Short answer: No we do not.
As a music journalist, you get a lot of demos. And a lot of press releases. On a daily basis, no days off. You go into a listening session and you come out on your hands and knees barely able to speak.
And maybe some music will have an extraordinary impact on you, maybe not. Should we only speak of the things we like, ignoring the rest?
However, I cannot stress enough that liking and respecting is not the same thing.
And you’ve got to have respect for the bands/musicians/artist you write about. Whether you like them or not.
I have interviewed bands that I can’t possibly stand, but I respect their work and contribution. My personal preferences should not stand in the way of that, and if it did I should probably hang my press pass and figure out a different career path.
Probably in Scandinavia, in a forest, listening to old school black metal.
The job of a music journalist is to preserve a musician’s legacy. Inform, draw attention, educate, entertain, and create valuable content. These will form the foundation of your work and this is how major music magazines come into being.
Your posts and content should be the result of a conversation with yourself.
-Do I have something to say about this piece of work?
-Does it contribute to thinking anew about music?
-What does it have in common with our established favourites?
-Is it time-resistant?
-Does my opinion matter?
No, it does not, however, it might add value to someone else’s thoughts, start a conversation, and present various, thought-provoking viewpoints.
Be clear and straightforward.
Design an experience.
If you feel that you have reached a certain point in your life span where you don’t need to listen to new music, quit.
If you lost your passion, same drill.
Write like there’s no tomorrow and don’t even think about who’s gonna read it. The right audience will find you, just get your work out there. Ramble as much as you want, it’s good to know there’s a real person behind the article. Show your true self, be emotional if that’s how you are feeling, and be brutally honest yet very, very respectful.
And no, you cannot just write about your favourite bands and the same album you’ve been listening to the past couple of months on repeat.
Frankly, my dear, no one cares. If you are gonna do just 5-star reviews, don’t bother. But I’ve got a true expert to talk to you about these, so keep reading, Adam will find the words to explain this better than I ever could.
We all need a bit of extra feel-good right now, in my opinion. Especially the smaller independent bands who need our support now more than ever.
As a managing partner and the creative director of MHF magazine and founder of the Chelfdom, I try to pick out some of the most diverting, unknown outfits that will mix brilliantly into our existing playlists. Whether I like them or not. As long as I can find something that I respect about their work.
Adam McCann, welcome to the Chelfdom!
[Adam is my mate and MHF partner. I sometimes call him my MHF hubby and he is too polite to roll his eyes and scold me for being silly 99% of the time we work together. He is our reviewer and I am utterly obsessed with his work. And yes, thinking highly of my colleagues is perfectly ok, I can obsess all I want. I thought he would have a lot to say on that matter so I asked him to share his input.]
Adam: We live in a strange time; gone are the halcyon days of the ’70s and ’80s when journalists such as Lester Bangs, Mick Wall, Geoff Barton, Malcolm Dome, Dave Ling and Jerry Ewing ruled the pages with their rock n’ roll anecdotes and extensive encyclopedic knowledge of the musical world; replaced instead with an endless well of the indispensable well of resources at your very fingertips on the internet.
Of course, this now comes equipped with its own issues; fast internet connections worldwide, portable video and photography technology literally in our phones has opened the entire globe to have a voice and opinion. Unfortunately, the internet is a very toxic place;
it is the place where tantrums are thrown, name-calling is the law and elitism and for want of a better word ‘anti-elitism’ reign supreme as “I know more than you” and penis measuring occurs in an unchecked arms race of who is the most metal or knows the most about metal.
All this negativity can be exceptionally draining, even now as I write this, I wonder what it is the point?
Ultimately, you can review an album, post it online to heavy metal groups and forums for it to generally be ignored as people fiercely debate about Pantera, whether Ghost are metal or act like they’ve never seen a female before, working themselves into a stupor like a horny hedgehog at an image of Alissa White-Gluz.
So, the question is this? How do you make your voice heard above everybody else?
How do you actually provide good quality, old-fashioned journalism with integrity and passion from a different era?
Well, the answer is first, it has to look good; that is actually not my department, I’m just the monkey with the typewriter who looks like they’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards and pissed on by a rather angry badger who is trying to protect its young.
Chelf will take these words and make them look presentable and aesthetically pleasing for your beady little eyes. Without someone with an eye for making things look great, you’re already on the back foot.
But beyond that beautifully constructed pastry, the pie must have lots of filling.
Unlike the past, what a journalist has to compete with now are those who create a YouTube account (to quote Kiss, it’s all the rage now apparently) and create 10-15 minute videos on using their phones talking about their favourite albums.
Unfortunately, a high percentage of these are albums have been out 30 to 50 years and when all is said and done, there isn’t much that can be said about albums of this age that hasn’t already been said and sadly, anything beyond this is just being contrarian.
The world does not need another ‘critical review of ‘Paranoid’’, but what it does need is the spotlight placed on the younger bands who need it or even on an established bands recent work that is so often overlooked in favour of ‘classics’.
