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I love music. A lot. If I could only have one sense, it would be hearing. I seriously couldn’t live if I couldn’t hear. That sounds so clichéd, but I say it with complete sincerity. I managed to get a job where my primary purpose is to listen to it, and make sure other people can too (shoutout to VUWSA for my paycheque, you da real MVPs—also, listen to Salient FM, I promise we aren’t that shit).
But there are parts of this industry that I really don’t like. I’m not going to talk about the fact that the label industry is wrecked, the weird laws around copyright that have been taken to extremes, or the fact that streaming services have made being a small artist an unsustainable occupation, as those have all been done to death already.
Instead, I’m going to rant about the music reviewing industry.
I’ll preface this by saying I have nothing against reviews themselves; I think they can be a valuable resource in discovering content that one would not usually be exposed to, and that quite often the praise/derision given to some artists is deserved.
But the advent of the internet has led to the commodification of music reviews to an insidious extent.
Pitchfork, the darling of indie crowds (and over the last half-decade, hip-hop fans) has always been somewhat of a sore point for me.
In 2013 it was reported that Pitchfork earned somewhere between US$5 and $10 million in advertising revenue alone. Pitchfork’s advertisements are primarily focused on promoting either an artist or an upcoming album, as is to be expected of a site dedicated to music, but the problem is the almost uncanny correlation between the albums Pitchfork advertises, and the albums Pitchfork gives high review scores to.
Couple this with the more recent invention of the Pitchfork Music Festival, where artists who headline or feature regularly get higher scores on the site, and you have the perfect recipe for a batshit insane conspiracy theory.
While you could easily say that they only advertise shit they really enjoy, the thought that paying for advertising on the site will get you a higher review score, or even a spot in their wildly popular festivals, will always be there.
This isn’t a problem for just Pitchfork though. For amateur reviewers on YouTube like Anthony Fantano, popularity drives view counts, and panning an album that is popular could very easily lead to a loss in income.
This isn’t even getting started on the fact that music is an entirely subjective thing. If you like Nickelback, I might think you’re a fucking idiot, but I won’t criticise you (to your face). The same goes for if you only listen to Pink Floyd because “today’s music is so garbage”, while you comment on videos of Miley Cyrus or some shit.
I think what I’m trying to get at here is the fact that for a review to truly be impartial, you have to remove both the individual reviewing it, and any form of compensation that could go towards the review. This obviously isn’t a solution at all, as it would reduce reviewing to a hobby, and hobbies don’t put food on the table.
So that’s that. Rant is over now. TL;DR, listen to what you want to listen to, read reviews, but form your own opinions on those pieces, and fucking own the shit.
Robert runs the world’s best student radio station, Salient FM. When he isn’t fighting VUWSA over funding so he can buy cables, he’s usually preaching the importance of 808s and Heartbreak, or lamenting the fact he can’t afford San Pellegrino.