The importance of words; why music writing should include some writing.

26 Feb

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If you’ve ever read anything we’ve posted before, you’ll know that we like to write about music. ‘Well duh, you’re a music blog’ we hear some of you (mostly our Mum) saying ‘of course you write about music’. But what we mean by that is; we like to actually write about music. We like to write about how it makes us feel, the emotions it stirs and the images it conjures up as we listen to it and fall in love with it. Music is important and powerful and we like to reflect that in our writing.

Why are we telling you this? Well the other night we got a submission from an artist (let’s call him Dave) that included a line that stopped us in our metaphorical tracks. In his email he was complementary about our writing and how he found it entertaining in its own right, which is always lovely to hear by the way, he made a comment about our style which got us thinking. Meant as a compliment and taken as such, he said our posts are ” sort of like how gawker makes news articles funny when they don’t really have to be”.

Now, the thing that struck us here was the notion that our posts, and by extension music writing in general, ‘don’t really have to be’ entertaining or by association, well written, considered or imaginative.

Yes they do. 100% yes they do.

We can all appreciate that the advent of the internet, buzz blogs and mp3 sites has changed the nature of music journalism significantly in recent years, but a by-product of this is the belief that the writing itself is no longer important. It’s as if, as long as the song is shared and shared quickly, everything around it is superficial fluff. We can understand the rationale behind it, especially for big sites that generate decent ad revenue and for whom getting more and more hits is essential to their business model and ongoing viability.

But it is frustrating that these big sites, sites that should know better, seem to treat music as a means to an end and post a line or two that regurgitate a bit of a press release, include a link or two and say ‘it’s good’ or ‘hope you enjoy it’ before moving swiftly on to the next thing.

In our correspondence with Dave he expanded on his view and articulated his own frustration at this commodity based writing style. ”[it] has become all too common”, he said. ”For the sake of providing the largest amount of continuous new content, some websites simply find a song, funny video, story, etc. that they believe has the potential to go viral, post it on their site, and then move on. It’s all business”.

We don’t think though that business should necessarily equal sacrificing content for speed. We like to think that Breaking More Waves and us showed that with our efforts during our recent 24 Hour charity Blogathon. No, we weren’t under any pressure to post a track before anyone else and drive traffic, but we did source, devour and write about everything on the day itself. Posts were going up on average every 45 minutes, and includes when we were shattered and posting less frequently overnight – so it could be much less. Is 20 – 30 minutes really too late to have posted a track?

We don’t think so and actually feel that this hits, hits, hits approach is quite disrespectful to the artist. We believe that the obsession with being first and generating traffic and ad revenue has caused many to lose sight of why they started writing in the first place; the music.

Music is incredibly important. It has the power to affect you in a way that no other medium can. It can change or enhance your mood, bring tears to your eyes or joy to your heart. It can spark a memory and emotion, it can infuriate or excite, fill you with confidence, make you want to dance, to run or just to sit, relax and take it all in. Music can send a shiver down your spine and bring two people closer together. It can make a group of strangers have the best night of their lives and is a universal language that you will never forget and that will always be understood.

Artists can spend an inordinate amount of time working, crafting, agonising, rejecting and starting again, finessing and polishing just one song. Just look at Spring Offensive, their debut album (which is incredible) took eight years to write, record, produce and release. Eight years. Imagine spending eight years pouring your heart and soul into something, getting excited about people sharing it and liking it and then finding someone spent 20 minutes listening to half of it, copied and pasted some lines from the PR Company and/or a Facebook bio, stuck 7/10 at the bottom and called it a review. We’d be pretty pissed off that’s for sure.

But here’s the kicker, artists have been conditioned to not only accept this mediocre fare, but to rejoice in it and be grateful for it.

Time and time again we see artists we love getting all excited about a great/wonderful/sweet/fantastic review their latest single has received, clicked through to read it and thought to ourselves, ‘is that it?’ We’ve been saddened by the non-posts that are being celebrated and shared again and again. Posts that manage to say nothing about a song, which provides no context, no emotion and no feelings about the music and which, in our view, shows the artist very little respect.

We understand why bands do this though; a couple of lines, no matter how inconsequential, on a large site can mean a lot more plays of their music and a lot more people finding and (hopefully) enjoying them. It can mean more fans, more sales and a greater shot at turning this dream of music into a living.

