Now, let’s leave money aside for now (given that paid journalism is a whole other subject – yes, magazines, I’ll write reviews for you, if you pay me – see the point about journalism below), let’s have a look at what reviews are, where they came from, and why we might want to rethink the idea, especially with regards to asking for them from someone who hasn’t yet heard the music…
Where they came from:
Reviews, as a literary form, are historically intrinsically linked to scarcity – a review was two things:
- an informed, respected opinion on something that you couldn’t just try for yourself.
- a piece of (often scholarly) journalism that sought to put it in the context of the artistic history and lineage, by someone who really knew about it.
For the reader, it was a way of deciding whether a piece of music, or a book, or a play or whatever, were worth spending some money on. The end process was still risky (though I was delighted to find out that my grandad used to spend his lunch-hour from work listening to records in Foyles, deciding what to buy, back in the 40s and 50s!) but you had some guidance. So over time, you worked out which reviewers (or curators of reviewers, if you ended up trusting an entire newspaper or magazine) you trusted, and you bought things based on that.
So the art of writing reviews was about giving people an insight into something that hadn’t yet experienced, and couldn’t experience unless you bought them. It was meant to be impartial, educated and the trust was cumulative.
Where we are now:
Fast forward to now and the transformative change that has taken place is that we CAN listen without buying. We no longer need a filter to tell us about the things we might buy. We do, as human beings with fragile identities, still often need our own inclinations confirming, and we also still enjoy the literary art of digging deeper into a particular work of art. But the role has changed.
Thinking incrementally, we get caught up in the idea that everyone with a blog is now a publisher, and is therefor to be approached for a review, the way we would a magazine or newspaper. Mags and Newspapers are tough customers, given that they have limited space, often fairly strong agendas, and are panicking about sales figures. Bloggers are way more approachable, and may well do some kind of reciprocal deal – you review them, they review you etc…
Richard Sambrook, Director of News at the BBC, commented on twitter the other day about the character of journalists:
“the third quality needed: independence of mind. No point becoming journo if you really want to be liked”
That independence of mind is lost if I start writing reviews of things I don’t really love as favours.
Actually, two things are lost:
- any journalistic integrity (something that’s often in short supply on the web, and is thus easy to spot when it does show up)
- the value of my recommendation.
Trusted recommendation holds far more value because it’s a filter that lets YOU decide. I can point to things, via Twitter, Posterous, Google Reader, Friendfeed or whatever, and YOU can make up your own mind by listening.
But the value of it is now there for me as well as you. It’s not a broadcast role, it’s about constructing social DNA – a genetic map of who I am and where I come from. The things that influence me, that resonate with me, and by association, the things that are likely to give you in-roads into the world that my music is created within. Recommendations are as much about me as they are about you.
If you want reviews written, ask a journalist. But don’t ask it as a favour. the journalism of favours is worthless. You either get the journalistic integrity that Richard Sambrook was talking about, of someone who will write an informed opinion piece on your work within the context of other work in the area, and the remit of the publication, OR you get recommendations from people who dig your tunes and want to share them.
So What Do We Do?
We make our art shareable. That’s the transformative power of the web. It’s not about getting ‘more reviews’ in the old school sense. It’s about empowering your audience to put your music in the path of those who they gather around them. Friends, family, musical acquaintances.
Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Youtube, Vimeo – any site with embeddable media is good for sharing, good for people who want to be able to recommend the things you like. Don’t expect everyone to like what you do, and don’t expect anyone to do what you aren’t willing to do for others. So, go, get recommending.
Footnote: where does this leave those of you who want to ask me to listen to your stuff? That’s fine – post it on twitter, email me about it, send me a link to it. DON’T ever send or give me CDs. I don’t do CDs. I have given up on them. Send me a link, and if I get time I’ll have a listen. If I love it, I’ll share it. But don’t send it to me if you’re going to get offended by me not pimping it on your behalf. That’s not how it works.by