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Image for A critic and manager go head-to-head about music journalism in 2014

A critic and manager gohead-to-head about musicjournalism in 2014

Music critic bashing is becoming a thing again, which either means: a) Music critics are doing their jobs pretty damn well; or b) There’s a disconnect between what music journalism is and what musicians think it should be. It’s more likely the latter though, given Lorde’s recent comments in regards to what she perceives as a double standard in the way Complex magazine covered Iggy Azalea’s The New Classic. Or Hayley Mary from The Jezabels telling critics to “fucking get a real job” – y’know, like playing an instrument or singing – because there’s already enough “hatred in the world”.

Lorde made her complaint in a Tumblr post highlighting the fact that Complex featured Azalea on their front cover despite running a negative review of her debut album. “It happens to me all the time,” she wrote, “Pitchfork and that ilk being like ‘Can we interview you?’ after totally taking the piss out of me in a review. Have a stance on an artist and stick to it. Don’t act like you respect them then throw them under the bus.”

The post was re-blogged by Grimes on her own Tumblr with the comment, “Hahaha yes — I agree with this”, and also prompted a response by Complex associate editor Insanul Ahmed. “[A cover story] simply boils down to Complex thinking the artist is someone our audience is interested in,” he wrote. “Giving someone a bad review basically boils down to thinking someone our audience is interested in didn’t make a very good record. We can’t speak for all publications, but we imagine it works about the same way for them.”

It’s amazing something so obvious required even one thinkpiece – let alone another saying the exact same thing – but the fact we’re having this discussion again means there’s a lot of unresolved tension between artists and writers about the purpose of music criticism in 2014. While FL is loathe to contribute another op-ed to the noise, we thought we’d re-print (with permission) a very interesting conversation that played out on social media between Umbrella Music’s Joel Connolly (the manager of The Rubens, Cloud Control and Urthboy) and Caitlin Welsh, a Sydney-based writer who contributes to FL and our pop culture sister site Junkee, among others. If nothing else, it shows just how both sides perceive an increasingly complex (ahem) debate.


Joel Connolly

As a manager I can understand why a lot of artists have trouble accepting criticism. Lorde’s totally wrong about “sticking with” an opinion though. An artist can get a cover and then get a bad review, that’s totally legitimate. But to an artist it just tastes bitter being as big as Izzy is, giving a cover to a magazine and making them a lot of money, then getting a bad review from that same publication down the line. It just feels shit.

But putting this in context, there is a tonne of shitty criticism out there nowadays and artists generally feel hard done by when some kid, who can’t make art, asserts themselves in to some position of authority and tells them all about their own work. It’s a pretty audacious profession to take up. A lot of artists feel this way towards critics and so, although misguided, I understand where Lorde/Izzy/Naughty Rappers Collective are coming from.

Caitlin Welsh:

Artists shouldn’t let petty or snarky or shit writers’ opinions hurt their little artist feelings – only the well-written, insightful negative reviews, the ones that get the album but still see its flaws, should give them pause. I know that’s not how it works and there’s also the nagging irritation of a hater having a platform. But the number of music listeners who care enough to read reviews yet not enough to listen to the music and make their own minds up is absolutely fucking tiny. I’m capable of recognising that most Aussie rappers are better than Kerser, so I don’t go around bitching about how Aussie rappers as a group are fucking terrible.

Also most journos are just doing their jobs, or trying to, and there’s this idea that we need to treat The Artists with unquestioning reverence and praise and know everything about their jobs, and they’re doing us a favour by even talking to us. Then if one of us does something they don’t like, they go out and shit on the profession at large, show zero respect or understanding of how the job works, and the whole adversarial narrative gets another chapter. Maybe aim that anger at the specific people or titles who shat you off, or do what good critics do (and what artists expect us to do) and try and understand the thing you’re discussing before you go telling everyone how shit it is?

