With hundreds of thousands of records coming out every year, through the major labels, indies, and just online, reviewing everything is simply impossible. Even reviewing everything that’s good is impossible. So why bother covering bad records? If we eliminate reviewing the crap, then really what is left is a recommendation process, a creation of taste instead of a comprehensive covering of everything out there.
That kind of curating has a downside, though – many music writers are retreating to covering microclimates of the musical world. And if you can’t move beyond very small boundaries, can you really be called a musical critic?
Tom Moon summed it up: “We haven’t talked about criticism yet, because it doesn’t exist anymore. My role models were curious people. What I read online is not curiosity, but knowledge of their own genre.”
When writers focus only on their own narrow band of music, what happens? Sometimes, they get painfully self referential – using only other bands as a reference point to describe what the subject sounds like. Not only does this obscure the writing, it also alienates a lot of readers – the casual listener who might not know the other bands you’re discussing has no hope of being interested in the subject of the article, and often will wander off to something more penetrable.
So perhaps what music criticism needs is a balance between the knowledgeable curator, and the curious listener – someone who has enough knowledge to speak well about the music they’re describing, but also isn’t stuck in just one genre so that the process of discovery stops.
How many people can really do that, though?
Mike Riggs had the harshest, and perhaps most accurate view of the future: “It will come with a massive shedding of music journalists, because many of us are not worth what we make.”
Ouch. As an aspiring music journalist, that one stings. But I can’t not acknowledge its veracity. For all my time and experience in the field, there are very few of my fellow writers who I actually follow…because there are very few whose writing I admire. It has less to do with point or view or chosen genre, but rather the quality of work that’s being broadcast, and how well I can engage with the writers opinions, whether I agree with them or not.