In Cameron Crowe’s seminal, semi-autographical film, Almost Famous, a rookie journalist is charged with covering a fictionalized '70s rock band for Rolling Stone magazine. Thrown into the deep end of the golden age of American rock-and-roll, Crowe effectively glorified the hazy exploits of music journalism by blurring the lines between observing and participating in the magical world of rock stardom. 

Fashioned after the titans of print like Robert Christgau, Lester Bangs and Crowe himself, It was an all-access backstage pass spotlight that left moviegoers convinced that the next best thing to being a rock star was the gift of telling their story. And we relied on these commentators to spin the tales of historical moments that helped define pop culture, for mere mortals like the rest of us would never get close enough to touch these gods.

Fast-forward the cassette tape to today: The two industries that have taken the biggest hit from Internet disruption are music and newspaper/magazine publishing. The tangibility of vinyl has been replaced by the portability of digital music files, and today’s music consumer is swiping their smartphone screen instead of turning pages. The immediacy of social media has fed our insatiable appetite for up to the nano-second information in tiny, bite-sized servings of headlines needed to remain “in the know” and socially relevant to our friends and co-workers, resulting in an unconscious competitive desire to capture what’s happening first before the news is old an hour later. Instantaneous information, while convenient, comes with many flaws. 

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Craft journalism—the art of researching facts, interviewing and assessing music by experienced writers and critics for publications with a focused voice has been replaced by a sea of bloggers, sites and ranting Tumblr accounts fueled primarily by opinion—and everybody has one that comes attached with wi-fi access and a landing page. 

Not all such outlets fall into this abyss, mind you. There are many credible platforms such as Brooklyn Vegan, Good Music All Day and individual writer’s blogs that have fostered a sense of community and trust based upon curated recommendations often written by competent and seasoned voices. And yes, music journalism is enjoying a greater reach than ever before even while music publications have severely declined and long-form stories are virtually non-existent. For the music fan or casual listener, this climate poses serious concerns: The Internet is riddled with inaccurate information, half-truths and sensationalist opinions, and a cursory Google search will often lead to tabloid-quality content. And for the under-30 set who have been raised on digital content, the quality is not nearly as important as the rapid-fire access of the content.

It would be overly simplistic to blame the internet when the problem is more deeply rooted. We have force-fed a reality star culture where anyone can be, well, “almost famous” and a desire to be noticed, followed and viewed drives the message in an attempt to constantly remain at the top of the feed. And why not? Lasting music careers are few and far between, most bands are disposable and artist development is at an all-time low. Our consumption of media mirrors the production of the art accessible to us all.

Yet from the 60s and even through the 90s, rock journalists were stars in their own right. Music fans followed their favorite writers and knew them by name, as much as they knew their musical heroes' names. Critics walked side by side with the gods, and we relied on them to tell the story. Publications like Rolling Stone, Spin, Creem, and Mojo were sacred texts; they taught us about the true heroes of rock. The men and women who wrote these pieces were their translators, and the gospel is what they wrote. 

The new era of music journalism is big in audience, but scarce in breadth. Snippets lack the ability to tell of an artist’s influences, or knowing the pivotal moments of their life that made them who they are. Music magazines weren’t just writing about artists, they were chronicling the history of an artform. Try telling that story in 140 characters or less.

Jeff Rabhan

Jeff Rabhan has worked in virtually all areas of the music industry and has helped guide the careers of international superstars across all genres of popular music. His clients have garnered more than a dozen Grammy Awards, sold more than 100 million records, and generated more than $1 billion in global receipts. He started his career as a music journalist at Rolling Stone and SPIN, then held executive positions at Atlantic Records and Elektra Records before transitioning into artist management. He currently chairs the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.