What's the point of music criticism / record reviews in 2018?


#1

Genuinely curious. Especially as I’ve been invited to talk about the future of music journalism in Belfast next Monday at the Biggest Weekend Fringe, and I’m not totally sure - given a lot of recent events - that I believe in a lot of what Drowned in Sound does any more. I’m keen to evolve.

“In a world of hot takes, criticism is cold, slow and distant.” - Thought this was a really interesting read

http://www.wired.co.uk/article/childish-gambino-lyn-gardner-internet-criticism


What Next for DiS?
#2

I think music criticism is still stuck a bit in the mode of explaining why you should/shouldn’t listen to a thing when the criticism of other media has moved on to working on the assumption that you have consumed the media and are looking to explore it further/have it illuminated for you.

There’s something very consumer driven about an album review that hasn’t caught up with the way people listen to music these days.


#3

dunno, should probably go do something else really


#4

Agree with this. Also the ability to sample works for yourself is a big factor: I would read reviews because I didn’t have £13 to buy an album without knowing whether it would be something I’m interested in. Now I can look them up on Spotify, Bandcamp or YouTube and listen for myself.


#5

Couple of things really, firstly the fact that there’s so much music out there, released on so many mediums I think just having a rough idea of where to start is what drew me to music communities, forums and reviews. As time’s passed I’ve generally found I’ve been less able to spend time researching new music so recommendations from trusted sources, has been a key part of keeping up with new releases and finding things I might be interested in.

Well written reviews can often help me check out things I might not do otherwise and also give me an idea of what to expect on a established bands new record. I have, possibly a slightly simplistic take on reviewing because the central point for me has always been what does the album actually sound like, or what sounds are present on the album followed by what emotions does it evoke.


#6

I agree that people don’t read reviews now. On Fridays i always spend a few hours listening to the new releases. I can get a feel for a record quicker than i can read a review of it. It annoys me that i choose to do that, as someone who used to consume quite a lot of longform writing, but it is what it is.

I wonder if the future for online reviews might be some form of reader-inclusive shortform reviews, sort of voxpops. People digest information in much smaller quantities and care much more about their own opinions than anyone elses.

If there’s a record i can’t stream i’ll look at it on AotY for quick aggregated snippets from a number of good sources (see example below). It would be good if there was some way to properly weight user reviews by genuine quality and insight instead of how many idiots ‘like’ something or give it a thumbs-up.


#7

dunno tbh mate. i mainly use review feeds to find out what’s been released that week but generally don’t bother reading the actual reviews. also find the culture of people on youtube/podcasts having to tell people why stuff is good to be quite annoying. :man_shrugging:


#8

Yes, very much this.


#9

Exactly. Used to be that you’d buy something off the back of a review, now I read a review off the back of having listened to something but the actual content hasn’t really reacted to that shift.


#10

This is why Genius is so great, you can properly absorb yourself in a work that’s resonated with you


#11

I think there’s always a place for it, but less so along the lines of “here’s why you should buy this” and more along the lines of pieces that go more in-depth into the wider context of a release (though I do sometimes feel that hot takes on something’s wider significance sometimes overshadow talking about the thing as music) and that allow for the music to be used as a jumping-off point for personal interpretations / stories (the Fangasm pieces here do that really well).

I definitely think the Internet needs outlets that are going to talk about independent music. Yes, we can try-before-we-buy with anything, but sifting through everything that’s out there is tough and it’s important to have “gatekeepers” (for want of a better word) that aren’t corporate / algorithms whose aim is to keep you consistently using their service that pays musicians two-sevenths of a penny per stream. Bandcamp Daily does this quite well, I believe, keeping people on who (I understand) sift through and highlight what they like out of the massive collection of music on there.


#12

Yeah, I think Genius itself is really hit and miss but the basic premise of it offers something that reviews by good writers should be able to offer better than user contributed stuff.


#13

Yeah and if anything that’s why I like reading the new releases posts on this forum so much.


#14

I think music journalism still has an important role today with regards to curation, with the amount of new releases each week and everybody now having access to everything I find it useful to have a few trusted reviewers/sites to help guide me.


#15

This is exactly what I wanted to say, and you said it probably better than I could.

Reviewing releases is their job, and they are much more likely than I am to be aware of everything that’s emerging. If the reviewer is not a “trusted source”, i.e. I don’t really know their tastes, I would still do some kind of pre-listening before buying, If I know that the reviewer’s tastes match my own fairly well I could easily buy it on spec. If it’s a review of a classical work then pre-listening is hardly necessary; most likely I’ll already be familiar with the music, and I am mainly wanting to know the reviewer’s opinion on how well it’s played and recorded.

I actually don’t think the role of the critic, whether it be music, literary or film, has changed all that much over time. The object of the exercise is still to watch/listen to/read a product and give your opinions to help other people make decisions, thereby possibly saving them time and money - time and money that they can then spend on other things they enjoy more. Critics can and do get it wrong on occasion, but it’s still better than having no information at all.


#16

Yeah there’s way too much music being released to actually listen to it all, I still like some kind of guide as to what might be interesting.

Then again I rarely read an online review in full, I think most of them tend to be too long. Ya don’t need to write 2000 words about a shitty indie rock record.


#17

This for me is the really key thing that’s changed.

Back when there were about 20-50 consistent voices who were working full-time across the music press that you could follow, it was much easier to find 1 or 2 people whose tastes you either trusted or understood. Nowadays I don’t think I even really know the tastes of most of the 30 or so people who contribute to DiS, so how can any casual reader?

Drowned in Sound was always meant to be a platform for people, rather than be a hivemind or speak with one voice. I never tell people what to write or think, and a lot of the time this means a nasty or ill-judged review ends up causing me a lot of shit, even if it’s something I disagree with. I also find that a lot of my favourite records either don’t get good reviews or don’t get covered (and I should probably pick up the slack but I often don’t hear the new release until weeks after it’s out… and that probably shouldn’t matter!).

Definitely feels like being part of a conversation, rather than driving it, is what’s happened to music journalism. Whereas with music criticism, I fear far too much of it has turned into “willy waving” and yes/NO, 10s or 0s, LOVE or BURN-IT-WITH-FIRE!!! And I don’t think that in a time of such abundance that this makes sense.


#18

To be honest I am much more likely to take notice of a printed word review than in one I find online, That’s probably because there are fewer of the former; I read the reviews in certain newspaper magazine sections regularly, and so I get to know how much credence I can put in a particular review.

The thing about online is that it’s much easier for the dialogue to be two-way. Rather than online reviews I prefer to take part in discussions where someone says “the latest Steven Wilson album is rubbish” and I can ask “What did you not like about it?” and they can tell me.


#19

I’m glad you’ve identified that the over-exaggerated sycophantism is as much a problem as cartoonish hatred where this is concerned. It really irks me how many artists (and it’s usually the ones who are already massive anyway) are venerated like gods.


#20

Realised that I don’t really care about critics’ opinions and would rather just come to my own conclusions. Find the smug “this is the definitive verdict on this” tone of most extremely off putting, especially when it jars with my own experience of an album.