The role of the music critic
As musical weirdo extraordinaire Frank Zappa said “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Then again he called his kid Moon Unit. From the perspective of a deep and sophisticated musician bound up in existential torment and conveying complex philosophical metaphors through song, it would seem that Mr. Zappa is right. The enjoyment of music is a completely subjective notion – who are we to tell people what is good and bad, Music has been a source of contention since we were banging rocks against the cave wall in a slightly less sinister and more musical version of the opening scene from 2001: A space odyssey.
The music critic’s job is first and foremost to explain and give opinion on whatever musical happening they have been assigned to write about, and inform the consumer whether or not an album is worth buying. However in these heady days of commercial control over the media, it can be very difficult for a music critic to be perfectly honest about the latest piece of musical garbage/paragon of audial sophistication that’s been churned out by the hated major labels, when print publications rely so heavily on revenue generated from major label advertising. This means that most major label albums get rave reviews, leaving trails of journalists weeping over the loss of their integrity, or laughing all the way to the bank. As somewhat jaded music writer Barney Hoskyns has stated “The sad truth is that rock journalism has become little more than a service industry, with scant critical autonomy and even less responsibility to its readers. We have all, in our different ways, colluded with the entertainment machine in its canny efforts to dictate what music sells.”
As Jessa Crispin, editor of tastefully named webzine bookslut stated “the tussle, the argument, the fun of criticism is now online” and to some extent she’s right, the internet has the expansive user-base to cover any and all niche genre’s, from post glitch-core-gaze-whatever to whatever rubbish Kanye West’s on about this year, you can bet there’s some guy with a blog, enthusiastically covering it, for fun nonetheless and because their doing it for free, they have no obligation to be polite about the biggest release of the month. In fact with the rise of those crazy hipsters and fashionable counter culture, it’s actually a very good way to generate revenue from ads if you laud the mainstream for its corporate banality and crimes against artistic freedom or whatever those more sophisticated than thou, contrary morons are whining about these days.
There is so much music out there, and too few official publications out there to adequately cover the expansive stomping grounds of the modern music scene. You don’t even need to listen to the voice of the music critic. So what is it that makes a music critic’s word so special? Surely no one can have a completely objective understanding of music. If you had that you wouldn’t be a music critic, you’d be an incredibly successful musician.