Far from journal's end

 

After eight years and many controversies, the ‘Journal of Music in Ireland’ has dropped ‘Ireland’ from its title as it aims to reach the wider musical world. Founder Toner Quinn tells ARMINTA WALLACEabout making music writing accessible

EIGHT YEARS AGO, a traditional fiddle player launched a bimonthly music magazine in Ireland. The fledgling publication wasn’t shy about airing trenchant musical opinions, and as fur and feathers began to fly, it made a name for itself among Irish musicians of all persuasions. Now the Journal of Music in Irelandaims to soar into the wider musical world.

“We’re going international,” says its founder and editor, Toner Quinn. “We’re celebrating our 50th edition this month by changing the title to the Journal of Music. We’ll have a new design, a new website (www.journalofmusic.com) and a host of new contributors.”

At a time when most of the news emanating from the publishing sector is in the key of doom and gloom, Quinn strikes a note of unflagging enthusiasm. He and his colleagues have embraced the weird and wonderful world of online publishing with vigour.

“Everybody on the magazine works from home,” he says. “I live outside Spiddal in Co Galway; my other four colleagues live in Dublin. But they don’t work in the same office. Our website is actually our office. There’s a huge back end to the site, and everything is generated from there. When we started, most people didn’t even have e-mail addresses. Since then, technology has transformed the way you can run a publishing business. With Skype, with e-mail, with the website, we can do the whole thing by remote control. It’s a new way of working on a magazine, and particularly a small magazine. As it gets larger, I don’t know how possible it will be, but so far it has been really good.”

WHAT ABOUT THEfamiliar complaint that it’s impossible to make money from online publishing? “The way I look at online publishing and technology,” says Quinn, “is that it makes you money because it saves you money. It speeds things up, and it cuts costs radically. So that saves you time. You can then put your energy into other things. Obviously you make money through online advertising. But there’s also the fact that it speeds things up so much – you can contact so many people so quickly and so personally.

“When people look at the internet and say, ‘Oh, you can’t make money out of it’, that’s completely missing the point. It’s not a direct connection between your pocket and the internet. It’s a connection between the internet and your business, and your business and your pocket. It’s a different way of thinking about it.”

For a publisher, he insists, it offers an open-ended opportunity. “There’s space to develop,” he says. “And people are open to things. Our assistant editor, Benedict Schlepper-Connolly, and our website developer, Simon Doyle, developed an e-mail gig guide. That’s a key marketing tool for us. It goes to several thousand people involved in Irish musical life every single Monday. Once we started doing that, the profile of the magazine grew immediately – which means more readers and more subscribers.”

THE GIG GUIDEhas already gone international from this month, and Quinn hopes the service will quickly generate interest abroad. But although technology is the fuel that drives the magazine, he insists that it’s passion – and in-depth musical expertise – that keeps it on course. “I knew as soon as the magazine started that we had hit on something,” he says. “Our approach seems to be part of the zeitgeist that’s going on in music at the moment – a kind of democratisation across genres. We get a strong personal response from readers by putting all sorts of musics on the same page. It’s not that we treat them all the same; but we’ll put Schnittke opposite Willie Clancy, John Coltrane opposite sean-nós singing. I think that resonates with people.”

From the beginning, the journal also aimed to provide a forum for in-depth discussion. “I always thought there was a way of writing about music that would appeal to a wide audience,” says Quinn. “In Ireland when people have done that, they’ve often gone the academic route – but we wanted to be accessible to a wide audience.”

Over the years, the journal has been at the centre of some musical storms. “There’s no doubt that when the magazine started off, I was looking to shake things up a bit on the music scene in Ireland,” says Quinn. “When the JMIfirst appeared, there hadn’t been a forum where all musical genres could be discussed on a regular basis for years – perhaps never. There was Music Irelandin the 1980s, but that was mostly about classical music. So there was a huge outpouring, because all of this stuff had been bottled up for decades.” One of these outpourings was on the topic of music and nationalism, which began with a book review written by the composer Patrick Zuk. “That was a turning point for the magazine, because from then on it became clear that we had to be taken a little bit more seriously in musical circles,” says Quinn.

Within a few years the list of regular contributors included Dónal Lunny, Micheál Ó Súilleabháin, Ronan Guilfoyle and Martin Hayes. “We regularly published articles that stepped out into the socio-political world. We questioned everything.”

THE PLAN NOWis to bring that analytical approach on to a wider global stage. The April edition of the Journal of Musichas a feature on music in Iceland – “for years we’ve been aware that there’s something interesting going on there, with Björk and Sigur Rós, among others” – as well as pieces about recession opera, new music patronage and Joe Dolan.

“We have a piece about why there’s no show like a Joe show – even after his death,” says Quinn. “We also have a feature on why Paris is so good at spotting musical talent when it’s not very good at exporting it.”

The regular columns – among them the poet Ciaran Carson on traditional music, Kevin Stevens on jazz – will stay put, as will regular coverage of all things musical and Irish, including listings and CD reviews. “We’re still going to maintain the Irish coverage,” says Quinn. “It’s essential to the identity of the magazine, and that’s fine.”

What turned out not to be essential was the presence of the words “in Ireland” in the title. “Most magazines in Ireland have ‘Ireland’ in the title. I think that was caused by Ireland defining itself in opposition to something for so long that we had to have, you know, Irish Gardenmagazine, Irish Theatremagazine, Archaeology Irelandand whatever else. It occurred to me to ask, ‘Why are we doing that?’ And I don’t think we need to do it any more.”