Mainstream music magazines are notorious for their single-minded focus on bands and singers. The formulaic profiles and, even worse, the rambling, unedited Q&As with the performers seem designed primarily to break up glossy photo spreads featuring overhyped headliners and wannabe stars.
The new, highly readable Journal of Music , published in Ireland, is busting out of this stale mold, focusing instead on thoughtful observations and arguments about the shape and sound of songs, songwriting, and the listening experience.
“I always used to say: Music writing today never seems to be about music; it’s about personalities,” says Toner Quinn, the magazine’s founder and editor in chief. “We place a great emphasis on the ideas that surround music, how music connects with our lives, the bigger picture, essentially.”
The internationally minded Journal, which evolved from Quinn’s previous project, JMI: Journal of Music in Ireland, opens with an “ideas” section, which has featured discussions about how to keep arts alive in the recession and the purpose of criticism. Rather than concentrating on any specific genre or country, the magazine also endeavors to reach beyond borders, both musical and geographical.
The first two issues touch on, among other things, jazz in Eastern Europe, “the evolution of the Belfast flute sound,” the role of metaphor in music, and the particulars of Japanese pop. In a fascinating piece on Iceland’s “perpetually inventive” music scene (cleverly titled “Music and Meltdowns”), Paul Sullivan argues that, with a population of just over 300,000 people, “the tiny, close-knit community creates a uniquely creative environment. Bands routinely share studios, instruments, and even members.” Additionally, Sullivan writes, “music is generally viewed as a benevolent and positive pursuit,” and the country is home to 80 music schools with about 12,000 students enrolled.
Sullivan is a journalist—a descriptor that doesn’t often appear in the Journal’s contributor bios. “One of the most important aspects of our approach is that we usually ask composers and musicians themselves to write, rather than journalists,” says Quinn, who is a traditional fiddle player. “Composers and musicians make great writers because they are passionate, have strong opinions, know their area terribly well, and of course are always thinking about, and listening to, music.”