The quiet death of College Music Journal and its annual Music Marathon
February 1, 2017 9:17 AM   Subscribe

RIP CMJ, if You Are in Fact Dead, Which You Seem to Be, so RIP (1978 - 2016). It looks a lot like CMJ (College Music Journal) is down for good. Back in October 2016, the annual CMJ Music Marathon just didn't happen, then the website went stagnant as of December 6, 2016, and a week or so later, two former full-time employees of Abaculi Media, CMJ's parent company, alleging that they had not been paid since the fall of 2015. Now, the word on the street that the last CMJ employee has left the building, so what's next? Mondo.NYC, a music business summit / music festival, came along and pre-filled the void of the Music Marathon in New York City, and Spinitron is growing to address goals for non-commercial radio stations, including charting new music plays.

If you're looking for a longer story on the decline of CMJ as a music marathon/ extended event and it's College Music Journal side, Stereogum provided a good write-up way back on August 29, 2016, noting that there were many signs that things were dying soon after it came under new management. Adam Klein was that new manager, and Pitchfork provides more history on him: CMJ Owner Adam Klein’s Professional Past Raises Questions Over Music Marathon’s Future (November 2, 2016).
posted by filthy light thief (23 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
* College radio vs. CMJ (February 28, 2003) -- CMJ admitted to falsifying playlists
* Arcade Fire Ruined CMJ (October 25, 2013)
posted by filthy light thief at 9:19 AM on February 1, 2017

That stinks. Back in high school and college, I always looked forward to the CDs included in the magazines. I found a lot of fun stuff that way. It's where I first heard Elliott Smith, for one.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:22 AM on February 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Okay, so my initials are CMJ and I often sign things that way and I thought for just a second that maybe I was dead...

Off to read the links now.
posted by cooker girl at 9:23 AM on February 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Having a subscription to CMJ magazine from 1998 to around 2002 is how young pianoblack the music nerd became young pianoblack the insufferable music nerd.

RIP CMJ indeed.
posted by pianoblack at 9:32 AM on February 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

Holy cow, it was still around? I had a subscription for about five years, roughly 1995-2000...the CDs were always a mixed bag, but there were almost always at least a few good tracks (although by the time I stopped subscribing they were lamentably full of Pearl Jam knockoff sludge and nu-metal, as was the style at the time).
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:36 AM on February 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you're looking to browse the CMJ New Music Monthly magazine archives, many are available on Google Books (earliest is #17/January 1995, latest is #155/June 2008).

If you want to browse the CD contents, Discogs has you covered (tracklists, might include some linked YouTube clips).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:39 AM on February 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

If you want to browse the CD contents

I've often considered buying up all the Certain Damage compilations I could find (esp. during college rock's heyday of the '80s and early '90s) and creating the perfect alternative time capsule. I don't suppose anyone's gotten there first and posted the results on their mp3 blog though... (?)
posted by saintjoe at 9:50 AM on February 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I had just asked my wife last month if she remembered the name of the music magazine I used to get back in the early days of our relationship because I was craving some off the beaten track curation. She did and I went looking and came away disappointed and here we are...
posted by srboisvert at 9:51 AM on February 1, 2017 [3 favorites]


It turned to crap, I hear, but this used to be an important, good thing once.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:59 AM on February 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I loved CMJ in the late nineties. I probably wouldn't have been a music snob (for good and ill) in college without it.
posted by drezdn at 10:09 AM on February 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm a "veteran" of CMJ, both the magazine and the Music Festival. As a college radio DJ and on-time music director, I submitted our new "spins" to CMJ (here we are, top row, 4th column from the left), and attended two of the Music Marathons. Before 9/11, it was still pretty great - the badge got you into lots of venues, and if a few were full of badge holders, just bounce to the next one. And there were a ton of sessions on topics related to non-commercial radio, music promotion, music technology, etc. etc. etc. plus a huge room full of companies with random and often fun freebies, with a few bands playing around the room.

After 9/11, everything shrank. There were fewer panel sessions and workshops, and the giant room of companies felt like it was eternally after noon on the final day of a conference, where only a portion of the total companies were still present - lots of open space. And the shows were usually full of badge holders, but you could pay full price to get in.

And we never really paid that much attention to the CMJ magazine, being a bunch of music snobs (in training), but I also have a few cover CD compilations.

There was some kerfuffle over CMJ's charting methods, not specifically the falsified charts, but something that made us want to look elsewhere for places to report our plays. Dusted Magazine ran their own charts for a while (apparently some stations were just training grounds for commercial radio DJs, who were handed playlists of music they didn't particularly like, unlike our wildly free-form style, where there were a few rules to keep the new Modest Mouse from getting played once an hour), and we were a member station in earlier years.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:52 AM on February 1, 2017 [9 favorites]

I never made it to the festival (I don't do new music at our college radio station, just the old...), but I know a lot of our MDs liked it more than SXSW. As for the magazine... maybe it's because my station had a "too cool for it" vibe when I joined in 2000, but it never really seemed relevant. Of course this was past the glory days of college radio, so that probably had a lot to contribute to it (especially as filthy light thief describes the effects of 9/11).

