Are Music Writers Egotistical Pricks?

By Ian Burke

January 1997, and the bombshell dropped that next piece of coursework would count towards my A-Level in the much-maligned-but-pretty-entertaining Media Studies. As I’d only managed to stay in the class because I’d “somehow winged the exam” just before Christmas, as the teacher put it (I was something of a professional absentee in the lower sixth), I realised it was the perfect opportunity to roll out my master plan: TWANG!?!

An affectionate piss-take of Kerrang!, my magazine of choice at the time, it had the usual fanzine stuff in there – badly written reviews, transcribed interviews, and oodles of enthusiasm – as well as Crispian Mills’ head coming out of my mate Daz’s arse. It also confirmed what I already suspected…I wanted to be a music journalist.

As the years passed, my initial naive style flourished into something resembling ‘proper’ writing, and both my praise and condemnation of bands became more precise, yet this is exactly what I have a problem with, and I’m guessing the reason why I go into sulky semi-retirement every few months.

In other words, what right have I got, as someone with minimal musical talent and the grand total of two gigs under my belt (and they weren’t even proper ones), to slag off bands?

Everyone’s opinion counts, of course, but most people don’t have the desire to impart their views like some ill-informed goon on Talksport. “There are too many foreigners in the Premiership (sic), and it’s harming the England team!” Even ignoring the fact that England didn’t qualify for the 1974 and ’78 World Cups when practically the only players from ‘abroad’ were from other parts of the British Isles, and the current crop of English players in the Premier League are supposedly playing with some of the best footballers in the world on a weekly basis….oh, just fuck off, I can’t be arsed explaining. You’re wrong. Anyway, I digress.

So why do it? Well, I guess that writing qualifies as a talent of mine; music has been my main interest for at least 15 years, and it makes sense to combine the two.

There are few better feelings than coming away from a gig with elation running through your bones, the band have been brilliant, and everyone knows it. Royal Bangs, Why? and The Twilight Sad have brought out the goosebumps this year for me, but what about when you want whoever is on stage to have an epiphany mid-song and flog their instruments to Johnny Roadhouse on the spot, knowing full well that they’ll always be remembered – if anyone can recall them at all – as “that shit band who supported thingy” at best?

It rarely occurs to us that they’re on stage because they’ve spent months practicing, they’ve brought their friends and maybe even family down for the occasion, and although they realise they aren’t the best beat combo around, they are at least enjoying themselves. Which is more than can be said for the cynical old music journalist, who thinks nothing of slagging them off in the most venomous tones he can muster, and delights in sending them an email to the link because whoever he is writing for will get loads of hits on their page and they’ll all see how devilishly witty he is.

Let me tell you, it’s easy to be witty when you’ve spent a couple of hours writing a review. That’ll teach ’em for stealing half an hour of your life, eh? Well, congratulations you nasty bastard, you’ve just ruined someone’s day.

There is a flipside, though. Honesty is important, and nobody likes to be mollycoddled or patronised, but would bands prefer to hear the truthful opinion of a hack that happens to dislike them, or the sycophantic yelps of their fans? The latter, I’d imagine. When bands release new material, do a gig, or even just put a blog on MySpace, they want someone to cover it, as without publicity from reviews or news items, no bugger is going to know about them or what they’re up to.

If this is how I feel, shouldn’t I just knock it on the head completely? Of course I should, but I’ll refer you back to the title of the piece for your answer.

4 responses

31 08 2010
Chris Gilliver

Music writers frequently are egotistical pricks, but then so are musicians. If they’re good they deserve praise, and if they’re bad it’s all too often because the ego on stage massively surpasses the quality of the music. A good writer should discern between egotistical, under-talented tossers, and those talentless individual who do it because they believe in what they’re doing. The latter deserve no venom.

I have to say, though, that I’ve got to a point where I just won’t review something if I don’t like it. It’s less cruel, and a more effective method of separating the wheat from the chaff.

31 08 2010
David Stedman

It’s an interesting question. While a negative review might not be as palatable as a positive one, it is, after all, equally subjective. However, I agree that being negative just for the hell of it is a waste of everyone’s time.

3 09 2010
Chris Oliver [Twat]

Now admittedly I am not a top, [top] musician – I’m not even a moderately successful one, but I was looking at it the other day and I have done over 100 hours on stage – even though most of it is open mics or free improv. I’ve played to crowds of 100’s of ppl and been on radio more than once. I’ve been in the recording studio with double figures of groups, plus done several bedroom/basement studio recordings.

Now that I have written double figures of reviews, I think this kind of puts me in both camps, to some degree [although the cruellest review I received as a musician was ‘sounds a bit like Morrisey’].

I appreciate (perhaps more than most) what goes in to music: I know what it takes to get a band gig-ready – the sweat and the toil of organising lackadaisical muso-types; I know what it’s like to have left a bum note in a recording, and have it stick in you like a splinter every time you hear the song; I know what it’s like to play a great gig, and what it’s like to play to two people and not even be recognised afterwards.

When I love music, I love it – I will pay good money to go to London for a twenty minute set, just to be there, and to be the only fucker dancing. Conversely, when I hate music – and most of all when I detect a band just going through the motions, nothing turns me off faster, and nothing riles me more than wasting my time to pay the fuckers’ wages when they don’t even give a shit about what they are doing.

As a musician, I would (and will) gladly submit my music for judgement, because I would love the publicity, and I am confident enough of my abilities to know I have put in the effort, and to recognise the weaknesses in what I have done. As a writer, I am still finding my feet, and if I write like Morrisey, then so be it – but all I can offer is a willingness to learn from my mistakes.

So yeah -I am arrogant in my abilities, and bitter of my failures, and it probably shows, because I seek attention wherever I can find it. On the other hand, until all the new releases are snapped up by trolling 15yr olds, I will continue to spout shit on here – because once in a while something drops through my letterbox that gets me through difficult moments [when played suitable loud].
Cheers Burkey!

3 09 2010
Chris Gilliver

Likewise Chris. I’ve been in a fair few bands, and seen the scene from both sides. I think it’s fair. If I record something that’s shit or go through the motions at a gig then I am fully aware that I deserve criticism. I also know that if I feel I’ve played well and still get shit off a writer then I probably deserve that too. Bad music is bad, no matter how much effort has been put in, and it’s up to a writer to be true to the experience. When I see or hear a band I really want to enjoy it, but I’m not going to moderate my opinion if the music is terrible. I think the musician egotists in me understands the writer egotist in me…

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