Sunday, April 25, 2010

All The Critics Hate You In New York

No one is left to say "the new Broken Social Scene song sucks." The new Broken Social Scene song sucks, everybody.

I just watched Christopher R. Weingarten's music criticism rant at last week's 140 Characters Conference and learned one thing--dude loves to swear!

More seriously, Weingarten covers a lot of ground in 10 minutes, so let's consider five of his strongest statements, as more-or-less accurately transcribed by yours truly:

1. The Hype Machine is the lowest common denominator
One of Weingarten's central arguments. I'm not sure it bears out, and one of the site's staffers has objected strongly. I understand that any aggregator will favor certain MOR elements, which is Weingarten's point. But you have to consider two things I don't believe he did: (1) the pool of people posting and being aggregated, and (2) how people use the website. On the former, the Hype Machine certainly tends toward broadly acceptable indie favorites. This rarely parrots the truly MOR music, and stands a little more left-of-center than Weingarten acknowledges. If there's a complaint to be made about indie blogs, it's the one Lucas Jensen made in 2008, that music blogs have shifted away from discovering unsigned artists, and towards reprinting press releases. On the second point, I don't have that data, and I doubt Weingarten does either. Do Hype Machine users simply listen to the most popular tracks, and ignore the rest? Many do, I'm sure. But surely others have used the site to discover obscure and experimental acts that piss in the face of Vampire Weekend, or whatever it is that CW hates so much.

2. When clicks are your lifeblood it doesn't matter if the writing is any good
I'm not sure how this represents a new development. I don't doubt that the editors of Rolling Stone, long before the internet, covered many shitty artists, and printed all sorts of non-news stories, just to sell issues and gain subscribers.* Indeed, for many publications, the lower-brow fare, along with the readers and advertisers it brings in, subsidizes the more serious journalism and criticism.

Weingarten only had 10 minutes to speak, but with the last two assertions, a few well-chosen examples could have helped illustrate his argument. I'm prepared to believe either, provided he argues them convincingly. In the absence of anything concrete, I'm skeptical.

3. The hardest thing to get someone to click on is the unknown
This is a great point. The internet is an oddly insular place; you're never going to Google a band you've never heard of.

4. We're creating this culture where bands have to fight for blog attention all the time
Also very astute. This online attention isn't necessarily about ego, but about promoting one's music, which, lest we for get, is the livelihood of musicians. How many Jandeks have gotten lost in this shuffle?

5. Don't believe the Hype Machine
This is how the speech ends. Thankfully, Weingarten hasn't used the 10 minutes for the sort of self-promotion that troubles him, concluding on a graceful note that oh fuck wait he just--just as in April 2nd--published a book about Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation of Millions. Thanks for not letting us forget, Chris!


Now, you may enjoy reading Weingarten, and find him insightful. So do I, as it turns out.** But I felt compelled to point the synergy in his last remark, given the asinine thing he said about Broken Social Scene. And I don't like that song either.

*Perhaps with the internet it's become a more exact science, but that's a difference of degree, not kind.
**If you liked his speech, make sure to track down the one he gave last year

1 comment:

  1. I watched that video as well and I'm afraid my initial reaction was far more severe than yours, to the point where I was severely dumbfounded and infuriated by a number of points he was making.

    I mean, at its basest level, this is just another example of what I keep harping on about whenever I talk about critics, which is fake strawman-bashing, usually in the guise of "hipsters" or sometimes more generally (or more offensively) as "white people," or "Brooklynites," or whatever. That line about BSS was asinine and as smug as they come, and I hope I wouldn't have to point to EVEN MORE examples of a holier-than-thou critic complaining that he or she is the only one who doesn't drink the kool-aid regarding [buzzed-about band]. Does he really think, in 2010, that he can get away with this canard, about being the last critic in town to tell the truth about Broken Social Scene's new single? And as a guy who enjoys beautiful litanies of swearing as much as the next person, his rant was less David Mamet and more Fred Durst in the "artful dropping of f-bombs" department.

    If he were remotely truthful about the matter, he'd stop going after certain high-profile mp3 blogs for not having good enough writing, and perhaps look at the systemic problems that make this stenography-criticism necessary in the first place. What about the major labels and big radio conglomerates that basically guarantee that no music like Broken Social Scene will ever get any significant national attention? CW may bitch about how "hipsters" love Pavement or The National but they still have a fraction of the power that Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift have, and part of the reason for that is that the mainstream music machine can choose from a large pool of freelancers like Weingarten who will unquestioningly provide write-ups legitimizing every artist that falls under the purview of "popular radio artist." Weingarten writes for Rolling Stone--why doesn't he ask Wenner or someone why they devote so much space to Twilight or whatever? Is Paste Magazine's article on bars somehow more offensive? Why?

    I can't believe a music critic, one who is currently shopping around a book featuring pictures of puppies dressed as hipsters, is complaining about a lack of music-based content in today's rock blogs.