See, There Is A Way To Make People Care About Rock Criticism Again

Jun 17th, 2009 // 20 Comments


Yesterday, our good pal/rock twitic Christopher R. Weingarten took to the stage at the 140 Character Conference to talk about the content-free nature of so much music discussion on Twitter–and the wider Web–these days, and he threw in a few bits about the ever-dying breed of the “rock writer” and the way “crowdsourcing” killed indie rock in there as well. His charisma and smarts and the way that the crowd basically ate out of the palm of his hand (see also) filled me with something that kind of resembled hope! [140conf]

idolator

  1. Screw the Lester Bangs comparison. Weingarten is the Moses of music criticism.

  2. Ahhhh. OK, where to start:
    Let me preface this by saying I’m extremely sensitive to the death of traditional media. I grew up in a household where journalism paid the bills. I’ve seen family and family friends in the industry be displaced by blogs and new “crowd-sourcing” criticism.

    That being said, this idea that someone is better equipped to tell you who to listen to because he’s written for Rolling Stone and other music magazines (as well as music blogs, such as this one, which I find invaluable) is… condescending. Yes, he’s made music his life. So have a lot of other people. Are their opinions less valid because they’ve written it for no pay?

    I agree that music blogs have become too insular. However, he also argues that it’s nuts that his indie cred friends have no knowledge of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga because they’re at the top of the Billboard charts and then craps on the indie herd mentality that Fleet Foxes are the second coming. Yeah, just because something’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good, so why should we pay attention to crap whether it’s at the top of the indie charts or the top of the Billboard charts?

    And as for this, “no one tells you why the music is good,” thing… I don’t know. “It has a good beat and you can dance to it,” seemed to work pretty well for years and it’s hardly a comprehensive analysis.

    All that being said, I really enjoy Christopher’s work AND his tweets (hey! I follow him!), but this just seemed a bit over the top.

  3. He’s definitely right that crowds/people have awful taste. That explains most of Top 40 and American Idol.

  4. I’m really anxious to watch this, but can’t while I’m at my day job. I love following @1000TimesYes on twitter and this tweet from Bonnaroo gave me so much joy over the weekend (even if I do enjoy of Montreal):

    Not to get all @Maura on yall, but if you are at this Bon Iver/OfMontreal/Decemberists stage all day, you are PART OF THE PROBLEM. #bonnaroo

  5. That was loads of fun. Don’t agree with every word, but the “a lot of WHO, not enough WHY” was a great closer. Well done.

  6. @MayhemintheHood: ahh, dude you may be missing the point somewhat? he’s also (and more to the point) saying that the sea of 17-year old indie dorks with blogs have terrible taste, which is why so much “acclaimed” indie is super lame right now.

  7. Lots of good stuff in this – I’m sure the line about RS in ’96 hit home for a lot of poeple – but most of all, I was intrigued by one thing – so Maura, can you clarify for us: I-dolator, or I-DO-lator?

  8. Whiney pronounced it correctly.

  9. Wait, some people don’t have eclectic tastes and only stay in there little niche of music? Shocking.

  10. wait a sec. he’s just totally wrong about the kind of music getting popular right now. say whatever you will about animal collective/dirty projectors/no age/wavves/whatever the cool kids are pushing right now, but they’re sure as shit not “middle of the road.” stuff gets overhyped real fast these days, but the music promoted by the pitchfork-blogosphere mafia usually is often super idiosyncratic (and often really interesting). i’d say originality and voice are valued a lot more by today’s critical establishment than chops, or even overall quality. dirty projectors aren’t “tolerated by the most people,” they’re dearly loved by some and despised by others.

    and this guy whines about compartmentalization, but pitchfork, his example of what’s wrong with music today reps for fleet foxes and fucked up and mastodon and bat for lashes and weezy. compare that to what spin and rolling stone promoted in the 90s (and still pretty much promote): same-y alt-rock and a bit of token backpacker rap. in fact he shows his hand by dismissing phish and jam band culture. critics today are willing to accept that both jam music contains some good ideas. but weingarten refuses to consider that anybody could be genuinely interested in phish because he’s attached to a naive, 30 year old faux-punk notion of cool.

