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NPR’s ‘What Happened To Music Writing This Year?’ | An Answer

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What Happened to Music Writing This Year? poses Maura Johnston on NPR. Her editors forgot to include the words ‘mainstream’ and ‘American’ in the article’s title, but that’s the mainstream and Americans for you… they just assume that everyone abides by their rules. (And, of course, it gets clumsy and not very eye-catching, trying to clarify headings.)

What world do these people live in? It isn’t mine. I haven’t engaged with mainstream music writing for several years because it increasingly seems like an irrelevance in an age where you can create and shape your own personal social network recommendations. (When I use the word ‘mainstream’, I’m talking NPR and Rolling Stone and Q and  MOJO… some view these titles as specialist, but they ain’t. They really ain’t. Not in the Age of the Blog.) (Anyone with more than a passing fancy for music has always been a bozo if they looked to TV or commercial radio to go beyond that.) I’m not talking web-bots here, or blog aggregators, or comments left on YouTube (although the random electronic trail left by YouTube has long been one of its most endearing features). I ain’t talking LastFM or Amazon (although the user comments left on products have long supplanted ‘editorial’ reviews in terms of usefulness or information). I’m talking real, living people – friends, acquaintances, the occasional opinion-leader – interacting with me continuously via Facebook and Twitter and… doesn’t it seem old-fashioned?… email. Smart, funny people. Mostly. That’s where I discover music, and hold conversations and read writing about music (and via blogs, of course). Not the long-form, long-winded version on some website that still thinks it’s a print magazine and doesn’t understand quite what the hell happened.

Quite honestly, I’m not sure why we’re having a conversation about music writing at all that doesn’t focus on social networks and ignore the dead-end ramblings of the web 1.0 and print crowd altogether. What relevance do these people have to most everyone’s world? The dialogue around Collapse Board – small as it is – doesn’t take place on Collapse Board itself, but on Facebook. The Internet has irredeemably changed music writing from a monologue to a dialogue. And that’s fucking great.

I think you’ve answered your own question here, Maura. What happened to music writing this year? It got dull.

The question “what do readers want?” has hovered over any media business worth its advertising revenue for years, but in 2012, it took on more urgency. Any item worth its pixels this year was built for sharing, for posting on Twitter or in friends’ Facebook newsfeeds and multiplexing from there. Sometimes these shareable pieces would dig deeply into a topic with a new perspective; more often they would play off already-existing biases, asserting them or proudly acting the contrarian.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Maura is one of the few Decent Ones out there. She cares. She writes like she cares. She can write. As she puts it on Twitter:

blaming the patriarchy, the internet, and myself since 1975

So it’s back to point one: why would anyone bother to read newspapers in the Age of the Blog when invariably all those newspapers do is tone the writing down, smooth out the edges, explain all the in-jokes, present everything in an easily understood format, make it acceptable… ? Yes, sure. It’s all to do with quality control. I understand that. Not everyone has the time, or experience, to be their own editor and curator. Ultimately though, whose taste and opinion do you trust? That of some stranger being paid (or unpaid) by the word to write about whatever their editor suggests, or that of a friend who actually knows you… and crucially has the same access to music as even the most pampered of journalists?

What’s fascinating about this question – and presumably the reason why columns like Maura’s continue to spring up – is that it’s not as straightforward as I’m making it seem right now. It really isn’t.

Her final paragraph is great:

Perhaps most important, though, is the fate of readers — who are also listeners. Is all of this chatter about music’s superficial aspects, whether angry or anodyne, really helping people hear music, or is the endless thicket of lists and updates on who’s tweeting who a sign that “discovery” has been ceded to algorithmic solutions and recommendations from friends? In the pre-streaming era, music writing had a function for the listener, providing context about a record’s sounds (which Robert Christgau cheekily condensed as “Consumer Guide”) as well as the artistic vision behind it. As we go into 2013, there’s almost too much context — from streaming albums to artist tweets to comments in the iTunes Store and beyond — and music writers become just another voice, shouting above the fray to be heard. Turning that chaos into a conversation that spans fans of all genres and artists, and that connects people in surprising ways, should be a goal among writers and editors in 2013 — even if doing so means to first have a radical rethinking about the ways of building an audience and a media business.

P.S.
The definition of ‘music writing’ she uses in the article:

The mishmash of news, reviews, lists, self-promotional social media updates, reports on those updates…

is perhaps one of the saddest I’ve read in 30 years. It’s also painfully accurate.

Anyway. The title to this blog entry promised an answer to the NPR’s question. So here’s my answer. You can ignore it if you want, but fuck. It would be a shame if everyone does. There’s so much opportunity for fun and mischief and kicking over of the old statues and rewriting of the tired old patriarchal systems to be had…

17 reviews of Morrissey @ Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, 17.12.12

ADDENDA
Sean from Drowned In Sound just posted on Facebook – where else? – thus:

Dialogue with like minds on social media is fun and all, but discussion on the DiS boards is far more diverse and likely to spiral. And the best part is, for everyone posting there are 30-50 people following the conversation. But this is Facebook, where talking passionately or at length is frowned upon by the readers and the billion dollar al-gore-riddim alike.

Why post that as a blog rather than a Facebook post?

Of course. Dedicated forums and message boards first, Facebook second… although me being who I am and Facebook being where I promote Collapse Board primarily, it all ends up like a dedicated (DiS-style) message board anyway.

One Response to NPR’s ‘What Happened To Music Writing This Year?’ | An Answer

  1. Vanessa December 28, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    Collapse Board is the only music website that I consistently read. Why? I think it is because the writers actually think and care about the music which they write about. What a marvelous throwback. Shades of Lester Bangs and Tom Carson! That said, I really prefer to listen to music and the insertion of music videos/music links allows me to listen to the music that is being written about on your website.
    There is so much music being produced now that a filter is helpful to discover new (to me anyway) artists. I come from a time when the record store and parties were the best places to discover new music.
    The universe is expanding. When will it implode? Silly me. Silly question.

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