Logo of NME since April 2010
|Editor||Mike Williams (June 2012 – present)|
|Circulation||308,606 (ABC Jan – Jun 2016)
Print and digital editions.
|First issue||7 March 1952|
|Company||Time Inc. UK|
|Based in||Southwark, London, England|
New Musical Express (NME) is a British music journalism magazine published since 1952. It was the first British paper to include a singles chart, in the edition of 14 November 1952. In the 1970s it became the best-selling British music newspaper. During the period 1972 to 1976, it was particularly associated with gonzo journalism, then became closely associated with punk rock through the writings of Julie Burchill, Paul Morley and Tony Parsons. It started as a music newspaper, and gradually moved toward a magazine format during the 1980s and 1990s, changing from newsprint in 1998.
An online version of NME, NME.com, was launched in 1996. It became the world's biggest standalone music site, with over seven million users per month. With newsstand sales falling across the UK magazine sector, the magazine's paid circulation in the first half of 2014 was 15,830. In 2013, the list of NME's The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and the way it was conceived was criticized by the media.
NME magazine was relaunched in September 2015 as a nationally distributed free publication. The first circulation figures published in February 2016 of 307, 217 copies per week were the highest in the brand's history, beating the previous best of 306,881, recorded in 1964 at the height of the Beatles' fame.
The paper was established in 1952. The "Accordion Times and Musical Express" was bought by London music promoter Maurice Kinn, for the sum of £1,000, just 15 minutes before it was due to be officially closed. It was relaunched as the New Musical Express, and was initially published in a non-glossy tabloid format on standard newsprint. On 14 November 1952, taking its cue from the US magazine Billboard, it created the first UK Singles Chart, a list of the Top Twelve best-selling singles. The first of these was, in contrast to more recent charts, a top twelve sourced by the magazine itself from sales in regional stores around the UK. The first number one was "Here in My Heart" by Al Martino.
During the 1960s the paper championed the new British groups emerging at the time. The NME circulation peaked under Andy Gray (editor 1957–1972) with a figure of 306,881 for the period from January to June 1964. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were frequently featured on the front cover. These and other artists also appeared at the NME Poll Winners' Concert, an awards event that featured artists voted as most popular by the paper's readers. The concert also featured a ceremony where the poll winners would collect their awards. The NME Poll Winners' Concerts took place between 1959 and 1972. From 1964 onwards they were filmed, edited and transmitted on British television a few weeks after they had taken place.
In the mid 1960s, the NME was primarily dedicated to pop while its older rival, Melody Maker, was known for its more serious coverage of music. Other competing titles included Record Mirror, which led the way in championing American rhythm and blues, and Disc, which focused on chart news. The latter part of the decade saw the paper chart the rise of psychedelia and the continued dominance of British groups of the time. During this period some sections of pop music began to be designated as rock. The paper became engaged in a sometimes tense rivalry with Melody Maker; however, NME sales were healthy, with the paper selling as many as 200,000 issues per week, making it one of the UK's biggest sellers at the time.
By the early 1970s, NME had lost ground to Melody Maker, as its coverage of music had failed to keep pace with the development of rock music, particularly during the early years of psychedelia and progressive rock. In early 1972 the paper found itself on the verge of closure by its owner IPC (which had bought the paper from Kinn in 1963). According to Nick Kent (soon to play a prominent part in the paper's revival):
After sales had plummeted to 60,000 and a review of guitar instrumentalist Duane Eddy had been printed which began with the immortal words "On this, his 35th album, we find Duane in as good as voice as ever," the NME had been told to rethink its policies or die on the vine.
Alan Smith was made editor and in 1972 was told by IPC to turn things around quickly or face closure. To achieve this, Smith and his assistant editor Nick Logan raided the underground press for writers such as Charles Shaar Murray and Nick Kent, and recruited other writers such as Tony Tyler, Ian MacDonald and Californian Danny Holloway. According to The Economist, the New Musical Express "started to champion underground, up-and-coming music....NME became the gateway to a more rebellious world. First came glamrock, and bands such as T. Rex, and then came punk....by 1977 it had become the place to keep in touch with a cultural revolution that was enthralling the nation's listless youth. Bands such as Sex Pistols, X-Ray Spex and Generation X were regular cover stars, eulogised by writers such as Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons, whose nihilistic tone narrated the punk years perfectly." By the time Smith handed the editor's chair to Logan in mid-1973, the paper was selling nearly 300,000 copies per week and was outstripping Melody Maker, Disc, Record Mirror and Sounds.
