Words: Harriet Taylor, Staff Writer
Music journalism is a funny thing, teetering in the balance between objective and subjective. Music is formulaic; there is method and structure, yet it is similarly personal, emotional and intangible. Is there a correct approach for musicians, writers and their respective listeners or readers to take towards art? What is fair game and what is not?
We’ve all read articles or reviews, penned by such-and-such in such-and-such publication, and had the right to disagree. We’ve tweeted @someone, perhaps without much thought, loaded with vitriol or high praise. But what happens when someone is objectively wrong? And does this justify a torrent of abuse for someone simply doing their job? The answer, not surprisingly, is no.
When journalist Laura Snapes spoke out against Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek in 2015, it became something of a watershed moment for the rampant misogyny and various other problems perpetuated in and by the music industry at large. It also served a startling reminder of the hate directed at journalists by musicians and their fans alike, even when the critique was entirely justified. Snapes’ article is a clear example of precise, professional and ethical journalistic practice, and for her few detractors, she garnered a lot of support overall.
Of course, on the flipside, there are some authors and publications that take their opinions too much as gospel. Even though readers are typically more savvy to in-house biases than in years past, and many publications have since made positive strides to rectify past hardline opinions or controversies, erratic scoring systems and the prominence of certain publications in the wide discussion of music has given them the power to make or break careers, seemingly on a whim. Harsh criticism has been known to affect tour and album sales, which in turn affects livelihood. Negative reviews leveled against an artist early in their career can have a devastating impact later, as past reception carries forward and stunts growth.
But perhaps the problems existing between journalists and musicians don’t fall entirely on one side. Perhaps the third party factor needs to be considered. As a reader of music publications, it’s important to remember not to be spoon-fed what to like, but to stay vigilant and form your own opinions. To be receptive, independent, and willing to stand up for the right thing if needs be. At the heart of it all, we each have a responsibility to be kind, respectful, and supportive of the music that we share in, live to, and survive by.
Harriet is a longtime BiS contributor, both in print and online. Head to bristolinstereo.com every Thursday to see her curate our Gigs of the Week.