Critical of Music Critics…

I was waiting to see when this post would go up on Homedrone. “Music Journalism in a Post-Print Era” was one of the panels at SXSW (which Gordon and I both agree are often more interesting than the bands…). There’s no shortage of opinion out there about what music journalism is and how it’s constantly changing. But leave it to me to add another voice to the noise.


I really love the question of what advantages established media have over all us computer hugging, WordPress fiddling bloggers. So what do they have on us? Well, name brand recognition for one. Rolling Stone has been around for a long while that the name alone carries a huge weight. Who wouldn’t want their band on the cover or between the pages of RS? Does it matter in the long run that the quality of the magazine has been slipping fast over the years? Not when your name appears in the review section apparently. 


I worked for a while at a PR company. And it’s very strange to observe but when given the choice, bands prefer to have their name appear in print rather than online only. Yeah, the best situation would be both print AND online but there’s just something about picking up a physical copy of something and seeing your name in 12-point font on page 14. I admit that while some of the best stuff I’ve ever written only appears online, I tend to be more fond of what gets put into those little Flagpole bins. Forget the fact that more people see my personal writings online. You can’t rip out a blogpost and put it on your wall, getting ink all over your fingers in the process.

But back to the issue (pun not intended) at hand. What do the established mags have that we don’t? Name brand recognition isn’t limited to just the big print boys, you know. There are plenty of music blogs out there that are pretty recognizable in certain circles. I just have to mention 3 Imaginary Girls and stereogum to some people and they automatically know the name, tone, and reliability behind the sites. Note I said “some.” Very few online music journo sites have sunk into the mainstream. The one that pops into my head right now is the often cringe inducing Pitchfork. To me, it’s music criticism for the 4-chan crowd, but I digress. 


How much does the name mean to you? How important is it that you read someone’s work in Paste rather than on Tiny Mix Tapes? A lot of why I read certain music critics is because either a) their tastes line up with mine b) they’ve proven reliable or c) I just like their style. I’ve stolen more from Neil McCormick than I’m ready to admit but hey, the guy makes me laugh and he’s good at what he does. For me, it’s not the medium, it’s the writer and his/her message. 


So why all the blogger hate? Maybe the misconception that all of us are sitting in our parents’ basements, reposting mp3s and press releases without actually doing any reporting? There is plenty of that out there and those blogs give everyone a bad name. But are these blogs like this here one any threat to the establishment?


Christopher Weingarten (Rolling Stone) believes there aren’t enough people that would be interested in some of these writers’ opinions, much less wanting to read something from “a college-age Lester Bangs jerking off all over a Wavves record.” I laughed so hard reading that. Most of us hacks did grow up hearing about the legendary Bangs and his opinions. And there are plenty of bloggers out there that will do nothing but sing the praises of one or two bands no matter how bad the music. At least I have the decency to label my fawning fits. I will completely admit my biases and you can check on ’em via my last.fm account.





But the fact of the matter is that sometimes a blog can just cover certain things better. A one man operation is far more flexible than a corporation and not bound to as many rules. The only guidelines you have are the ones you make. They’re often more passionate about what they cover too. Remember, most of us don’t get paid to do this stuff!  But music journalism isn’t as coagulated and central as it used to be. If you want breaking news, you go to a blog or small outlet, not Rolling Stone. 


I can throw stuff up on the blog faster than many news outlets because AMJ is a three person operation. Videos, photos, writing, it’s all edited by us. And I think that’s where a lot of journalism in general is going. You have to balance speed with accuracy in the real-time web. Information now flows from the bottom up, bolstered by facebook statuses and twitter updates. Basic connections are now just as important as having the emails of band managers. You want to hear from the people, not the product. 


Anyway, this is just one of many random thoughts that I’m having on this. Anybody care to comment on where you think music journalism is headed?



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8 comments

  1. Well I've always championed diversity of consumption as key in any news media, including music. If all you're reading is Pitchfork, of course you're not getting a real slice of what's happening in all music everywhere. I'd say there's certainly some extra knowledge to be gained from reading not only large print outlets and small blogs, but balancing national with local and regional press as well. I think it makes sense also to gather a pool of writers whose opinions you've come to trust as far as taste goes…because that's all it is: taste….

    But what can I say, I'm a little biased đŸ™‚

  2. The biggest advantage blogs have over print is their lack of advertising dollars. SO much of what you read in Rolling Stone, Spin, etc. (even Pitchfork) is influenced by advertising money. And if you write a bad review, or are “disrespectful” towards an artist on a record company who advertises with your publication, be prepared for a phone call from the advertiser. Hell, even Lester himself was banned from writing for Rolling Stone in the late 60's for his “disrespect towards artists.”

    Same goes for management and publicists. If you don't promote a band the way you want them to, be prepared for a phone call threatening to deny you access to the “big names” on their roster.

    As a blog, you're insulated from this more than most places. You actually have the freedom to write, “this band is just a hack Animal Collective ripoff,” without negative financial repercussions.

    Anyway, if there's a problem with music writing today, it's the lack of imagination and the inherent self-censorship/conservative nature of music criticism in general (don't want to look uncool). My favorite thing about AMJ is your willingness to risk looking uncool. It's refreshing.

    But the biggest problem in music writing today is I don't see any music writers out there who love writing anywhere near as much as they love music. Lester Bangs, Paul Morley, Greil Marcus, Camden Joy, and others are/were great writers period, irrespective of their subject matter. Their best work contained imagination, poetry, wit, passion, and was a joy to read. Sadly, there's not much of that to be found anywhere. Print or internet.

  3. The photo you have there was taken from the 2008 Summer Olympics.

  4. Bloggerrrrrr powerrrrrr! And I agree with Scott 100%, the best thing about blogging is the lack of money-related censorship and pressure. We don't owe anybody anything, we have the freedom to call things their right names.

  5. Anonymous · · Reply

    You're seriously misguided in thinking the '4-chan crowd' gives a fuck what Pitchfork thinks.

  6. Anonymous · · Reply

    Scott, Lester Bangs wasn't cut from Rolling Stone until the early-mid '70's.

  7. From Wiki: “In 1973, Jann Wenner fired Bangs from Rolling Stone, a negative review of Canned Heat being the final event.”

    Which reminds me of another thing about blogs v. print. No fact-checkers on the internet.

    my bad.

  8. Anonymous · · Reply

    music journalism is headed to the top of the charts because you will lead us there in the name of Sammy and ChiChi

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