Cutting The Music Critics Down To Size

May 9th, 2007 // 17 Comments

choppppp.jpgEverywhere you go–and this is assuming you go to a lot of dive bars and conference rooms–you hear the same complaint from music writers: “Dude, nobody gives you the big word-count real estate anymore! Review spaces are shrinking. Feature wells are taken up with goddamn charticles and sidebars and charticles that explain the sidebars! Where can I possibly publish my Bangs-ian 7,000-word piece on the new wave of new-wave?” Good points, yes–but have you ever considered that maybe it’s a good thing for some stories to run short, or maybe even not run at all? After the click-through, some recent music pieces that could have dealt with some prudent pruning.

THE STORY: Sunday’s New York Times piece on the role nostalgia plays in reunion-tour mania.
THE GIST: Remember when you liked that band? Seeing them again will remind you of that time.
PUBLISHED LENGTH: 986 words.
NECESSARY LENGTH: 200 words. Or maybe just a quick email.

THE STORY: Today’s Wall Street Journal piece on British artists.
THE GIST: You know how sometimes people say there’s a new British invasion? There isn’t. But boy, that Amy Winehouse!
PUBLISHED LENGTH: 1,295 words
NECESSARY LENGTH: 12.95 words

THE STORY: Today’s Guardian Music Blog post on the possibility of a new Blur vs. Oasis reunion.
THE GIST: There’s a possibility of a Blur vs. Oasis reunion. Maybe.
PUBLISHED LENGTH: 613 words
NECESSARY LENGTH: One word: “Blur.”

idolator

  1. Hallux Valgus

    I’m pretty sure you just nailed the NYT piece in 15 words. Maybe you could add a line about the Gorilla Biscuits, but otherwise, we’re good.

  2. Barry White Stripes, Office LW

    @Aquemini: I think that’s where they remix each others songs right?

  3. JustThisGuy

    I’d like to hear from the other writers here: are you guys actually complaining about shrinking word counts? I used to write for a few online mags where they demanded 700-1000 word reviews, and a couple of sub 300 word pieces; I loathed the long form reviews, but absolutely adored writing the shorter ones. It’s been said before and it probably doesn’t need to be said again, but seriously: does every new release require a three page essay on how it’s “pretty?”

  4. RepentTokyo

    one might argue that by any word count, all music prose is extraneous.

  5. rinjonjori

    Records = 600 words max
    EP’s = 200 words max
    Live Shows = 800 to 1000 (80% observations/ 20% Music) (the writer’s only way to show what a pretentious prick he/she is)

  6. JustThisGuy

    @RepentTokyo: One could, but then one would be a jackass. I’d rather not engage in a discussion about the merits (or lack thereof) of music criticism, but the general argument is fallacious and doesn’t amount to anything more than simple opinion. It’s a nice soundbite, but that’s all it is.

  7. RepentTokyo

    @JustThisGuy: it’s nice to see some people still believe that music criticism is anything other than one of the many arms of product promotion.

  8. nicoel

    Re: 12.95 words … It took you guys 18.

  9. Jfrankparnell

    Here’s what happened to music writing, regardless or article size:

    No one has balls, and no one’s funny.

    I don’t mean just ‘insightful’ here — I mean writers who fart insightful writing in their sleep and don’t mince words about music (aka art, whatever) rather than passing off lazy list-making as journalism. I’m not being nostalgic here. These writers have to exist. It just seems like the whole shebang is having a reverse Jim DeRogatis moment. It’s easy to give the new Bjork or Jet albums a panning, but why not call the new Shins album what it is: boring.

    No one has the chops.

    And don’t get me started on music writing being the laziest form of journalism, second only to book reviewing (and how most blog writing may be lower than both, and totally chickensh*t). I know. It’s the best beer $ I’ve ever made.

