Sometimes a magazine's very name precedes its reputation, and that's certainly the case with Billboard. The concept of success in the music business is interwoven with those Billboard charts that for decades now have served at once as cultural snapshots and time capsule fodder.
Billboard dates back to 1894, but it's a huge understatement to note the magazine has seen quite a few changes since it began as a trade publication for the billboard advertising biz. Like Variety, Billboard does double duty as a trade pub and a consumer mag at once. But Variety is endlessly entertaining, even for those who aren't entertainers. Billboard can be tough to slog through if you don't make your living in the music business.
What Billboard sure knows how to do is promote. For the Oct. 10th issue, Beyoncé graces the cover as Woman of the Year. But readers will know that immediately, since the cover wrap features congratulatory ads from Sony Music and Music World Entertainment, the label that produces her work and is owned by her father, Mathew Knowles. The real fun starts on page 16, the launch of a 30-page tribute to the talented and generous singer, actress, and model. That's no typo: We're talking 30 pages.
Of course, you quickly realize much of the "content" is mortar supporting all those full-page bricks of advertising. Ms. Knowles is publicly congratulated not just by EMI Music Publishing, but by ASCAP, MTV, L'Oréal Paris, even BCD Travel and her law firm -- on and on and on it goes. By the time you hit the sidebar detailing Beyoncé's fragrance and fashion endorsements on page 40, any semblance of separation between news and promotion is long gone. "The one thing that attracts someone to Beyoncé is her authenticity," says the head of the global branded entertainment division of International Creative Management, purchaser of a full-page salute on page 47.
Once you get past all things Beyoncé, there's more cross-promoting and synergizing. This includes an extended profile -- "All in the Family" -- of regional Mexican music as exemplified by the Rivera musical clan, though later in the issue we learn through editorial and advertising alike that the magazine has just hosted the Billboard Regional Mexican Music Summit at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. As Jenni Rivera so aptly puts it: "More than an artist, I'm a businesswoman."
Hey, let's be clear. Billboard made its bones serving the needs of music executives, if not musicians or fans. Its very brand is synonymous with commercial success, just as its parent company -- Nielsen -- is shorthand for broadcasting success. That's understood. And those detailed charts on pages 89-104 may be entertaining enough for some readers.
But for a magazine devoted to music, the prose certainly does not sing (with the exception of the back-of-the-book reviews, some of which are entertaining). In fact, on many pages it's hard to separate journalism from public relations-speak, with or without quotation marks. This convergence plays out rather humorously on page 76, which features side-by-side identical glossies of singer Loryana ("El Diamante Del Norte") in both an article and an ad.
But readers also must digest this excerpt about the group Paramore: "We have an amazing band that is really intelligent about their decisions and how to do this and understands what's necessary to do this."
Or this excerpt concerning Rising Star of the Year Lady Gaga: "Gaga has become known for wearing larger-than-life outfits, but she's not just trying to get attention. She's making a statement about living the glamorous life and defining her own identity in the public's ever-expanding field of vision."
With entertainment industry publications, it's all about the juncture of commerce and art. But readers of Billboard will find the magazine heavy on the commerce and light on the art. Now more than ever, there's a broad selection of magazine titles -- let alone Web sites -- focusing on every conceivable genre of music, and many provide a much better read than Billboard. Even Casey Kasem would have trouble arguing with that.
Published by: Nielsen Business Media
Web site: www.billboard.com