Monday, 5 April 2010

Music Journalism - don't believe a word you read

Oh, its too easy.

"So music journalism sucks, huh? Then how come YOU are writing about music?!"

Indeed. Another contradiction within a blog full of contradictions. As I always say when such an occurrence happens; Such is the nature of music. Read on for lots more glaring contradictions!

I can't stand music journalism. The very idea of it seems pointless, but what really disgusts me is that it's actually effective. People read this garbage and allow their opinions of music to be formed around someone elses opinion.

You can see I've started adding reviews to this blog (well, one so far. More to come!). I've done my best in my reviews to present my opinion and my opinion only. Take it with a grain of salt, and if you're interested then check out the music and decide for yourself.

This is what album reviews, if they absolutely must exist, should consist of. But nobody likes that, nobody likes to think for themselves, especially if they pay money for their products. People either want somebody to say BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT to justify their purchase, or a reassuring ITS RUBBISH DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT so that they can divert their attention elsewhere.

I can see how it works for marketing, but for music its all so very wrong. As I said in the one rule of music, there is no such thing as bad music. So how can someone who calls themselves a journalist think that they are the be-all-and-end-all of music taste, and tell people what to buy?

Its a little more sinister than that, especially with the latest releases from major-label acts. Ever notice how they never seem to get bad reviews, except on forums where fans of bands-you've-never-heard-of indulge in a constant tirade about how awful it all is? These constant great reviews are featured on posters, TV adverts, even placed on stickers on the CD itself. All these 5 star reviews can't be wrong, so therefore YOU MUST BUY IT!!!

Except that, in this case, the journalists didn't really review it. They didn't give their "I'm the authority on music" opinion, in order to make you buy what they think you should buy.

The record label reviewed it for them.

Or rather, the label paid a pricey sum to get that review. You may not believe me, but believe me it happens. Album reviews for big acts and big releases are nothing more than an extension of the marketing plan. Which makes sense, when you see how those reviews are planted on every instance of that album's mention, right down to being stuck on the physical product itself.

I've only bought music magazines a few times. I prefer magazines about gear, myself. Equipment works or it doesn't. Music is subjective. Nevertheless, In those rare occasions where I buy a music magazine, I do enjoy reading the reviews. I read the bad ones; I have no interest in the good ones, they always read the same. You know what I mean:

"Another fantastic offering from [artist], which combines [any genre] with their unique brand of [generic labeling] but adds more [positive descriptive word] and [same again]. One to watch/definitely buy/I jizzed when I heard it and so did my mates"

Blah blah blah. No, I love reading the bad reviews. I love reading how these people rate these artists badly, because its all convoluted opinion. These bad artists are always "trying to be" one of the artists that, if you flip a page back, got a good review. Its always "disappointing", as though they ever had high hopes for it.

Its all bullshit as well. I can't bring myself to completely can any artists making music (even though I regularly do because I'm a hypocrite and this blog is all a sham!) because I know that someone, somewhere, will listen to that music and enjoy it. You cannot deny it, its a fact; that person is enjoying listening to that music, even if its only once or twice before they move on, so its successful. Its a good piece of music, it works. For whatever reason, they love it.

In some ways, I wish music critics were like film critics or food critics. In the world of the film/food critic, everything is bad. Have you ever read a glowing 10/10 review from either of these critics?

But I digress. You can't put stars, percentages or numbers to music. My favourite 10/10 100% 5 star song might only me 7/10, 73% or 4 stars for you. It might even be 1/10, 7% or half a star.


Its all interpretation. Everybody's perception of music is completely different, everybody's world is a different movement of textures, shapes, colours and sounds. I find that absolutely fascinating, I don't know about you. I'd love to swap places with someone who has a completely different music taste to me and listen to the music I don't normally like. I'd love to feel it resonate with them, understand what makes it so good to them even though I find no appeal in listening to it. I'd love to experience that, because it'd be a completely new experience, it'd be like music never existed and it was the first melody I'd ever heard in my life. I'd love to hear different things, pick out different elements, dance a different way.

Alas, this is not possible. But can you see what I'm getting at? The very fact that opinion is so hugely divided over music taste is the very thing which makes it so universally amazing.

And some magazine has a group of people who think they can tell you what is and isn't good?

At least the record labels are paying for this months rent.

Keep loving music,

[EDIT] I'd just like to add that this is the one place where I love user-generated reviews. The more user reviews on something, the broader a picture you can paint of how people respond to it. As usual with musical opinion, take them with a grain of salt. I tend to read them with 'other albums' by a particular artist, because you get a picture of where this album fits in.

For example, I'd heard bits and piece of Neurosis for ages, and finally decided I wanted an album. I love Scott Kelly's ferocity and whilst I love long, progressive interludes, that day I wasn't particularly in the mood for it. So I scanned iTunes, I read all the reviews on all the albums, and "Times of Grace" sounded like the one I wanted to get. I bought it, and was not disappointed.

My housemate, who fucking LOVES Neurosis and all that stuff we've never heard of, then agreed that he knew that'd be the album I'd get.

Don't judge the album's merit on its reviews though. Sometimes the only people that bother posting reviews on the album are the people who loved it to pieces. You know, "Wow this album is so good, I'm going to post a review and tell people how good it was!" You may not love it.

I'll stop rambling now![EDIT]

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