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Spotlight – Music magazines

Don’t know your bluegrass from your elbow? Never fear, help is at hand in the vibrant rock music magazine sector. Alan Geere finds there’s lots of fun to be had reading about something rather than actually listening or watching.

By Alan Geere


What’s it about: ‘High voltage rock ‘n’ roll’ – tagline on cover.

Vital statistics: Summer 2016 issue: 132 pages of 298mm x 222mm. Quality matt paper, heavyweight cover, perfect bound. £5.50 cover price. Combined ABC of 51,219. Published by TeamRock Limited in London.

Cover: Comes in a poly bag with coverlines that complement the single image on the magazine (Eric Clapton as a young man). More inside plugs on the front, and back, of the bag but only other clues on the mag are names on the spine.

Content: Simple contents page flagging up the featured artists followed by the in-house guff of ‘welcome’ and credits which feels a bit early. Quick reads at the front end badged up as ‘the Dirt’, then listicles and finally to the meat in the sandwich interviews. Eric Clapton is sadly, for all lovers of journalism, a Q&A – Q: Do you ever play your old records… A: Yes, I do. But meaty reads they are, backed up by reviews of both albums and gigs.

Digital: Rather confusingly, promos website, which has a Classic Rock section, if you can find it (that nice Mr Google will help you). If you do go straight to you’ll get thrown back to the parent site. Nearly 200k Twitter followers and a whopping 1.5 million Facebook likes.

What they say: “There's a definite inverse correlation between how good/bad the day has been and how good/bad the workout at the end of it is.” – editor Siân Llewellyn on Twitter.

Verdict: For anyone born before 1965, it’s difficult not to love Classic Rock. Every page has an evocative name, album or track. The digital offering, especially social media, is a lesson to all publishers both large and small.


What’s it about: ‘The world's biggest-selling weekly rock magazine’ – tagline on Google results page.

Vital statistics: July 9, 2016 issue: 64 pages of 285mm x 210mm. Gloss paper, self cover, stitched. £2.50 cover price. Combined ABC of 24,207. Published by Bauer in London.

Cover: Busy, busy, busy. One main image of Biffy Clyro frontman Simon Neil looking messianic with tattoos, 13 head shots, 15 coverlines. Names, numbers, lots of yellow and six! exclamation marks not including the name.

Content: Page three contents set the scene, followed by ‘The Big Story’, which is actually quite a small Q&A, some news then a run of one or two subject pages which strangely work rather well in a Time or Newsweek sort of way. Some retro Smash Hits style poster pictures and piles of reviews, both live and recorded.

Digital:Lots of website, even if it doesn’t quite shake off the Bauer corporate look. A monstrous 663k Twitter following and even more, 875k, likes on Facebook.

What they say: “The petition wishes to highlight to Bauer Media the inappropriate nature of McMahon’s behaviour, and raise the concerns it holds about having such an erratic and irresponsible individual at the helm of a publication which holds such weight with a young and impressionable audience.” – petition to remove editor James McMahon.

Verdict: They love their K!lunky use of K! with everything, but who cares – this is the weekly bible of loud and rude rock. As close as you’re gonna get without actually listening to anything.


What’s it about: ‘The world’s best music magazine’ – tagline on Google results page.

Vital statistics: August 2016 issue: 132 pages of 295mm x 210mm. Quality matt paper, heavyweight cover, perfect bound. £5.25 cover price. Combined ABC of 70,445. Published by Bauer in London.

Cover: A mounted CD in a proper case, stuck on with some very sticky stuff, display picture of The Smiths, one head shot, eight coverlines and a list of artistes under the CD.

Content: The contents on pages three and four lead to a beautifully constructed run-down of the cover-mounted CD. Letters, ‘What goes on!’ bits and pieces, some sumptuous interview reads, especially with nearly man Terry Reid, and a superhuman effort to find “The 50 Greatest Smiths Songs”. Oodles of reviews, including books, and a crossword with a £1,400 guitar as a prize.

Digital: Clean looking website that feels a little under-populated has links – which annoyingly don’t open in a new window – to Twitter, with 108k followers, and Facebook, where 102k likes lurk.

What they say: “Technological gremlins crept in and messed with our Dylan feature… You know what they say about technology, don’t you? It’s stuff that doesn’t work yet.” – reply to reader’s letter grumbling about a missing story.

Verdict: A jazzy layout with lots of design tricks to keep the reader occupied. This best seller in the sector looks and feels comfortable with itself. Well populated with ads which themselves add to the all-roundness of this accomplished product.


