I was inspired to write such a column when I watched an hour-long panel from SXSW 2014 about the relevance of music reviewing, in which two of my favorite reviewers, Anthony Fantano and Myke C-Town, participated. The title was “Did the Internet Kill the Album Review?” I want here to investigate music reviewing with respect to our current relationship with music, taking the gigantic influence of the Internet on the music industry into account.
As I stated in my two previous columns, I think the biggest change the Internet has caused in music is the huge accessibility it offers. In the pre-Internet era, listeners were limited to the records physically available in their area and had to pay quite significant amounts to buy them. Since physical records were the only way to access music, listeners couldn’t know in advance what they were buying. Music reviews functioned as a guide, helping listeners to make choices that suited their taste by providing stylistic descriptions of albums, with emphasis on their pros and cons. A review reader/listener would then know what to expect from records they would otherwise have been totally uninformed about. Thus, the need for reviews was based on the lack of accessibility. It would be expected that the digital revolution would have ended this need, since it makes it possible for the music audience to listen to most of the available songs very easily, and generally for free. In such case, the lack of accessibility is overcome.
However, surprisingly, the Internet hasn’t changed the purpose of music reviews nor caused major changes in their style and form because, with over-accessibility, a new problem has occurred. There are so many options for listeners that they need musical guidance more than ever. With a larger selection available to them, they are demanding higher quality in music. The music on offer includes not only high-quality, creative and unique pieces of work, but also very ordinary productions that do not offer much to the audience. Since listeners are now able to access music more suited to their taste, they do not want to get lost in the huge volume of music on the Internet, but instead to focus their search and find the type of music available to them that they will enjoy the most. That’s where the need for recommendations and guidance comes into play, and the need for music reviews appears. The Internet has solved the problem of lack of accessibility only to replace it with a new one: over-accessibility. Ironically, music reviews offer the solution in either case, through the same means: guidance.
Looking at the other side of the exchange, we need to understand why such a service is provided by reviewers. As discussed above, reviews seem to benefit only the readers. Then, why does Ege, myself or any other reviewer spend so much time and effort on reviewing? Do we only want to help others? In the above-mentioned panel, Myke C-Town explained that for him, reviewing is a very selfish process: “When I listen to an album, I always think: if I had the artist’s ear, open-minded, what would I like to tell him? I think it’s selfish, because it’s more for me [than the audience]. I tell him what I like and don’t like about the album, so he can give me good music.” I couldn’t agree more with this. Even though most non-mainstream reviews don’t reach musicians, this is what I have in mind when I review. Not only listeners, but also musicians get to know what the audience thinks about their releases. Myke also emphasizes the lack of criticism that artists receive. Most ordinary listeners do not give them any feedback. However, in a vlog or a blog post, the opinion of the reviewer and the comments and reactions of the audience provide the musician a very healthy and, most of the time, organized and detailed evaluation of his/her work. So reviewers are able to make their voices heard by curious and open-minded artists and actually show their appreciation and support by offering them such a service. In addition, reaching out to an artist who is ready to hear his listeners’ opinions is not as difficult as it seems. Even I, who have written only 11 music columns so far, managed to reach Mauna Kea with my column “Triangular Music.”
The many and varied environments based on musical interactions, including gatherings, big music events (such as SXSW), festivals and music discussion forums, point to the interactive nature of music. Listeners do not only enjoy listening to music, but also want to share their opinions on it. Reviews keep this musical dialogue alive. As both a reviewer and an avid review reader, I think this is one of the most important roles of music reviews.
After talking about the benefits of reviewing, I suggest that anyone who is involved in music should follow music reviews on a regular basis. You can get recommendations of new material and also hear other listeners’ opinions on albums that are familiar to you. I would like to end this column with links to some of my favorite music reviewers. (Also, you can find the above-mentioned SXSW panel on Anthony Fantano’s YouTube channel, if you are interested.)
Anthony Fantano – reviews all genres and mainly non-mainstream artists: theneedledrop.com
CoverKillerNation – reviews metal and hard rock: youtube.com/user/coverkillernation
The Daily Guru – reviews mostly punk rock, but covers interesting musical topics: youtube.com/user/thedailyguru