Do Music Critics Matter Any More?

I almost wept when I wrote that headline.

It was just as hard to type as it was to read and digest the reality of this Christian Science Monitor article.

The article discusses a very important topic that’s obviously near and dear to my heart, and the hearts of a lot of my fellow internet blog scribes who didn’t have the luxury of starting our gig in print and have had to earn our chops online, thus having to struggle to seperate ourselves from the din of music blog hype-machine writing.

I give props, as usual, to Greg Kot and the other long established music journalists for their comments which were for the most part encouraging considering the state of affairs between print and the web.

But now I turn the questioning to you.

Mainly, because this article brings up a very important topic that has been on the discussion table ever since the dawn of the music blog and amateur scribes starting giving print rock writers a reason to look over their shoulder and stay sharp.

When the “music critic significance” question is asked it often leaves out the most important person; the fans.

This big question that so hugely impacts fans goes something like this; how important are music critics in the process of fans finding and learning about music? Do music critics and what they do even matter to you?

The important point that is made supporting the need for quality “professional” music critics is that they provide context to the music and keep the writing from being just a worthless PR hype machine.

I completely agrees with this, since I love history and I always try to understand an artist within the context of their career and what they’re doing on a particular record or at a concert I’m reviewing.

Context is such a huge part of being a music writer and it’s often left out by the amateur writer, but not always on purpose;sometimes it’s laziness because it takes a lot of work to really know the music you’re writing about and then show readers a perspective that is new or challenging.

Writing about music with a sense of historical context in today’s world is also one of the hardest things to maintain in the hyper-speed age of internet music writing. But in my experience taking the time to look at history and provide context to a review always make the writing better.

Hard as it may be, I try to resist the pressure of the hype-machine in order to keep focused on the bigger contextual picture.

But still the truth is that fan (and artists) want things fast and “now,” and to put in the work to bring context to the writing is something that time often doesn’t allow. and in most cases many fans don’t even care to read something that has contextual thought put into it.

Fans often want to be entertained with the writing just as much as they are with the music itself and this is a huge problem, for music culture as a whole when fans just want to be entertained and not educated. And believe me, to educate fans without them knowing it takes skill, and…you guess it; time.

But I ask you again, do you even care? Is it even worth it to educate fans?

I always wonder about this because so often caring about context in music writing gets misconstrued as being geeky or over protective.

Yes, that does happen but what I find is that in a lot of music writing this fear of appearing “geeky” often wins out and in the end the writer has let his or her fear completely remove any sense of context, which unfortunately leaves the reader with a hollowly hyped review with no contextual anchor.

Yes, there needs to be a middle ground. But this middle ground is very difficult to find these days when it seems that consumers just want to escape and let their mind go.

I completely understand, and sure, escaping and being entertained is certainly a crucial part of the music listening experience, live or recorded, but still, even the Space Shuttle needs to come back to earth, right?

What do you think the music journalism world or just entire music listening–live or recorded–world would be like if it was just the artist and the fan with no critics to offer contextual guidance?

I heard it once explained that back when modern music criticism really exploded in the early 70’s there used to be a triangle set up between the artist, fan and critic; and in that triangle of music creation, consumption, criticism that existed a healthy and necessary dialogue between all three parties.

And this is the main reason why I created Live Exhaust. And I also hope that you read this blog and end up leaving with a new perspective on the live shows you attend, and that my words are hopefully entertaining and do somehow make you think differently about the live shows you go to.

And if what I write doesn’t then, well, I’m wasting your and my precious time; and I know that there are plenty of music blogs out there that can waste your time far better than I can.

But seriously…tell me how much you do care about what music critics have to say, or is it more about how they say it and what they’re saying it about?

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