Open letter about “negative” reviews
I recently was passed along a post by a local musician titled “What Happened to Minneapolis” who dove into the never ending argument about writing “negative” music reviews. Below I responded to some of the points made in the article. I do want to point out I don’t know this guy from Adam and these are not meant to be all personally directed at him, as I know others also feel this same way he does. He just took the plunge and decided to share his thoughts, exactly like I am going to. I also don’t pretend to speak for anyone other than myself, although I’ve had this conversation quite a few times with different people and I think more people than you would think feel at least partially like I do. In red are the statements written about the subject and my thoughts are underneath each.
Agreed. And if Rolling Stone wants to rip apart me and other Minneapolis musicians that’s fine and 100% acceptable and encouraged because that’s what national publications are supposed to do – give honest reviews. (http://ariherstand.tumblr.com/post/808368105#disqus_thread)
So this leads me to believe that you are implying that local reviewers should not be honest? We should say something is good that we wouldn’t listen to ourselves? I know a remedy gets mentioned below, but it was hard not to let this effect how I looked at the rest of the comments. Local music sites are not PR companies, why should we work like them? Whether you choose to read a site is your decision, but to expect them to work in conjunction with people to prop up musicians they don’t like, doesn’t that seem like stretch?
If a band is bad and the media ignores them, the band will go away. (http://ariherstand.tumblr.com/post/808368105#disqus_thread) + Why not only write positivereviews of local bands and if you absolutely can’t find anything positive to say, then just ignore it? (http://ariherstand.tumblr.com/post/738930437#disqus_thread)
Owl City, Nickleback, Creed, Limp Bizkit….I could go on. I give every band/movie maker/writer/poet credit for creating art, but that doesn’t mean that it all is good. I think Skoal Kodiak are great, you could think they are weird and awful. Who is right? Who is wrong? As far as I understand, it is the job of the people doing music reviews to let readers know a little about the band so people who are less attached to the music scene decide if they want to check them out. Personally, I always used to try to politely ignore local bands I didn’t like, but had multiple people tell me that they found it hard to separate the wheat from the chaff because everything on that particular site was positive. If you say everything is great and people have a finite amount of time/money/energy to check things out, how helpful is that reviewer?
But reviewing them negatively does nobody (locally) any good. It just brings negativity into our small music community. What’s the good in that? (http://ariherstand.tumblr.com/post/808368105#disqus_thread)
I would respectfully disagree. It doesn’t do you, as an artist, any good. It does us lots of good by showing we aren’t zombies saying every band that has a 612 area code are the next Beatles. I believe that if someone likes similar music to me, they will also dislike similar music. When bands send out their songs to “reviewers,” they know they are not guaranteed a good review. Lots of people make art, but don’t take that plunge into releasing it to the public. When you play that show or release that album, you are putting yourself out there, for better or worse. I will say there are better ways of doing a negative review (i.e no personal attacks, saying what you would like better, calling out any little bits you do like) than just slamming a band, but in the long run I would think people would want honest opinion, as long as it is backed up by some semblance of reason.
Like I said, musicians get enough shit on the road that it’s nice to come back to a supportive community at home. (http://ariherstand.tumblr.com/post/808368105#disqus_thread)
That’s what family and friends are for. I do support lots of local bands and try to hype them as much as possible, but I don’t think that is a blanket responsibility of everyone on the periphery of the music scene to nurture every band that picks up instruments. If everyone outside of Minneapolis says that your songs suck and everyone in the scene says your songs are the bees knees, whom do you listen to? That sounds like a recipe for pack mentality and bands passing up opportunities to improve themselves. I am in no way implying that “music writers” know more about music than the mass public, but if someone who listens to lots of music hears something that isn’t good, my guess would be others would also feel the same way. I know it is easy to demonize “pretentious” music writers, but most, if not all, are giant music fans who are a combination of “connectors,” “mavens” and “salespeople” that Malcolm Gladwell talked about in The Tipping Point. They look at themselves as people who are going to find and talk about music they like, not every single band that crosses their radar. That would defeat the point.
Why must you hate on the scene you are a part of? Why not be supportive of your local scene? Isn’t the hometown supposed to be the most supportive of their local bands? Isn’t the hometown supposed to build up the bands- not beat them down? (http://ariherstand.tumblr.com/post/738930437#disqus_thread)
Maybe not everyone is “part of the scene.” Maybe people love music/records/live shows but also have a separate life outside of it. I agree hometowns should be a great place to start to “build up,” but that doesn’t mean every single music fan has to love every band from their city. I actually think the idea of a scene that mixes reviewers and artists is like pissing in your own bed. Will I be honest about a band I consider a friend? I hope so, but it is sketchy. I personally think that the “scene” of people who cover music already tries way too hard to integrate themselves into the scene and be seen as supportive and part of the community. People hoping that writing glowing reviews and fawning over bands will allow them to peak into the exciting world of being a “rock star” come across as shallow and desperate to me. If you blow smoke up someone’s ass to become their friend, what if later you disagree or dislike what they are doing? Are you then allowed to criticize them? Would I then have to move out of the city to “beat them down” by saying I didn’t like something they created?
I find most of these young, new “music” reviewers aren’t actually reviewing music. (http://ariherstand.tumblr.com/post/738930437#disqus_thread)
I love it when the “young” card gets thrown out. He wasn’t there for the five night stand at the Entry by the ‘Mats, he must not know shit from shit. I also think there is a level of looking backwards that is unhealthy in the music scene. I love Husker Du, The Replacements, The Suburbs, Jayhawks, etc, etc as much as the next person, but the past is the past. Do you honestly think that there were no bands in the 80’s in Minneapolis that got ragged on by writers? Good bands separate themselves from the pack. If every band from that area was loved by the local music scene at the time in some egalitarian fashion, the Replacements would not have their place on the pedestal where they are rightfully put upon; they would just be one of the hundreds of bands from Minneapolis at the time. One point I do agree with you on is the lack of actually reviewing music. I know for a fact some of the sites you reference now tell writers/photographers to focus on crowd/style instead of the band, and that is total and complete bullshit.
Many of the bands that I mentioned before who were defining pieces of what this Minneapolis music scene was have now expressed a strong desire to leave and go somewhere else.(http://ariherstand.tumblr.com/post/738930437#disqus_thread)
Because there are no “mean” people in other parts of the country? This seems silly. I am all for leaving to play to bigger audiences if it is warranted or going somewhere to spark creativity, but if you are implying people want to leave because City Pages or Vita.mn said mean things about them, I would say that those people need to develop thicker skin. Minneapolis right now has an amazing music scene, with lots of great bands, great venues and lots of fans to see them. If a particular band doesn’t make it, don’t blame the “scene,” just become better bands. There is lots of competition right now because there are so many good bands, and Darwin’s theory works perfectly fine for bands too.
I am sure some people will agree with my thoughts and some will think I am an idiot (it is funny how the latter group seems to populate comment threads more than the former). If you have an opinion on the subject, please feel free to share them below and thanks for reading.