March 12, 2012
Music magazines, like most traditional journalism outlets, have struggled to find a footing in recent years. As we have seen on a larger scale with daily newspapers, established brands are trying to figure out their place in the conversation: Rolling Stone slimmed down and shifted their focus to encompass the overarching culture rather than just music, and Paste ceased print publication in August 2010 to focus on a purely digital role. In years past, music magazines acted as gatekeeper, presenting readers with the weekly/monthly/quarterly dispatch as distilled by the opinions of the staff. But the Internet has democratized the dissemination of information, meaning that most people find out about a band’s tour dates the same instant the editors of Rolling Stone do.
Which raises the question: do we even need a curator anymore? With dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of websites and blogs relevant to your interests available at your fingertips every hour of the day, do we need a third party to parse through the deluge and tell us the important bits? Or can we now fill that roll on our own, creating a hyper-personalized experience that no single outlet could hope to create? The answer to the last question is obviously yes, but Spin creates a strong case for the relevance of print media with its newly-redesigned issue.
The thing is massive, about two inches taller and wider than the other rags surrounding it on the rack. The front half of the magazine is printed on glossy paper, which is perfect for the photos that can spread over two whole pages. The back half, containing most of the feature articles, is printed on white matte of decent stock in mostly blue and black ink and gives off the vibe of a handmade zine from years ago. It feels like your holding something important, something meant to last. But as wonderful as the new design is, it only fixes the lesser of the magazine’s former problems.
Over the past few years, Spin has struggled to keep up with the rapidly-changing trends. By the time an issue hit the stands, it was already outdated; it was a place to find out what had just happened, not what was going on now. Which would be fine, except that the magazine presented itself as an of-the-moment culture guide, meaning flipping through an issue often felt like a pointless endeavor. And because the magazine was trying to apply the old rules to the new cycle, there was no substance. In their efforts to stay current, they ended up glossing over everything.
The revamped Spin aims to rectify these problems with a new “timeless, as well as timely” philosophy. While the website handles up-to-the-minute news and a new Twitter account spits out quickie reviews, the editor’s column states “the bimonthly print edition now seeks to find stories you can enjoy as thoroughly today as four months from now, stories that are about an idea, not a moment.” This first issue certainly succeeds in that respect.
There is a thread of nostalgia that runs through the issue, which seems fitting as the magazine looks to its past to save its future. Simon Reynolds turns in a kind of addendum to his book Retromania and makes the strongest case yet for Lana Del Rey’s relevance. Profiles of musicians, artists, writers, and filmmakers follow in this theme and actually provide some illumination on the subjects, despite the brevity.
The Sleigh Bells cover piece is wonderful, and should be required reading for fans of the band. It’s exactly what a feature should be: it reveals a hidden dimension to their music and creates a deeper connection with the band. And it’s a fine piece of writing to boot. Reign of Terror was already a great album, but the article adds depth to it that may have otherwise gone unexplored.
Patton Oswalt brings the issue to a close with a thought-provoking back-page column about the nostalgia cycle. It acts as a kind of full-stop, breaking down modern nostalgia into some component parts and arguing we should embrace the trends. But not for the reasons you might expect.
And with that, it’s over, the finality of the back cover’s iPhone ad capping things off. No links to click for further reading, no behind-the-scenes videos to watch. Just the satisfying thump as it hits the table and faint scent of the ink on your fingers. It’s a near-perfect example of what music magazines need to do if they want to survive. Even if the majority of us get our news online, there will alway be room for a timely, as well as timeless, tome.