Photo by Philip Cosores
Component is a section of Aux.Out. for one-off pieces, special editorials, and lost orphans of the music discussion. Today, Adam Pfleider pens an opinion piece on blog currency vs quality music writing, and why neither should matter that much at the end of the day.
I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without the Internet. I wouldn’t have the knowledge I have without ripping my friends’ iPods to my computer sophomore year of college. Without the “illegal downloading” debacle of my teen and college life, I would have no palette to draw from and no perspective of the larger map of what some consider a young part of our history: popular music – both of independent roots and the mainstream. Believe me, there’s a lot to take in. At this point, I’d imagine a class being offered at some university that has a nice sized syllabus that may not even scratch past the surface of “Sonic Youth as alternative and Nickelback as mainstream” as answers to a semester’s final.
What I find that sometimes happens with music fans — the ones that crossover into the business end of what they love– is that they either become jaded and cluelessly sucked into mediocrity or worse, so far into the system that you’re stuck with all “the know” and not a person to converse with (because you’re so far up your own ass of opinion you’re not open to a broader perspective of how all of it looks from a wider angle). The latter has happened to me more than a few times in the last couple of years – especially as a writer who chooses to spew his own ideas into the abyss of the Internet. I have to constantly remind myself to keep an open mind. When I scroll through the daily routine of publications and their offerings, very rarely do I find something I agree with. Not a “matter of opinion” agree with, but more of “the fuck does that have to do with this album/song/concert?!”
Each publication both wide and niche all have their pros and cons, and even those sentiments vary from person to manager to band to publicist. As someone who worked for a larger online publication for three and a half years (interviews, reviews, features, editorials), the story always e-mails the same – sometimes in shimmering wording – but it would read, “We really would like band x to feature their [song, album, video] premiere on your [Website]!” Website generally meant your branding, your masthead. I certainly can’t speak for how other writers generally operate – and I never considered myself a professional by any means – but I never responded well (read: not at all) to those e-mails. I was just a fan reaching out to a publicist or label saying “Let’s do something! This is rad as hell! Blargh Blargh. I had to change my pants after that song! etc.”
Photo by Philip Cosores
Sometimes the interaction produced content. Great. It’s going to be reblogged, shared, reposted elsewhere anyway if it was of interest to others. And sometimes you’d never hear a word back and then see those premieres passed on to a different site some weeks later. Some would say a “competitive site,” but who the fuck am I competing with? I myself am not a fan of publications. I am a fan of other writers.
Honestly, I could have cared less. I’d never blackmail a band. (Wait, I think I did once, but there was an unprofessional lack of communication on their part.) The only thing that ever irked me (read: made me laugh) is when a publicist passed on a writer they loved because of a publication they worked for. Then I would read something on what most would consider a higher tiered site where a writer clearly had no clue, but looked like they were simply assigned to it.
To be fair, it’s the publicist’s job to open up writers to new music they may have been passing on. That is a primary part of their roles and responsibilities. However, it’s certainly the job of a writer to be open to something they’re unfamiliar with. This is about putting all your faith in a brand, a publication.
Therein lies the disillusion that some on both sides (writer and the working industry) seem to keep tripping over: the importance of music journalism in the contemporary setting. It’s an illusion that because bands are getting exposure on Site A and not Site B that their career will skyrocket just like every other band featured on Site A. I’ve seen some “buzzworthy” bands play for practically no one after site X, Y and Q all wrote glowing reviews of their “debut,” “long awaited follow-up”, or “album of the year contender” record(s).
