The biggest questions in their executives’ heads are what’s next and what the future of the industry is. Being in the driver’s seat has never been as uncomfortable as these days.
The fast-moving information of the Internet has had an effect on conventional media, leaving print magazines looking old fashioned. A few have tried to switch to online to cater to the information needs of the market.
Since the 1970s, music magazines have always been in a struggle for survival.
Aktuil was one of the most successful cuts. It rocked the industry from its home in Bandung — although it migrated to Jakarta in the final years — and was a real success story from 1967 to 1986. However, after making a massive breakthrough in the mid 70s, the magazine died a decade later.
Then in the mid 90s, there was Tabloid Mumu, which dedicated most of its spreads to music. Thursday was the day for music lovers to read the biggest news in this glorious era for Indonesian music. Slank’s line-up change was top news and there was space for indie bands like Kubik and Koil. But again, it was a short -lived story that came to an end a few years later.
Another footnote in this tale is News Musik. It delivered a luxurious package, but again only for a short time. It did a wonderful job in providing in-depth articles about music, at a glance it looked like Rolling Stone, the most legendary name in music magazines on the planet.
Well, let us turn to a success story. If you talk about music magazines, the first name you should turn to is Hai. This teenage magazine has been a vital contributor to the country’s music industry despite its varied menu each week. The boys running the magazine may have changed but the spirit of youth is still maintained. The magazine has been around for more than two decades.
“Music accounts for only 30 to 40 percent of the magazine. The rules have never changed since day one: we want to give what our readers what they want,” says Danie Satrio, the magazine’s chief editor.
Danie has taken care of the music section since 1999 and has grown along with the music in this most influential youth magazine in Indonesia. During its time, Hai has played a pivotal role as best friend of both sides of the music industry; the fans and those in the business, including the artists.
They held, for example, the memorable Pesta Pelajar Hai, which saw Pas Band and Puppen steal the limelight and made a clear statement that a music revolution was happening in Bandung, once a Mecca for independent music.
Recently, they put on a wonderful display, dedicating their front cover to the Hammer Sonic Festival line up, which saw independent metal bands on the cover of Hai. With a weekly circulation of over 40,000, they are still in the pole position of contributors to the music industry. Adding value to the conventional business they already have, they also run a very good music portal that positions them in the online media.
The website hai-online.com is home for those who seek instant news about what is happening in the fast lane of the industry.
Jakarta-based Trax Magazine is another story. In its 10th year in the industry, the magazine has had a long run but then they are a product of MRA Media, one of the biggest media chains in Indonesia.
“We’ve had to fight hard to survive,” says Andre Sumual, Trax Magazine’s current chief editor.
Since its early days, Trax Magazine has always been home to new blood in the independent scene. Arian 13, from the band Seringai, standup comedian Soleh Solihun, screenwriter Salman Aristo and photographic artist Angki Purbandono were all once on the staff of this magazine.
The group had been greatly supportive to sounds from the underground, but as time has moved on, the group thought that vision had to change.
“I was given the task of making this magazine more mainstream,” remembers Andre. “A magazine like ours was in the early days apparently is not good for business.”
Now, Trax Magazine tells their readership that they’re not only a music magazine but also a lifestyle magazine. Survival, again, is the key.
“You cannot say that every music lover is a music reader,” says Andre. He is right of course. With that in mind, now Trax Magazine focuses hard on how to get ad revenue and maintain their circulation.
“I need to accommodate this. That’s why we’ve been running a special segment called Babes of the Month, where we feature hot chicks with a music background in the magazine doing a sexy photo shoot,” explains Andre. Well, it’s a struggle and a strategy needs to be formulated in order to survive.
The biggest fish in the music magazine world in Indonesia now is obviously Rolling Stone Indonesia. The international franchise magazine is a high-profile institution with a special obligation to those who want to see music in a more serious light.
Adib Hidayat, Rolling Stone Indonesia’s chief editor is a veteran of the music-magazine industry with years of experience.
“What we do in Rolling Stone Indonesia is a long process of adaptation,” says Adib.
He says that principle gives freedom to each country to interpret the Rolling Stone brand in their own way. “For example, Rolling Stone Germany is focused on music while Rolling Stone Italy relies less on music and more on beautiful girls; even Rolling Stone Russia features nude girls. We, in Indonesia, want to focus on our local scene,” says Adib.
That focus translates into a concentration on ‘non-tv’ music. “We try not to be in line with that is on tv on a daily basis. If we think that they’re not good enough for our magazine, then they’re not in it. One of the examples is when Malay-music-influenced bands took over the tv some time ago. We finally wrote about Wali, but not on their musical career. We wrote of their success story in selling millions of ring tones,” he explains.
This is in keeping with how the business side works well to support Rolling Stone Indonesia; they have broadened their remit into music’s supporting elements such as a live venue and perhaps radio.
“We run a café in our backyard and have set up a venue in the same area. We want to deliver an integral service to our clients. Well, it’s the same thing with other media chains, right? We also want to set up a radio but have no particular time frame,” he says.
Rolling Stone Indonesia has also made a very strategic partnership with Detik.com, the country’s biggest online media group. Their online news is fed to Detik.com’s readership while at the same time also featuring on their homepage, rollingstone.co.id.
So much for the mainstream, how about the independent scene? There’s one toddler trying to get on its feet, Majalah Cobra. This bimonthly magazine is based in Jakarta with a small distribution chain but then, as the independent gang always does from time to time, they’re providing alternatives.
“We write about not only music but also film and other forms of art,” says Anggun Priambodo who teamed up with Harlan Boer to run the magazine.
“We want to put the local talent around us in the spotlight,” they say.
Majalah Cobra, has managed to attract some attention in its own small way. “Independence is always our chief interest; we want to encourage people to build their own economic system by doing what they like. If not us, who else will do it for us?” continues Anggun.
The magazine has a specialty where they really pursue an artsy packaging. “If we had the budget, we would probably deliver the magazine in a blanket,” jokes Anggun.
The conventional media fighting it out with online media is the big over-arching issue. Anggun pinpoints the essential element of music magazines’ survival struggle, “We want to make people read magazines again.”
— Photos by Felix Dass —