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Don't Shout Louder, Say Something New

16 September 2006

The Internet has produced a democratization of music-writing in some ways. You don’t even need to be able to pay for photocopies, not to mention larger-scale print publishing, to get your opinions out there. Everyone’s a critic, and for a lot of reasons I love that. At the same time, what’s the point if everyone’s writing variations of the same article?

Mp3 blogs are one thing – they provide the service of putting music on showcase for visitors to check out. But when it comes to blogs centered on music-writing, and to a certain extent more broad-based music websites, I feel like I keep reading about the same albums and bands over and over. And, more importantly, what’s being said is more or less the same.

A new album comes out, and everyone rushes to write about it. But how many different ideas exist within that cacophony? In most cases everyone expresses a variation on one or two ideas. You’d think that the rise in blogs would lead to more ideas, but it seems like each idea is just expressed more times. Instead of writing, blogging often resembles polling. Someone writes a positive or negative opinion on a work of music (or discusses the music-related event, or non-event, of the day), and others chime in to say “yes” or “no.” Call it the Metacritic-ization, or Amazon-comment-ization of music writing.

Maybe I’m overstating the case – certainly I’ve read some very insightful things online, about music. But the sheer amount of writing going on these days is exhausting in comparison to how much of it is saying, or even attempting to say, something new…something different from the PR spin on the album, something different from the mentality of the crowd, something more surprising or exhilarating or mind-changing.

In contrast, in the world of film writing, online writers are outpacing print writers in terms of the breadth, depth, precision, and ambition of their writing. Much of the interesting and insightful writing about film is happening online. With music, it seems like even the brightest writers express new ideas in brief: in a forum or bulletin board (an insular community) or a throwaway comment.

Bob Dylan album has a new album out, Modern Times, that’s really intriguing and enjoyable, the sort of album that could be a springboard to so many thoughts and ideas. And I can’t stop reading about the album, everywhere I look. But what have I read? Different versions of the same basic sentiment or two, considering it in the context of his last few albums or using it to offer more hyperbolic praise towards a musician who’s already received a ton of it. And it’s not just on blogs – what are the ‘old media’ types saying about it? The same things. Maybe I just expect more from the online world, expect more freshness from the writers doing it out of love, not money.

At the same time, what do I have to say about Modern Times that hasn’t been said? I tend to turn towards writing about unknown bands, where I feel my words serve a purpose, instead of taking the time to dive deeply into a much-written-about album to find new observations on it. I’m of course part of the problem too. Maybe this abundance of writing about music will propel some of us to try harder, to take it to the next level so we’re not just adding to the noise.