This is all well and good and I am glad that there is a passion there for people to talk about their favourite albums with the vigor that they do, the metal world has always had that and now these people have a platform to do it, but I’m not entirely sure it is necessary.
However, I do occasionally add to those video click numbers and a lot of the time, I do not like what I hear. This goes back to the negativity issue; there seems to be slating something for well, slating’s sake and that is generally because the person reviewing it does not personally like it.
This does segue me nicely into my next point; is it possible to review something that you don’t like? The answer? Yes. Don’t be daft. There is a significant difference between the word’s objective and subjective and sadly if you don’t know their definitions, music journalism is not for you.
There are plenty of bands and genres that I dislike, of course, there are, I’m apparently human; but when you open that blank document to write, you need to separate your personal feelings from fact.
A good album is a good album regardless of your own opinion and vice versa.
It is far too easy to say something is shit or point out the flaws in a bands work, hell, I could do it all day if I wanted to and yes, when I’m talking with friends about albums, I am considerably less Zen than I would be when writing a review; but a review isn’t for me, if it was, I wouldn’t waste my time writing it, I’d just talk to myself.
A review is for others; therefore, I made a conscious decision to write from a positive slant, I would highlight the good things about an album and give praise wherever I could.
Obviously, when it comes to constructive criticism (and it should always be constructive, not just criticism for critic’s sake), there needs to be positive language deployed for two reasons.
Firstly, constructive criticism for a band is always welcome, it shows where the band can improve going forward and secondly, it also shows that you’re not a massive knobhead.
When it comes to actually writing a review though, what needs to go into that lovely, warm filling?
(Great, now I’m hungry). Above all else, a review needs to be concise;
A review needs to in and out, delivering the goods faster than a teenage couples first bedroom fumble.
Ultimately, your readers only care about these points:
-What other bands does it sound like?
-How does it compare to their other work?
-Do the two points above mean I’ll like it?
These ideas need to be summed ideally in less than 300 words, any more and you will lose your reader to a cat video.
Eventually, you will need sum up and give your album a score, this is where one of my biggest pet hates comes to play and that is giving a brand new album a maximum score such as 10/10.
Upon release, an album is never a 10/10 and this is for two reasons.
A 10/10 score needs to be earned, this is done by years of accolades, reverence and only bestowed upon the cream of the crop, it is reserved for the likes of your ‘Master of Reality’, ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘Reign in Blood’ and ‘Scream Bloody Gore’s.
And to give a new release this score completely debases both those albums that have earned it and the integrity of a new album.
To conclude, the future of music journalism needs focus predominantly in the present, ready to embrace the future instead of strapping on the rose-tinted goggles and whittering on about how good it was back in the day.
We know it was good back in the day, but look around you, you live in a golden age of music with millions of bands at your fingertips, playing an entire plethora of genres.
Do not waste your time being depressed at what the mainstream media tells you is modern rock and metal, fashions change, metal doesn’t and you will just be disappointed at whatever is ‘fashionable’.
Experience those bands who are unsigned, on independent or small labels, these are the ones who need a meal ticket, especially in these uncertain times.
Finally, the one bit of advice I can offer is read reviews, read what music journalists have to say, you will experience something new and it’s not a scary thing and with that, you may just find your new favourite band.
[Dimitris Agas studied journalism at Akmi Educational Institution. In 2009 he worked with various webzines such us Rock Way and Metal View and since 2010 he is reviewing, interviewing and covering shows for Under the Sign of Metal. You can find his work on his FB page and check out his interviews on his Youtube channel. The past few years he is also working on a documentary about the greek black metal in the ’90s.]
Dimitris: This is certainly not possible, it is not possible for a journalist to like everything.
The basic principle of a journalist is to be objective.
Each of us who deal with the field of journalism has the responsibility through our work to be able to pass on to the reader what we experienced without necessarily liking it. So a journalist should express opinions not based only on likes or dislikes, but judging whether the record has something to offer in each genre.
I appreciate colleagues who specialize in specific genres such as black, power, thrash, but I personally prefer having a wider range of sounds, and keep an eye on all types of extreme metal as this approach allows me to develop a well-rounded opinion for my articles.
What I always say, is that journalism is a bit like painting. You start off with a blank canvas and the punctuation marks are your colour palette.
What we need to stay away from are tabloids. There’s also no need to be ironic, or aggressive towards an artist just to draw attention. Show some respect and try to express your thoughts in a way that might even help the musician find and fix some blind spots.
Did you make it this far? You are really something. I hope you enjoyed this article and that you’ve either learned something new, got inspired or had a giggle. Either way, I consider it a success.
If you like this article you will probably also like this one: CONFESSIONS OF A MUSIC JOURNALIST | HOW TO CONDUCT A GREAT INTERVIEW.
or this one: HOW TO SURVIVE ISOLATION AS A MUSICIAN
and this one: HOW TO BE LIKE ROTTING CHRIST.
and since you are probably hungry from all the reading, breakfast is on me: MUSICIAN’S BREAKFAST.
Until the next one,