Friday, April 06, 2007

In a Million Pieces

Brought up in a thread on the SOMB, as well as an interview with John Vanderslice, the common topic is: does written criticism still matter in a time of online "consumer journalists" (aka, bloggers)? I say yes, but to an extent.

If anything, the abundance of bloggers throws way more opinions into the mix. Depending on your viewpoint, this can be a good thing and/or a bad thing. Sure, certain records are even more inescapable when print journalists and bloggers praise the same stuff. For example, how many times do you want to read about how Johnny Marr joined Modest Mouse? Moreover, how many times do you want to read a glowing review of the Arcade Fire's Neon Bible?

Even in this day, a music critic at The New York Times or Rolling Stone still has plenty of precedence over bloggers. Not a lot of bloggers have written books, been interviewed in documentaries or on national TV shows, and/or have done interviews with some of the most popular artists of the time. But what defines credibility is changing. A blogger recognizing the greatness of some act months before anybody else covers the act is a point of pride. It lends a lot of credibility to him or her, especially when the blogger is consistently on-the-ball.

In the writer's case, a key difference is between the stuff you bought/downloaded for pleasure versus the music you've been instructed to write about. In my case, the reviews I write for Punk Planet and the stuff I write about on this blog are often different. At Punk Planet, I have deadlines, word counts, and an expectation to review everything I'm sent. Here, I have no deadlines, word counts, and can write about whatever I want to write about. Both situations have their pros and cons, but the good outweighs the bad in both situations. Hence why I keep at them.

Keep in mind, I have never made any money from my writing about music, film, books, et al. Making money was not the reason why I started writing a book, a blog and write-ups for Punk Planet, but I'm not adamantly opposed to receiving compensation. The point is, where I'm coming from (a writer who likes to blog and work on a book in my free time) is different than where a journalist is coming from (a writer who makes his/her living wage by writing and/or editing). The results can vary. I'm not saying one trumps the other, but there is a difference.

The interesting thing these days is what constitutes an informed opinion. From what I've seen, it's very blurry. Does the opinion of a respected journalist who wrote a 400-word review of the Arcade Fire's Neon Bible matter as much as a respected MP3 blogger writing less than fifty words on Neon Bible along with posting some MP3s from the album? To me, it depends on who's saying what and what's being said. Eric at Can You See the Sunset? might convince me to check out Andrew Bird's new album because of what he wrote about it. Greg Kot at the Chicago Tribune and Rolling Stone might convince me to check out more music by the girl groups that influenced the Pipettes.

In both cases with Eric and Greg, I've read them for a while. I know their tastes are closer to my tastes than the writers at say, Pitchfork Media. Eric's and Greg's approaches to discussing music in written form are different, but both provide me with options. Though it can be difficult to know what I will really like versus what I might kinda like, I'm glad there are different approaches.

Back before I ever knew of fanzines, I thought the music reviews in Rolling Stone, Trouser Press, the Houston Chronicle, music books, and specials on MTV and VH1 were "the word." All these years later, I'm so pleased to know they aren't the only "word"; they just give a glimpse. Blogs are very helpful to me, but so are columns by music writers I trust and respect.

Though there is a mentality to piss all over bloggers by certain people coming from the pre-blogger media angle ("Bloggers, raise your standards!" went a line on Pitchfork a few months back), I'm not choosing sides. I like the fact that MP3 bloggers have been able to exist without the threats of litigation by traditional music critics. Unlike the continuing shooting-in-the-foot by the RIAA with suing people who download music, MP3 bloggers aren't being chased down and put into a half-nelson hold.

The big picture is that people still care about music. We still talk about it and listen to it. How we handle the music itself is debatable (do you prefer holding a record in your hands or pulling it up in your iTunes library?), but music hasn't become as disposable as certain people have previously thought. Who knows if the traditional music critic will vanish one day. I doubt it. There's always a need for somebody to tell the difference between the meat and the fat for a large reader base.


Random Kath said...

Oddly, I find it a lot harder to find out about new music now than it was ten years ago. Everything is SO fragmented and splintered into seemingly hundreds of sub-genres, that it is really hard to know where to find voices that will resonate with me without lots and lots of digging.

And, I don't know whether is it a function of age or who I am, but I just don't have the time or inclination to do that digging as much anymore. I don't want to have to surf the internet for hours on end . . . and I certainly don't hear much on the radio.

For me, more choices means less of an ability to find anything I like. I guess that it's just my own problem . . . in some ways, the technological revolution is passing me by . . .

Eric said...

Well said Mr. Grubbs. Thanks for the kind words as well.

For me at least, its not harder for me to find new music, but its harder for me to determine what is good, bad, and great. There is a TON of mediocre music being made, but there is also a ton of great music being made.

I rarely read music reviews from major publications anymore. There are a few bloggers that I read regularly and then NPR, Punk Planet, sometimes AP. YOu just gotta search for it.

Zine-O-Phonic said...

I have to say that I use itunes quite a bit to dig for stuff. Looking at "customers who bought this, also bought this", I've found at least 5 records over the last year that I may not have heard about anywhere else. I specifically do that to find good electronic music.

On my blog, I try not to write to strong with an opinion, but give some description of what the music sounds like. I do this because:

1. I'm not that great of a writer
2. I hate reading reviews that mislead me into thinking something is good.

I try to leave as much of the hype out as possible.

Py Korry said...

I agree with Random Kath about the musical landscape being splintered. It's very difficult to find new music that is more than "just okay" when hunting online.

My tastes trend toward pop/rock/ and some alt rock, so much of what I hear when sampling music online isn't all that impressive (to me, anyway).

For example, with all the hype centered on Arcade Fire, I was ready to hear something that would really blow me away. But when that didn't happen, and I felt both musically "out of it" and like I was sucker-punched into buying the mp3s.