24 February 2007

A Pointless Rant About Alternative Press

A nice perk I get from working at a media software company, is free subscriptions to various music and film magazines. Actually, the perk is due to being friends with Steve F., the Artist Relations dude in our marketing department, who is kindly cool enough to get me on these subscription lists even though I work in operations...Lowly operations...Minding the inventory and wrangling tape guns.

Anyways, one of the magazines I get for free is Alternative Press.

Once upon a time, Alt Press was a pretty good magazine - good enough, anyways, that I subscribed for many years. But at some point in the mid-1990's Jason Pettigrew seemingly became responsible for about 75% of the magazine's content, which is fine for a fucking blog like this one, or that one, but doesn't work so well for a music publication that had gone glossy and fairly mainstream. I didn't agree with Jason Pettigrew's taste in music, or the direction of the magazine in general, so I stopped subscribing.
Then, about three years ago, Steve F. got me on their subscription list again, and every month since I've found a new copy of Alt Press in my mailbox, and man, it's fairly amazing to me to see just how far the scales have tipped in the intervening years.

Nowadays, I consider Alt Press a comedy magazine. It's funnier than Mad, Cracked, Radar, etc., and on a par with The Source (a hip hop mag) for making me laugh and shake my head in wonderment and disbelief. What's difficult to discern is whether it is the magazine itself that makes me laugh, or the bands it covers. Is it all the ridiculous full-page ads for all manner of fashions emblazoned with flaming skulls, or is it the long, sweeping bangs hanging in the faces of 46% of the musicians in the pictures? Is it the overloaded content that renders short, superficial reviews, or the illegible band logos on every other page? Maybe in my middle age I'm just able to recognize homogenous music scenes when I see 'em and hear 'em, or maybe Alternative Press is more and more a part of the non-alternative machine. Once upon a time, some folks considered 'em tastemakers, but nowadays they cram so much content into every issue that they're bound to get it "right" once in awhile. And more and more, the bands they truly champion have big contracts and tours sponsored by Honda.
Jason Pettigrew is still with 'em, which I respect and admire, and nowadays he's Editor-In-Chief, so he probably wields as much power as he ever has, but at least these days they've got 4 dozen contributing writers, if I've counted correctly. A magazine need that kind of muscle when they're telling us about the 100 Bands We Need To Know in '07. It's still not tastemaking. It's more like throwing as much against the whiteboard as possible, and seeing what sticks. What sticks with the chicks.
As much as anything else, Alt Press appears to shape their content around the tastes of their readership, which seems to be comprised of about 85% teenaged girls, if the magazine's letters section and online forums are any indication. Perhaps this is just good business sense, giving those girls what they want, especially in this post-internet world, but I believe it makes for poor content and a skewed editorial perspective. But again, I'm old enough to be these girls' dad, so maybe it's not fair for me to find fault.
To my thinking, magazines like Alt Press should be influencing their readers, and not the other way around. People who write and edit for culture magazines (especially one called Alternative Press, and really isn't that bit of semantics what this rant of mine is really all about?), should have a better grasp on culture than the average citizen. Yes, they should recognize trends when they naturally occur, but really, they should be working to uncover great bands and local scenes, and then spreading that gospel, and doing it with a bit of heart and true belief. Instead, Alt Press fills it's magazine with glossy photos of bands like Fallout Boy and AFI, and full-paged ads for the likes of interpunk.com and Draven Shoes. I'm not exactly sure what's "alternative" about most of the bands they cover, or the cookie cutter fashions being pitched, but there ya go...So-called "alternative culture" as defined by 17 year olds named Amber and Cody and co-opted by Verizon. Or maybe it's the other way around...I'm not sure.

I'm certainly not Alt Press' main demographic, but then again, I'm still quicker to embrace truly alternative music and culture than 1000 Ambers, and damn if I don't have more disposable income than a typical Cody. My point, again, is that Alt Press seemingly has things backwards, and rather than exposing these kids to the truly alternative, they're seemingly only regurgitating what these kids have already embraced en masse...Add to the fact that they have a palpable disdain for history before about 1980, and take potshots at Pitchforkmedia.com at least half a dozen times per issue (hey, at least Alt Press recognized their enemy), and it becomes obvious, to me anyways, that Alternative Press is more concerned about their bottom line than actually being arbiters of interesting music and vanguards of culture.

So, I'm not sure where this rant is supposed to go. And let's face it - it's was a cookie cutter rant from the start . (Did I namecheck Hot Topic yet? I have now. Check!) To sum up - bad music magazine not living up to it's name, covering popular music that all kinda sounds the same for a bunch of young people who all dress alike.
As I've said so many times before, I'm a nice guy, but maybe I really am anti-social.
Stay tuned for my list of really crappy and lame band names, culled directly from the latest issue of Alternative Press. Sometimes you really can judge a book by it's cover.


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