The Reviewer-Basher Syndrome. Love or hate us, all music reviewers are at least fans of certain artistes.
By Dane Prokofiev
What do musicians really think of their fans? Do they love them to bits? Or do they secretly think that they are nothing more than cash cows whose views should not be respected? Now, a fan is not necessarily a music reviewer; on the other hand, a music reviewer is necessarily a fan of certain artistes. Hence, a certain fraction of any artiste’s fans most probably consists of music reviewers.
Now, I don’t know how many of you reading this article have actually encountered musicians with the tendency to bash reviewers who give them negative reviews, but I have personally come across such people on my side of the world. The general gripe these musicians have with music reviewers is that they are supposedly insensitive and uninformed idiots. While music reviewers are not as infallible as piracy in China, these opinionated scribes just love the music they listen to so much so that they want to voice their honest thoughts of it.
First and foremost, the most common complaint seems to be that music reviewers just criticize the music without understanding that the musicians put in a lot of effort into their compositions. But hold on a second! Who the hell is unfamiliar with hard work? Hard work is not an indicator of guaranteed quality. One can certainly work hard on anything they might be passionate about in life, but why should that imply a trait of flawlessness in the final product?
The next common complaint is that music reviewers are idiots when it comes to the detailed workings of music. But not all music reviewers are devoid of musical backgrounds. That is a big misconception that is as grave a delusion as the success of anti-deathcore websites. The term “music reviewer” can technically be applied to anyone who listens to a song and then flashes a thumbs-up/down to display approval or disapproval. But it is generally considered to apply only to music reviewers whom have reasonably credible music backgrounds and/or had lots of exposure to and are familiar with most sub-genres coming under the umbrella of the music genre being covered. Even if the music reviewers in question do not have knowledge of the detailed workings of music, does that imply that they have “no right” to criticize music? Does music exist to be enjoyed and critiqued only by people “in the know”?
It would be wishful thinking that music reviewers have to be musicians themselves in order to critique music. Sometimes, when you are driving to your local record store, you don’t really want to know that you are 23 times more likely to crash than a typical driver if you are texting while on the wheel, or that the eargasm you just had when spinning your recently purchased copy of Soilwork’s “The Living Infinite” was actually caused by the production of endorphins, which are endogenous opioid peptides, that function as neurotransmitters by your pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, which also happens to be grey matter components found only in vertebrates.
Generally, music reviewers don’t give a damn about how most of the artistes whose work they are reviewing will feel about their critique, regardless of whether they favor the artistes or not. However, when it comes to criticizing their favorite artistes, it is not that music reviewers are insensitive to the sense of pride that the musicians have when it comes to discussing their work. Common sense tells music reviewers that getting a music record out there for the world to hear is not an easy thing to do; it’s just like posting a picture of your naked rear end on Facebook! But does this mean that music reviewers should be blindly loyal to their favorite artistes? Should they just sugarcoat their music reviews of every record put out by their favorite artistes?
The whole profession of music journalism operates on the underlying assumption that there is a musical hierarchy. With all other variables accounted for, the music made by most bands out there is simply inferior to that made by a small group of “elite” bands whom are either signed to reputable/niche record labels or independent groups with a reasonably large and diverse fanbase. This is a fundamental truth. If we are going to delve into the “everything is subjective” argument to criticize this justification of music critique, then the profession of music journalism should not exist at all. After all, it can only be practiced because it assumes a certain absolute or perfect form of music that serves as an impartial basis from which any music reviewer can refer to and form judgments on other forms of music.
As much as even extreme black metallers are loath to admit, any artiste who bothers to put out records and/or tour wants to be heard. Musicians can never really look at their own works from an external perspective, for their works are very personal experiences that they simply want to share with the world. So while they are literally trapped in their own world with regards to their musical lives, music reviewers are there to look at them from an external perspective. Actually, if artistes want to know how their music sounds like to external parties, they will have to literally accept the opinions of anyone and everyone—not just music reviewers—and then carefully reflect on which ones to consider seriously. But if you willingly aim to be heard by a wide/niche audience, you will need to work with the capitalist economy and accept professional press coverage. And when you need professional press coverage, you will have to deal with the highly visible, opinionated writing of music reviewers more than the nearly invisible opinions of fans who are not music reviewers.