Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Sick Marionette: How Corruption In The Music Media Has Destroyed Our Appreciation Of Music
It's pretty apparent to most people with even a vague understanding of the music media in this country that it is all run by commercial interest, using an iron fist of advertising money to enforce a policy of silence when it comes to real criticism.
Having worked in almost every facet of the music media, I couldn't tell you how many times my articles have been edited and rejigged to cast a more favourable light on a band because their label is threatening to pull ad spend. I also couldn't tell you how often I have written glowing articles of rubbish bands purely because in this industry it's hard to get ahead and have a well formed sense of ethics. Principles and poverty pretty much go hand in hand.
Again this is probably unsurprising to you. It's plainly obvious that most of the content in Drum Media or on FasterLouder is heavily motivated by keeping the labels, venues or promoter's happy. The Brag pretty much won't give you a second glance as a band unless you can afford to buy ads, and sites like Music Feeds or Throwshapes can only exist due to patronage from places like World Bar in exchange for blindly positive editorial.
From a business perspective this makes lots of sense. How can a publication or website afford to bite the hand that feeds? I agree. From my experience in the industry I know the editors of these sites would much rather work with creative and critical freedom to cover what they want how they wanted, but the commercial concerns get in the way of the journalism. the reason for this is the massive conflict of interest inherent in a music publication getting most of it's revenue from record labels or promotions companies and venues buying ads. I mean you don't see the liberal party sponsoring The Australian do you? At least not openly.
It gets worse though. When it comes to the really big acts, the one's where there is a lot at stake in getting the media coverage on message and in line, the record labels will actually conduct interviews themselves, paying an in-house writer over 10 times what the publication would pay a writer to write a glowing article that is then printed verbatim.
This is the music media equivalent of Fox News.
If any outlet raises an eyebrow at this the touring company or record label will then pull thousands of dollars of advertising, leaving the publication crippled and infirm. In my time in the industry I have seen Sony pull almost 200,000 dollars of ads, just because a certain publication didn't include some of their artists in an end of year best off list. They didn't even say anything negative, they just didn't bend over the barrel fast enough.
The real question is, why does the music media let it happen. Surely with the amount of readers these publications and sites reach they could find advertisers such as alcohol companies and clothing brands who would present no conflict of interest, whose ample pockets could keep them afloat while affording them the freedom to actually say something? The problem is that with this lack of opinion, this lack of principles, most people have lost interest in such media, and now their livelihood depends on suckling at the industry's diseased teet because it's the only industry out of touch enough with the public to patronise them.
With strength of principles comes faith and loyalty from readers, and no where does this now exist other than sites like Polaroids Of Androids, which are free from any advertising, existing purely out love for music. It seems that to make a living by offering honest and incise criticism of music is impossible today. I hope I'm wrong. I hope that one day this blog can somehow turn a profit, that my ramblings and ranting strikes enough of a chord to earn some remuneration, but I sincerely doubt it. For every blog out there, like this one, Polaroids of Androids, or The Au Review, for every blog that attempts to deal with music on as honest and critical a level as is possible (a goal I often fail to reach), there are hundreds of others trading in fashion and trends. With the death of the music media we have seen the birth of an even more menacing creature; fan critics. Uneducated and fashion obsessed teens with nothing better to do than rant on about how amazing Animal Collective's new b-side is or to discuss how cool Tame Impala's clothes are. Regardless of how sad this is though, it is somewhat fitting as it truly reflects the way most people appreciate music today.
It's very difficult these days to find a review that actually engages with the craft of the music, instead they all trade in hamfisted and whimsical description, myself included more often than not.
Where with literary and film criticism, critics understand the craft of the art-form, considering factors such as structure, plot, and character development to piece together a verdict on how well a film or book has achieved it's goals, its seems that in music we have all forgotten how to speak the language and are only left with nondescript hand signals and grunts to make ourselves understood. Even if a reviewer can discuss the music intelligently, the readers usually lack the education to understand the commentary.
Classical music and jazz aside, as well as certain exemplars such as Radiohead or The Drones amongst others, so much of today's music ignores the artistry of music, preferring to trade on an image of being artistic. The music media's bowing to commercial interest has played a big part in this, their lack of critical rigour resulting in a generation lacking the tools to appreciate the art of music, and that's exactly what the industry wanted. They wanted to destroy people's ability to objectively judge music as good or bad, hence giving them the power to tell the public what is good through their puppets the music media, and it's the journalists who let this happen.
When studying journalism you learn about Edmund Burke's description of the news media acting as a Fourth Estate of Government, meant to act as an impartial body holding the government accountable for it's actions. This is a view that is unpopular and uncommon today even in the news media, and one that never really took hold in the music media, but it is an idea that we would do well to take up, lest we allow the commercial interests of a few companies smother the most human and evocative of human art-forms, turning it's corpse into a sick marionette that dances awkwardly to entertain the masses as the world crumbles around us.