Week 11 - Critics, reviewers & your art
In the lecture of week 11, we have discussed what art critics and reviews are, and how do they affect us as producers of creative content (SAE, 2015). During the discussion, I learnt about how the review systems for films and other discipline of creative media work, and also how they can affect drastically the final overall public acceptance as well as sales. However, when I reflect and later read more on how critics and reviews work in the music industry, the difference is quite surprisingly great. Based on personal experience and opinions from my peers, only a few of us would read about music critics or attempt to perform a review, and most importantly, ratings and reviews usually would not affect whether or not they favour a certain piece of music or album. Given the long history of music critic, it seems like only it is only applicable to classical music but not contemporary music.
In my opinion, there are a few major reason as why music critics have a lot less influence over critics of other creative medias. Culture and taste, the number of genres and the lack of reputable source all contributed to its lack of influence. First of all, since contemporary music often features lyrics or language components, it suffers from cultural barriers much worse than other creative medias due to the lack of visual element. Music was supposed to be the universal, but in fact the language of choice alters phrasing, harmony and tonal choices of the melody and hence the song. For example, a sentence of English usually includes a pronoun, a verb and an object, but that may not be the case for other languages, some may need more than these components to form a sentence. As a result the length of a sentence in the lyrics varies and thus the melody need to be altered. Some languages like Chinese has a designated tone for every word, therefore the melody has also to be altered to fit the lyrics sometimes. With these barriers, it is not hard to imagine how Japanese pop music market is ranked second in the world but people in other countries seldom hear about it (IFPI, 2016).
Fig. 1. Babymetal is a Japanese pop/ metal band featuring two young Japanese female singer and metal music. Turns out when Jpop is mixed with Metal, a Eastern pop culture is mixed with Western pop culture, it become a huge hit worldwide
Furthermore, there are just simply too many different music sub-genres when compared to other creative media. When we critic a piece of art, we inevitable talk about the form of the art. In music, it would usually be the structure, instruments, harmony and so on. Pop music are still grouped into pop, rock, metal, etc. like how films are grouped into comedy, crime, etc. and how games are grouped into shooters, platformers, or RPG (role-play game). However, the definition of a genre is often very vague and constantly changing. Consider how pop song sounds like two decades a ago and how they sound today, and try compare it with films or visual arts. The taste of music of the general audience changes way faster than other creative media, making reviews much harder to catch the present taste of the audience.
Fig. 2. A map of pop music genres and their relationships
Not to mention how many sub-genres there are and how fast they are appearing. With so many genres existing, the compare of art form seems futile. Take Punk music as an example, it is developed to counter any pre-existing pop music genres and has broken the general image of pop/rock music. Punk music sounds like noise when we apply the general art form of other music genre, and yet a lot of audience find it to be a pleasure for their ears. New genres are also popping up so fast and reviewers have to assign the term “alternative” for a lot of these new music because they can not catch up with creating names for them (Naija, 2017). Once in an audio lesson, I remember our class co-created some random music by jamming to each other with instruments that do not usually go along. We jokingly named it as “Space-country” and thought we created a new genre. Surprisingly, when we google the name, we found out there are musicians creating this kind of music for years and none of us know about it. There are so many different musicians in the world doing music of their own taste, and therefore a general rating system would fail. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is particularly true in contemporary music. The fact that I hate modern day pop and techno music does not affect how well they are doing in charts, and so do reviewers’ opinion.
Clip 1. Joy Division's "Love will tear us apart", featuring a guitar playing low notes and a bass guitar playing high notes while the singer is singing with a unemotional tone. Very different from what rock music used to be before its time.
The lack of reputable source is also why music critics are often disregarded. There is no equivalent of reliable rating source like IMDB, Rotten Tomato, Game Spot, etc. in music. Big reviewers in music such as the Rolling Stones magazine, are renowned to be constantly putting up heavily biased reviews and unfair ratings (Pellegrin, 2014). When an album gets a 4 or 5 stars reviews, it means nothing. For instance, U2’s 2014 album “Song of Innocence” had a 5 stars rating on Rolling Stone magazine, but it contradicts badly with the amount of negative reviews we see online.
“Album reviews were a critical piece of the puzzle when print media was king” (Ozzi, 2016). Nowadays, the most powerful reviews comes directly from every people on social media. When traditional reviews become less and less influential, I think musicians should try to engage more with their fans and the audience if they want to get creditable opinions. While one’s opinion may be subjective, reading comments on different social medias and online forums may reach a more objective result. With information being so accessible these days, there is no excuse to not learn about the public’s taste if a musician want to improve their careers. After reading the lecture materials and researching for this blog, I think I will make sure to be more actively seeking out opinions on social media when I am creating my own music.
IFPI. (2016). IFPI Global Music Report 2016. Ifpi.org. Retrieved 11 December 2017, from http://www.ifpi.org/news/IFPI-GLOBAL-MUSIC-REPORT-2016
Naija, B. (2017). Music critics are in no position to judge anybody's art - Seun Kuti | WATCH - BellaNaija. BellaNaija. Retrieved 11 December 2017, from https://www.bellanaija.com/2017/10/music-critics-no-judge-seun-kuti/
Ozzi, D. (2016). Is the Album Review Dead?. Noisey. Retrieved 11 December 2017, from https://noisey.vice.com/en_au/article/rze5a8/is-the-album-review-dead
Pellegrin, P. (2014). U2's 'Songs of Innocence' Is 11 Tracks of Triumphant Rapture. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 11 December 2017, from https://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/u2-songs-of-innocence-20140911
SAE. (2015). Week 11: Critics, Reviewers, and Journalists – Self-Directed Practitioners – Medium. Medium. Retrieved 11 December 2017, from https://medium.com/self-directed-practitioners/week-4-critics-reviewers-and-journalists-8bd8666d2f3