Once upon a time we were romanticised by the composition of a true lyrical and instrumental masterpiece.
Today it seems people are more interested gossip about an artist’s drunk driving disaster or their latest summer rendezvous.
We’ve seen a fundamental shift in how the media communicate about artists. This has caused a ripple effect around how new artists get discovered and how existing artists promote themselves.
In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into exactly what this shift is, why it has happened and how it has changed the music industry as a whole.
Going from ‘Music Criticism’ to ‘Music Journalism’
According to Alice Kimberly, Head of Strategy/Insights at Vice Media, the way the media writes about music has had to completely change.
“We’ve moved from music criticism, which was about an album and people were willing to dive into it and understand the nuance, to music journalism, which is about a person, and we have to usually align them to a social issue or a cause for people to pay attention.”
A prime example of this is Kanye West. He is an absolute creative genius, and if you don’t believe that all you need to do is watch this video, and I guarantee you’ll change your mind.
But if he’s such a creative genius, then why is it that we only hear about how went into a meltdown on stage, or how he’s $53 million dollars in debt?
The sad answer is that the masses just don't care about musical genius. What they do care about is sensationalist stories, and so that's what gets the attention. Artists like Kanye West know this, and actively leverage it to build their platform.
Why Music Criticism is Dead
1. The Death of the Uber-fan
One of the driving forces behind this shift to music journalism is the death of the ‘uber fan’ Alice says:
“When you were a young person, you were that guy who just was obsessed with one band, and you knew everything there was to know about them. That’s what defined you. That doesn’t exist anymore”
Fans just aren’t as obsessed about individual artists anymore. Sure there are artists like Drake or Beyoncé that are insanely popular, but there are very few fans that are listening to the albums from start to finish.
Because of this publishers have had to change the way they write about artists. News outlets have to align their music stories to a controversy, social cause or movement to grab attention. A simple album review is not a PR-able story anymore.
“It has to be remarkable now because people aren’t coming to us to find out about Chance the Rapper, or whatever it may be. That interest in person just isn’t there anymore. It needs to be PR worthy or remarkable, or aligned to a bigger thing.” says Alice Kimberley.
It needs to be PR worthy or remarkable, or aligned to a bigger thing.
Alice Kimberley, Head of Strategy/Insights at Vice
2. Click Based Economy in Publishing
It's no secret that most publishers make their money based on website traffic. The more clicks, the more traffic.
In depth editorial content about an artist or album, is no match for the latest gossip headline. Publishers are businesses at the end of the day, and need to make money. That has lead to click bait headlines which obviously nobody likes.
The industry does acknowledges it's a problem with Rolling Stone contributing editor Chris Weingarten saying:
“If music publications eventually find a new way to quantify their worth that doesn’t involve click-based metrics…then you could start seeing sensationalist coverage go away.”
If music publications eventually find a new way to quantify their worth that doesn’t involve click-based metrics…then you could start seeing sensationalist coverage go away.
Chris Weingarten, Rolling Stone
With no good solution in sight, artists are forced to operate in this climate whether they like it or not. The ones that thrive will be the ones that embrace it, otherwise they may have to find comfort in being forgotten.
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