Quite a flap is being made at various web sites over Fanfare magazine’s policy of not necessarily reviewing CDs whose labels don’t advertise in the magazine. I haven’t written for Fanfare since 1992, but from what’s being said, it sounds like the policy now is what it was then. Without wanting to cast myself as an apologist for crass commercialism, from my experience, it sounds a little overblown. You sent your records to Fanfare: editor Joel Flegler, whom I consider a wonderful if crusty old guy, would send them out to reviewers, without fail. If your label didn’t advertise in the magazine, there would be a little yellow post-it note on the record that said “optional.” Personally, I reviewed lots of optional records. Sometimes I would take a pass if I didn’t like the music, which has also been my policy at some other publications. Sometimes I’d review them all if I had the time, and I certainly tried to review all the ones I liked. So if you didn’t advertise, you might well nevertheless get reviewed, especially if it was a good disc, though you needed to buy an ad to guarantee it – and buying one didn’t guarantee a positive review. That’s a little different from “We won’t review your CD until you buy an ad,” which is the way some are making it sound. (For contrast, I probably reviewed one tenth of the CDs that were sent to me at the Village Voice, because that’s what I had room for, and buying an ad or not wasn’t going to influence anything. So you had a lot better chance of getting reviewed at Fanfare than at the Voice, and you could, if you wanted to spend the money, influence Fanfare, which you theoretically couldn’t the Voice – although, after the paper went free, it was occasionally gently mentioned to me that it would be really nice if I reviewed the organizations who advertised in it.)
Given the largely labor-of-love basis on which Fanfare was run, the paid ads seemed to do little beyond ensuring that the magazine would continue to appear. Nobody was getting rich off it, or even anywhere near well-recompensed. With so much massive corporate evil besetting the music business and everyone else from all sides, I have to regard poor little Fanfare as a rather uncharitably chosen target.
AFTERTHOUGHT: Besides, every newspaper of any size in the entire country reviews the local orchestra without fail – why? Because orchestras advertise in the newspaper. Every publication that runs reviews tends to give preference to the organizations from which it draws its income. Try getting your city’s biggest newspaper to skip the symphony, or the opera, one week, and come review your little new-music group. One reason you can’t is because editors base their decisions on not only income, but the number of people likely to hear an event or buy a recording. “Everybody else does it” may not make it right – but if the entire culture is at fault, if money has poisoned everything, if advertising revenue buys influence everywhere, why choose indigent little Fanfare to pick on? Start writing letters protesting the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, the San Francisco Examiner, the Village Voice, and then maybe we can eventually get around to publications run on love and a shoestring, like Fanfare.