The Collapse Board interview | Darren Levin (FasterLouder, Mess+Noise)
By Jake Cleland
[Darren Levin, former editor of highly respected Aus music website Mess+Noise, is now the editor-in-chief of not-so highly respected Aus music website FasterLouder (and Mess+Noise). Jake Cleland asks some of the questions that need to be asked. See also: You know it’s really fucking coming to something when Faster Louder of all places attempts to draw a line in the sand.]
In a previous email you told me that you’re currently reviewing the contributor model [at FasterLouder]. Could you elaborate on the directions that discussion is taking and some of the options you’re exploring?
I can’t because we’re still in the process of reviewing it! I do, however, envisage a structure that runs the gamut from entry-level writers to some of the more established critics in the country, and all various points in between.
In 2009, [former Faster Louder QLD editor] Shan Welham said in an interview that “Development of talent is something that FL should look to do much more of”. With a contributor base of something like 3,000 it must be obscenely difficult, if not impossible, to give proper feedback to every writer, so how do you go about developing your writers’ skills? What do you see as FasterLouder’s obligation with regards to fostering new talent?
There’s a simple solution to this, really: We’re culling contributors. I’m used to working with a contributor model of about 20-30 at Mess+Noise, and while FL has a far broader readership, I really believe we can subsist on a much smaller model. We have three full-time editors at FL, all very capable of giving one-on-one advice to writers. We’ve centralised the system, so once everything is functioning properly, every word will flow through us. I think FL has an obligation to our readers first and foremost. Developing the next generation of writers is important to me personally, but never at the expense of quality.
When I read that you’re refocusing the site towards more thoughtful criticism, my first thought was “Oh, like Mess+Noise!” which over the past few years has maintained a standard of thoughtful criticism beyond much of the mainstream Australian music press (The Vine being an equal and notable exception.) With your mission to source more thoughtful pieces for FasterLouder, what will distinguish it from its sister site?
The distinction is quite obvious in my mind: Mess+Noise is focused solely on niche local coverage (and it’ll get more niche as the year progresses). FL is much broader, covering international and local acts, but always with a uniquely Australian perspective. It’s the quality control aspect, the critical edge and the lateral thinking that I’m bringing across from Mess+Noise.
Your announcement post has, at the time of writing, 1,683 views, a fraction of the traffic of even the most morsel-y Soundwave announcements. Isn’t that indicative that the readership at large doesn’t give a shit about all this journalism nonsense as long as you’re serving tour updates?
That piece has had about 2,500 views and 146 comments at this moment in time, so that’s very encouraging to me. I’m under no illusions that these pieces will ever topple Soundwave announcements . It’s what we put around the festival announcements that’s key. Also, we’re trying to change the editorial culture and bring in new readers, and that’s a gradual thing. People don’t expect this stuff from FL at present, but I’m confident in time they will.
In my experience young writers are rarely scouted or picked up because their work was published on a popular platform, they have to push themselves onto the attention spans of editors, so when I was writing for street press I might as well have been writing for my blog, in a way which I wanted to write, for all the good it did me attention-wise. What do you actually think is the value of exposure for a fledgling music critic? In other words, why should people write for FasterLouder when they’re accumulating clips when they could just start a tumblr instead? Is there a single good editor who actually cares where a piece was published as much as they care about the quality of the writing?
It’s a good point. I couldn’t care less about past writing experience when I hear from a young writer. I’m not even sure why they even bother sending me a resume. I’m looking for people who write well – that’s all. Writing for FasterLouder shouldn’t be about just accumulating clips. It’s an opportunity to write for a large, highly engaged audience that’s built and evolved over eight-and-a-half years, and also learn from an experienced editorial team. Starting a Tumblr is a great way to work on your chops, but you really can’t compare.
What do you think is the role that music criticism plays at a time when access to music is ubiquitous, when bands are streaming their albums on BandCamp and Spotify and recommendation engines like Hype Machine and mp3 blogs have become so popular as to make consumer guide criticism totally superfluous? What do you think an album review should do?
I think it plays more of an important role than ever. It’s such a culture of excess, you need a voice that cuts through. A good review should provide another layer of understanding to the record. A good review should give a record context. A good review should be honest. A good review should be well-written and not boring. A good review should work on its own as a piece of art . A good review should provoke and question. A good review should never be a consumer guide.
Why are most people who end up writing about music so fucking boring?
Maybe because they’re forced to write about so much boring music?