The NME moving solely online, ending an era of arguably the most iconic British music magazine is a sad event, especially for those of us who remember buying it religiously and following the bands it introduced us to in its golden years. It was a gateway drug to the world of music and an important platform for growing artists. Before twitter made finding and following bands an easy task magazines like the NME gave fans the opportunity to keep up with what they already loved and find something new. It served those of us new to discovering ‘good’ music and old hands looking for a new obsession. I mean it was in the name – New Musical Express. When it started in 1952 it was about discovery of artists with raw talent and passionate fans. The NME closing its print edition is only sad because of its once legendary status, to be featured in its pages was once an unparalleled accolade for a small band.
In recent years, the magazine has sold itself out, quite literally. To boost circulation the magazine went free, surely great news for fans! Except, no it wasn’t. The new free NME was advertiser funded meaning content was what city ‘suit’ types were willing to pay for. Instead of featuring hard working, much loved smaller bands they moved towards commercial giants such as Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, who didn’t need more publicity but got it anyway. In fact, the first issue of the new free NME launched with Rihanna on its cover.
The NME’s heyday certainly wasn’t a flash in the pan. Their circulation was highest in the 60s when fans of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones read to keep up with their favourites and to discover new bands like them. In the 70s it championed the punk movement and then acts such as Joy Division and The Smiths that came in its wake. Maybe, most memorable was its coverage of the long-running Brit-pop Oasis vs. Blur battle in the 90s. All throughout this time the NME was the champion of the small, the underground and the influencers.
Since that time the NME has become practically unrecognisable to its readers. A corporate enterprise will never truly know what drives culture. When it was run by people who truly loved music that showed in its pages and now it is run by what is essentially an advertising team, that has proved to show through too. There is no doubt that the lack of musical identity in the magazine is what led to its demise. They sold out what they stood for and are now paying the price.
Readers can tell when the content they are reading isn’t true and passionate, they know when a magazine is treating its subjects badly. For example, band “Sergeant” were tipped by the NME only to have their album completely slated in reviews. In the article, they were called ‘rip-off merchants, hiding behind a hail of beige bullets’.
Their change in tactic wasn’t because there is a sudden dirge in grass-roots artists with their own instruments, their own lyrics and loyal, dedicated fans. In fact, it’s the opposite, there is so much talent that the NME could be reporting on but are simply choosing not to. You only need to look at the online communities that are supporting their local bands in small venues and helping them to grow and the work that This Feeling, and others like them are doing to help great talent to tour around the country. The number of unsigned bands selling out venues of hundreds and even thousands that once would have been awarded well-deserved exposure by the NME, to know that there is plenty of original talent left for them to report on.
But all is not lost! There is hope for the future of NME, albeit as a digital enterprise. Closing the print edition can provide them with the wake up call that is long overdue. For NME to become successful again it needs to look at where it started, which is championing music that people are passionate about and giving exposure to hard working, dedicated bands that deserve it.
It is sad to see the NME leave our news stands with a whimper and a limp rather than with an explosion but it is nothing unusual. Perhaps that is what is saddest of all, a magazine that used to stand for the different among us, the unusual has been reduced to just the same as everyone else, a faceless, passionless profit driven machine, failing its fans and the music industry.
Words: Sophie Shrive