According to MacDonald:
I think all the other papers knew by 1974 that NME had become the best music paper in Britain. We had most of the best writers and photographers, the best layouts, that sense of style of humour and a feeling of real adventure. We also set out to beat Melody Maker on its strong suit: being the serious, responsible journal of record. We did Looking Back and Consumer Guide features that beat the competition out of sight, and we did this not just to surpass our rivals but because we reckoned that rock had finished its first wind around 1969/70 and deserved to be treated as history, as a canon of work. We wanted to see where we'd got to, sort out this huge amount of stuff that had poured out since the mid '60s. Everyone on the paper was into this.
In 1976, NME lambasted German pioneer electronic band Kraftwerk with this title: "This is what your fathers fought to save you from ..." The article said that the "electronic melodies flowed as slowly as a piece of garbage floating down the polluted Rhine". The year 1976 also saw punk rock arrive on what some people perceived to be a stagnant music scene. The NME gave the Sex Pistols their first music press coverage in a live review of their performance at the Marquee in February that year, but overall it was slow to cover this new phenomenon in comparison to Sounds and Melody Maker, where Jonh Ingham and Caroline Coon respectively were early champions of punk. Although articles by the likes of Mick Farren (whose article "The Titanic Sails at Dawn" called for a new street-led rock movement in response to stadium rock) were published by the NME that summer, it was felt that younger writing was needed to credibly cover the emerging punk movement, and the paper advertised for a pair of "hip young gunslingers" to join their editorial staff. This resulted in the recruitment of Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill. The pair rapidly became champions of the punk scene and created a new tone for the paper. Parsons' time at NME is reflected in his 2005 novel Stories We Could Tell, about the misadventures of three young music-paper journalists on the night of 16 August 1977 – the night Elvis Presley died.
In 1978 Logan moved on, and his deputy Neil Spencer was made editor. One of his earliest tasks was to oversee a redesign of the paper by Barney Bubbles, which included the logo still used on the paper's masthead today (albeit in a modified form) – this made its first appearance towards the end of 1978. Spencer's time as editor also coincided with the emergence of post-punk acts such as Joy Division and Gang of Four. This development was reflected in the writing of Ian Penman and Paul Morley. Danny Baker, who began as an NME writer around this time, had a more straightforward and populist style.
The paper also became more openly political during the time of punk. Its cover would sometimes feature youth-orientated issues rather than a musical act. It took an editorial stance against political parties like the National Front. With the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 the paper took a broadly socialist stance for much of the following decade.
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In the 1980s, the NME became the most important music paper in the country. It released the influential C81 in 1981, in conjunction with Rough Trade Records, available to readers by mail order at a low price. The tape featured a number of then up-and-coming bands, including Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Linx and Scritti Politti, as well as a number of more established artists such as Robert Wyatt, Pere Ubu, the Buzzcocks and Ian Dury. A second tape, C86, was released in 1986.
The NME responded to the Thatcher era by espousing socialism through movements such as Red Wedge. In the week of the 1987 election, the paper featured an interview with the leader of the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, who appeared on the paper's cover. He had appeared on the cover once two years before, in April 1985.
However, sales were dropping, and by the mid-1980s, NME had hit a rough patch and was in danger of closing. During this period (now under the editorship of Ian Pye, who replaced Neil Spencer in 1985), they were split between those who wanted to write about hip hop, a genre that was relatively new to the UK, and those who wanted to stick to rock music. Sales were apparently lower when photos of hip hop artists appeared on the front and this led to the paper suffering as the lack of direction became even more apparent to readers. A number of features entirely unrelated to music appeared on the cover in this era, including a piece by William Leith on computer crime and articles by Stuart Cosgrove on such subjects as the politics of sport and the presence of American troops in Britain, with Elvis Presley appearing on the cover not for musical reasons but as a political symbol.
The NME was generally thought to be rudderless at this time, with staff pulling simultaneously in a number of directions in what came to be known as the "hip-hop wars". It was haemorrhaging readers who were deserting NME in favour of Nick Logan's two creations The Face and Smash Hits. This was brought to a head when the paper was about to publish a poster of an insert contained in the Dead Kennedys' album Frankenchrist, consisting of a painting by H.R. Giger called Penis Landscape, then a subject of an obscenity lawsuit in the US. In the summer and autumn of 1987, three senior editorial staff were sacked, including Pye, media editor Stuart Cosgrove and art editor Joe Ewart. Former Sounds editor Alan Lewis was brought in to rescue the paper, mirroring Alan Smith's revival a decade and a half before.
