Monday, January 26, 2004

Thoughts On the New Sameach Music Mag (for A.G.)

A lot of people have been asking about my thoughts on the new Sameach music magazine. I picked up the new free magazine last month. It's called the Jewish Music Review, and is essentially a magazine full of promo articles on recent Sameach releases. It's a great concept, but the execution is disappointing. Hopefully they'll make some (major) changes in the next one.

Unlike some, I have no problem with the concept of a music distributor – in this case Sameach – promoting their own artists and products; that is, as long as it is done transparently. As long as Sameach is open about their goal -- to increase awareness of their artists and spark interest in their offerings; I believe that there is no inherent conflict of interest.

For the past ten years or so, Tower Records has been doing something similar with their magazine, "Pulse", which is a free giveaway in their stores. (They're ceasing publication soon as Tower is having massive financial difficulties.) I think that Tower's customers understand that the point of the magazine is to sell CD's, but, since the writing is interesting, descriptive, and accurate, they have an interest in reading the articles and frequently purchase some of the music they've read about. Now, there is no doubt that Tower works with the record companies to promote certain artists and recordings, but since "Pulse" is genuinely informative about the artists and CD's, the customer has a good idea of what they're getting when they buy a featured CD.

In general, this is something that has been missing from the Jewish music PR typified by the ads in Country Yossi Magazine, the Jewish Press, et al. In general, these articles are a combination of poor writing, clichés, silly analogies, and meaningless descriptions that rarely if ever give the reader a sense of what is truly unique about a given album or artists. In a sense, these articles are kind of like "Mad-libs" where the writer simply plugs the artist's name, album title, and song titles, into a preconceived framework that is meaningless at best and condescending or dishonest at worst.

The idea of a promotional magazine probably makes a lot of sense for Sameach from a financial standpoint too. Given the high cost of advertising in Country Yossi magazine and the Jewish papers, Sameach will save money in the long run, assuming that the new mag can pick up readers. I think that it can be successful because people are interested in reading about Jewish music – I think that the music "articles" are a big part of CY's appeal -- but they'll need to make some changes to really make it work.

The debut issue of Jewish Music Review uses pretty much the same writers/writing style as Country Yossi magazine. These writers have developed a style that is simply foolish. The articles generally manage to be meaningless, condescending, and dishonest all at the same time!

I think that Sameach ought to hire good writers to write the articles for their magazine, and it would help if they were musically literate too. It frequently seems as though the CY-style writers have no understanding of basic musical concepts. The general MO these writers use is to pick a few themes or ideas to emphasize in their articles.

These usually emphasize such inane ideas as:

(This is a representative sample taken from recent JM PR.)

The 'artist' "knows what we want to hear."

The 'artist' has " his finger on the pulsebeat [sic] of the Jewish listening public."

"Today's audience will not be fooled"

"We'd like to congratulate 'the artist' on his outstanding achievements so far."

The album, artist, or song being promoted is "unbelievable."

"No matter what your taste or background, there's something on this album that's perfect for you."

And they typically include foolish and/or condescending statements like:

"Just call him the King Midas of Jewish music." (As an aside, the King Midas story is a parable about greed, which is not something I'd want to bring up in association with an artist.)

"That's a very powerful message" about a song that mentions the z'chus of davening in Yerusholayim.

"Artist "X" exploded onto the scene…" (Brings an unpleasant image to mind, doesn't it?)

"The album contains multiple harmonies and chord progressions."

You get the idea…

It shouldn't be that hard for Sameach to find good writers who have some musical knowledge (and possibly even like this sort of music) to write for them. I think that if they hired writers who could write interesting and descriptive articles without resorting to inanities, clichés, and a general over-hyping of the product, the new magazine will do quite well, and will help to increase sales of their CD's well beyond the possibilities of its current incarnation. It will also help positively impact the state of JM PR, which is currently quite low.

Having established the framework, it should be quite easy for Sameach to raise the quality of their mag in both style and substance. It seems that, as with much in JM, when it comes to PR, people simply emulate what "everyone else" is doing. If Sameach decides to publish a magazine which features quality writing and insightful interviews, it would have quite an impact on JM marketing in general, and on Sameach's bottom line in particular.