Im leaving the Guardian after 11 great years covering music years during which a great deal has changed in the way music is created and sold
Today is my last day at the Guardian, after 16 years, the last 11 of which have been spent covering music, and most of them running the Guardians music coverage. I started covering music at a point when downloading was the big threat to the music industry, but physical sales were still dominant; when guitar bands were still dominating the conversation, and still huge; when almost all of the Guardians coverage was in print, rather than online. Oh, how things change. So, if youll bear with me, Id like to offer some brief thoughts on what Ive picked up.
Its a myth that critics could make someone popular. As Sid Griffin, once of the Long Ryders, told me in the course of an epic piece I wrote about the Paisley Underground scene: If press sold records, Captain Beefheart would be a big star. And the influence of critics is less now than ever, simply because people can hear music before they buy, if they have the slightest interest in buying at all. Now, more than ever, what makes or breaks an artist is their music being played, but its no longer about getting on Radio 1: a place on a Spotify playlist will make a bigger impact on a new or little-known artists visibility (and income) than anything else.
Reviews, now, serve the music industry more than they serve readers. Their main purpose, so far as I can tell, is to provide star ratings for press advertisements and to enable artist managers to feel content their client is getting coverage. But music writing itself, I think, is in good health. In print and online, more differing stories are being told than ever before. Terrific writers are finding new ways to tell those stories. That, I believe, is why music journalism will survive, because people will never tire of hearing the stories behind the songs that make them feel alive.
And I dont mean its having a Kamasi Washington/Thundercat moment of extreme hipness. I mean its like Ryan Goslings version of jazz in La La Land: something fetishised by an older audience, but which has ceded its place at the centre of the pop-cultural conversation to other forms of music, ones less tied to a sense of history. Ones, dare I say it, more forward looking. For several years, it seemed, I was asked by one desk or another at the Guardian to write a start-of-year story about how this was the year rock would bounce back. But it never did. The experts who predicted big things for guitar bands each year were routinely wrong. No one asks for that story any longer.