Joel Connolly:

It’s impossible to not care when someone says something shit about you, not least something you’ve spent potentially a year of your life on. Which is why Lorde writes two sentences on Tumblr and cops a full essay back from a cranky journo. And why Haley Mary spends two minutes of maybe a 30-minute interview criticising critics and within two days every music journo in the world jumps on her.

Don’t get me wrong, I value good criticism. But overwhelmingly it’s shit and drivel and it shouldn’t have a place outside the dickwad’s own brain. But it seems anyone willing to work for free can “contribute” and call themselves a critic. The net result is an industry that is dominated by terrible work, and if you’re an artist complaining, you can feel justified by colouring the whole industry in the same shade. I don’t agree with it necessarily, but I understand it.

“I value good criticism. But overwhelmingly it’s shit and drivel”

And this is going to sting, but artists don’t need to think about journos feelings, their jobs, their industries. If criticism didn’t exist, music still would. Criticism is dependent on the artist and what they create, not the other way around. The same goes for a large majority of professions servicing musicians. Management is one of them! The truth is, they are doing you a favour. You have a job because of them and they are contributing something new to world, not simply providing comment on someone else’s contribution.

That doesn’t mean you need to worship the ground they walk on, or even like what they are doing, but it does mean that you don’t really get to complain when an artist doesn’t like what you have to say. Before you think I’m getting personal, let me say that I am on the same side of things as you are. I spend my life being on the other side of someone who is actually making something and putting it in to the world. I help them put it there, but in the end, I’m not actually doing anything new.

Caitlin Welsh:

I’m not suggesting musicians need critics, but most of them do need journos! And a good review is still a piece of writing, and at its best it should be something new and creative that adds to the world. Both parties need to remember that it’s a human at the other end of the line. And artists don’t have to have respect for writers, but the ones who don’t give off “Fuck you, bottom-feeder” vibes are probably going to have more writers on side, which is apparently what they want.

Joel Connolly:

My personal opinion? If an artist gets a bad review, if it’s actually a decent review, they should try and learn from it. Or if they are unable to, just ignore it. If you complain you just come off sounding bitter, particularly when you have a giant amount of success already, like Lorde or Iggy. One shit review just doesn’t matter. It bites at your ankles. So much easier said than done though. In my ideal world, the standard of criticism is raised and then only the worst would have something to complain about.

Comments

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secondclassciti

secondclassciti said on the 1st May, 2014

"Don%u2019t get me wrong, I value good music. But overwhelmingly it%u2019s shit and drivel and it shouldn%u2019t have a place outside the dickwad%u2019s own brain. But it seems anyone with a copy of ProTools can %u201Ccontribute%u201D and call themselves a musician. The net result is an industry that is dominated by terrible work, and if you%u2019re an critic complaining, you can feel justified by colouring the whole industry in the same shade. I don%u2019t agree with it necessarily, but I understand it."

inthepharmacy

inthepharmacy said on the 1st May, 2014

1) there are shit artists and shit critics out there - we shouldn't judge them by the worst of their membership. although, anyone who has spent time with either group will know that they are two professions that attract a lot of dysfunctional people. many on both sides could benefit from thicker skins and better manners.

2) i think people like bernard zuel and insanul ahmed are a bit blinkered or just disingenuous thinking that it's clear to the public that individual reviews and features are neither an editorial endorsement or criticism of an artist. most people don't say of a review on pitchfork (for instance) "oh, so-and-so gave the album 9.7" they are more likely to say "pitchfork gave the album a 9.7".

3) nothing makes me disrespect an artist or their lackeys faster than pulling the 'you're only a critic because you can't do it yourself / don't criticise what you can't do' bullshit. this is something that seems peculiarly prevalent amongst musicians. no one expects a film, tv, art or literary critic to be a professional in those fields - why would one need to be a musician to criticise music?