    So we’ll never see a pretension-skewering panning of the Arcade Fire. Or the hilarious fact-based book about the Replacements. Or the long-form piece matching each song on the new LCD Soundsystem album with its direct, melodic counterpart by either Pete Shelley or Scott Walker. Isn’t Joanna Newsom a tad bit annoying after the novelty wears off? Can’t we hold Ghostface responsible for not having the self-editing sense to combine his two Fishcale albums into one masterpiece, saving the outtakes for a damn good outtake album years down the road? Clap Your Hands Say Ho-hum sound like a bunch of frikkin’ Ewoks. It’s not humorously catholic to like J-Lo albums. I also wanna read a list of current critics who praised Goldie, in 1995, as the second coming. Where’s that?

    All this new music can’t possibly be as good or lasting as it’s being portrayed. But it’s so easy for untalented writers to gush positive. It takes talent to backup the sentence “I say no,” aka the best sentence a critic can write.

  10. Weezy F Baby

    @lastclearchance: i dont think New Times is ever going to be able to buy out McDonalds, sorry to burst your bubble.

  11. dabug

    So even admitting this is supposed to be funny, you’re actually suggesting there should be LESS WORDS AVAILABLE for music writing in print media?!

    I understand it’s all in good fun yuk yuk and oh man sometimes there are just those awful articles y’know…but doesn’t your way of going about it basically just amount to the same anti-intellectual “gist”-think of the sorts of folks you guys constantly rail against (and rightly so)?

    Why are we even entertaining the possibility that sometimes music writers are given too many words, even semi-jokingly (and only semi-, because I don’t doubt that you didn’t like the pieces you cited), when plenty of amazing critics are basically out on their ass right now because higher-ups REALLY ARE trying to reduce their word counts as much as possible in just this sort of way? (Er, long story short, this isn’t funny.)

    (And hey, since I’ve probably killed any possible joke you were trying to make by now, which was my intention, you’d have covered yourselves more effectively by just talking about the pieces ya didn’t like and not framing it as “well, maybe we should do some ‘prudent pruning’ sometimes ha ha ha.”)

  12. GoodbyeGhost

    Here’s the problem, Idolator: it’s not that the articles have too many words, it’s that they’re lazy, rehashed, and obvious, just like your critique. It’s not a matter of space that makes these pieces unreadable; it’s a matter of content. We should all be thankful that publications like the NYT and the WSJ allot print space to music-related items; what we need are better writers, more thoughtful editors and, apparently, more concerned readers. Has the music press run out of angles? Have the blogs? Seems that way. Does the fact that you haven’t read an insightful piece of long-form music journalism this week mean that no such journalism exists? “Geez,” you say, “it was just a joke.” And it was. A dumb joke that wasted my time and made me angry, just like that NYT piece. So, thanks for nothing. If you want, you can cut my 152 words down to that.

  13. Kurt Gottschalk

    Word counts are somewhere between a good challenge and irrelevant. A long feature is luxurious, but you get all waterlogged if you stay in the bath too long. And it’s nice to think that anyone who starts reading something you write will actually finish.

    The all-time classic? The Creem review of the Yes/Genesis supergroup GTR, which read in its entirety “SHT.”

  14. Weezy F Baby

    @dabug:

    THE STORY: Humorless, self-righteous commenter that decides to bring a decent comment thread to a screeching halt.
    THE GIST: Dude thinks critics deserve more space; emphasizes his point with tons of italics.
    PUBLISHED LENGTH: 197 words.
    NECESSARY LENGTH: 0 words.

  15. Anonymous

    @Weezy F Baby:

    I hope New Times buys your employer and fires your ass.

  16. JustThisGuy

    @RepentTokyo: I’ve read some real insightful and entertaining bits of music criticism, yeah. that said, all texts are a form of promotion to a certain degree.

    Generally speaking, though, I never liked the standard argument against music criticism; the form could be applied to any type of criticism, and–if we wanted to get real cheeky–any and all forms of expression. principle of explosion: the argument, by implying everything, means nothing.

  17. mike a

    i’ve gotta agree with justthisguy. i get about 175 words when i review for the local alt-weekly, and that’s usually enough to get my point across. they’re fun to write, and longer features are fun to write – but a 400-word record review is like a novella, awkward and unfulfilling.

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