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 Everett True

the football team approach to music criticism

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Australia football team

You can, if you like, treat writing about music like supporting a football team.

Sure, there will be bad times. Sure, there will be good. Sure, your favourite band will end up somewhere in the middle of the league table at season’s end, unless you’re supporting someone really obvious like Tom Waits or Maria And The Gay or Tunabunny (say).  Sure, you can get behind one particular band – or 20 – and say, “This is my band, these are my bands. I don’t care what music they make, how good their shows are, because these is MY bands. Consistency rules”. Sure, you can even claim that there are only five or six good bands any given year, same way there are only five or six good football teams. (What happened to music not being a competition?) Sure, you can blind yourself to all the moments of brilliance that happen on (and off) the pitch performed by other football teams because what matters is YOUR team, YOUR band. Sure, you can even grade each performance, marks out of 10, all that.

Sure. You can do all that.

One thing blogs can do that other publications can’t: be geeks. If you think a band deserves more attention, post their single. Review their album. Do an interview with them. Post the video. Post the next video. Post the tour dates. Write about the album again two months later — you’re still listening to it, aren’t you? Repetition can make a big difference! If you post a song once, it disappears. Think about it this way: if you posted a new band once a day every weekday, that’s over 250 bands a year. How many albums will you actually buy this year, 10? 20? How many good albums come out in a year? Get behind those. Promoting 250 bands is not “tastemaking”: it’s stupid.

David Greenwald, Rawkblog14 Ways Music Blogs Could Be Useful Again*

Promoting 250 bands isn’t ‘tastemaking’, agreed. Enthusing and writing about 250 different songs could be, though. (Why this need for consistency?) Y’see, some of us don’t see ourselves as being in the ‘promotion’ game, that we’re merely here to support the moribund music industry. We think blogging can – and should – aspire to way more than that. Bloggers should not be content to simply be an adjunct.

*The rest of David’s blog entry is actually pretty fucking spot on.

16 Responses to the football team approach to music criticism

  1. Princess Stomper November 9, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Great article, but there should be a note about not posting unauthorised MP3s – it’s disrespectful. Much better to link to Youtube/soundcloud/etc streaming links to illustrate your posts.

    As for the “football team” mentality, I’m very conscious that I write about the same half-dozen bands all the time, and sometimes I worry that this is somehow a bad thing. But just taking one of them, JG Thirlwell and his many incarnations: he’s released/appeared on six records this year alone, plus two film soundtracks, plus a number of other events and appearances, and chances are any one of those is better than anything else you’ve heard this year. It just gets to the point where it’s impossible not to mention it – like trying to get through any history-of-popular-music article without mentioning either Elvis or the Beatles. Everett True can’t get through an article about rock music in the 90s without mentioning Nirvana because there’s a bloody great hole in it if he doesn’t.

    It’s like Michael Schumacher and racing: he’s the best driver, or at least was until recently. They can change the rules to try to make him win less or put him in a different car or just stop speaking about him, but it’s the elephant in the room: pretending that he’s not the best doesn’t change the fact that he is the best.

  2. Joseph Kyle November 10, 2011 at 2:47 am

    Great article, but there should be a note about not posting unauthorised MP3s – it’s disrespectful.

    Yes but here’s the thing: if a thousand blogs are publishing the same “authorized” mp3’s, then, really, isn’t that little more than free advertising? I mean, you want to be respectful to the band, sure. But your effectiveness as a “fan” is severely limited if you’re playing the same song that everyone else is.

    Let’s face it, to a certain extent, blogging has replaced radio. Using Nirvana as an example, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a great song, but so is “Sliver,” “Negative Creep,” “Something In the Way,””On a Plain,” etc. But outside of college radio, you aren’t hearing them being broadcast. Yet if we only define the band as being that song, then you get a very narrow picture of Cobain as songwriter.

    So much of what I see in the blogosphere is “churnalism.” I know it’s nothing new or an exclusive trait of online writing, but it ain’t helping, especially in the Content Farm nature of the internet.

  3. Princess Stomper November 10, 2011 at 3:29 am

    isn’t that little more than free advertising?

    Ugh, I find that phrase so annoying – no, you’re not doing the band a favour. If the band wants to give away their music for free, they will, on their own terms. Taking away from the band the ability to determine how and where their music is distributed is just rude – especially when it’s really just to promote your own site against the competition of other blogs and then dressed up like it’s some sort of favour.

    Blogging has not replaced radio. Last.fm and Pandora have. Perhaps Youtube, too.

  4. Princess Stomper November 10, 2011 at 3:40 am

    (I should explain: as well as being married to a musician, I also make video game “mods” – custom levels – and these also get distributed through internet sites and often through magazine cover-mount CDs. Usually people are polite enough to contact me for permission, and quite a lot of the time I’ll send them a newly-patched version to use as an alternative. Just uploading without permission is very much frowned upon within the gaming community.)

  5. Joseph Kyle November 10, 2011 at 6:03 am

    That’s working on the assumption that anyone who blogs is doing so strictly from a journalistic/for-profit method, as opposed to doing it for the pure love of music? What, then, is the difference between, say, posting an mp3 of a song you really like, and putting it on a mixtape/CD-r, and sharing it with people?

