Thursday, 30 September 2010

Why Music Bloggers Have A Role As Critics

About ten days ago we created a minor storm in a miniature tea cup. Having posted a blog that contained a gig review and critique of a new and upcoming pop singer, we concluded that she had good songs, a great voice but at this particular show didn’t quite get to our emotional core. The blog went on to suggest that this was like much modern pop music. We considered the piece to be a reasonably balanced, honest and fairly positive reflection of a satisfactorily and pleasing show but nothing more.

Soon after the blog was uploaded we received a number of somewhat hilarious insults from an anonymous fan on the comments section of the blog. This was followed by the manager of the artist tweeting “Blogs that don't have nice things to say don't say them at all. What is the point?” A little while later the artist herself put a quote from Jay Z on her blog. “I’m like, fuck critics, you can kiss my whole ass hole if you don’t like ma lyrics you can press fast forwarrrrd.” We’re not sure if these comments were aimed at this blog, but irrespective of our suspicion that they were, they raise an interesting question. First should music bloggers have a role as critics, and secondly what is the value of music criticism in general?

Our view is very much that in our new society bloggers do have a role to play. Amateur journalism may often have its downfalls – the lack of quality in the writing, the poor editing and production for example, but as in any medium, including professional journalism, there’s some great stuff, some okay stuff and some terrible stuff.

Some people (as typified by the “What’s the point,” question above) suggest that the music bloggers role is only to promote music that they like. There are many great (and some not so great) blogs out there that simply do just this. They are a valuable and vibrant resource for music fans around the world.

However there are good reasons why this blog does not fully adopt this approach. Although virtually all new songs we post (in streaming / download or video form) we love, we also attend many gigs and listen to many albums – we’re incredibly passionate these things. Because of our passion we like to communicate to our readership our thoughts, feelings and analysis of some of these shows and records. We spend a huge amount of cash on travelling to gigs, gig tickets, records and CD’s and the reality is that not every single show and not every single album purchased will be superb. Sometimes as a fan we can feel a little let down or just non-plussed.

A music critic or bloggers role is to act as a sieve – shaking the good out from the average, to make it easier for the public to make decisions about purchasing or consumption. Since the online revolution there is so much music to be discovered it’s easy to become lost. A trusted critic or blogger can guide you, pointing you in the direction of good stuff, warning you of the bad.

What is good and bad is a matter of taste – it’s always a difficult one to call. But if a blogger or critic has a depth knowledge of their subject, plenty of experience of it, is honest and is prepared to be as objective as they can (everyone will always have some degree of bias, no matter how hard they try to be objective) then their critiques can often be trusted. Of course some bloggers may be self-proclaimed experts and shouldn’t be making such claims, but the truth will out and respect and readership will soon be lost for such blogs.

Not many people like to receive or read negative feedback about themselves, but in any genre, from cinema, to art, to music, critics and bloggers are needed to help guide the public to what they believe to be positive or negative. We live in a country that values freedom of speech. If the point of blogs is only to say nice things, then that very right may as well be consigned to the dustbin.



The divide being bloggers and "real" journalists is narrowing by the minute but I think the problems you encountered are more filed under "feeding the troll". I've had a few unsavoury comments on my blog over the years and I tend to leave them to fester in their own bile rather than respond to unconstructive criticism. I don't think there's any need to defend yourself in this case at all.

- saamFG

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Fair comment Saam.

I actually quite enjoyed responding to the comments and feeding the troll. When I read the comments back now it makes me laugh, it's almost like a comedy routine.

As you say the line between bloggers and real journalists is dividing - certainly in the way readers are consuming content.

Anonymous said...

If you work in an industry where you are selling a product that can only be judged through qualitative opinion, reviews are necessary to help form a weight of opinion.

If 9 out of 10 reviews say an album is shocking it probably is.

The best reviews also entertain and form a debate.

Laurence said...

A good post.

As a company we represent artists, and in this capacity we do feel the need to protect them to some degree, however I think negative comments are in many cases valid - it is only a personal opinion after all. Sometimes however you do read them and wonder if there is more to them than simply an unbiased bona fide opinion.

Either way, in 99% of the cases we'd allow the comments and ask the artists if they'd like to respond. If someone has taken the time to comment - if it is thought out - then why not allow it.

We also run a blog where we post about our artists, as well as totally non related acts that we feel people need to know about and if someone takes the time to post, worst case scenario is that your message is getting across.


Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Thanks for the comment Laurence. I can totally understand the need for companies representing artists to protect them to a certain extent – you need to protect your own, if I was working in that environment I am sure I would be doing the same – that’s part of your job to do so.

Also like you I have also read reviews / comments about artists and wondered if there was an underlying agenda – either positive or negative. It’s shameful if a journalist reviews an artist and writes negative criticism due to some tit for tat relationship that the journalist (or his / her publication) has developed with that artist. Conversely it’s a little underhand if blogs that promote artists and music and don’t declare that they have a self interest in a band that they are featuring on the blog (be it in the role of a management company, a record label or a promoter). Likewise comments on blogs (especially anonymous ones) should always be treated with caution – unfortunately the internet is a dangerous place sometimes, and one poorly thought out comment can be quite damaging.

It’s always difficult to write a review – we’re all going to have certain prejudices and opinions – I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as a 100% unbiased opinion. However this is maybe one of the fundamental differences between ‘fan journalism’ such as blogs like Breaking More Waves and professional journalism. When I go to a gig or review an album it’s usually as a fan – an enthusiastic member of the general public. Whilst I do receive guest list places for some gigs, festivals and receive cd’s to review from PR companies, in the main I am a paying punter who actually wants to go and see the band I’m reviewing with no underlying agenda except to gain some sort of pleasure from the gig or record – it’s very rare that I go to a gig with negative expectations. A professional reviewer may be required as part of their work to review artists that they already have a biased negative opinion about. So if I post a negative review it’s usually from a fans perspective – I wanted to give them a great review, but sometimes come away feeling disappointed. This I hope gives my reviews (however poorly written) a decent sense of honesty, perspective and integrity. That is all I can do, and this is one reason why I think blogs that carry constructive criticism (or hell, even just criticism) need to be valued as much as the ones that only post positive thoughts. It’s that level of honesty that can be valued and used by readers to help form their own opinions.

Matt Merritt said...

Hey Robin,

I've actually recently had much the same thing. The guitarist from a band took exception to the review one of our writers put together and left a snide and rather childish comment... I think growing a thick skin is rather imperative if an artist wants success. If Springsteen had listened to early reviews, he'd never have come close to writing his biggest hits!

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Yep. The words "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me," are probably apt.

It all come back to the fact that ultimately it's just an opinion, and not everyone will see things the same way. Nobody likes negative feedback, but there's not 1 band / artist / magazine / blog in the world that everyone likes. Except this one of course :)

Anonymous said...

What you need to realise is that you are not big, not clever and that nobody gives a flying fuck about your crumby little blog.

Dave said...

A very gracious and intelligent response Robin. Wonder if you ever got any thanks for all your A+ positive coverage of Spark?

My favourite blogs are the independent / fan type blogs. There are too many blogs these days that are in bed with record labels / management and lose perspective in their commentary.