Is there a point to music journalism (and are we all just failed musicians?) – Part 1: No (and yes)

Part 2 will follow at a later date and will argue the yes (and no) side. I split this as it’s fairly long and both parts at once would guarantee no one reading to the end. Incidentally, if it is a bit on the TL;DR side, feel free to skip to the bottom for the conclusion.

For a long time I thought music journalism was essentially useless. I speak here in a review sense; material like interviews had and still has a place in my heart and I believe a firm place in the musical sphere in general. However, the constant popping up of new websites and magazines featuring favourable reviews of music I thought was dire while insulting music I thought was wonderful made we question the whole thing.

I’m focussing on “no” first, mainly to get the negatives out the way, and because I also feel like a good old fashioned moan. Please note I’m also going to make a positive argument in the next post on the subject before anyone gets their knickers in a twist.

NO

Visual representation of the word
Visual representation of the word “no”
(Credit: Dark Horse Comics)

The arguments for no are vast. There are so many online metal blogs/zines/videos that to make yourself heard above the rabble you need a unique selling point, a well known musician writing for you for example. Do we really need more websites in this oversaturated market? I include this website in this.

morethanafew

Perhaps the reason there are so many websites is because we’ve actually failed at our passion. Failed is perhaps a strong word, not yet succeeded is better. We’ve not yet succeeded at our passion. I speak of course about music. I personally know many people who write for various websites (once again, oversaturation right there), most if not all of them are musicians who posses various degrees of skill on their instrument of choice, myself included as before.

Have you heard the quote “those who can, do, those who can’t, teach?” It applies in this situation. Our musical careers aren’t going anywhere at moment. We’d love to be on the mainstage of a festival or playing in a sweaty club (or playing a solo on a mountain with pyro) but we aren’t. To replace this musical void we instead turn to the written word to write about music. Doing this allows us to get special access to albums, get guest lists to gigs and get backstage to interview bands.

Sitting backstage surrounded by instruments and musicians with our pass round our necks or stuck to our clothes we feel part of it all. Not just another guy watching a band, but a part of the whole music industry.

Meet my bookmark
meet my bookmark

Of course this doesn’t apply to everyone. Some people have no musical aspirations whatsoever, others have been there, done that and got the hell out. For the most part though, it seems we all wish we were on the stage playing rather than at home writing about it.

Music journalism then is maybe just our creative vessel, written by us largely for us to stop us going mental in whatever 9-5 jobs we’re holding or whatever university course we’re studying.  Essentially the text form of a small town classic rock cover band.

The setlist for said bands can be found on the back of any Fathers Day compilation CD
The setlist for said bands can be found on the back of any Fathers Day compilation CD

Additionally, reviews are but one person’s opinion. My opinion on a band might differ hugely from my friends opinion, you may think the latest album by a band is their greatest to date while other fans think it’s the worst thing they’ve ever released.

Why bother reading one persons opinion when you can discover it for yourself. With Spotify and downloading (legal! Though that’s a rant for another day) you can be well on your way to making your own mind up in the time it takes to find and read a review.

Speaking from a metal view point, just look at how many subgenres we have at our disposal. With sounds varying to such a degree ranging from comedy tinged medieval songs, brutal death metal, traditional metal to upbeat power metal etc, the odds are there’s going to be something you don’t like, something you think sounds like utter dog shit.

I was going to put in a picture of the list but it was too big, have the link instead.

It’s completely fair, and expected, that someone wouldn’t like every sort of metal available. What is unfair though is that people are reviewing every sort of metal available. Even the most professional reviewer can’t control his musical taste, sure they can see it from another point of view but they can’t achieve depth.

They may miss the joke, they may have had bad experiences with the band (bad support show perhaps), they may hate death metal, they may love a rival band. Either way, they cannot hope to commit to a fair and accurate review. They can only give their opinion.

unnecessary image, even less necessary caption
unnecessary image, even less necessary caption

That is the most important thing – opinion. Why then do we hold certain opinions higher than others, because they write well? Because they’re published in a magazine?  That merely shows they passed the interview, it doesn’t make them an authority.

To conclude the NO argument. There is no point in music reviews, they are just outlets for guys who haven’t achieved their musical dreams yet. Being influenced not to buy an album because of a review is insanity, though luckily we’re only humans and as humans we are curious. When we see an album get destroyed by the press and hailed as awful, you can be sure we’re going to listen to that one before we listen to the highly rated stuff. People should make their own opinions instead of reading some strangers point of view, and music based features should use the review space to feature interviews with bands to promote new music instead of simply reviewing them.

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