Paul Brannigan

Newcastle born Kerrang! editor has seen the changes in music journalism

Earlier this month NIMIC hosted ‘NI Music - The Way Forward’, a day long conference at the Whitla Hall, Queen’s University on how the Northern Ireland music scene can continue to grow and develop in an increasingly globalised market place.

Among the invited dignitaries, which included Feargal Sharkey speaking in his capacity as CEO of British Music Rights, was one man with plenty of first-hand experience of the vicissitudes of modern music and music journalism - Newcastle born Kerrang! Editor Paul Brannigan.

‘It’s definitely a choppier sea now than it was when I first started out,’ admits the jovial, enthusiastic Brannigan as he sips a pint in Belfast’s Parlour bar and reflects back on his time at Kerrang! - a decade that has seen him rise from freelance writer to editor of the holy bible of heavy rock.

Music journalism has changed beyond recognition since Brannigan got his big break – becoming a regional contributor to Kerrang! in the early 1990s after writing to the magazine to complain about their neglect of the then up-and-coming Therapy?. Back then magazine racks were full of music publications, and IPC sub-editors - to paraphrase art rockers Clinic - dictated our youth.

Fast forward ten years and Melody Maker's a distant memory, NME soldiers on but its glossy, teen obsessed format must be unrecognisable to many former readers - and punters in their droves are abandoning print and logging on to Pitchfork et al to get their music journalism fix.

‘The cult of music journalism has definitely suffered in the internet age,’ concedes Brannigan on the rise of the blogosphere and the myriad of music related websites catering for every conceivable taste and genre.

While it’s doubtless given lovers of the Armenian duduk and Scrumpy music plenty to cheer about, Brannigan believes that the increased volume of music journalism on the web has undermined the value of the traditional rock critic - ‘Everyone, to a certain extent, is a critic now. Everyone has access to the music just as early as you, what with internet leaks and everything.’

He may be the editor of one of the most important music mags on the planet, but Brannigan can’t hide his suspicion that the quality of music journalism is on the decline. Having grown up in the era of great rock writers like Lester Bangs, Nick Kent and Paul Morley he sees little comparable in the current generation.

‘In the '70s and '80s you often knew a particular journalist’s writing style. Chances were that if they liked something you would probably like it too. Back then you got to know the writers and you got to trust them. You knew where they drank, what their wife did.

‘Nowadays someone might pick up a music magazine – naming no names!- and they might not be able to tell who has written what, whereas when I started reading music magazines in the ‘80s people had a very clear, definable voice. You could cover up the credits on a piece and you would still know who’d written it. I don’t think that really happens anymore,’ he continues.

Brannigan lays some blame for the absence of quality rock journalism on web culture - ‘Now that everyone’s a critic people don’t have the same respect for a named writer.’

The cult of rock journalism may have taken a pounding, but Brannigan obviously has what it takes to succeed in the modern music industry - Kerrang! continues to thrive despite the extended cull of music publications over the past decade.

Brannigan knows how much the music business has changed – let’s just hope the movers and shakers in the Northern Irish industry were all ears. 

Peter Geoghegan