Braveheart81

Braveheart81 said on the 2nd May, 2014


2) i think people like bernard zuel and insanul ahmed are a bit blinkered or just disingenuous thinking that it's clear to the public that individual reviews and features are neither an editorial endorsement or criticism of an artist. most people don't say of a review on pitchfork (for instance) "oh, so-and-so gave the album 9.7" they are more likely to say "pitchfork gave the album a 9.7".


I think this is a bit both ways. I don't think anyone could read a Fairfax music review by Bernard Zuel (unless it's the only one you've ever read) and assume it's anything other than Bernard Zuel's opinion. You'd be stupid to think that he writes a review and then sits down with a bunch of editorial staff to get them to agree to his rating and thoughts before it is released because it's Fairfax's official rating of that piece.

Something like Pitchfork is a bit different. They have a lot of writers and you would assume that there would be some editorial oversight regarding ratings given. The more extreme the rating and the more high profile the artist is, the more editorial control you would expect. For that reason, I think it is fair to accept that a review on a site like Pitchfork contains some level of editorial oversight and reflects to some degree what the overall publication thinks about that piece of work (only to the extent that they won't release a review that they vehemently disagree with). I can't imagine a 10.0 or a 2.0 or less could be published without a few people looking at it and talking about it.

berlinchair101

berlinchair101 said on the 2nd May, 2014

I remember reading somewhere that Pitchfork reviewers have to get editorial approval to give a 10.

loudQUIETloud

loudQUIETloud said on the 2nd May, 2014

I'm fairly sure Pitchfork ratings are an average rating of all writers which is why the review doesn't always match the number, can't remember where I saw that though so might be wrong.

berlinchair101

berlinchair101 said on the 2nd May, 2014

Pretty sure the thing I read was in regard to MBDTF getting 10. The writer spoke about wanting to give another record 10 and being salty when he was denied, but now after hearing MBDTF he knows what a proper 10/10 records (supposedly) sounds.

inthepharmacy

inthepharmacy said on the 2nd May, 2014

@braveheart81 i think you're conflating ignorance with stupidity. most people are probably ignorant of the workings of the editorial process in a newspaper's music section, that doesn't make them stupid. while i doubt that the tone of much of what bernard zuel writes is ever changed, i'd be surprised if his score has never been changed by an editor.

also, while you may be correct about the policies of pitchfork versus fairfax i don't think it's a logical step to assume that because pitchfork has a large number of writers and fairfax doesn't that the former will have editorial oversight on ratings while the latter won't.

@berlinchair101 i imagine pitchfork get involved in all the ratings, not just the 10s - their scoring is quite consistent. while i can't predict what they will give any particular album, i can predict that they will give an average score of 7.1 for albums in 2014 and that about 25% of their reviews will give a score of 6.4 or lower and less than 1% of the new albums they review will get 9.0 or above.

berlinchair101

berlinchair101 said on the 2nd May, 2014

I guarantee an editor has never changed or looked twice at Bernard Zuel's ratings.

gumbuoy

gumbuoy said on the 4th May, 2014



Don't you think that if they did it for ALL the ratings, we'd have heard about it by now? How many disgruntled ex-Pitchfork writers must there be out there? If some core Pitchfork elite were changing scores, I'm certain by now we'd have seen someone, maybe even anonymously, tell us about the day they tried to give the new Buttlechuck release a 7.1, and it got downed to a 6.3, and how Pitchfork had become total corporate sellouts, man.

Minaloy

Minaloy said on the 14th May, 2014

As a former reviewer my editor would constantly change my review scores to please the advertisers.

berlinchair101

berlinchair101 said on the 14th May, 2014

Conspiracy! Who did you write for?

Minaloy

Minaloy said on the 11th Jun, 2014

Mason Stewart Publishing

We would review out of 100 - My scores would often go from mid 60's to low 70's. Once or twice though they were actually adjusted lower - but usually on very high ratings, like an 88 dropped to an 84.

Minaloy

Minaloy said on the 12th Jun, 2014

Go fuck yourself shit for brains