Entertainment Music

Friday 17 November 2017

The State of play in the nation's music mag biz

Magwars: Newtitle State enters the fray—is the market getting saturated?
Magwars: Newtitle State enters the fray—is the market getting saturated?

Nick Kelly

The launch this week of State magazine -- the new Irish rock monthly -- is a significant development for the domestic music scene, which is now well served by a slew of publications that are equally committed to establishing an online presence.

Although the maiden issue of State only appeared on the shelves on Thursday, its website (www.state.ie) has been up and running since last month. Here, you can find the standard smorgasbord of features and reviews as well as forums that encourage feedback from readers and, perhaps most significantly in our hi-tech age, music downloads.

Lumbered with a name that makes it sound more like a heavyweight political journal thatn a rock mag, State is, however, more likely to profile A Guy Called Gerald than Garret Fitzgerald.

The mag seems to be positioning itself somewhere between Hot Press -- the grand old dame of the industry which recently celebrated 30 years at the helm -- and Foggy Notions, a more niche periodical that proudly prioritises the indie aesthetic. If Hot Press styles itself as Ireland's answer to Rolling Stone, and Foggy Notions is an Emerald version of The Wire, then State is akin to the UK's Q or Word magazine.

As if anticipating the newcomer's entry into the market place, Hot Press has only just undergone its own re-launch, ditching its distinctive Berliner-style format for a more orthodox design.

Intriguingly, both State and Hot Press magazines feature the same band -- REM -- on the cover of their current issue: the former augments its lead splash by including an interview with high-flying Dublin-born studio boffin Jacknife Lee, who produced the Athenians' new album Accelerate, as well as an interesting behind-the-scenes account of the band's legendary week-long residency at Dublin's Olympia Theatre, written by the venue's production manager Eamonn 'Ted' Ryan (the former Something Happens drummer).

Meanwhile, Hot Press chose the old reliable, Dave Fanning, to deliver the goods. This being Dave, some of the questions were actually longer than the answers.

State is published by Roger Woolman and edited by two Hot Press alumni, John Walshe and Phil Udell, which makes you wonder if it will struggle to forge its own identity in the relatively small pond of Irish music publishing.

After all, many of its contributors are already established names in the mainstream media: Sinead Gleeson is an Evening Herald columnist and Irish Times reviewer who writes a popular blog; Niall Byrne moonlights as the award-winning blogger 'Nialler9'; David O'Mahony writes for the Event Guide; and Tanya Sweeney is a feature writer with the Sunday Tribune

And it's not as if there's a lack of decent music coverage in our newspapers: our own Day & Night magazine recently ran a fascinating round-table discussion with the Choice Music Prize nominees as its cover story, while our rivals over in 'The Ticket' in the Irish Times recently counted down the Top 40 Irish albums of all time.

State will also find itself competing with our friend in the North, Alternative Ulster, which recently branched out of the province to go nationwide. AU also has a strong website that includes links to domestic video content on YouTube, as well as the now standard interactive message boards. And I haven't even mentioned the free sheets, like Totally Dublin and Analogue. All of which leads one to ask: has the market reached saturation point? Foggy Notions, for one, is trimming back its physical presence and planning to print only a few periodical issues a year, centring around such marquee events as the summer rock festival season and the end-of-year review.

Instead, it will expand its online content (with themed podcasts) and focus on its sideline as a live music promoter -- some of the cult acts it brought over recently include Dan Deacon, Final Fantasy and Jens Lekman.

And the abject failure of the NME's short-lived Ireland edition was also a cautionary tale. That said, the NME's ill-fated venture seemed more like a tokenistic gesture than a serious attempt on the part of the once-influential UK rock bible to engage with the Irish music scene.

State, on the other hand, looks like the real deal; the o impression is of a genuine labour of love, put together by people who know their music and, unlike some of those who post comments on internet message boards, have a grasp of grammar and syntax.

And yet ... While commuters will always want something they can read on the bus home, there is so much music journalism out there in cyberspace already that the idea of an essential monthly dispatch to, say, a remote rural outpost starved of music news'n'views no longer applies.

In the global cyber village, we can read literally dozens of interviews with our favourite band discussing their new album. Heck, sometimes you can even see podcasts of them making it -- Radiohead are just one band who've let the cameras capture all that noodling in the studio, before streaming it online.

Still, the introduction of a glossy new home-produced music mag is definitely a healthy State of affairs.

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