What’s it about: ‘The world’s greatest music magazine’ – strapline over masthead.

Vital statistics: August 2016 issue: 132 pages of 285mm x 210mm. Lightweight gloss paper, heavier cover, perfect bound. £4.75 cover price. Combined ABC of 44,050, with 3,262 from digital. Published by Bauer in London.

Cover: The somewhat unnecessary poly bag (just a poster inside) has four coverlines and a plug to said poster. The mag cover has one full bleed picture (Radiohead’s Thom Yorke) plus two coverlines. Confidently sparse.

Content: A card poster insert with Radiohead on one side and Coldplay on the other tells you all about the target market for this loveable beast of the magazine rack. Contents with big page numbers on page three then straight into the Coldplay love-in, which feels a bit bitty thanks to some invasive pull quotes. A 27-page celebration of Neil Young might seem excessive, but the insightful ‘exclusive’ interview (sorry, he’s talking to everyone who’ll listen) is worth the wait.

Digital: A neat and orderly website has useful archive links to mag content back to October 2014 plus links to Twitter, with 126k followers and a boast of 100k Facebook likes although the figure is actually 20,000 more.

What they say: “One of the best games is to let my wife get worked up by a stressful situation & then earnestly counsel her with lines from kids TV shows…” – senior editor Matt Mason on Twitter.

Verdict: Lots to read and lots to like, such as the readers’ questions to with suitably enigmatic replies. Well written and put together with polish and pizazz which may just help it live up to that ‘world’s greatest music magazine’ tag.


What’s it about: ‘Side-stage, backstage + in the pit’ – blurb on YouTube.

Vital statistics: August 2016 issue: 100 pages of 295mm x 210mm. Matt paper, heavyweight gloss cover, stitched. £3.99 cover price. Combined ABC of 13,924, with 385 from digital. Published by Rock Sound Ltd in London (Whitechapel not Soho).

Cover: Comes in a poly bag plugging a free catalogue and a competition. Cover pic of three guys from Blink-182 obscures masthead, four coverlines and name checks for nine artistes featured inside.

Content: The here-we-are on page three followed by contents on page four. Ten things we learned this issue, tongue in cheek agony uncle, poster pictures, reviews and gig guide complement the longer reads. Adventurous use of design and typography brings some surprise and delight when least expecting it.

Digital: ‘Hit us up’ on page three lists the digital connections and website will take you straight to Twitter, with 317k followers and Facebook for half a million likes – great figures for a magazine with the smallest ABC of our selection.

What they say: “Social has become our biggest source of web traffic with Facebook and Twitter now bringing us considerably more web traffic than organic search” - owner Patrick Napier (20 tweets in four years) writing in InPublishing in 2013.

Verdict: Not many ads – just 13 pages out of 100, or put another way 13 per cent – so it necessarily feels like there’s a lot going on. But this is a magazine that is not frightened to take on the bigger beasts in the rock jungle, especially backed up by such a comprehensive sound and vision offering.


What’s it about: ‘The spiritual home of great rock music’ – tagline on Google results page.

Vital statistics: August 2016 issue: 124 pages of 298mm x 210mm. Gloss paper, heavyweight cover, perfect bound. £5.50 cover price. Combined ABC of 47,890, with 1,964 from digital. Published by Time Inc in London.

Cover: The magazine, plus assorted bits and pieces, comes in a lavishly decorated cardboard envelope – a Spotlight first. Same full bleed pic on both – a young Neil Young – and similar coverlines plus more promo material on the envelope. Artist count: 22 – The Winner!

Content: One page of contents on page three leads into news or ‘Instant Karma!’ as it’s called here. Some well-written longer reads (The Small Faces, Neil Young cover story) with sidebars feels like journalism. Reviews stretch to 40 pages and the ratings out of 10 make a refreshingly honest appraisal.

Digital: They don’t shout about it much but still have 44k Twitter followers and 107k Facebook likes. A clean and businesslike Time Inc website has all the usuals, plus a whopping ad across the top – rather bizarrely on one visit for Chad Valley toys.

What they say: “Actually I'd really like to live in a chronically deluded state and never hear anyone talk about Brexit ever again.” – editor John Mulvey on Twitter.

Verdict: Films, books, letters, obits and even a crossword reinforce the sense that this is a rock mag for grown-ups. Sophisticated design, clever use of photography and decent writing make this look and feel like value.

Eagle-eyed Spotlight fans will notice we have not featured NME, even though it puts out more than 300,000 copies for pick-up and hand distribution, as we have decided to concentrate on the paid-for sector on this occasion.