Some commented at this time that the NME had become less intellectual in its writing style and less inventive musically. Initially, NME writers themselves were ill at ease with the new regime, with most signing a letter of no confidence in Alan Lewis shortly after he took over. However, this new direction for the NME proved to be a commercial success and the paper brought in new writers such as Andrew Collins, Stuart Maconie, Mary Anne Hobbs and Steve Lamacq to give it a stronger identity and sense of direction, although Mark Sinker left in 1988 after the paper refused to publish a negative review he wrote of U2's Rattle and Hum. Initially many of the bands on the C86 tape were championed as well as the rise of gothic rock bands but new bands such as the Happy Mondays and the Stone Roses were coming out of Manchester. One scene over these years was Acid House which spawned "Madchester" which helped give the paper a new lease of life. By the end of the decade, Danny Kelly had replaced Alan Lewis as editor.
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By the end of 1990, the Madchester scene was dying off, and NME had started to report on new bands coming from the US, mainly from Seattle. These bands would form a new movement called grunge and by far the most popular bands were Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The NME took to grunge very slowly ("Sounds" was the first British music paper to write about grunge with John Robb being the first to interview Nirvana. Melody Maker was more enthusiastic early on, largely through the efforts of Everett True, who had previously written for NME under the name "The Legend!"). For the most part, NME only became interested in grunge after Nevermind became popular. Although it still supported new British bands, the paper was dominated by American bands, as was the music scene in general.
Although the period from 1991 to 1993 was dominated by American bands like Nirvana, British bands were not ignored. The NME still covered the Indie scene and was involved with a war of words with a new band called Manic Street Preachers who were criticising the NME for what they saw as an elitist view of bands they would champion. This came to a head in 1991 when during an interview with Steve Lamacq, Richey Edwards would confirm the band's position by carving "4real" into his arm with a razor blade.
By 1992, the Madchester scene had died and along with the Manics, some new British bands were beginning to appear. Suede were quickly hailed by the paper as an alternative to the heavy grunge sound and hailed as the start of a new British music scene. Grunge however was still the dominant force, but the rise of new British bands would become something the paper would focus on more and more.
In 1992, the NME also had a very public dispute with Morrissey due to allegations that he had used racist lyrics and imagery. This erupted after a concert at Finsbury Park where Morrissey was seen to drape himself in a Union Flag. The series of articles which followed in the next edition of NME soured Morrissey's relationship with the paper and this led to Morrissey's not speaking to the paper again for over a decade.
Later in 1992, Steve Sutherland, previously assistant editor of Melody Maker, was brought in as the NME's editor to replace Danny Kelly. Andrew Collins, Stuart Maconie, Steve Lamacq and Mary Anne Hobbs all left the NME in protest, and moved to Select; Collins, Maconie and Lamacq would all also write for Q, while Lamacq would join Melody Maker in 1997. Kelly, Collins, Maconie, Lamacq and Hobbs would all subsequently become prominent broadcasters with BBC Radio 1 as it reinvented itself under Matthew Bannister.
In April 1994, Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain was found dead, a story which affected not only his fans and readers of the NME, but would see a massive change in British music. Grunge was about to be replaced by Britpop, a new form of music influenced by British music of the 1960s and British culture. The term was coined by NME after the band Blur released their album Parklife in the month of Cobain's death. Britpop began to fill the musical and cultural void left after Cobain's demise, and with Blur's success and the rise of a new group from Manchester called Oasis, Britpop would continue its rise for the rest of 1994. By the end of the year Blur and Oasis were the two biggest bands in the UK and sales of the NME were increasing thanks to the Britpop effect. In 1995 NME covered many of these new bands, and many of the bands played the NME Stage at that year's Glastonbury Festival where the paper had been sponsoring the second stage at the festival since 1993. This would be its last year sponsoring the stage; subsequently the stage would be known as the 'Other Stage'.