    and shit, this guy just has a completely narrow notion of what criticism is for. he can’t imagine that music is worth talking about beyond whether it’s good or not. pitchfork review’s can get real pretentious, but I appreciate that their writers think about music. I like hearing what other people think about music, because it helps me engage with what I’m listening to. criticism can make music more meaningful. and it can be fun to read. who would rather read a tweet about an album than lester bangs’ thoughts on the stooges. sure, when people all write long-form essays on music you’ll get a lot of crap, but 80% of everything is crap, and I’d much rather have a world with lots of crap and lots of really interesting music writing than a pile of tweets. criticism doesn’t have to be a filter. it can be worthwhile writing. it can even be (horror!) a conversation.

    not that i’d expect anyone associated in any way with rolling stone to get that.

  11. Already posted thoughts here:
    http://nick-lcc.tumblr.com/post/125364324/one-of-the-unfortunate-side-effects-of-the-lack-of

    But I’ll repost here:

    As Old Music Geek Guy, I’ll say stratification has been around since the music industry started. Initially, it was a geographical limitation and lack of distribution. During the 80s and early part of the 90s, it was less of that and more relient on magazines. And niche magazines definitely existed.

    Now we have it all on one Internets, so it’s the opposite problem. People choose a single channel, because there are too many — as opposed to people fighting to create several channels because there were only too few.

    For every person deciding to customize his or her music world to Metal, Metal, and Metal (find/replace single genre here), another now has the freedom to do a cross-genre grab-bag of songs, and then descend down each of a gazillion branches there.

    That latter part hadn’t really existed until now. Criticism lives on, but it’s far less this uni-directional top-down thing anymore. There’s a lot more of an army of amateur critics with constant back-n-forth feedback all on the ground over-poulating each other and getting in each other’s way, because hovering above apparently isn’t economically feasable for the time being or perhaps moving forward. In either case, Sturgeon’s Law applies in all cases.

    The crux is that no one needs to construct an environment to discuss music anymore. It’s easily available everywhere, anywhere, for free, if you have net access. The above premise is filled with too much pessimism (and hoo boy do big festivals trigger the pessimism gland!) It’s a matter of figuring out how best to use all this free shit on the internet, rather than complain about how people are running away with it now.

    To be honest, I don’t see the problem with what we have. No one has had the time and/or creativity and/or technical learning to make something useful out of all of this yet.

    When critics learn some programming skills, things will absolutely improve wrt Weingarten’s complaint. And don’t let people tell you otherwise — programming is just a skill, like cooking, or retail, or whatever. It’s just a trade, not this rocket science thingey that’s too hard to learn.

    This is much easier said than done, but now is the time for aspiring or current critics to get to learn how to *create* more of the Internets rather than *depend* on it. And this involves some basic software dev and digital network theory with some initiative to write some scripts.

    This isn’t *the* solution. Main point, when your current trade is outsourced and/or is dying, either you diversify your skills, or you fall.

  12. jz

    this guy is very, very confused. he brings up some good points–i like the plea for more “because” in criticism–but he misses the big one.

    first of all, just look at him. what is he trying convey with his appearance? just with-it enough to not be scoffed at by hipsters, just nerdy enough to feel comfortable delivering a talk at the twitter convention. yet he falls short of either. he looks foolish bc he believes he exists out of social context.

    which is why he blames “crowdsourcing” for killing punk rock. sorry, guy, but that was social evolution killing punk rock. that was the passage of time. you need to get out more, christopher, bc things die in the real world. and good riddance–now that punk is dead it can (and will) be reborn a million times over, and critics will have no say in how its done.

    then he skirts the fallacy of “popular=bad” by blaming his friends for not knowing who katy perry is, then he embraces it by chastising the masses’ bad taste. you cant have it both ways, christopher. your nerdster/critic bias is showing.

    dude goes to bonnaroo–the largest, most diverse music festival in america–and leaves with a bad taste in his mouth because…? people arent twittering right? they like stuff he doesnt? wha? get over yourself.

    which leads to that “because” he mentions, and ultimately misunderstands. the because has become implicit in the message. the because used to be–and he’d have to agree, based on his argument–”because I’m the critic, that’s why. because I’m writing for a bigtime magazine or newspaper. because i’m being paid for my opinion about art. because i’ve listened to a lot more music than you.” that ivory tower criticism bullshit is over. now that everyone’s writing for free, the because is different.

