Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating Online

For a few moments I was going to boo-hoo into my blank notebook after reading the series of articles on The Death of the Music Critic recently featured over at Drowned in Sound (yes, I am encouraging you visit another music website – forgive me Music Feeds!). All very depressing, all very big-fat-question-marky, all very uninspiring (uninspiring, not uninspired – as usual, DiS maintains some fierce penmanship).

I’m one of those lousy, lazy writer-types who decided it was a great idea to start her own music-focused website, ultimately adding another tiny crumb to the massive, incomprehensible revolution that is ‘self-publishing’. I started with ridiculously noble ideals. Unlike some bloggers, I’m not a complete novice. I do indeed actually work professionally as a writer, and have been in the publishing industry in writing and editing roles since I finished uni around three and a half years ago. Now, admittedly, these roles have in no way related to music writing – but, dude, I get paid to write. Not a claim too many people who throw their hat, and their nametag, into the writerly pot can make (and to be fair, it’s a bitch of an industry, based ridiculously on a ‘payment in the form of the glory of being published’ kind). It made complete sense to merge my professional skills with my personal passions; rock and or roll.

Drowned in Sound’s exploration of the polluted role of the rock critic raises some valid and terrifying points (prompted self-reflection is powerful, but effing scary – especially when you realise you aren’t contributing to the ‘right’ side of the discussion). With the current music environment – the demolition of the traditional models of disseminating music, the unprecedented access the audience has to the musician through the online democratization of music production and self-marketing (resulting in an overwhelming amount of CHOICE) – understandably, the way opinions are expressed about music have also changed. Music isn’t the only thing experiencing a new liberalism – publishing is too. There are huge questions to be considered around the relatively recent notion that ‘everybody is a critic’. As Drowned in Sound point out, it’s resulted in a plethora of blogs posing as reputable and qualified sources of information and opinion. And because of this, the actual artform of music criticism – which exists for skeptics out there – has declined in the hands of those who believe writing a review merely involves putting pen to paper – or more aptly – fingers to keyboard and pressing the ‘Publish’ button.

The most interesting component of this discussion in my now-meek opinion (yep, I’m one of those questionable self-publishers trying to make it in the big, daunting world of rock criticism), came from an article by Drowned in Sound’s The Insider, entitled Beyond the Death of the Rock Critic. I found most interesting what they had to say about the role of the critic in the online forum , where there is no real boundaries between the writer and reader.

“Clearly the internet has reduced the role of critic to that of participant rather than expert. Any critical opinion is now challenged within minutes of being published with the hostility of responses on some forums quite astounding at times. Yet what we could mistake for passion in response is often prejudice. We are too often dealing not with open minds engaging with the debate but entrenched opinions shouting as loud as possible to drown out the other side. Seldom is debate on forums nuanced or indeed informed.”

I’ve experienced this kind of reader criticism from all angles; on comment-enabled music sites, the amount of hostility from anonymous commenters is overwhelming. I’ve read it repeatedly, I’ve been on the receiving end of it, and – partly ashamed to admit this – I’ve given it (on a competing Australian music site, who consistently fail to fact check, succumb willingly to cliché, and fail to exert any kind of editorial practice at all – but I refrained from the Anonymous moniker, the most evil component of reader interaction). The Insider’s quote really summed up my biggest issue with this new-ish style of critical expression. The idea of interaction between writer and reader, and the creation of a dialogue surrounding the writer’s work, is bloody wonderful in theory. How often though are comment threads actually like this and not a string of expletives, insults and personal attacks by those who simply don’t agree with the writers point of view?

Does the inaccessibility of the writer in print journalism make the reader appreciate the actual form of critical music pieces more, simply because instant responses aren’t an option? Or is the issue more that the potential of the immediacy provided by online-published music sites hasn’t really been utilised properly yet?

What do you think of the shifts that have occurred since music criticism has exploded online? Better or worse?

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