What is an album review? A concert review? What is music reviewing? Is it a genre in journalism or litterature? If so, what methods are there? What methods were there, and which ones are viable today? And not least: What to study to obtain knowledge about this?
The review, the writing of text about entities of music, is an established ‘something’ in journalism. Music review writers will argue that it is an established form of journalism, as a journalistic genre, something that makes a journalist out of a music review writer. I beg to differ.
Ever since I discovered the discipline of semiotics, my awareness of writing about what I value the most on this planet — music — has been working in overdrive. By studying the history of ideas and litterature science at the University of Oslo, things fell into place. I could finally write what I truly meant to write about music.
The apparent fact that virtually nobody nowhere did anything even remotely similar, not even on print in the most prestigious magazines and newspapers, never fails to shock me. How do they manage to keep on like that?
What do they do?
Music journalism — as I will argue is not journalism at all — is being taught today. What it is — as i will say it; ‘allegedly supposed to be’ — and how to do it is described and tutored by early writers using what they came up with. They have taken upon themselves to teach the next generation music journalists how to make the same mistakes.
What mistakes? To say it harshly: The mistake of using media of journalistic pretensions for blatant non-journalism. One becomes aware the writers have hard times writing about the subject matter in question, being the music, the songs, i.e. the performances of an album or a concert.
What is their role?
Many revered writers of music reviews are — journalistically speaking — truly acting in capacity of informers, and should — still very journalistically speaking — have access to the press’ Ethical Code of protection of sources.
They simply write more about themselves than about whatever piece of musics pointed out around the byline. Reading all those reviews throughout the years have taught me one rather shocking thing: Too much reading of music reviews may disclose writers’ health information which should be handled with confidentiality by proper professionals.
Writing Words About Music
Is it an impossibility? In layman terms, it truly is impossible to write words about music. Like singing a grave or exploding with silence. But there is more to music than what goes on between the recording and the reviewer. The thing is, music is in its form truly elusive; Everything but the music itself is easy to grasp with a writer’s grip on the written language.
Reviews resort to context, most often the context of being the writer, hence not the journalist nor the author. The Traditional Music Journalist fails to recognize music as “the text” to which context stands. The writer drowns both the music, herself and her readers in context. Music journalists prevents from realizing the inevitable fact that everything is text, as in deed is context!
Sadly, the true realm of the music journalism’s pretensions to be a critic discipline is a very young institute of academia: Media and Communications. But the arena of communications which is of use for establishing the review as a discipline with definable methods is ‘old as rock’: namely litterature.
Read Like A Book
Litterature Critic is both litterature and journalism. That is a piece of common knowledge. Among its established (and historical) methods, there are the biographical method, referring to the author’s real life experience, the psychoanalytical method, which interprets the work in extension of psychological archetypes, and directions known as formalism, structuralism, etc.
It is fair to claim that methods of litterature critic are all tipping over to the opposite extreme from the established subjective and not so method conscious music review. In its scientific version, litterature critic it is merely of academic benefit, most often used for works that are more letters of academic discourse than of biographical interest. It is knowledge, its subject matter is the past, and it must be handled with wisdom to apply to subject matters with a future and to the general public which may be in position to share that future.
Book reviewers have the benefit of being scholars of litterature, and hence too of litterature critics. Their reviews are actually not called reviews by all media outlets. Many of them, especially those with an emphasis on writing about culture, arts and therefore books (litterature), call those pieces of text “critics” and the writers of them “a critic”; Plural “critics”.
Is What Is Not
To call a writer of music reviews a “critic” is often a contradiction in terms. There are newspapers who pride themselves upon being critical in all their writing. By reading them, you will find “strong meanings” everywhere, also where there actually are none. Their reviews are conjugated up a couple of clicks above superlative on the adjective scale.
You won’t read of what the writer experience as a “very nice song”. What you get to read is of a “humongously orgasmic masterpiece”, (but rather worded with terms of no language put together from not completely recognizable bits and pieces of words you may know).
My argument is to consider the book critic and her reviews, how they merges the knowledge of discipline and method with the subjectivity of a writer. At the same time as the writer is a skilled scholar, she manages to consider her readers. She is in touch with her own self as a layman and a fellow individual of life experience.
All Be It
The most important ability of a writer of reviews and a critic is of course the urge to share experiences of arts, of the extensions of artists’ intentions in whatever given discipline of arts. There is however no excuse to disregard capability of reflecting the subject matter in question, it being a novel or an art exhibition, or in music: the album, the songs, a symphony or opera — and how it is experienced due to the preconditions of the beholder.
Should we ditch the term “review” and replace it with “critic”? It would serve very well a much needed purpose. Critic, as utilized by book reviewers, should serve as a framework for approaching the subject matter using any given method.
It implies, that in stead of trying to write (non-lyrical) words about music, it is text about text — using the expanded text concept — in order to communicate about the communication of music.
This method is comprised of the recognition of parameters such as discography and biography, both synchronic and diachronic, bot micro and macro (as in artist vs. genre), and the perceived delimitation of boundaries between related named tastes and conceptions of genres.
Please note: “The recognition of”; hence both the use of some and the disregarding of other parameters.
Write! Don’t Write!
The most important skill of a music critic, music journalist or writer of music reviews should always be the ability to realize one’s own limitations. If you think it is your job to write about that album, regardless of anything, you will do a bad job, and you’ll probably love it.
The most widespread method of album review writing is that of writing about not accepting the fact that the album is something else than what you would be comfortable with it being. The method is comprised with putting up a vicious smear of arguments for your own personal view being indefinitely more valid than those of the artist’s, and that the album in fact is wrong, and you, the newspaper or magazine, are right.
The album as music is not let to be the subject matter of the text. The subject matter in question is simply the writer and his expectations, and of course his excellence in renewing language and exercising a hypermongously supereruptive grip on the fine art of adjective blanketing.
Being Subject To Music
Behold the big secret: Music is good! Letting the music be the subject matter of a text is, as aforementioned, simply an utter impossibility. How to disclose music’s inherence as text in the expanded text concept is surely very hard, and of course much easier than anyone would ever conceive.
You, dear writer, is subject to music. It is you, your subjective self, and all you are — memories, knowledge, listening history, enthusiasms and indignations — to put it short; it is your listening who is subject matter to pieces of music and song.
If you are able to encounter the music as it is, you can write about your encounter with the music as skillfully as you can argue how the next album of your favourite band should be if you had a say so.
If your encounter with a given album of music renders you unable to perceive it as it is, put on an other record! Don’t write about the music entering your ears being wrong. It may disclose wrongness on your part, which you really don’t want to put out there. And honestly, you must realize the fact that: you don’t sing or play or write the music, and the record is mixed, mastered and released. Somebody out there may even like it.
If it offends you, you’re listening to the wrong album. Did your experimental doom sludge jazz metal heroes record a hybrid pop/metal core album, they probably meant to, knowing they reach a whole other target group of record buyers or MP3-streamers this time around. Because they can.
You don’t have to like it, so if you don’t, don’t! If they don’t reach you by a fifty feet pole, don’t let them reach your anger. And don’t let your readers reach you angry. But if you can’t let it lay, write about your encounter with the music! Being a critic is not flushing a clogged toilet. If the music renders you full of shit, it is you who is full of shit. The music is music.