Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The State of Music Writing

I just ran across this article with the very promising title: "The State of Music Writing, Musicians Writing". Now admittedly, on reading it again, I started to have misgivings, but heck, just talking about the state of music writing is a positive development, right? Here's the opening:
Back in 2008, I was on a panel on IFC's website with some distinguished names in the field of online music writing: Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber, Bill Crandall (then at Spinner), and Maura Johnston (then with Idolator). We discussed how the rise of blogging would affect music writing. I was enthusiastic about it -- when media gets democratized, taken out of the hands of all-powerful conglomerates and given to the people, good things can happen. I wrote a book called “Our Band Could Be Your Life,” which is about when that started to happen in music in the '80s: Thanks to new technology and the DIY ethos of punk rock, all kinds of media became more readily available to ordinary people, and they started fanzines, record labels, recording studios, and bands. In other words, they Did It Themselves, and we got to hear a lot of great music that might not otherwise have been heard.
OK, so I don't know what IFC stands for, either part of the World Bank or a cable channel? Also, I haven't heard of any of these "distinguished names", nor the places they seem to be associated with. But reading further, I realize that this is a part of the pop music world I just have not intersected with. Fair enough. Later on he writes:
So I helped found the Talkhouse, a website that features smart, notable musicians from all genres and generations writing about currently released music. Writers don't write like critics -- instead, they show us how a musician hears music. It's organic, relatively free from marketing initiatives, because the writers choose what they want to write about. And, like most music fans today, musicians have broad, often surprising tastes: you don't have to like They Might Be Giants to be amused by Parquet Courts' bassist Sean Yeaton's delirious take on that band; plenty of people will be curious to hear what Laurie Anderson has to say about the latest Animal Collective album; what on earth does Andrew W.K. have to say about the new album from Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices? And Zac Pennington of the art-rock band Parenthetical Girls has an enthusiastic and trenchant take on... Taylor Swift?
All genres except the ones I'm interested in, apparently. OK, fine, musicians talking about musicians. Mind you, it seems to me to be the perfect example of that Frank Zappa quote:
Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read.
All of this conversation, judging by this article, is going to be superficial, fannish, inarticulate meanderings. The state of music writing is as bad as ever.

Here is what I think: in order to write effectively about music you need to know lots of things about music history, theory and aesthetics. You need to bring something to the table. Performing artists are specialists in performance. They have no particular expertise in writing or thinking about music.

 Let's hear some music. Here is the first movement of Benjamin Britten's String Quartet No. 1:

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