Monday, July 16, 2018

The Difference Between Talking About Music and Reviewing Music

I just received a comment from a reader in regards to one of my recent reviews. It's been quite a while since I've fielded this specific complaint, but there was a time, more or less when I started this blog more than eight years ago, where I received some criticism about the way I review music and audio. Evidently I talk a lot about myself when doing reviews, and my critics feel that this is unprofessional. Reviews are supposed to be straightforward. Is it good? Is it bad? How does it compare to the artist's prior work? What artists should I already like if I'm going to like this one? There is a specific reason to read a music review, and that's to know whether or not an album or an artist is worth your time and money. Right?

I've always had a set of ready answers for these critiques of my reviews, but I don't always get to reply in public. One of my most vocal critics is a very well-known writer and reviewer in the world of high-end audio, and I've heard him complain in print about this lousy new wave of "internet" writers who spend more time talking about themselves than the object they're reviewing. (I've mentioned this story before--I quickly read his latest magazine column and discovered he had used me, myself or I several times in the first few sentences. He also told a story in the same column about how someone had recognized him at a recent rock concert. Wow, how exciting for you!)

Anyway, I don't want to get all grumpy about this. I did write about this once before in the original Vinyl Anachronist column in Perfect Sound Forever almost seven years. If you get me going, I'll wind up repeating everything I said back then. But you can read that column by clicking here.

Let me just give you a few quick reasons why my reviews read the way they do:

1. Music reviews are subjective. A product review can contain many facts and specific points. But when you review music, it touches something intangible deep within you, and that touch is going to feel different to every single person on the planet. I've seen reviews where the writer merely says whether the release is "good" or "bad" or if they "liked it" or "didn't Like it." (My favorite crappy review was from a former colleague who told everyone to play hooky from work the next day to wait in line for the new album from one of his favorite bands. That was the nadir of music criticism in the modern world, in my opinion.)

In other words, I doesn't matter if I like it or I don't like it, because you just might. I happen to think Loverboy's "Working for the Weekend" is the worst song ever, mostly because of the incredibly inane lyrics. It might be your favorite song ever, however, because that song was playing on the radio the first time you met the love of your life. What I try to do is give you a little more detail and context about why I felt this music was good or bad based upon my own life experiences. If you can relate to why I liked something, you might have a better idea of why you might like it, too.

2. It's a blog, FFS. I'm not pretending that this is the leading resource for well-written music reviews on the internet. This is my blog, and blogs are the place where you share your feelings and your hopes and your dreams and whatever the else you want to talk about, including yourself. I do not get paid to write this blog--Google unplugged the money-making machine from this site once it got too popular. I could start a website and put ads on it, which to tell you the truth isn't a bad idea. But I don't make any money from this blog. I do it because I love to write, and writing every day is what keeps me sane.

If someone wanted to hire me to write music reviews and they told me I had to stop talking about myself so much, of course I'd do it. I've written for many magazines and websites and I've worked with many editors and I've also been an editor. I know how this stuff works. In fact, I do get paid to write music reviews for other publications such as Perfect Sound Forever, Part-Time Audiophile and Positive Feedback. And so far, everyone's cool with the way I write. I think it's because they consider my articles to be features or editorials and not so much reviews. I'm cool with that.

3. People like me! They really, really like me! Eh, this is hard for me to say because in my everyday life I'm quiet and introverted and full of self-doubt. But for every person who complains about my writing, there are many, many people who seem to really enjoy it. Remember when I said that writing keeps me sane? People saying they really enjoy my writing makes me something better than sane--it makes me happy. So to the person above who told me I needed an editor to cut out all references to myself, I say to you...

...well, actually I'd love an editor. I'm always going back into this blog and fixing typos and removing commas.

It sounds like my feelings were hurt by this complaint, and maybe they were...just a little bit. But my reason for droning on and on about this is a little more complex. Reviews, quite frankly, are a dime a dozen. I rarely read them anymore, because my tastes have become so specialized that no one else's opinion matters to me anymore.

Oh, but to talk about music! To share really cool music with others! To remember music from the past, and talk about how some new band reminds you of one of your favorite old bands! To tell a funny story from your past that is somehow connected to music!

That's the stuff I want to read about. How about you?

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