It's weird to think about our charts now - how else can we show the rest of the college radio community how much of an island we are? It seems particularly sad now as I think college radio is making a come back with this wave of 90s nostalgia.
posted by kendrak at 11:11 AM on February 1, 2017

Okay, so my initials are CMJ and I often sign things that way and I thought for just a second that maybe I was dead...

Given the current state of the world you might consider that you are and didn't qualify for a stroll through those pearly gates...
posted by Sangermaine at 11:24 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I worked at the Music Marathon for a few years in the early '90s - it was a fantastic time!!
posted by blaneyphoto at 11:32 AM on February 1, 2017

Guest list passes and schwag from promo guys in exchange for CMJ spins certainly appealed to the Alan Freed in me.

posted by dr_dank at 11:41 AM on February 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

weird, I still have Dusted Magazine and various label and radio-play promo team contacts pop up as suggestions when I address e-mails even now! and still remember some weird rambly phone convos with bored promo dudes on the music director office phone.

sigh, can't or haven't yet purged college radio nostalgia... love those Google Books archive links. before 9/11, I'd swipe my older brother's CMJ issues every month and tape the discs on cassette. after 9/11 is when I was MD for my college station (2003-2007), and the implosion was well on its way then. at the time I felt the implosion more on a localized basis (shoestring/slapdash/sweat-filled station management and drama therein), but these write-ups really illustrate how the industry and CMJ micro-industry were foiled... or foiled themselves!

despite how little scrutiny we got from the university, we *did* have a legacy budget allowance for a van and one hotel room for the October CMJ weekend (could neither afford SXSW, nor even explain the emergence of The Internets to the administration). all thanks to previous staff and DJs I'm sure. but only one or two of the staff ever tried to attend a daytime panel -- for the rest of us bums, it was all about strolling NYC and shows...
and I remember the 2004 Arlene's Grocery set mentioned in the Vice article! (was so into Saturday Looks Good To Me!)

I've got way too many old-person angry/wistful feelings about how my own university station lost the plot. clearly with the Adam Klein mess, though, CMJ needed the boot, however valuable it may once have been.

last I saw a big Barnes n Noble magazine rack, The Big Takeover is still in print, I think...?
posted by cluebucket at 11:52 AM on February 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was a college DJ and Program Director on the East Coast (1985-89) and here in the Pacific (1989-93) and CMJ was essential reading just to see what other stations were playing and to get some suggestions for tracks to preview from the hundreds of albums we'd receive. Sometimes, even then, their mini-reviews slipped into the realm of fan fiction (everything was amazing and some of the tracks they selected suggested they hadn't actually listened to the albums) but it was still hugely useful in the pre-Internet days.

I am sure that the internet in general has replaced the primary need for CMJ (get college music directors information about what new tracks are worth playing) but it was a big part of my week back in the day.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:22 PM on February 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Man, I still remember listening to the 10 year compilation, THE BEST OF CMJ: 1979-1989. I *think* I may have an MP3 form of it around somewhere, I'll have to search and give it a listen again.
posted by fings at 12:33 PM on February 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

I attended my fair share of CMJ weekends in the late 80s-early 90s, but I could never get out of my head the idea that CMJ stood for Country Music Jamboree.
posted by maggiemaggie at 1:10 PM on February 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Those compilation CD's are what got me through high school in once piece. Yeah, they were too mainstream for the really cool college DJs, but for high school me out in the suburbs, they were evidence that something existed beyond the post-Nirvana malaise of alt-rock radio
posted by thecjm at 3:55 PM on February 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

The Dusted Magazine charts were hobbled a bit when there was a kerfuffle over the fact that the writing staff went through a span without any woman writers, and some stations decided to boycott and not send in their playlists. I both write for the site and was deejaying at one of the stations at the time, and it was frustrating to be caught in the middle, since both sides were all-volunteer efforts. Horizontal hostility, I now see.
posted by bendybendy at 7:33 AM on February 2, 2017

I was a heavy metal DJ at a couple college stations over the years. i remember submitting our top 10 "spins" to CMJ. It was always was a bit of a thrill to see my name/list/station call letters in print.

And their CMJ showcases were a hell of a good time in mid-late '90s NYC.
posted by medeine at 12:38 PM on February 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I remember sometimes they just didn't get around to mailing the CD with the magazine. Since the only reason I subscribed was for the CD, that was always a bummer.
posted by smackfu at 5:19 PM on February 3, 2017

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