Music journalism is not the same beast it once was. In the seventies and eighties, publications such as NME and Rolling Stone would fly off of shelves, just so music lovers knew which bands were releasing new music, whether it as worth their money, and so on. The critic’s opinion was as relevant as ever. Now, as the digital age has taken over the world and changed the way we live our lives, it has also changed how industries and the public communicate with each other. Print press is almost entirely a thing of the past, and it seems as though anyone with an opinion is a critic with a voice. Does this mean that music journalism – the profession and the art form – is beginning to die out? I conducted an interview with Oran O’Beirne – creator and driving force behind Ireland’s biggest music site Overdrive, former freelance writer for Universal’s rock and metal music site uDiscover and manager of Irish metal band ‘Dead Label’ – to see how a current, successful journalist feels about the direction music journalism is heading in and ultimately, whether he believes music journalism is still a thriving (or at least surviving) profession and art form.
Q: Overdrive is very successful in Ireland at the moment – what is it about your site that has seen it become this popular?
Oran: “We’ve turned into the biggest metal, rock, underground, whatever you want to call it, site in Ireland. It’s the biggest one because of the structure of it – we’re very interactive with the people who read it and we use a lot of social media to get out stories out there, but I don’t tend to report on any old thing. What we write is very streamlined and that is down to everything that is available to use online.”
Q: What have been the advantages, for you, in publishing your works online rather than in press?
Oran: “Print media has suffered very badly and it’s continuing to. It doesn’t look like it has a sustainable future. For me, I’d go as far to say there is no real future in music print journalism, as far as I can see. However, the digital side of things is very quick. For example, a press release can come in, you can turn it around and have it live super fast, and we use social media then to target people directly and send it to them – so in that it’s a really good facility to have. I grew up reading print press and it’s something I continue to collect. But I do think, essentially, going forwards, print is going to wither away and digital will reign supreme over everything because everything you want is there.
Q: What is the main difference between print and online music journalism for you from a consumer’s perspective?
Oran: “When you read about something [in a magazine] it would tantalise you, you would go out and search for the album or whatever, find it, buy it, bring it home, unwrap it, put it into your turntable – whereas now everything is so quick. You can go online, hear about a band, go on Facebook and Twitter, stream their music on Spotify, you know, it’s just all there for you.”
Q: Would you say then, that some of the magic from the print press era has been lost in this new digital era?
Oran: “Totally, it’s completely lost. It’s a very different kind of feeling. I love to have something physical in my hands. I go through a lot of music, I listen to a lot of new music, but when I want music I buy it physical, and it’s the same with magazines, I want to own it and hold it physically. Online journalism is a real quick fix to get information, and I find if you want to delve a little deeper, to get the real essence of something, most people would definitely invest and buy a physical copy.”
Q: Many journalists and academics fear this online age of music journalism, with audiences becoming more skilful in their ability to write about music. Is this a threat to music journalism or a positive influence on the community?
Oran: “I think it’s great. It’s like anything else, but people will always source out quality. I’ve seen people start blogs and start websites – I am one of those people that did that and was committed to it. I have a background in writing, and you’re right, anyone can do it, but people will rinse out the good ones from the bad ones. At the end of the day if you’re writing really good content and it reads right and looks right, people will find it and will continue to read it. So no, I don’t think it’s a threat, I think at the end of the day it gives people an opportunity to get a bit deeper into it. It’s still a very difficult industry to get into, but this gives people a taste of it, a chance to start writing, and it builds some form of foundation underneath them and I believe that everyone should be given a chance to do something that they are passionate about.”
Q: Is there still the same demand for music journalism as there was in the decades before the 90s? What has changed?
Oran: “I don’t think it’s died down. There weren’t so many outlets back then – there were certain magazines that rose above the surface like NME and Rolling Stone and so on, so that’s where people would go to for that. Obviously over time with the way that technology has gone its opened up way more scenarios for people to get their fix of information. I think the demand is still there but watered down a little bit because people have the power to do it themselves.”
Q: Finally, in your opinion, is music journalism dying?
Oran: “I don’t think it’s dying, I think it’s evolving. And I think it’s evolving from the real delicate art form that it used to be, into something that is a little bit more tarnished. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s a dying form; it needs to be there. People have a natural curiosity and will want to read about it. So no, I don’t think it’s dying at all, I think it’s changing just as everything else in the world is changing. It’s always going to be there its always going to be important, I just hope that the quality journalism outweighs the realms of amateur journalism that is out there.”
So, maybe music journalism is not a dying fad after all. If it was, this whole post sure would be ironic, that’s for sure.