    be it a blog, twitter, a weekly newspaper, a magazine, whatever, there are only two reasons to write about music. either you really care about what you’re writing about and want to share it with others, ego-free; or you want to be a tastemaker, a role that involves personal recognition and superiority. both involve the “because” but present it in entirely different ways. weingarten cops to the second, which is why, rightfully, he fears for his job.

    wonky criticism is dead. journalism is not. storytelling is not. weingarten’s “1000 reviews on twitter” stunt is the problem, not the solution. you can’t have “because” in a 140-character review. the reviews of his i’ve read are empty, a disservice to the artists and the very idea of a thoughtful readership. making an album is a lot of work. 140 characters isn’t.

    christopher, you’re killing the same medium that you’re trying to hang onto. embracing twitter isnt the answer. better writing is.

  13. I subscribe to his twitter feed in my google reader, and no other twitter crosses my path.

  14. I think Weingarten’s contradictions are for the sake of a few good jokes. It works in a one time setting, but in the youtube era where you can watch those quotes over and over again. Then, yes, you can point to those contradictions (which you could probably do to most people’s), but a lot may just be because of the live setting.

    One could also argue that his twitter stunt isn’t so much a critique of 1000 records but a critique of music criticism.

  15. I am sorry this was one of the most moronic speeches I have ever heard. We thoroughly debunked him here
    http://musformation.com/2009/06/rock-critic-becmoans-twitter-since-he-is-out-of-a-job-bitter-and-shortsighted.html

  16. Here are some thoughts and study questions:

    “Crowdsourcing killed indie rock”.

    I actually agree with you. What I don’t agree with you about is that this is a problem. “Indie rock” is a pretentious label that is anchored in fashion, not music. This was a label that was used to identify something that was difficult, in some way, to access because it was not mainstream and made consumers feel entitled to a sense of having “good taste” in the sense that you use the phrase. One had to read critics to get into “Indie Rock” because you couldn’t turn on the radio and hear it (or your computer). Remind me, independent of what, exactly?

    Are you actually arguing that popular music is worse now than it was in the golden age of your “Indie” music journalism scene? Why are you trying to argue that you think the masses of people are above average? That is the definition of average! Do more average opinions mean fewer above average ones?

    Here’s the bottom line, brah: You’re a fashion writer, not a music critic. Now that people don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to listen to thousands of records, they don’t need your filter and they don’t need your fashion advice either. People don’t want to be told what’s awesome, cool, good, fashionable. They want to create it for themselves and now technology can better enable that in the mainstream music scene.

    Do you think more people would think Fleet Foxes suck if your writing was still relevant? Would Fleet Foxes occupy a more appropriate position lower on music consumption’s totem pole? Would someone have to hire a prostitute for you to write a favorable Fleet Foxes review?

    What is your point again? Why are you shouting? Why are you trying to mount a revolution of substance via 140 character long blurbs? Why are you trying to explode my brain with your contridictions??

    Please do get a job.

  17. “if people think some long internet rant to express appropriate enthusiasm, it’s not true”

    it’s kind of hilarious that it takes him nine minutes of internet ranting to get to his point, and that point turns out to be that people on the internet should tell each other how and why to like things.

  18. Cheila_boi

    So this guy thinks he should decide to what people listen to; moreover, people should listen to what he thinks they should want. Last time I checked I thought people had the choice. He sound like a altruistic bastard.

  19. Mace

    Agreed. This guy's just mad because he can no longer be a direct influence upon the masses of people who he thinks are stupid and don't know “good music.” People like this make me sick. This guy loves that power. I say let the people listen to what they like. I could say that Katy P sucks ass, but hey that would be MY opinion. Quit whining and find a new way to make a living because the internet isn't going anywhere.

  20. Gimli Son Of Gloin

    Chirs,

    Yet again you have shown that your time here is over. You cannot understand the times we live in becuaes you no longer have a place. Its really sad watching you bitch about things that are creating a more open an interactive world to live in. your right you will not have a job as a rock crtitic soon but its not the “crowds” fault, its yours. learn to adapt or try writing something with some depth

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