In the world of music, when most albums don’t make money, it is understandable for critics to pull their punches. The world of album reviewing now is so much more collegiate than the knives-out music-press culture that I grew up on. – The dying art of the hatchet job / UnHerd
All around a theme seem to be emerging – criticism with a capital C is back. We missed you, buddy, because this soft criticism pap/crap offered by Twitter and the likes just doesn’t cut it any longer.
But I’d like to make a case that vicious criticism never really left the cultural building. It simply changed shape, mutated and in the process got even nastier and more brutal than it was back in Ebert’s heyday.
For a proof look no further than SubmitHub and RYM. Former allows artists to submit material for feedback to bloggers at an extra low price of few dollars, while latter allows people to leave ratings/reviews for books, music and film (though primarily its still seen as a hub for music criticism).
Both sites started out awhile ago – RYM goes all the way back to 2000 and SH was founded in 2015. Both also got numerous Twitter/Reddit threads dedicated to just how unceremonious/unsparing its users can be when it comes to criticism of things deemed unworthy
I’ve submitted so many songs and have had over 60 rejections.
It’s great and has made me soberly realise I’m a talentless piece of shit. – detailed_fred via Reddit
My own experience with SH mirrors Fred’s – criticism delivered by its blogger base rarely pulls any punches. The problem? Not a lot of it is warranted – said criticism also tends to be superficial and too often indicates that whoever is on the other side barely listened, if at all. Thankfully, my ego wasn’t bruised too much from a sole encounter with SH, since I’m not a musician and I was submitting on someone else’s behalf. I can, however, easily see someone quitting music altogether after all the rejections.
Rate Your Music, then, presents a far more interesting and nuanced approach to cultural criticism (flawed as it might be). Much like Pitchfork, RYM relies on ratings, which often come attached with nonsensical little comments of their own. Perhaps part of the fun of browsing the site is the feeling that brilliant records too often ignored by the world at large get as much attention as blockbusters/mainstream releases (with latter often getting a critical beatdown).
But what if I’m a beginner artist/musician and my release didn’t get a good rating on RYM (or any ratings at all, for that matter)? Does this signals that I should quit and focus on doing something else? To try and answer this, I’d like to turn to “How Music is Made”, book written by David Byrne.
The central tenet of Byrne’s book is that its amateurs who largely carry art/music/entertainment on their shoulders. He also brings up the point that so-called “eternal classics” weren’t always seen that way and were often dismissed as hack jobs during their original run/release.
As much as I agree with Byrne’s idea, I still think he’s largely in minority. We, as a culture, do a lot to not only turn the neophyte/amateur off, but to dismiss them and tell them in the most blunt way possible they’re not worthy unless there’s a $$$ sign attached to their work (see American Idol, Kitchen Nightmares and on and on and on).
None of this is to say that vicious criticism doesn’t have its place in culture – it certainly does. But I really do believe that much of the bravery still lies in stomping your feet and having a nerve to say “here I am, this is what I did” and presenting your work (amateur or not) to a largely uncaring and deaf world.