The Crumbling Palaces of Electronic Music Media
a.k.a. The press is in bad shape, so why does the industry routinely pretend otherwise?
Does anyone in electronic music actually like the press?
Oh sure, there are still a handful of individual journalists that discerning readers will champion and make a point to follow, and artists can still rack up likes when they land on the cover (or the digital cover) of a known publication, but how do people feel about the electronic music press in the aggregate? In 2023, is there even one media outlet that is both widely read and well respected, or even just not widely mocked?
As far as I can tell, the answer to that last question is “no.”
Outlets like Resident Advisor, DJ Mag, Mixmag, Crack, FACT, XLR8R and numerous others all hold themselves up as bastions of discourse and information, but as institutions, they inspire very little faith from the wider electronic music community. Many of them appear to be struggling, and in the face of extremely difficult conditions for journalism of all shapes and sizes, these publications’ collective credibility seems to be disintegrating almost as quickly as the quality of their content offerings.
Resident Advisor is perhaps too easy of a target, but given that it’s arguably the closest thing to a modern-day electronic music bible, it’s naturally going to face the most scrutiny. In recent years, the publication has gone to great lengths to overhaul both its staff and content, but even after all those changes, its future standing seems far from secure. The site was once buoyed by ticket sales, but one can only assume that the rise of dedicated ticket sellers like Dice has taken a major bite out of RA’s business model, which already required a controversial £750,000 government grant to stay afloat during the pandemic.
Its editorial strategy seems similarly wobbly, as a pivot towards high-gloss fashion shoots, advertorial features, brand partnerships and self-aggrandizement has alienated or turned off large swaths of its readership. A preponderance of well-meaning (but generally pretty shallow) political commentary hasn’t helped either, and while that will undoubtedly be blamed on older readers’ supposed small-mindedness and unwillingness to change with the times, there’s also the fact that so much of that content simply isn’t very well done. This is just one example, but it’s honestly difficult to take RA seriously when its recent exploration of “dwindling working-class participation in the scene” was published not only the same week as a fawning interview podcast with DJ / luxury lifestyle influencer Peggy Gou, but also a listing for a full-time editorial position in the company’s London office with a laughable annual salary of £25-30k. Seeing stuff like that unfold does at times feel like watching a car crash, and while it’s likely prompted some folks to regularly hate-read the site, relying on that doesn’t seem like the best way to foster long-term audience growth, let alone genuine affection for the RA brand.
In fairness, Resident Advisor is far from the only flawed operation amongst the ranks of the electronic music press—more on that later—but what’s perhaps more concerning is that despite the publication’s many shortcomings, it continues to be treated as a vaunted institution by the industry at large. Why? Because it’s a known quantity, and industry people don’t know where else to devote their time and resources. After 20-plus years of existence, RA is a widely recognizable brand, and more importantly, it’s a familiar place where artists and labels—themselves struggling to get noticed in an impossibly crowded music ecosystem—can hawk their wares. It doesn’t matter whether or not the site is doing quality work; by simply managing to stay open, it’s remained an industry reference point, particularly for PR and marketing reps, artist managers and everyone else whose continued employment relies upon banking “wins” (i.e. coverage) that they can show to whoever’s signing their checks. (Not surprisingly, the question of whether those wins, either individually or collectively, are actually making a tangible impact is rarely considered within these circles.)