Why. Music. Criticism. Still. Matters. (So. Go. Fuck. Yourselves. Spin Magazine.)
By Everett True aka That Old Man Shouting At Clouds
BAM! Here I am, in the final year of my PhD research, studying the changing role of the music critic in web 2.0 environments, when Spin Magazine suddenly come out with an announcement like this:
The standard music review, once presented as an imperious edict, has increasingly frayed into a redundant, gratuitous novelty in an era of fewer and fewer actual music consumers. Tight security on major-label albums (and practically no security on indie-label albums) often means you’re downloading a leaked album the same day as your favorite magazine or website. The value of the average rock critic’s opinion has plummeted now that a working knowledge of Google can get you high-quality audio of practically any record, so you can listen and decide for yourself whether it’s worth a damn… Um, but don’t tell anyone we said that, okay?
As a considered reaction, we’re introducing a new way of thinking about the entire enterprise. The@SPINreviews Twitter feed is a massive undertaking, aiming to be an exhaustively definitive listener’s guide and argument-starter for virtually every album or EP or mixtape that matters in 2012. Within the confines of a 140-character tweet, we’re hoping to take on more than 1,500 new records this calendar year alone, all reviewed by our eight in-house editors and a team of a dozen valued freelancers. As someone who survived writing 1,000 Tweet reviews in 2009, I can assure you it’s a project often as difficult to pursue correctly as a 1,000-word essay… and I wager it’s a lot more fun to read.
So Spin Magazine are going to be moving the majority of their music reviews to a Twitter account.
Here’s my initial reaction:
Go fuck yourselves, you bunch of cynical, gimmick-grabbing blowhards. If what you’re doing means so little to you then why the fuck do it.
This announcement, which is considerably longer and the duller for it, is written by Christopher R. Weingarten, a senior editor at the magazine: a smart and funny critic usually, but a critic also driven to considerable cynicism and dismay by the workings of the Internet. It was Chris, who – as he proudly indicates above – popularised the idea of reducing reviews to a bunch of meaningless 140-character coded gibberish in 2009, via Twitter. Some of these were smart. Some very insightful. Most weren’t. Whatever. That’s not what mattered to Chris. What mattered is that people read his Twitter reviews, that he got invited to multi-media conferences on the back of them, that he was offered work because of them. He. Made. A. Name. For. Himself. So, he figured, this must be the future. So he leapt to the same conclusion as everyone else: no one is interested in reading folk like him writing about music anymore, because everyone has the same access to music – critic and reader alike.
It’s a spurious argument, and one that is based on a single model of music criticism: that of Rock Criticism as a Consumer Guide, something propagated by the advancement of graded reviews the world over. It’s one that makes several assumptions, mostly erroneous: that a music magazine’s readership only reads reviews to discover information about the record, how “good” it is (nebulous as that concept might be), that the review is in some way a stand-in for the music itself.
No. It’s not. The greatest criticism complements and increases understanding about the music under discussion. It can stand alone, for sure. Usually, it’s best when taken alongside the music, though. Read this assertion of Chris’s again.
The standard music review, once presented as an imperious edict, has increasingly frayed into a redundant, gratuitous novelty in an era of fewer and fewer actual music consumers. Tight security on major-label albums (and practically no security on indie-label albums) often means you’re downloading a leaked album the same day as your favorite magazine or website.
Why the FUCK should this matter? If anything, rock critics should be welcoming the age of the free illegal download as a Golden Age, that for the first time ever their audience can access the music while reading the review.
It’s never bothered film critics that people see the trailers of the films they discuss: indeed, on television shows featuring film critics, usually trailers and snippets are shown alongside the discussion. It’s never bothered art critics that folk can see the art AND the criticism: indeed, the two are often so mutually dependent, I’ve often wondered how one can survive without the other. It’s never bothered sports journalists that fans watch the game first and read their words after. And so on. So why are folk like Chris are racing round like dyslexic chickens with their heads cut off, screaming “Firsties Firsties, No One Cares For Me Anymore, Firsties” nonstop?
Of course, none of this matters to Chris, up there in his ivory tower. He’s merely trying to find new ways of surviving. He’s looking for more gimmicks so he can get invited to more multi-media conferences. And. Everyone. Loves. Twitter. Right. Now. Especially. The. Traditional. Print. Media. In. Fact. Mostly. The. Traditional. Print. Media. Because. It. Show. How Hip. And. With. It. They. Really. Are.