is the best disinfectant. Ultimately music’s business press doesn’t just hold up a mirror to the industry, it magnifies it. The industry would be much diminished without it. We should wish them all well.”