Critics. Part 1: Is There A Place For Critical Analysis In The Modern Music Business?

AAsk any self respecting artist and they will undoubtably say they make music for the fans, not the critics, but a four star review has never been something to hide either. But, with a reported 1,100 new blogs created by music fans per day and surely far more people sharing their opinions on social network sites in real time, it begs the question – what is the role of the traditional reviewer?

iPod and CDs

Image credit: fabbriciuse on Flickr

Although it may seem like a different age, it’s not that long ago that purchasing an album meant actually leaving the house and when this was true and there were fewer places to hear an album before buying it, reviews meant something to people. They were (along with traditional radio and TV) what the industry referred to as a “gatekeeper” helping people to decide where to turn their attention with a Roman-esque thumbs up/thumbs down.

You found a reviewer you liked and judged what to check out on their opinions. But these days, it’s so easy to share and sample music, more and more people are checking out music their friends recommend and letting their own ears be the judge, often BEFORE they buy. This is exciting to me because it means that if you like the music, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, even your best friend who may disagree with your taste, never mind a reviewer who’s probly ten years your senior and been getting albums for free for years.

On the flip side of the old school review, of course are the aggregating sites which purport to ‘keep score of entertainment’ by totting up and averaging out the blog scores on everything from music to movies to games and so on. Some people love these sites, but I have no idea why, because this mathematical approach to criticism leaves no room for bands that you and I are passionate about, but that are not necessarily cool to like. It actually allows for those bands widely liked to rise above those who are adored by smaller and I’d suggest, more passionate followings. If you agree, as I think you must, that there’s no accounting for taste, then it follows that these aggregating sites are pointless. Simply rating albums by what the majority think is to misunderstand how personal musical taste is because you can be sure that the band you hate is also someone’s else favourite band.

The truth is, beyond saying something like “they recorded that in Abbey Road“, no one can be factual about art. All that’s out there is a rake of varying opinion. So, feel free to form and share yours. You will find some amazing music. Perhaps more than ever and you might just turn someone on to their new favorite band too.

Niall James Holohan is an independent musician, songwriter and occasional DJ from Dublin, Ireland. He performs both as a solo artist and as the front man of critically acclaimed rock outfit Readers Wives. He tweets @ReadersWives