|"It will most likely sound better on your computer than on a cassette anyway."|
Here are a few examples of the articles irritating me in the last few months: Has Music Criticism Degenerated into Lifestyle Reporting? This article makes some valid points, but of course deeper forms of criticism still exist--it's what I try to nurture with this blog, and there are many other blogs that continue to write with both grace and precision: Decoder, Tome to the Weather Machine, and Guide Me Little Tape are three of my favorites, and there are many more. The economic reality is that in-depth writing about relatively obscure music doesn't sell advertising or papers or whatever, so it's retreated to a largely volunteer community of deeper writers and readers. Besides, it seems obvious that the broader issues in the article permeate so much more than music journalism that narrowing the focus to produce an article seems mostly useless. The same goes for The Pernicious Rise of Poptimism, which serves mostly as an extension of the "Lifestyle Reporting" piece, although it proposes that mainstream music journalism has become more pedestrian than coverage of other forms of art/culture. Perhaps that's marginally true, but again, it's an issue of profit--you can cover a new restaurant or a new weird-ish movie, and your advertisers will still hang on.
The Village Voice probably runs these kinds of things with tongue firmly in cheek, but it's still disappointing to read tripe like "Stop Using These Cliches When Writing About Music." I'm sure this sort of thing is a fun way to get your kicks when P4K puts your resume in the trash, but seriously. "Growers" exist, for example--that ridiculous rule tells me more about the shallow and inflexible listening habits of the article's author than anything about the nature of music. "Weak points" exist--they're describing points along the timeline of the music, not sportsball scores. This stuff seemed so lame that I couldn't imagine anyone taking it seriously, yet it floated around the social media sharing circle for a while, and we're all the poorer for whatever conversations it started on such shaky ground.
It's this really obnoxious piece that ran earlier today on The Key that has finally motivated me to write about these issues, though: here we find some more inflexible rules for reviewers, including the notion that requesting physical media for reviews is a huge faux pas. Complete with click-bait headline, "here's what blah blah blah did," I'm frankly a little bewildered by this article. Maybe things are wildly different on the Philly scene, or maybe popular/local-focus coverage has is own more digital needs, but among all of the other review writers I know around the country, it's absolutely still common to work from physical media whenever possible. I'm totally the opposite of this article's author in that I rarely listen to mp3s, promo or otherwise--they sound terrible, and I care about the entirety of the experience an artist or label is trying to create through packaging, liner notes, mastering for particular media formats, etc. Reviewing a download of a cassette/CD/record feels like trying to review a sit-down restaurant with a takeout order. Bringing up "j-school ethics" in this context is alarming, too, if you'd hope that journalists are still at least pretending to do any kind of research. But I suppose that's no different than how investigative journalism has gradually been supplanted with the reading of government and corporate press releases almost verbatim as "news."
And it's terribly ironic in the specific case of this article's author: The Key is a subsidiary of WXPN radio in Philly edited by Mr. Vettese, who is also a DJ there and runs their social media. Like most radio stations, WXPN's submission policy requests physical copies--two copies, in fact! Here's the relevant info if you don't feel like clicking on the link above:
"Interested in Submitting Music for Airplay?Please send TWO compact discs (no cassettes or tapes, please) to:Given that, it seems likely that Vettese is rarely troubled by the lack of physical copies for review, at least when it comes to CDs (if he were so inclined, of course). And who spends more time contemplating a given recording--a radio DJ scanning for a song or two for airplay while making sure there are no FCC-dirty words, or a reviewer trying to articulate the deeper attributes of a recording? The preference for downloads speaks to the writing style of The Key, too: the pieces read like 1-sheet and press release materials warmed up with a bit of personal hype. It's useful in its way, but subject depth is obviously secondary to width. Fundamentally, it's a completely different kind of resource than "review blogs," with a local/regional emphasis and more of a news/show-oriented focus, in contrast to the largely format-centric and avant-garde-leaning review/interview blog the article criticizes. It seems pretty elementary that such different kinds of e-publications might have different needs--instead of proposing that the rules for one publication should apply to all, why not let everybody work the way that's most sensible for their own unique situation? It's whatever-year-it-is, after all.
We regret that, due to the large volume of material we receive, we cannot confirm the receipt or the airplay of unsolicited material."
I didn't know the fellow who runs the Raised by Gypsies blog before today, but using him as an example of bad behavior is totally out of line. His reviews are shorter and less in-depth than mine, but there is a certain advantage to that approach when he's covering tiny runs of cassettes that are likely to sell out by the time a fellow like me is finished ruminating. Considering that he's published an insane 110 reviews already in the month of July, which is only halfway done, it's inconceivable to think of this blog as some kind of get-freebies scam. Jesus. Dude is flying solo and working hard.
My ultimate point in bringing all of this up is simple: it's all about common sense. If you're a reviewer and you don't like the way other people write, do it your own way. If it resonates with folks, you'll have a happy audience. If you're an artist/label, check out the previous work of the press folks you contact or who contact you, and if you like it, send them what they need to do their work. If you don't like it, don't. Readers, look for folks whose reviews you trust, whose descriptions are accurate, thorough, researched, and compliment your tastes (or challenge you in a way that feels good). Then keep listening and reading and supporting. All of this seems painfully obvious to me, but in case it's not, cheers, and thanks for reading.