Mind you, we’ve clicked through from big sites to a band’s Soundcloud player and been surprised at how few plays a song has had. Being posted on these larger, established sites is not quite the guarantee of awareness and plays it once was. We’d like to think that if the words that accompanied a song, especially a track of the day (seriously, we’ve seen track of the day posts that say next to nothing) were a little more developed, emotional and effusive, then more people would be inclined to take a listen.

In the meantime, there are plenty of smaller sites out there who are putting in the time and effort and letting their love of music shine through in their writing that deserve some love. Writing that contains actual words, thoughts, feelings and most importantly, personality, rather than just copying and pasting.

And yes, we include ourselves in that and yes, part of the reason we get frustrated by this is because bands will more readily share a non-post from a big established site than one of our own. Of course that annoys us, if it didn’t it would mean we’d stopped caring and it would be time to shut down the computer.

But it is not just us; there are loads of sites posting great pieces about music every day. They are posting pieces that are worth reading even if you don’t like the song and they are worth seeking out and enjoying.

And for bands, they are worth shouting about because these guys, the ones who have no ads on their sites, who earn no money from their sites, who do it because they genuinely love music and get excited by it day after day after day and not to boost their CV; these are the guys who will spend time with your music and give your efforts the attention, care and consideration they deserve. We know this because it is what we try to do every day and from the comments we receive from readers (by email, twitter etc) and from our conversations with Dave, we know this is what a lot of people want and enjoy as well.

As Dave explained to us; ”My favourite types of websites are those with a personality. It’s one thing to just post a video/trending story … but it’s another thing to report on content in a personable fashion–to have a unique and identifiable voice”. It, he goes on, shows passion and enthusiasm for the music and gives people more reasons to actually click and listen, which frankly is all we want them to do when we post something. We just want them to get as excited about amazing, powerful and important music as we do.

Words are important and powerful too; we’d just like people to use them more readily when purporting to write about music.


9 Responses to “The importance of words; why music writing should include some writing.”

  1. Robin @ Breaking More Waves February 26, 2014 at 09:15 #

    A good post Adam the sentiments of which I mainly agree with. (Having said that today on my blog I posted not more than about 3 lines of writing!)

    Rather like music there are always going to be the big guys and the small guys and the big guys will always pull the headlines / get the coverage and exposure. However, it doesn’t necessarily make them ‘better’ (better being a very abstract and intangible concept).

    • Adam H February 26, 2014 at 10:26 #

      Thanks Robin, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      I don’t have a problem with the big boys attracting the headlines / coverage at all, I would just prefer them (and to be fair it is not all of them) to offer more than just ‘we’re a big site, we are important, here’s a track, we like it, you will like it, get ready we’ll post another one in a minute’.

      Artists spend ages creating music, that’s the tricky part. Writing a few sentences on how it made you feel is not difficult and really, is the least we should be doing.

      And honestly, three lines can still be good if the writing is good and shows passion. I did an exercise last year where I wrote five 100 word album reviews, which is next to nothing, but there was (in my humble opinion) still a great deal of personality and information in there. It’s not hard and even the race to be first offers little excuse.

  2. Russell @ YES/NO MUSIC February 26, 2014 at 09:32 #

    Goodness. Thank god someone wrote such a detailed post about this.

    I cannot stand the exclusive-premiere-slash-album-stream-first-look-but-hey-we’ll-just-put-a-couple-of-sentences-in-to-describe-the-music-vaguely-cause-pageviews-pageviews-pageviews-and-we-ain’t-got-time-to-be-writing-loads-about-stuff-cause-we-got-so-much-to-cover line of “music journalism” right now. It sucks and I don’t know how many people know that it sucks. Clearly you do, and Breaking More Waves does, and I do and I’m sure some others.

    But ultimately I’m glad that I write more about music. Good music deserves good words. It’s like… an art critic, taking a photo of a piece of art, sticking it in a magazine, and writing one line about it. It’s not acceptable in that instance, so why should it be acceptable when it comes to music?

    Problem is: people are very visual these days. IMAGES. LARGE SOUNDCLOUD EMBEDS. ADVERTS. We’re – if the trend in music “writing” is anything to go by – forgetting how to be bothered to read.

