SXSW: Music Journalism Panel Illuminates Streaming’s Impact on Editorial Decisions

What constitutes music journalism these days? According to the South By Southwest panel titled “Why Music Journalism Matters in The Age of Streaming,” which took place in Austin on March 15, it’s a diverse mix of media including breakout-band-focused site Bandcamp, Genius, with its lyrics-driven editorial, the websites Pitchfork and Spin and the sole print publication represented, the Fader.

“Nothing is real,” quipped Spin editor-in-chief Puja Patel — flying a little close to the sun for some — when asked about alliances between the major labels and playlists on Spotify and Apple Music. That association can drive traffic on sites like Genius, whose news editor, Chris Mench, explained how a track appearing on a popular Spotify playlist always drives traffic to the song’s page on his site. “You can see in real-time what people are interested in,” said Mench. The discussion also segued to Spotify’s internal playlists, like Rap Caviar, which are curated by actual experts, making the job of new-artist discovery more challenging.

For a site like Bandcamp, though, the audience dictates which new artists the site chooses to profile. “We’re catching people on the way up,” said Senior Editor Marcus Moore. “If whatever we do helps them in the long run — I’m good.”

Relatedly, there were also concessions that the old-school idea of a music journalist being the voice of quality control was dead, or at least has changed. “Critics matter less and developing your own brand matters more,” said Patel, to the half-full room, continuing her thought by conceding that Spin actively seeks out what its audience is most interested in. The panel later addressed the concern that negative reviews can affect a relationship with an artist, although all of the panelists said that that never plays a part in editorial coverage. “We have had [interview] cancellations,” said Mench.

But perhaps the most moving and direct part of the panel came during the Q&A, when Moore and Patel were asked to discuss their experience being people of color and, in Patel’s case, a women in a field that has notorious been difficult to break into. “Don’t let them box you in, because they will,” said Moore, who pointed out the very obvious fact that just because he covers hip-hop doesn’t also mean he couldn’t cover a folk or metal artist.

As for Patel, her response was direct — and poignant: “It’s a miracle,” she said, in clear words of encouragement “that a woman of color is the editor of Spin.”

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