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 Everett True

PhD research issue #2. The role of the music critic

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curious kitten

Today’s offering comes courtesy of Mark Sinker.

What is the role of the music critic? 

The “role” of any and every public writer is simply to write well; to write sentences and paragraphs that repay the time spent reading them. That’s kind of it: the “type” of writer you declare yourself to be is maybe a shout-out to readers, editors and publishers that here’s something perhaps of (saleable or consumer?) interest to them, but that’s really all that’s going there. For me personally, music is — to put it in old-fashioned terms — basically the “occasion” for music writing: the spur for the author to put pen to paper, and (perhaps) for a selection of readers to gather. I have a spiel on what a reviewer does, as contrasted to a critic (the critic’s role for me defined more discursively, and negatively: because a critic ISN’T just a reviewer… c.f. this essay/review for full elaboration, since it probably helps flesh out some of my other answers:

To answer the question at a general level, I regard a critic as someone who values curiosity over cultural complacency, and knows how to enable this as a practice in others, passing on the means if not the impulse — the means being specific pointers to how to read, look, listen, smell, taste, touch, move, to open up material that seems opaque or rebarbative, and more generally techniques, routemaps, portals that enable more confident ease of exploration, of the familiar and the unfamiliar both. Plainly, there’s a built-in restlessness  to this model: because the mastery of that zone one beyond the norm can easily become its own new form of reactionary complacency, the critic in you is what nudges you further out from under the self-satisfactions of such mere embattled niche expertise. And there’s plenty to be curious about — richer and more unexpected because routinely overlooked — in what presents as the “everyday” (which pop after all can never ignore, even at its most would-be vanguardist).

Read Mark Sinker on Music, poetry, Parkinson’s Disease

2 Responses to PhD research issue #2. The role of the music critic

  1. Princess Stomper February 21, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    “For me personally, music is — to put it in old-fashioned terms — basically the “occasion” for music writing: the spur for the author to put pen to paper, and (perhaps) for a selection of readers to gather.”

    That’s interesting. How often do you think “I need to write; what should I write about?” versus “This is amazing! I need to tell people about it”? What would you be doing if you didn’t have the means to blog? Would you be Jack Black in the record store, berating customers? Or would you be at home, pen and paper in hand, scribbling in a notebook for the sake of it?

  2. cirrusminor February 23, 2012 at 5:39 am

    I’m gonna argue that the role of a music critic is to talk about the music. Mention specific things you like about it – chord changes, lyrics, guitar parts, song structure. Good writing is important, but since music writing is somewhat technical the writing doesn’t have to be really flashy or personal. And certainly a critic should be fair when discussing his/her opinion on the overall song/album, because it is extremely subjective.

    Or basically, just do what Roger Ebert would do if he were a music critic.

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