As Time Inc reveals its plans to end the print edition of music weekly NME in favour of a digital-first strategy, PR veteran and Outside Organisation founder Alan Edwards gives his perspective on the NME era and how the music magazine lost its voice…
It seems so long ago since I used to hang around the newsagents waiting impatiently for the NME to arrive. I wasn’t the only one either. At its peak there were nearly half a million of us being thrilled every week by writers like Nick Kent, Tony Parsons, Charles Shaar Murray and, in later years, Stuart Maconie, Danny Kelly and Danny Baker. In those days it was the only way to find out the inside scoop on Bowie, Lou Reed, the New York Dolls, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Bob Marley and all those great artists that didn’t really get or want a hearing in the mainstream media.
The NME journalists didn’t fit the normal stereotype of bloke in raincoat and trilby with notepad. No, these writers were part of the scene, stars in their own right. The stories often felt like conversations as opposed to interviews. It’s hard to overstate the paper’s influence, it seemed as if every new band you met had been formed via the NME.
Somewhere along the way, though, the NME lost its voice. You couldn’t pin it on one moment or point in time, but the decline gathered pace in the last decade. Newspapers realised the music industry was a big selling point and established specialist columns, social media meant you could keep up with news/gossip at a click on your phone, access to artists became much more controlled, more career-orientated musicians became the order of the day. And with fewer characters to write about, the paper struggled and – fatally – started to seek the middle ground.
It seemed as if every new band you met had been formed via the NME
Having said all of that, the NME was still significant, but more as a positioning tool as opposed to something that sold records. It helped persuade promoters to put a band on a tour or festivals; a good review helped influence other titles. So, yes, the NME will be missed, and it’s departure makes it that bit harder for a PR to help build a groundswell of interest for a new band particularly. But there are so many alternative ways for artists to reach fans not least by going direct via their websites, Facebook or Instagram so life goes on – just not so intently.
The music industry is in rude health, as we know with streaming really starting to take off in a big way, so sadly I don’t think there will be too many tears shed over the demise of the NME. PR, in the traditional sense, has changed beyond recognition and there are a myriad of ways of telling an interesting story and building a band – or is that a brand? It's worth remembering the key is what an artist is saying not howthey are saying it. As long as the content is entertaining/interesting, it doesn’t really matter so much what the delivery platform is. Arguably things like Instagram herald a return to a more punky period where random visual images can create a narrative, so that’s always a fun new way to reach out.
PRs like ourselves will miss the NME, and I’m sure lots of artists will too. For instance, David Bowie was an avid reader, and even in recent years a good review in the NME still meant something special to him. Naomi Campbell was keen to attend their brilliantly chaotic awards show to present to J Hus and watch Liam Gallagher as recently as three weeks ago.
Hopefully the NME will live on via its website – and maybe sometime in the future some cool soul will revive the title.