There’s a really interesting discussion going on over at Jim Carroll’s Irish Times blog, On the Record. Titled ‘Why writing about Irish bands can be bad for your health’, it started with Jim questioning why Irish bands, in his opinion, are a ‘thin-skinned lot’ who take reviewers’/critics’ opinions far too personally.
As you’d expect, this stirred up quite a lot of debate – with the majority of people bemoaning the fact that bands can’t seem to deal with bad reviews; some spoke from the reviewer’s point of view while others tried to play devil’s advocate. A typical argument, you might say! I’d recommend checking it out if you have any interest in reviewing or the relationship between bands and journalists.
From my own point of view, the subject isn’t totally clear-cut. Although writing a review is a ‘job’, it’s essentially one person’s subjective viewpoint on a piece of ‘work’ that another person has created, and that is always going to be a contentious issue. It brings up questions of what ‘right’ reviewers or critics have to give negative opinions about music created by other people – especially if reviewers aren’t musicians themselves, or are new to the game and perhaps don’t have a huge amount of musical or writing knowledge.
And with most people these days reading reviews online that have been written quite often by inexperienced writers, there’s more chance of finding a badly written review (and boy have I read some stinkers). But true ‘critics’, I would argue, are those with many years of experience whose knowledge is informed by years of writing and listening, and so they have a talent or a knack for reviewing, listening to an album and being able to critique it correctly. However to a band, I would imagine that any review at all, whether written by a ‘newbie’ or well-established writer, means something – it means that people are reading about them, and if they are reading something negative there is a fear that the band will get a ‘bad name’.
The act of critiquing something is not new, and as long as there has been the printed word there has been a forum for people to give their opinion about everything from current events to artistic pursuits. Writing and creating music are both creative jobs and in that sense musicians and writers are alike – they are creating something. Reviews force musicians to realise that other people are listening to their music too and that other people are judging their music. They also help promote bands, and give them a ‘space’ in their local or national music scene. So I would argue that reviews are extremely important – but only when they’re done well. By that I don’t mean only when they’re written in a positive light – of course not. What I mean is that the reviewer gives the record a chance, and doesn’t let preconceived ideas or ill-feelings towards the band or musician cloud their judgement. Personally, I don’t enjoy writing reviews – I put my hand up and say that I find them quite difficult. Give me a 3,000 word feature to write any day of the week! But anything that challenges a writer is a good thing, and so I continue to write them and try to do a better review each time I write one.
But if reviewers are fair to bands, then the bands must be fair too – no one likes being criticised, and that’s a given. But launching hate-campaigns on blogs or posting silly, rash comments on forums is no way to respond to a bad review. If you think you’ve been hard done by – email the reviewer. Maybe your band isn’t as hot as you think. And if you get a bad review, it really isn’t the end of the world. And if you’re a reviewer – as someone said on the On The Record blog, if you couldn’t say it to the band’s face, then don’t bother writing it. And do your best to do justice to the band when you write the review – we can’t all be experts on every band but we can do our research.