Role of the Critic

Frank Zappa once said “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” but what does this mean? Perhaps it suggests that the job of the music critic is essentially pointless, why read about music when you can listen to it? Or, in the same way that a dancer may know very little about architecture, the music critic actually knows very little about music. With the boom of online blogs run by anyone who fancies themselves a good writer, Zappa could well have a point.

Music critics used to hold a much more esteemed position in society. The Insider wrote, “the prevalence of the music critics of the past in the serious literary canon, whether Bangs, Cameron Crowe, Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons, Danny Kelly or Paul Morley to name but a few gives ample evidence of the cultural impact of the music critic in past decades”. Today however is a different matter. Despite a handful of significant names in the world of Music Journalism, it is hard to pick out those who are really having an impact.

These days it seems to be more about how many reviews you can write than how well you can write them. Ringo Stacey reveals his disgust at Christopher Weingarten’s “attempt to drag music criticism into the 21st Century by reviewing 1,000 records over the course of a year, in 140 characters or less on Twitter.” It’s now got to the point where people don’t even need a blog, they just post a brief tweet and are done for the day.

Still, no matter how imposing a critic’s words may be, that is simply one person’s opinion, not fact. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Tyler, the Creator recently wrote on twitter in relation to this, “What if the way I see blue is the way you see yellow?”. In other words, what if I listen to the song you wrote about and have a very different view of it? This leads to the common misconception that the role of the critic is simply to say whether something is good or not however, it’s not as black and white as that; “As mediator, the critic decodes and explains the elements of the game of stylization and makes the aesthetic statement more accessible.” (Albert Murray, Stomping Blues). So the critic isn’t there to tell you whether to buy a record or not, but to demonstrate why you might like to check it out or avoid it at all costs.

References:
DrownedInSound (2009) The Insider: Beyond The Death of The Critic. [online] Available at: http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/4137243-the-insider–beyond-the-death-of-the-critic [Accessed: 14 May 2013].
Stacey, R. (2009) The death of the critic? That’s the least of your problems. [online] Available at: http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/4137407 [Accessed: 14 May 2013].
Murray, A. (1976) Stomping the blues. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Zemler, E. (2013) Are Music Critics Pointless? (Opinion). [online] Available at: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/earshot/are-music-critics-pointless-opinion-431879 [Accessed: 14 May 2013].

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