In August 1995, Blur and Oasis planned to release singles on the same day in a mass of media publicity. Steve Sutherland put the story on the front page of the paper. He was criticised for playing up the duel between the bands. Blur won the 'race' for the top of the charts, and the resulting fallout from the publicity led to the paper enjoying increased sales during the 1990s as Britpop became the dominant musical genre. After this peak the paper experienced a slow decline as Britpop burned itself out fairly rapidly over the next few years. This left the paper directionless again, and attempts to embrace the rise of DJ culture in the late 1990s only led to the paper being criticised for not supporting rock or indie music. The paper did attempt to return to its highly politicised 1980s incarnation by running a cover story in March 1998 condemning Tony Blair, who had previously associated himself with Britpop bands such as Oasis, and this received a certain level of attention in the wider media.
Sutherland did attempt to cover newer bands but one cover feature on Godspeed You! Black Emperor in 1999 saw the paper dip to a sales low, and Sutherland later stated in his weekly editorial that he regretted putting them on the cover. For many this was seen as an affront to the principles of the paper and sales reached a low point at the turn of the millennium.
From the issue of 21 March 1998, the paper was no longer printed on newsprint, and more recently it has shifted to tabloid size with glossy colour covers.
In 2000 Steve Sutherland left to become brand director of the NME, and was replaced as editor by 26-year-old Melody Maker writer Ben Knowles. In the same year Melody Maker officially merged with the NME, and many speculated the NME would be next to close, as the weekly music-magazine market was shrinking - the monthly magazine Select, which had thrived especially during Britpop, was closed down within a week of Melody Maker. In the early 2000s the NME also attempted somewhat to broaden its coverage again, running cover stories on hip-hop acts such as Jay-Z and Missy Elliott, electronic music pioneer Aphex Twin, Popstars winners Hear'say and R&B groups like Destiny's Child, but as in the 1980s these proved unpopular with much of the paper's readership, and were soon dropped. In 2001 the NME reasserted its position as an influence in new music and helped to introduce bands including the Strokes, the Vines, and the White Stripes.
In 2002 Conor McNicholas was appointed editor, with a new wave of photographers including Dean Chalkley, Andrew Kendall, James Looker and Pieter Van Hattem, and a high turnover of young writers. It focused on new British bands such as the Libertines, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and the Kaiser Chiefs which had emerged as indie music continued to grow in commercial success. Later, Arctic Monkeys became the standard-bearers of the post-Libertines crop of indie bands, being both successfully championed by the NME and receiving widespread commercial and critical success.
In December 2005 accusations were made that the NME end-of-year poll had been edited for commercial and political reasons. These criticisms were rebutted by McNicholas, who claimed that webzine Londonist.com had got hold of an early draft of the poll.
In October 2006 NME launched an Irish version of the magazine called NME Ireland. This coincided with the launch of Club NME in Dublin. Dublin-based band Humanzi was first to appear on the cover of NME Ireland. The Irish edition of the magazine could not compete with local competitors such as Hot Press therefore it was discontinued after its fourth issue in February 2007.
"NME bands" fall within very narrow parameters. In the 80s, the paper prided itself on its coverage of hip hop, R&B and the emerging dance scene which it took seriously and featured prominently – alongside the usual Peel-endorsed indie fare. Now, though, its range of approved bands has dramatically shrunk to a strand embodied by the [Arctic] Monkeys, Babyshambles and Muse – bands who you don't need specialist knowledge to write about and who are just "indie" enough to make readers feel they're part of a club. Like everything else in publishing, this particular direction must be in response to reader demand, but it doesn't half make for a self-limiting magazine.
In May 2008 the magazine received a redesign, aimed at an older readership with a less poppy, more authoritative tone. The first issue of the redesign featured a free seven-inch Coldplay vinyl single.
Krissi Murison was appointed editor in June 2009, launching a new redesigned NME in April 2010. The issue had 10 different covers, highlighting the broader range of music the magazine would cover, and featured Jack White, Florence and the Machine, LCD Soundsystem, Rihanna, Kasabian, Laura Marling, Foals, M.I.A., Biffy Clyro and Magnetic Man.
Murison was replaced as editor in July 2012 by Mike Williams, who had previously been the magazine's deputy. Williams is now Editor in Chief, with full responsibility for NME's cross platform output. Under Williams, NME has launched the NME Daily app, a new career focussed event called Lifehacks, and successfully relaunched both NME magazine and NME's website, NME.com.
In 2013, NME's The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time was criticized by the media. The Guardian pointed that Features Editor, Laura Snapes, included in her top 5 "greatest albums of all time", four albums from the same band which was The National. Consequence of Sound similarly observed that "if Laura Snapes had her wish, the top four would all be The National albums".
