Why aren’t music journalists inherently positive?

by Lucca Soria

The model for finding new music, in the last ten years, has been reversed. Instead of readers blindly trusting what some popular critic has to say, they have the ability to sample the music themselves via YouTube, SoundCloud, Band Camp, and many other audio hosting sites. So why hasn’t the model for music criticism been entirely flipped?

I still check up on the big sites that post the raunchy reviews (the Pitchforks, Village Voices, blah blah), and I read the ones that are receiving less than average scores and subsequent writing that essentially make the argument of “here’s a clip of the actual music, but you shouldn’t listen to it and here’s 500 words telling you why,” when the role of the reviewer as a curator and “trustee” of music, in reality, has become irrelevant. Who honestly craves the musical guidance of some 25-year-old Colombia grad sitting in some minimalistic office building in NYC on his MacBook?

The reality of the artist-reviewer interaction boils down to:  one person (the artist) is putting themselves and their work out to the world for enjoyment—for people to emotionally attach themselves to—and to bond with something that other people are bonding with; and the other person (the music journalist) is trying to figure out how to get page views, desperately relying on the work of other people to keep his or her job afloat. Because the artist now has many ways to project themselves directly to listeners, do music reviewers even have an argument when trying to comment on the objectivity of an album? Why don’t they just share the music they like and not talk about the music they don’t? It’s not like the world is on a music shortage.

This voicemail left by Ryan Adams, I think, displays the frustration often held back by artists in an attempt to save their own careers and bodies of work. You could listen to it thinking “oh what a cry baby,” but I think it’s really a shame that artists are reduced to defending their own music because some critic has to post a review online that undermines their work. It’s too easy for the critic to write a bad review, while it’s so hard and painstaking to actually create something for other people to enjoy.

Positivity, one way or another, should be the model for music criticism,                                          especially considering the subjectivity of enjoying music and how easy it is to find exactly what you like.

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4 responses to “Why aren’t music journalists inherently positive?

  1. I agree, a lot of critics can just be nasty and really don’t have the talent that the artist who is putting himself out there has. Sometimes its best for artists just to ignore bad reviews instead of drawing more attention to the critic by commenting. One guy I see once in a while on CBS Sunday Morning, Bill Flanagan, keeps it positive. He highlights artists and albums he likes, and they are almost always one I have never heard of or would not have noticed because they usually aren’t played on the radio, and he always gives great descriptions of them making them sound like something I want to check out. Since it is so easy as you say to check out music for yourself to see if you like it, pointing out great acts to check out seems more useful and more of a service than just criticizing an artist.

  2. You may have a point about some reviewers using bad reviews to get themselves noticed. I think reviews who think of themselves as journalists would give fair reviews no matter want, and I think that’s better for them in the long run. Who wants to read bad reviews all the time? I’m just saying.

    It’s always better to be fair.

  3. “Positivity, one way or another, should be the model for music criticism, especially considering the subjectivity of enjoying music and how easy it is to find exactly what you like.”

    I agree with this 100%. We often focus on the negatives and things we don’t like, rather than spending time enjoying the music that we KNOW we like. I think critics can be too negative at times, especially when they pick apart genres they don’t like. Obviously they don’t like the genre so they aren’t going to be in love with it. We get it. Time to focus on the positives and things we enjoy.

  4. I am on the fence when it comes to this. I don’t think journalists should ever lie and say something is good when deep down, they know it isn’t and that it could be improved, but completely slamming a person’s art that they worked hard to create isn’t warranted either. I think it’s best to be fair and give the criticism, explain why that criticism exists based on the music you reviewed, and then say what the artist does well. Writing a less than favorable review, especially on assignment, is tough. Writing about music you love and understand is easy. I don’t necessarily think that writing music reviews about a genre or band that you don’t like should be completely avoided though. Sometimes analyzing music you don’t like can help you really understand why you don’t like it, or you may find out that the artist or genre is not as bad as you thought it would be. Even if it doesn’t appeal to you and you wonder how anyone else in the world can like the music, there are people out there who do.

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