    • Adam H February 26, 2014 at 10:48 #

      Thanks Russell,

      I’m glad you appreciated and identified with what we are saying here, and I loved your art critic analogy.

      Sadly I fear you may be right in your premonition. Whilst there are sites like ours who love to write about music there are many more for whom it is more a means to an end.

      I do wonder if complacency has something to do with it. The bigger sites will get the hits regardless of the quality of words they write so why bother? As long as people are clicking, does it really matter? Though we believe it was that kind of mentality that may well have done for NME in recent years and their plummeting circulation (which can largely be blamed on the rise of the internet – granted) shows that it does really matter.

      • Russell @ YES/NO MUSIC February 26, 2014 at 17:23 #

        There is a kind of “why bother?” thing about it. But if you’re NOT much of a writer, I suppose it is a nice way to share your musical taste with a wider audience than just your friends. It kind of levels the playing field – the marketing side of blogging, or site management, remains the same, however. They still have to get their site big.

        But the worry is that more people will just jump on this, get paradoxically inspired by that complacency you mentioned, and get going on a wordless site that inspires more wordless sites until nobody writes nothin’ no mo’.

        On another note, it may be because of the way we share music, not the lack of words in the first place. Everybody has a voice now; everybody can have their own little 140 character review on Twitter, or more on Facebook, or wherever, so I do wonder if being that kind of anonymous entity who just posts music and no words – with a SWEETLY designed site, might I add – is a backlash to the ease in which EVERYBODY is a critic nowadays; people share the music from this wordless blog, add in a “this song’s amazing” or “why would anybody like this” or “this album is nuts”, and collectively we ALL review it, no matter where it’s come from.

        That’s just devil’s advocate though. I like to write, personally.

  3. Giulia February 26, 2014 at 15:48 #

    Don’t get me wrong, I love your blog, I read it all the time, but I also know blogs with just the song of the day stream and nothing under it that are pretty great. I know personally some of the persons that manage those “wordless” blogs and I know it takes them ages to choose a “song of the day”. They listen to so much music that you can’t even imagine, they put effort and passion in the choice and when they push the publish button without writing a word, it’s not because they don’t care, it’s because they let the music speak for itself. I know it’s a rare case, but it happens and you can see the difference from the “corporate blogs” on the quality of the music they publish. So, sometimes let’s give those blogs the benefit of the doubt. In conclusion, I agree with you, if you have/want to write, write something meaningful (as you do), it’s always appreciated. 🙂

    • Russell @ YES/NO MUSIC February 26, 2014 at 17:16 #

      Listening to “so much music” as a music blogger, whether you write about it or not, is a given; putting effort into simply deciding a track of the day makes it seem as though their “taste” may be a little manufactured, or that they’re just terribly indecisive, more than anything else. Just because something’s taken a long time, or had a lot of “effort” put in, it doesn’t make it good. The image of pushing the publish button without writing a word, sweating from the passion, is pretty funny, sorry. I have no doubt in my mind that this kind of thing is not difficult at all – making the blog BIG, however, and getting people to look at it IS difficult, as it is with any kind of blog, wordless or not. That’s where they’re similar: taste and marketing.

      Thinking about it now, it’s just a different style of sharing music. Rather than sharing it on Facebook to your friends, you’ve decided to share it on a larger scale – but you’re not a writer? No worries! Not a problem at all! You still have the chance to share your music taste with the world (I like that sentiment). That is the other side of things. Whether you see it as easy or not, it certainly is the quicker of the two styles of blog, and certainly one style that is here to stay.

      • Giulia February 26, 2014 at 18:29 #

        No words is certainly an easier way of blogging but in the end what matters is music, and if you find silly that someone can publish a song driven by passion I don’t see why I should believe that your 2000 words review is the result of something you meant. I might think that you don’t care at all, you’re just a good writer with an ego to show off, and if I end up to think that about all the blogs (which I don’t), well I’ll go back to just listen to music.

  4. Dr. Mindflip November 29, 2017 at 22:19 #

    Just a brief note to say thanks for writing this – it’s a heartening reminder of the passion that can sometimes slip under the radar, from both musicians and music writers. It’s terrific to see your own passion and enthusiasm emanating from this article.

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