The battle never seems to end. The battle, that is, between indie artists who don’t receive real world radio airplay and those of us who have spent our careers programming in real world radio.
Recently I received some very negative feedback from an irate music fan who did not like a review I wrote of an Internet based indie act. In this criticism the “fan” made this note of we who have worked in radio, … with guys like you I’m guessing it’s no wonder the radio scene has become so snobby, negative, irrelevant, and pointlessly ignorant of and aid-less to progressing musicians (many of who could eventually become famous).
Generally speaking I don’t pay much attention to comments like this. It’s a part of the trade and always has been, so I usually just shrug it off and go about my business. I’ve reviewed thousands of recordings over the past three decades, and I’ve received countless hundreds of attacks in support of those who I review negatively. I have even wondered lately what it must be like to be a professional movie critic. I wonder, for example, what fans like this would say to someone like Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, or others in that particular field.
The “fan” went on to comment how I wrote nothing that could offer any valid and objective means by which the artist may improve themselves on the recording in question. I’ll say, for the record, that I’ve never heard of a single professional movie, book, or music critic anywhere who has offered qualitative “here’s how you fix your art” in a review. What critics do is point out those elements which he or she feels or thinks is good or bad about the work they are reviewing. This is a subjective field of endeavor, the art of criticism. It’s been with us for, God only knows, thousands of years, perhaps all the way back to the beginning of when man first learned to read and write.
The term ‘criticism’ is derived from the Greek word krinoµ, which means ‘to judge,’ ‘to discern,’ or to be discriminating in making an evaluation or forming a judgment. It has come to refer to a form of inquiry whose purpose is to make discriminating judgments about literary and artistic productions. Thus, we speak of literary criticism, art criticism, music criticism, or film criticism as disciplines or fields of inquiry whose purpose is to review productions in their respective areas in order to discuss and appraise their significant features and judge their lasting worth. (http://www.bibletexts.com/glossary/canon.htm)
As the above definition of criticism expresses, as critics our function is to evaluate the subject relative to its inherent nature and make a determination as to that subject’s “… significant features,” as well as to “… judge their lasting worth.” It is not, therefore, relevant to appraise a piece of music and to make suggestions as to how an artist may advance his or her technique in performance, song structure, arrangement, content, or production values.
Nadine Hubbs of the University of Michigan makes the point that, Compelling music criticism resonates with the qualities of music itself, and thus excites imagination, feeling, and more; popular music criticism must further converse with pop’s particular emphases-including timbre and groove, irony, playfulness. (http://theory.esm.rochester.edu/smt-97.abstracts/hubbs.html) This premise further leads us to the conclusion that as reviewers our “job” is not to analysis, systematically, music in a sterile teacher/student type environment by offering aid to “progressing artists,” but rather to write in such a way as to compel the reader to feel and or use their imagination when reading the review.
Radio programmers are not snobbish people who have no intent to assist in the development of up and coming artists. In fact, exactly the opposite has been the truth throughout the past several decades. There has always been a race to see who could “discover” the next hit record. Music directors have “bet their jobs” on whether or not some new artist was going to break it big. If they were the first to program (break) that artist they would have not only bragging rights, but also the possibility of obtaining a gold record for their efforts, or a bigger and better job. The holy grail of every worthwhile music director I ever met was to dig deeply beyond the top soil of already established acts to find the motherlode of gold buried deep in the stack of new releases that crosses their desks daily.
In today’s environment, pop music critics and radio programmers seem to be the scourge of the struggling Internet based indie artist. As an illustration of that concept, I recently reviewed an up and coming artist on an omd’s review section. The review so infuriated the artist that the omd was called with a demand that the review be taken down. Yet I said nothing more than the artist needed a good vocal coach, a good professional songwriter, and a good producer to help the artist over the rough spots of the performance I was reviewing.
Bottom Line: We are not teachers. We are not here to offer aid and comfort to the up and coming. It is our task to evaluate and place judgement as to the long term value of a piece of work and to do so with emotional vigor, endeavoring to stimulate intellectual imagination. And if someone doesn’t like it, oh well.