The derailment of the New Musical Express
In March this year, the New Musical Express (NME) announced that it was to cease publication in print after 66 years and become an online-only publication. Senior PR & Marketing Executive, Joanna, shares her thoughts on the ups and downs of the NME .
When I was growing up the NME was iconic and, although now online-only, the NME will always remain one of the most influential music magazines. If a band or musician was mentioned in the magazine or, low and behold, made it on to the coveted front cover, you knew they were the ”trendy” band to be following. Since the NME (originally a tabloid newspaper) launched in 1952, many bands and artists have been ‘hyped’ (identified as the next big thing) by the NME – Oasis, The Smiths, The Libertines, Amy Winehouse, to name just a few that stand out for me.
The consistent coverage and support that the NME gave to Arctic Monkeys, right from the very beginning, I think, has played a huge part in the band’s success. NME’s Radar section – updates on emerging bands and artists around the world – first featured Arctic Monkeys in May 2005, a month before the band had signed its first record deal. The future-gazing article entitled The most talked about band in Britain, set the stage for what was to come for the Sheffield four piece, and was the first of many, many NME articles, cover features, freebie posters and awards for the band. Ironically, the 2005 Radar article ended with “Tellingly, tickets for the Arctic Monkeys’ debut headline tour are already in the hands of the eBay hellhounds” – so not much has changed there, unfortunately. You can read the full article here.
Whenever reading NME Radar was the section I turned to first (after the crossword…), as I was keen to hear who had been tipped-off as the next big thing. In some instances, the hype given to a band was over-inflated. I remember the first time The Vaccines appeared on the cover – a band that was set to be the next Arctic Monkeys – but now on the fourth album, the band’s music has never really advanced from the first album.
The NME itself, and my relationship with the magazine, has changed a lot since I started reading it in 2007. I remember buying my first ever copy – I was on a school trip, I had spending money, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. It was the NME awards 2007 edition, it came with a free CD and some of my favourite bands were on the cover. I thought it was the most fantastic purchase I had ever made. From then on, I bought the magazine as often as my finances allowed and definitely whenever someone interesting was on the cover; buying a weekly paper that cost £2+ was a big commitment even for the biggest of music lovers! When I went to university a lack of disposable income meant that the NME turned into a rare treat – a gift from my parents whenever I came home.
Sometime in 2015 I faced disappointment as I searched for the NME on the supermarket shelf, but could not find a copy – for weeks on end. I later realised that it had ceased print and was to re-launch as a free magazine, which could be picked up in new locations, such as Topshop and other retail stores. The ‘new’ New Musical Express was to be more pop-orientated and, when it relaunched in September 2015, Rihanna was on the cover. I was in a state of utter shock and confusion; artists once slated by NME were now on the cover! I thought ‘but you hated The 1975 and Justin Bieber! Where was the journalistic integrity?’
That said, in all honesty, towards the end of the paid-for publication, I was starting to get a bit fed up of the know-it-all, overly-critical attitude of NME journalists. To be a true music fan you need to embrace all genres and cannot be a music snob, but that seemed to be exactly what the NME was becoming: no one seemed to them to be worthy of a good review anymore. So, even before the NME stopped print, I had started exploring alternative publications such as Q magazine and MOJO. I think the NME’s negative attitude to a lot of music genres may have contributed to its drop in readership, like it did for me.
Although there was a need for the NME to adapt to more main-stream music genres, the journalism in the free edition seemed to go too far in the other direction – there would be a couple of pages in each issue on new music or band interviews, but the writing would be generic, inoffensive, and very, well, dull. Where NME.com remained a good source of information, the free publication seemed like a waste of time (and a waste of paper) so when NME decided to cease print altogether earlier this year, I think we all breathed a small sigh of relief.
I think that the NME has always been heading towards digital. NME.com was launched as early as 1996 and it fast became the world’s biggest standalone music site, with over seven million users per month. The NME’s target audience is a generation of digital readers, and, with the music industry in general becoming more and more digitalised, it is natural that the music press has started heading in this direction too.
Today I still subscribe to Q magazine and, although the writing and the variety of articles are good, it doesn’t quite hold the same cutting-edge, trend-setting tone that the print NME once did. I tend to steer towards articles about bands I already know and like, rather than using it as a source to discover the next best band. In actual fact, I find that in order to discover new music, I rely more heavily on Spotify’s Indie List or the social media accounts of the bands I already listen to. It is very rarely that I will visit NME.com for new music advice, however, the website and supporting social media accounts still serve a function – and if they could keep repeatedly posting classic videos, like Alex Turner’s mic-drop speech, that would be great too!
The shift of a long-established print publication to online-only raises many questions about the value of print media in general, and if printed magazines and newspapers are really coming to an end. I personally disagree – I think that print publications can engage audiences in different ways to an online media; in many cases when I read something online (after I have worked past the dreaded ‘you must complete this survey to continue’, and filtered through all the ads) I might quickly scan the article. However, when I am reading something in print, I have consciously picked up this magazine or paper for a reason, and will take in every word.