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Interesting article over at Pitchfork: What Do You Look for in Music Writing? As in music reviews, not like, writing music.

Music advocacy (well, it sounds better than “what mp3 blogs do”) is exploding. Music criticism on the other hand survived commercially for the past 40 years or so by hitching itself to its own version of advocacy. In an age of limited music supply, the word of an informed expert was invaluable, and the flights of fancy or theory that expert indulged in were part of the deal. Sharply and suddenly, the internet has broken that link.

Since I was a teenager I’ve thought music criticism was silly. I’ve never really understood why I should care that someone doesn’t like an album, it alway seemed like trolling — a ploy to get fans riled up and generate attention. I prefer the idea of music advocacy, though I get impatient reading overwrought poetic waxings about music when I could have decided if I liked the music in the time it took to read the article. (Also there are only so many times I can read the word “scintillating” without wanting to puke.)

Lately as I’ve been working on my album I’ve been getting existential. Is there still a point to doing albums? Why should they be in 11 or 12 song bundles? What will I do when it’s done?

It used to be a bad idea for a musician to release too many songs too quickly. You get the rep as being a prolific genius, but the quality pretty much always goes down. You oversaturate the market with a lot of b-side material, confuse potential fans and make it hard for anyone to find the songs they’d like.

But now that music advocacy is the name of the game, are things different? It seems like all you have to worry about is if there are enough people interested to separate the good from the bad. The bad gets ignored, the good gets spread around.

Posted on - May 15, 2007 [at] 5:39 pm by Brad
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6 Comments on this post

Future Boy on Music advocacy
May 15, 2007 at 8:50 pm

I still like the idea of albums as a conceptual package. Maybe this is because of my art music background, but to me there is a world of difference, artistically, between a single (ie a one-off song that doesn’t relate to anything in particular) and a collection of songs written around a particular theme or idea or what have you.

scottandrew on Music advocacy
May 16, 2007 at 1:42 am

You can always use technology to get around the issue of fans finding the “good.” You can use ratings systems and measure which songs get the most “spins” so the most popular ones bubble to the top, instead of putting them in some arbitrary order.

I’m thinking of installing something like this on my own site (unless you do it first, in which case I’m stealing it from you).

I’ve also been leaning dangerously close to scrapping my album project in favor of releasing singles — partly because I’m poor and can’t afford digipaks and stuff, but also because it feels like I can’t release anything fresh and spontaneous because I’m supposed to be working on a cohesive album. Which is a ridiculous thought, yeah, but still.

gurdonark on Music advocacy
May 16, 2007 at 4:34 am

Although I have a loyalty to the “idea” of the album, no doubt derived from my 70s teen years, when there was a sharp demarcation between “conceptual” 33s and “pop” 45s, I find myself in what is apparently the majority who find these album/single distinctions less meaningful when the format is not dictated by the technology.

It’s not just a matter of being able to download individual tracks into one’s mp3 player–though that plays a part–but also one can download a single 53 minute ambient track into one’s mp3 player, or alternate songs and poems. The holds are unbarred, so to speak.

I think that the notions of “too prolific” completely redefine in a ‘net release culture, as it’s a matter of finding the material that will appeal, and the experimentation of multiple release is not as defeating when the cost in dollars and attention to get to a release is so much less.

I enjoy music criticism, and in particular the aesthetic of rock criticism that, once upon a time, sought to build an “ethos” of rock music listening. But all that seems to me beyond the point to some extent. No longer do critics have to worry about building a critical mass with record companies of what to release. The critical mass of releases is building. A more “booster” approach, as with the mp3 sites and podcasts, suffices, because the music is “right there” for the listener to hear, unlike the old days of a Lester Bangs review, when one had to choose, from the review, which of a dozen albums to buy.

Brad on Music advocacy
May 16, 2007 at 8:21 am

scott: I hear you on the album thing. While I had wanted to approach this record in a traditional way, I’ve been thinking it’s fairly anti-net to hole up and work on songs in secrecy. It also wasn’t the way I started doing it, which worked ok.

And I’ve been thinking about building a system to track the plays of MP3s. I gave up tracking that stuff a long time ago.

gurdonark: Great points. It’s interesting, when I read anti-RIAA rants most of them complain about albums being 80% “filler”. Which is old pre-net, objectivist thinking to me. One person’s filler may be another person’s hit single.

gurdonark on Music advocacy
May 16, 2007 at 12:45 pm

Brad, I am with you all the way about objections to RIAA albums being “80% filler” miss the point. We all have aesthetic opinions about music, but what will be popular with people is user-defined, not handed down from on high by either the RIAA or its detractors. The day is done, or soon to be done, when only the RIAA companies had the heft to “get the word out” about music. It’s no longer right to speak of that industry group as having any keys to any kingdoms.

If the RIAA releases are not interesting, then people should not only not buy them, but not seek to acquire them through non-purchase transactions. My own view is that the best way to displace the RIAA companies is not to purloin their releases, but instead to create a different artist-centric and listener-centric economic model.

For all its flaws, myspace has shown that a listener social network can network artists into prominence. It’s small steps from here for independent artists to sell directly in a download model. The parallel movement in which I participate, netlabel culture, shows every sign of using Creative Commons licenses and the new technology to make a huge impact for “open culture” that its antecedents, tape exchange and mail art, could never quite manage.

Internet technology removes the market barriers to releases of material–to the benefit of the listener, and to the chagrin of the traditional record labels. Record labels aren’t geared for the marketing advantages the ‘net provides.
Artists, on the other hand, in general are geared for them, because the technology is so relatively simple. Part of the advantage of technology, for artist and label, is that one can release “one person’s filler’ and find the niches for which it is “another person’s hit single”.

There are a number of things to assail the RIAA about, such as suing 12 year olds (which, to me, is a bit tacky), but to me the response to “80% of what they release is filler” must be “that’s not an argument against the RIAA per se, it’s merely an argument to find other artists you like better”.

I like that artists like you are out there exploring ways to generate work on this new frontier.

David Hendricks on Music advocacy
May 17, 2007 at 10:03 pm

I think the discussion about single vs. album/concept is actually an old one. Consider a symphony, very “album-y” in concept. Now think of Beethovens’ 5th Symphony, everybody knows the “da da da dum” of the first movement, who knows what the 2nd or 3rd or 4th movement sound like? Should Ludwig have released the 1st mvt. and scrapped the rest? Were movements 2-4 filler? That’s for the individual to decide, like another poster said, one mans’ hit is another mans’ filler and vice/versa.

Bach, who wrote a lot of church music as his job, churned out stuff every week for service, lots of it was lost, lots was just so-so, and then there was the “Toccata and Fugue in Dm”, “Jesu , Joy of Mans Desiring” and other baroque hits.

There’s “concept album” unification, and then there’s “a bunch of songs by the same artist” unification. If an artist finds themselves restricted by the album concept, then don’t do it, now you’ve got the freedom not to. There’ll be a million user created “greatest hits” albums out there. I’m of the mind to let it all out and the cream will rise to the top. It happened in the Baroque period, it’ll happen today.

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