Music Criticism in the Age of the Internet: How Things Are Different

It used to be that if you wanted some critical assessment of the day’s music, you went to Rolling Stone, Spin, Mojo, The NME, Creem, Circus or any number of other publications, all of which employed professional journalists and critics whose opinions carried a tremendous amount of weight. A word from some of these people–positive or negative–could make or break a song, an album or a career.

But now the Internet allows anyone and everyone to publish their opinion about…anything, including music. The old publications are seeing massive drops in circulation and more and more people don’t see the point in paying for something they can get online for free, even if the content may not be as good. What does this mean for genuine, thoughtful and even scholarly music criticism?  Where are are the next Dave Marshes and Lester Bangs going to come from? Do we even need these people anymore?

These and other questions are raised in this article at Medium.

The bigger revolution in our age is the way in which technology has changed how music is consumed and disseminated, let alone how it is created. In a recent interview on the Daily Show with Hillary Clinton, I was struck by Jon Stewart’s observation that “technology has democratised power”. That’s a truism of our times, but the wider point is that technology has democratised everything. Technology has democratised systems that traditionally weren’t even really negotiable points of contact between people, let alone those expressly constructed and managed by small elites on behalf of the many. Culture at large is now owned collectively and semi-anonymously within the buzz of online opinion. If we agree on this, then how should we view the idea of revolution (musical or otherwise), the shift in ideas that were once formed only through word-of-mouth or print, through exclusively human interactions whose inception was insulated from outside influence? Has the idea of revolution now been replaced by something that sits entirely on a bunch of servers in cooled warehouses across the American midwest? Is it now just commodity, an ‘ownable’ bundle of information shared by tech corporations ubiquitous enough to insure themselves against the need to pay tax?

I fear that to an extent, it is. And while I’m the last to argue that the internet has given those without a voice anything but more influence and more of a voice — for that matter, given all of us anything other than more access to knowledge and power — I think I can argue that what it has taken away is the possibility of an abrupt moment of artistic rebellion, of the dismissal and replacement of a prevailing mainstream idea — all things that punk, hip-hop, and acid house were. Right now, we all live in the mainstream, and fringe ideas are parallel to the conversation, like multiple windows open on a desktop. You can either choose to engage with them, or simply let them fade into the ever-scrolling background blur of internet chatter. What this means is that there’s no longer a way to confront the status quo bluntly with a single, traumatically new idea. Creation and consumption have been conflated: there can be no ‘shock of the new’ when an endlessly refreshing ‘new’ loses the ability to shock.

Read the whole article here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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