Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Seven (7) Reasons to Support Downbeat Magazine (And Other Publications Like Them)

I wish I had a dollar for every time a musician said to me "Man, I can never read Downbeat. It's too depressing." 

I totally get it.

The late bassist Dwayne Burno often referred to Downbeat as "Beat Down" and Jazz Times as "No Time." 

Again, I felt his frustration.

Flipping through an issue of one of these magazines, seeing dozens of musicians being featured and not you, is very depressing. We've all stumbled across that cover story on some young upstart still figuring out who they are and thought to ourselves "Wait! What? You can't be serious!"

 But I'm here to tell you that even though seeing others getting picked over you can be discouraging and downright angering, you still must support these magazines. Because like it or not, they are here to stay. And they play a vital role in promoting the music. 

So here are seven reasons to actually give these magazines a chance. Hear me out!

1. They are an excellent resource for club and festival listings. 
Putting aside the issues where they purposely list jazz clubs and festivals featuring jazz on a regular basis, you can also get a sense of who's playing and where just from the stories they cover about musicians and various events. This is helpful when you're looking to book yourself or perhaps another band, or maybe just looking for someone to go hear. And their info tends to be current.

2. You learn which record labels are signing musicians.
I know it's difficult seeing a full-page ad by a label featuring a roster of musicians you've never heard of. But you're looking at it from the wrong perspective. The thing to focus on is that now you have a sense of which record labels are signing artists and the kind music and players that they are interested in. These companies are always interested in new and exciting music. Maybe even yours.

3. They showcase up-and-coming players. There's always room in these magazines for an up-and-coming player feature. Apparently, this is great for those new on the scene, but even for us mid-career folks, it keeps us informed about who's doing what. The person being featured might be perfect for our music, or they might be someone we can learn from. And if we want future torch bearers, we must make way for them to be heard. 

4. An excellent resource for critical and descriptive writing about jazz. 
As 21st century musicians, knowing how to write about our music is paramount, whether we're blogging, applying for grants, or writing our own liner notes. These magazines are an excellent resource for learning how to put what we do into words. Mind you, they don't always get it correct with regards to whose doing noteworthy things and who is not; however, I think the writers are pretty good. Personally, I'm always lifting something from a review or article that I then apply to my own writing. And let me be clear, you certainly have clueless ones out there, spreading their misguided points of view. But I don't think they're as commonplace as many says--especially with print publications. Their articles go through more of a screening process than blogs and online magazines. So they're not going to be filled with a bunch of typos and misinformation.

5. A useful jazz education resource.
Many of these magazines have a strong educational component. I've seen numerous articles about improvising, the music business, and informative interviews with musicians revealing exciting aspects of their life and music I never knew. Being someone who creates and dispenses knowledge for living, this turns out to be an invaluable resource for me. I'm always getting some fresh ideas from one of their articles.

6. An excellent resource for finding out the latest trends in jazz, nationally and internationally
As discouraging as critics and readers polls can be, it's always useful to know who's getting people excited, and more importantly, why. Also, it's great that we can pick up one of these magazines and find out what's going on in disparate parts of the world from Nigeria to Australia. This kind of coverage helps to unify the jazz community globally.

7. A great way to make your music available to an international audience
These magazines are great for getting the word out about you and your music throughout the United States and abroad. Being someone who self-publishes, I've noticed that appearing in Downbeat and The New York Times generates a noticeable bump in sales and general interest in my music. Receiving acknowledgment in these publications has more impact than we think. It won't translate into an immediate three-week European tour, but it will help you create a following, little by little. Which is how it should be done.

So, as you can see, if you put your initial reaction aside, these publications serve a much higher purpose than toilet paper substitutes.

And please don't think that I'm saying that they are without fault. 

Do they cater more to artists with label support and endorsements? Absolutely. These companies provide lots of the advertising revenue that magazines need to stay afloat. The person who gives a $50.00 donation to an organization is going to get a thank you note; while the person who gave five million is getting a building named after them. That's just the nature of the business. 

But as I said throughout, I would not be so quick to dismiss "Beat Down" and "No Time" as an unfortunate waste of trees. Try flipping through them with an open mind. You might be amazed at how useful they can actually be. And maybe even less depressing. 


  1. Great points, Mr. Newsome! Musicians can start with the low-hanging fruit. Research TOp 50 Jazz blogs and see who wants do to an article on your music. Some blogs do this for free (like mine), and you can build social media around it. And so on. Glad I found your blog here!~~ Debbie Burke, author

  2. Hi Debbie - Thanks for reading. And thanks for your great points. There are a lot resources available nowadays. In some ways, we no excuses. I'm glad we've connected!

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