NME's major factual blunders, both in print and on its website, such as using a photo of Alanis Morrissette for a Fiona Apple review in 2012, and referring to George Harrison as the Beatles bass player in 2014, have been criticized by both its dwindling readership and the press.
The free NME launched on 18 September 2015, with Rihanna on the cover. Distributed nationwide via universities, retail stores and the transport network, the first circulation numbers published in February 2016 of 307, 217 copies per week were the highest in the brand's history. Since relaunch the magazine has featured a number of high-profile international stars on the cover such as Coldplay, Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, Kanye West and Green Day alongside emerging talent like Zara Larsson, Years & Years, Lady Leshurr and Christine and the Queens.
The free NME magazine has been praised for reconnecting NME with its target audience, and was awarded a silver at the 2016 Professional Publishers Association Awards for its historic first-ever cover as a free title, featuring Rihanna. Editor in Chief Mike Williams received the Editor Of The Year Award at the BSME Awards 2016, the judges stating that under Williams' leadership, NME had "bounced back from an uncertain future and established itself confidently and creatively in a new market."
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In 1996 the NME started its website NME.com under the stewardship of NME editor Steve Sutherland and NME publisher Robert Tame. Its first editor was Brendan Fitzgerald. Later Anthony Thornton redesigned the site, focusing on music news. In November 1999 the site hosted the UK's first webcast, of Suede 'Live in Japan'. In 2001 the site gave away a free MP3 of the Strokes' debut single "Last Nite" a week before its release.
The website was awarded Online Magazine of the Year in 1999 and 2001; Anthony Thornton was awarded Website Editor of the Year on three occasions – 2001 and 2002 (British Society of Magazine Editors) and 2002 (Periodical Publishers Association).
In 2004, Ben Perreau joined NME.com as the website's third editor. He relaunched and redeveloped the title in September 2005 and the focus was migrated towards video, audio and the wider music community. It was awarded Best Music Website at the Record of the Day awards in October 2005. In 2006 was awarded the BT Digital Music Award for Best Music Magazine and the first chairman's Award from the Association of Online Publishers awarded by the chairman, Simon Waldman in recognition of its pioneering role in its 10-year history.
In 2007, NME.com was launched in the USA with additional staff.
In October 2007, David Moynihan joined as the website's fourth editor. In 2008 the site won the BT Digital Music Award for Best Music Magazine, plus the Association of Online Publishers' Best Editorial Team Award, the British Society of Magazine Editors Website Editor of the Year and the Record of the Day Award for Best Music Website. In June 2009 NME.com won PPA Interactive Consumer Magazine of the Year (Periodical Publishers Association). In 2010 it won both the AOP and PPA website of the year award. That same year, NME.com expanded its coverage to include movies and TV as well as music.
Luke Lewis took over as editor of NME.com in March 2011, bringing a new focus on video content and user engagement, bringing comments to the fore and introducing user ratings on reviews. In 2011, NME.com had over 7 million monthly unique users (source: Omniture SiteCatalyst, 2011).
In May 2011, NME.com launched a sister site dedicated to video, NMEVideo.com, and released the NME Festivals smartphone app. Sponsored by BlackBerry, it featured line-ups, stage times, photo galleries and backstage video interviews, and was downloaded 30,000 times. The following month, NME launched its first iPad app, dedicated to Jack White.
In September 2011, NME.com organised and live-blogged a real-time Nirvana Nevermind Twitter listening party to mark the 20th anniversary of the classic album. The site also launched a new series of self-produced band documentary films, entitled The Ultimate Guide.
NME's current digital editor is Charlotte Gunn, who replaced Greg Cochrane in 2015.
NME Awards is an awards show held every year to celebrate the best new music of the past year. The nominations and eventual winners are voted for by the readers of the magazine.
NME sponsors a tour of the United Kingdom by up-and-coming bands each year.
In 2002 the NME started publishing a series of themed magazines reprinting vintage articles, interviews and reviews from the NME archives. The magazine special editions were called NME Originals, with some featuring articles from other music titles owned by IPC, including Melody Maker, Rave and Uncut magazines. Notable issues so far have featured Arctic Monkeys, Radiohead, the Beatles, Punk rock, Gothic rock, Britpop, the Rolling Stones, Mod, Nirvana, and the solo years of the Beatles. The series has had several editors, the most prominent of whom have been Steve Sutherland and Chris Hunt. The most recent issue of NME Originals was published in 2005.
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