When I was younger I used to think that the only reason that Labradford sold a fraction of the amount of record Robbie Williams did was because people hadn’t had the chance to hear them. I was wrong. So. Fucking. Wrong.
Indeed. It’s because more people had a use for Robbie Williams.
Tears for Labradford aside, this Drowned In Sound series is sucking me back into thinking about all this stuff. What are - or were - music writers good for?
Finding good music for you to listen to.
Reporting music industry news.
Writing things that help you hear or think about music differently.
Giving you the buzz of listening to music when you can’t actually do it.
The web ecosystem has made the lead times for #1 very tough for print music media - hence the emphasis mostly on old music which it’s harder to be scooped on. But generally I think the roots -> aggregators -> mainstream diffusion chain isn’t much different now from them, the main changes being speed of turnover and the fact that the aggregators are having to work out exactly where they come in.
#2 faces the same issue as all journalism - the good stuff tends to cost money and that money is rapidly vanishing - but this isn’t strictly speaking a probem of criticism.
#3 is the best thing about music writing, the valuable thing, but the problem with it is that it’s really hard to do. Really really hard. But it’s no harder now than 20 or 30 years ago. The issue is that there’s not a lot of demand for it really: in the past it snuck in on the back of the other things.
And then there’s #4. This is the one there really ISN’T much use for now - little need to build anticipation, not much lag between the writer hearing and you hearing, the music can create its own excitement, and amplifying that excitement doesn’t take any great skill. And this is precisely the one that Drowned In Sound (tho it’s hardly just them) seem most nostalgic for. Music criticism as a substitute for music. It was something the weekly rock press in Britain did very well, and they even smuggled in some ideas under its hide, sometimes. But it’s gone.