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“You CANNOT make friends with the rock stars. That’s what’s important. If you’re a rock journalist – first, you will never get paid much.” Lester Bangs
Nepotism is rife in every industry. Worming it’s way into the music industry decades ago. Now, in the 21st century with the influence of social media, it has become more obvious, more prevalent. The question ‘what harm can it do?’ can be very easily answered. Albums which the public are told are great works, simply are not. The record buying public is let down by the artist, and the ones who put the idea into their head in the first place. Which caused a distrust between the media and the public (as if there is not enough already). To quote the orange tool it becomes ‘fake news’. Another way to look at this- reviews which are dishonestly given, give artists the impression that what they are creating, or the direction in which they are going is correct or the right one. This leads to their creativity or art suffering.
So should a music reviewer positively highlight a band for the sake of being asked to? Bribed to? Regardless of the fact whether the work is any good or not? The simple answer is no, music reviewers have to be honest. To put it better music reviewers must inform readers of both the strengths and weaknesses of an album. And like most things in life, nothing is perfect, so why say it is when it’s not? This is at the crux of the problem, reviewers, like in any industry, can be persuaded to cross that honesty line. With the lure of albums, interviews, concert tickets, all or any of the above. Most reviewers don’t get paid for what they write or review, so any form of payment is welcomed. Morally it is wrong, so who is to blame?
In one scenario it is the reviewers themselves, getting into writing about music should be something of a passion based hobby. Being able to delve into the heart of a recording is a skill but usually the people who can, are separated from the people who cannot very quickly. If it is not enough for them to get their work published in print online or wherever, if they are looking for a payout of some form then they should not do it for free, or not do it at all.
The second scenario is the middle man, or woman who promotes the artist -the ‘PR’ company. They usually align themselves with reviewers from a wide range of outlets so as each artist they promote, gets the same airtime on each outlet. Of course the carrot dangling ‘you scratch my back..’ ideal comes into play here. Cover an artist, give them a good review regardless and you’ll get an interview, free record, any number of rewards.
Of course not all public relations companies work in such a shameless manner, some will pass on what they have and not hold out any expectation but try to get their artist covered. This situation also applies when it comes to labels, with so many small independent labels, they can of course work within the same rewards pattern. And again, the upstanding morally responsible ones just send out promos via email and hope for the best. After all, they know more than anyone when they are trying to flog something good, or flog a dead horse.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Recently I reviewed the latest release by the Boomtown Rats. Citizens Of Boomtown, for the most part is horrendous. Perhaps two good songs, the rest is a mess lacking a melody. In response to my review, it was posted on a Bob Geldof appreciation page so members and fans could take swipes. Though they didn’t post the twenty other reviews that were similar from much larger sites. I was just the unlucky one they picked. But, I could have lied, said it was amazing, watched as it got posted on the same site which would have opened doors to request interviews etc. Music critics, and writers must be honest and unafraid to call out something instead of misleading the public for their own sake.
Last year, respected L.A Times journalist Ann Powers wrote a powerful, and honest account of Lana Del Ray’s Norman F#@King Rockwell. To which Del Ray took her offence to Twitter and said “Here’s a little sidenote on your piece. I don’t even relate to one observation you made about the music. There’s nothing uncooked about me. To write about me is nothing like it is to be with me. Never had a persona. Never needed one. Never will.” The problem was not Ann Powers doing her job, the problem was Lana Del Ray was unable to handle negativity towards her release. The old saying “learn from your mistakes” must not apply anymore, and reviewers/critics should only say nice, sweet positive things or else be scorned. That raises a bigger issue, should reviewers only review what they believe to be good? Or should they review what’s in front of them without fear of repercussion? Honestly, they should as a rule do both good and bad. As they can be the dividing line between the public parting with money on the premise of quality.
Anyone who writes for a living, as a sideline, covering any form of art has at some stage been told to review something in a light contrary to the truth. That is the nepotism that is festering. The general public, in this case the listening public, are not foolish and know the difference. Just because a music critic owes a favour, or knows someone who will owe them one, should not be the difference between the truth and a lie. This brings us nicely to my opening quote from the legendary Lester Bangs. In some respects, if music critics want to do their job correctly they cannot cosy up to artists, labels or pr companies. Otherwise they’ll be swayed by friendship, or emotional bonds to say nice things. After all, that is a human quality which can be inescapable. Ultimately, the music industry is a fickle place, crowded with bands and artists who are struggling to be heard. Many of whom will never be.
Note: Image by kind permission of
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