The Sad State of Music Journalism (Screed #3)

Written March 30, 2009…


We were reading a review of Prince’s new album LotusFlow3r today (we won’t mention the magazine or the reviewer), but it really upset us. Not because this person disliked the album, but because he reviewed it after admittedly listening to the album exactly once. That’s it. Now, how can any respected music critic write a review telling you that an album is bad (or good, even) after just one listen? We think this is irresponsible, lazy journalism and it seems to be a common practice these days. You cannot trust any person’s opinion about an album if they have not listened to it at least three or four times. What about if they completely change their mind about the album by the third listen? Are they going to write another review letting you know they were wrong? Or are they going to allow people to continue to be influenced by that original review that they no longer stand by?

There are many artists, including Prince, U2, R.E.M., Neil Young (etc) whose albums we have to listen to several times before we can give an honest opinion about them. They don’t reveal their strengths and weaknesses so quickly and easily. Sometimes we dislike them off of one listen, but then by the third or fourth listen, we may start to change our opinion. There have been albums we’ve listened to, that we did not like at all on first listen, but then months or years later, after hearing them again, fell in love with them. Now, we are not saying that a reviewer should listen to an album a hundred times over the course of five years before writing about it. We realize there are deadline considerations to be taken into account. We realize an album you liked or disliked twenty years ago might be one that you simply feel differently about today. But they should really give an album more than just one listen before announcing to the world whether they like it or hate it. Remember, there are many people who base their decision on whether to buy something or not by what a certain reviewer might be telling them. They need to know that this critic’s opinion is something they can trust.

We realize that everyone’s opinions are different and are unique to them, and the reasons why they like an artist might be different than why we like that artist. Just because you are a so-called “music critic” does not mean your opinions are necessarily worth more than the next person. But we do hope that the critic who is writing the review knows something about their subject and has listened to the album enough times to write an informed, detailed review on it. We also hope that they have their facts straight. We read so many reviews of albums where the critic can’t even get the name of the song or album correct, that they are praising or denouncing. How can we, as buyers,  trust this critic’s opinion when they can’t even get certain facts correct? Again, this is just lazy journalism, in our opinion. We wonder how many albums people buy or choose not to buy based on some critic’s misinformed opinion.    

Another sad state of music journalism is how almost every review nowadays has to be no longer than two paragraphs. How do you properly convey to the public why an album is good or bad in fifty or a hundred words? Everything has to be a quick soundbite these days. Instead of giving a detailed review of ten albums, each magazine would rather write reviews of twenty albums that are so short as to be worthless. They simply tell you nothing of any substance. This has becoming a disturbing trend over the years. There are some online music webzines that are trying to reverse that trend though, and we think that is a good thing. We want to read a detailed review by someone who is an informed lover of music. Not someone who knows nothing about what they are writing about. It is one thing for someone to write a blog about something they like or dislike. If you are writing for a major magazine though, you need to do your homework before writing an article. Unfortunately, there are too many writers out there nowadays who can’t be bothered. It is a sad reflection of the “soundbite” world we now live in.


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