An adventure into Fanzinedom and the Alternative Music Press
Including: Nine Tips for Running a Successful Zine in ’17
In the beginning was the Musical Express (NME) and Melody Maker
Then the music fans said, “ Let there be light,” and there was light. God gave them Rolling Stone and Sounds…
And he separated the light from the darkness and gave them Kerrang!
And that’s how things stayed — until the rise of punk
* Punk embraced self-expression and the D.I.Y ethos
* Punk championed ideologies such as anarchism, cooperative enterprise, individualism, and above all… the idea of not selling out
* The fanzines of the punk era emerged as the dominant force in musical criticism
* Punk and post-punk fanzines concentrated on music “neglected” by the mainstream press
* Zines were considered to be a healthy countercultural alternative to commercialism
* Early fanzines were free or a ultra low-cost
* They were circulated free too, often by hand
In 1973 Tommy Ramone talked about “ no bullshit rock ‘n’ roll…”
Then in ’76 an English fanzine titled “Sideburns” published an illustration of three chords, captioned “This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band”
The same DIY ethics, as espoused by Ramone and Sideburns, could easily be applied to music journalism too… And things were about to get vastly more accessible, democratized and more mass-produced than punk fanzine pioneers ever thought posssible…
In 1984, novelist William Gibson became the first person to consider the term: Cyberspace … The same year that the DNS was introduced —
* The net’s exponential growth continued into the 1990’s
* By 1992 the WWW became the dominant culture of the world
* With the increasing availability of cheap home computers and reasonably priced software, paper zines gave way to web-zines aka the “e-zine”
* It seemed easier to produce an e-zine than a paper product
* As e-zines established themselves, they used the parallel growth of the web to reach global audiences
Meanwhile, traditionally printed rock magazines were slow to respond to the promise, lure (and threat) of a web-based product.
NME went online in 1996, though Kerrang! waited till 2000 to fully adopt. Rave got online in 2007, Rolling Stone had a message-board forum to begin with — but the website only became successful on its re-launch in 2012.
This slow adoption by the big players left things wide open for a myriad tiny zines, blogs and other amateur bit-players to “have a bash” — so they busily created publications, purloined readers from the mighty, muddied the journalistic waters with their poorly written reports & opinions and further fragmented the ideals of fair criticism, disciplined reportage and valuable musical commentary …
This has led to an unsatisfactory set of circumstances for all involved: readers, writers, musicians and advertisers.
From the earliest days, fanzines (whether they’re on the web as an e-zine or published as a print edition) have been plagued by accusations [some unfair, some not so much] of rank amateurism.
By their very nature: i.e. non-professional, non-official, non-conforming — in other words, the things that made them special & precious in the first place — are also their shortcomings.
For example, fanzines are:
* Produced by amateurs, in their free time
* Have little or no commercial value to potential advertisers
* Contributors receive no financial compensation
* Publication are circulated freely, or at minimum cost, so considered “disposable”
* Fanzines are considered — by readers and society in general — as unauthorized
* Writers are merely fans — so they’re seen as uneducated, untrained
The effect of all this is that – very often – readers get a poor quality product, good writers do not hang around, musicians make their own press and advertisers find other places to offer their products.
It’s true that fanzines are a good place for a new writer to cut teeth and maybe learn to work to a deadline and word count. But if new music journalists want to be taken seriously — and earn a salary — they have to enter the staff of a ‘legitimate’ music journal…
Oh, and there’s the rub!
In 2016 Team Rock and their stable that included Metal Hammer, Classic Rock and Prog went into administration*
Millions of pounds have been erased from the value of ‘established’ rock magazines in the last 3 years
Uncut has had its monthly circulation halved
NME now “gives away” its bright glossy free
More people than ever visit the Guardian’s music pages, but nobody pays for it
Mags only publish a fraction of what they used to
So music journalists — whether they be columnists, writers, commentators, reviewers or bloggers — paid or not, professionals or amateur — they all face the same conclusions:
- Music magazines are not vital to fans
- Fans can make their own choices (using Internet tools)
- Fans do not have time to read reviews
- The music press isn’t the only place to find out about gigs and new releases
- Anyone can create a glossy mag or blog, without much effort — they’re nothing special
- Mags and fanzines were once located alongside discs in superstores, but now the record stores are all gone
- Music pages in newspapers focus on gossip and celebrities
- Successful musicians make their own promotions — they don’t need press
- Musicians use social networks to speak directly to their fans, they don’t need the press to reach-out
- Music is “free” so listeners don’t need to read reviews before making purchasing decisions
Here’s how to change the status quo:
Here are nine tips for thriving & surviving as a zine in Seventeen…
1. Involve the music fans in all parts of the creation and commercialization of your product
2. Where do fans look for music? Find out where the fans go and ‘announce’ yourself in those places
3. Talk directly with music fans on social networks, find out what they want and them give them what they ask for
4. Talk about new gigs, forthcoming tours & new releases on your socials— don’t waste space on your main pages
5. Make your zine special. Use original art, pukka photography and stimulating writing
6. Consider unconventional or experimental places to promote — show off your zine in places the others haven’t tried
7. Do not follow the pack … Allow your reporters to go find their own gossip, create their own celebrities, and hunt for their own stories
8. Is your reporting original & accurate? If so, you’ll not need worry about bands doing their own thing, or internal promotions or PR /propaganda machines
9. Your publication might be free. But you could still offer attractive merch, t-shirts, signed prints, framed covers, etc. Why not raise funds that way?
Words: @neilmach 2017 ©
Neil Mach is the editor of RAW RAMP MAGAZINE
Also a member of the European News Agency, Music Industry Forum, Music Industry Network and regular blogger & contributor to several sites
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Or submit stories to info at rockpencon dot co dot uk
* saved by musicians and fans esp by the efforts of Orange Goblin.