This back and forth of journalism always made little to no sense to me on a couple of levels of arrogance. When you put the trust of your career on the back of some asshole who gets paid to write an opinion which may or may not reflect the feelings of the fans who will:
— actually pay to see the band perform vs. getting guest listed
— buy the $80 bundle and not complain about shipping vs. receiving a vinyl or download as a “promo”
— wait for hours in line to a free show vs. talking their way in through “knowing someone”
I did quit writing full time primarily because there is little to no money to be made wearing a crown I didn’t think I nor anyone else deserved. Now, I was very thankful for what I was able to do and say for so long, and it was absolutely humbling to hear anyone talk positively about my work or feel the need to “share” it socially. But it felt empty. It was a point or argument that probably would only change in time. I was reminded this fact over the holidays on my flight back home. I decided to reread Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live for professional and personal reasons. Right before my plane touched down, Klosterman writes this of his fellow colleagues (if he even sees them as that):
These are critics who honestly believe their personal opinions on Run DMC’s Raising Hell are no more or less true than the molecular structure of sulphur, or the square root of 144, or the atomic weight of lead. These are the people who worry about being RIGHT…But what I’ve grown to realize is that—whenever people argue over the “importance of rock criticism”—they are not arguing over rock criticism. They are arguing about the definition of IMPORTANT. That’s the entire issue.
It’s 2014. In the last few years, especially this past one, I still hear about “looks” and “placement” like they are the thread and needle of keeping a band at some peak they haven’t even rightfully climbed in the fast paced contemporary setting of buzz, YouTube hits, and how high your name is on the festival docket any given season. I certainly understand why placement is important for a band when it comes to longevity. I get it. I understand why some see certain publications as getting more “views” towards their bands. I get it. You’re looking for a bigger audience, and you’re (hopefully and most importantly) looking for the right audience. Those who will appreciate the music being delivered to them. You’re looking for those that, for lack of a better phrase, get it. When it comes to media placement, it’s always insane to me to see a band who hasn’t even recorded a debut, let alone played a handful of shows outside their region, becoming the “next big thing” on our radars as both fanatic consumers and casual listeners. At this point, you’re creating a fantasy world, and it’s cheating your band right out of a career.
It’s great to see a band coming up that’s finally getting their blip on the larger radar, but much like life, there are the people looking to be seen and heard, and then there are those that are dedicated to where and how far your music can grow or take you. In the broader world of music journalism, it’s the grey area we shake hands with in person and talk shit behind the back.
“Thanks for your vote!” now. “Who are you?” later when you’re searching for an honest answer and direction.
Ever wonder why a band is dumped into a sophomore slump? Guess they didn’t live up to the expectations of that AOTY debut. Did anyone want to give them a chance to grow? Can we even talk about longevity without at least a third or fourth record? Think of how many bands used to be the thing, let alone a thing to so many who have since moved on.
Please don’t take this as just a bashing to contemporary writers. I absolutely love Brandon Soderberg’s work. I like Brandon Stousey’s output as well. Two different publications. Whether I agree or not, the conversation that Klosterman or Bob Lefsetz is starting is always worth a read. Here we sit behind our tablets in a new year. We have an array of voices and publications, and each one of those publications contain a few shining voices. And all those voices are different. It’s not that music journalism is dead, it’s that we’ve put too much emphasis into a handful of so few based on branding. The best review of Sunbather last year was from a simple Tumblr blog that looked more like a hobby and less as a profession taken seriously.
When you take out the managers, the booking agents and the publicists – you’re left with a band playing to people who they hope are interested in their music. If you impress them with the product, they will tell their friends — most likely through the same social networks that contain links to people they’ve never met and may not even respect. Your talent as an artist is the basic tool to sign yourself into the history books. Before the Internet. Before message boards. Before an abstract hierarchy of writers and online hit makers – there has always been someone and an instrument.
That’s the person with a skill, when the bullshit of business and hype get cleaned away, I want their talent to make my decision of coming back for more always, or simply being brought up as a relic of nostalgia and a collection of MP3s I deleted long ago.
The question of “Who will be our generation’s classics and oldies?” comes up quite a few times at my age these days. Probably because I’m a decade separated from my late teens where much of my palette began. But it’s also because every day, week, and month there are a slew of new releases that have us toss aside our old favorites in light of new loves. I bet half that reason is because of our daily “looks” at what I deem “the trades” of online journalism. You know who you are.
Adam Pfleider is a music and industry freelance writer. Formally a staff member of AbsolutePunk, a past employee of Sargent House and currently a booking assistant for Kenmore Agency. You can find him in Los Angeles looking through used vinyl arrival bins. Follow him on Twitter here