    As to the comment about blogs being the new radio: What I mean is that it’s the dissemination of one or two key songs via thousands of different blogs is the same as spending tens of thousands of dollars for “radio play.” I’m sure that many of these same bands/labels are paying about the same as they used to pay for radio promotion in the 1990s, but unlike those days, there’s actually something to show for it.

  6. Princess Stomper November 10, 2011 at 6:47 am

    That’s working on the assumption that anyone who blogs is doing so strictly from a journalistic/for-profit method

    Not at all – I was under the assumption that the blogger wasn’t earning anything from it, but was getting their ego massaged if they get a lot of hits.

    What, then, is the difference between, say, posting an mp3 of a song you really like, and putting it on a mixtape/CD-r, and sharing it with people?

    Scale. The last mix tape CD-R I made, I shared with just four people who all routinely buy music. If I had uploaded the tracks instead, that would be sharing it with thousands of people.

    I’m sure that many of these same bands/labels are paying about the same as they used to pay for radio promotion in the 1990s, but unlike those days, there’s actually something to show for it.

    Two differences back: one, radio play pays out royalties, so there’s the potential to earn money from it; and secondly – crucially – the bands/labels get to choose what tracks are made available. That’s the point that’s not being addressed here: you’re ignoring what the band/label wants and just doing what you want, even if that is really not what the band wants at all. That’s what is disrespectful.

  7. Joseph Kyle November 10, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Of course, one could argue that if a band or an artist puts up their entire record for streaming via Spotify, Bandcamp, etc, they are simply inviting that. I mean, it takes all of 30 seconds to a minute for one to convert a song found on Bandcamp into an mp3. Same with Youtube.

    I agree with you, btw. But the point I’m making is that at this point, complaining about such things is locking the barn door after the horses have been sent to the glue factory. I understand your point, but look at it like this: if David Fricke or Greil Marcus or Everett True or Jessica Hopper or whoever heard your record from a leak/unauthorized digital download, posted one of those songs saying, “this is awesome, check it out!” are you going to complain about what you feel is a disrespect–especially if, well, no one is talking about your music, working your record, or, frankly, giving two shits about it other than you and your band mates?

    Leaks are now not only expected–they’re planned, coordinated. But I think the great mistake from labels is not from how they’ve handled the digital era, but how they’ve dropped the ball. Case in point: Record Store Day. I’ve said–and will continue to say–that if labels put as much care and thought into what they release and how they package their artists’ work for the other 50 weeks in the year, then there wouldn’t be a crisis in the industry. Why are those days successful? Because the care that goes into those releases is tangible, it’s real, and it reminds that music is art and not just commerce.

  8. Princess Stomper November 10, 2011 at 8:52 am

    It’s pretty damned easy to shoplift, too, but that doesn’t mean that we should.

    My worry about legitimising it by saying “Well, at least people are talking about it” is that if everyone is justifying it by blogging about it then there’s pretty much nobody left to buy it. Yes, if Lester bloody Bangs illegally obtained something I’d spent a year or more of my life working on and then distributed it to tens of thousands of people for free without my say-so, I’d be pretty pissed off about it. Sure, there’s a higher number of people aware of it, but without that interference and just letting the publicist (or the artist themself) do the job, a handful of those people would have stumbled across and bought that record rather than just swiping it for free.

    Well, I’m not going to continue to argue about it, and you’re right: this is the argument of 10 years ago. We’re already moving over to cloud-based streaming and MP3s will be a thing of the past soon enough anyway.

  9. Everett True November 10, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Yes, if Lester bloody Bangs illegally obtained something I’d spent a year or more of my life working on and then distributed it to tens of thousands of people for free without my say-so, I’d be pretty pissed off about it.

    Case in point: those Muppets seemed pretty bloody pissed off at the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ leak. The track disappeared within hours. Puppet power!

  10. Joseph Kyle November 10, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Wait, are you talking about sharing an entire album, or are you talking about sharing a single mp3/song? Because I’d never ever justify sharing an entire record w/o artist consent. When it gets into single tracks…that’s where I think the water gets murky. I don’t think most people sharing a song from an entire body of work are doing so out of some sort of malicious intent. That was my argument.

    I do get upset when I see people post, “(insert label name here) is my favorite label, they have the best music, and people need to hear it…blah blah blah….” and then offer a full download of the record! and then have the audacity to get offended when take-down notices come, or labels complain and act (in their eyes) boorish and greedy for not wanting their material shared.

  11. Joseph Kyle November 10, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Honestly, Everett…I don’t think it was the REAL Muppets. Maybe it was taken down not because of the leak, because of the infringement on their good name?

    but then again:

  12. Everett True November 10, 2011 at 9:09 am

    Joseph, you have way too much time on your hands.

  13. Joseph Kyle November 10, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Unfortunately I do…thanks, unemployment!

  14. Darragh November 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Go Arsenal

  15. Princess Stomper November 10, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    I do get upset when I see people post, “(insert label name here) is my favorite label, they have the best music, and people need to hear it…blah blah blah….” and then offer a full download of the record! and then have the audacity to get offended when take-down notices come, or labels complain and act (in their eyes) boorish and greedy for not wanting their material shared.

    This.

    Not sure what the muppets doing a cover version has to do with anything. It was a great cover – though I think I still prefer their Bohemian Rhapsody.

  16. James Flint November 11, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Yes!

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