Chris Weingarten on Twitter vs. the Music Industry

June 18th, 2009 · 2 Comments · By

DJ BaconFat just sent this to the WTJU list, and I think it’s worth watching. Weingarten does a pretty good job of encapsulating and summarizing the way that the industry of music criticism has changed over the past 10 years, and he makes a valid and interesting argument about it as well:

Anyhow, you should watch the whole thing, but the section that resonated with me the most was: “I can always learn about music that’s [already] important to me, that’s easy. I wanna learn about music that isn’t [already] important to me. […] Crowdsourcing kills art […] you wanna know why? It’s because crowds have terrible taste. […] It’s not the music that’s the best, it’s the music that the most people can stand.”

Anyhow, anybody out there who’s still struggling with the the “if more people like it, it’s emperically better” argument will probably just dismiss Weingarten as yet another example of those mythical avant-garde snobs, but for those of us who actually care about straying from the pack (whichever one) and discovering new things, I think there’s a lot of valuable food for thought here.

I’d agree that his assessment of the current music industry as a whole is more or less accurate, and a lot of his criticisms really ring true in my ears. Oftentimes it seems to me that the majority of current music “criticism” and/or music-blogging culture is just an effort to see who can heap the most praise on the Next Big Thing the soonest. And while I agree with his argument that it’s necessary to remain, you know, actually critical when discussing music — discussing, not just regurgitating — I think he’s also perhaps somewhat undercutting the effect that individual recommendations can have.

Some of my favorite places to discover new music (apart from the recommendations of friends or things I hear on WTJU) are places like Aquarius Records or Mimaroglu Music Sales — interestingly, both of these places are Record Stores (well, the second one’s a DIY mail-order thing run out of a guy’s house), which are supposed to be considered irrelevant or extinct in the age of the mp3. But hey, I’m stuck in the music-as-object paradigm, and that’s where I get my mail-order fix of exciting new discoveries now that locally-based stores like Plan 9 are becoming obsolete.

But the reason places like that still have value for me (as do actual physical stores like NYC’s OtherMusic and Earwax) is that they’re run by people who are not only passionate and helpful, but also unironic and eloquent and willing to seek out things that are totally off the radar of the rest of the “music industry.” They each have sincere, well-worded (and often lengthy) personally-written summaries of the majority of their stock.  And even though all of those places are in the business of selling records (and thus inherently have their own self-interest in mind), you can often find a more honest and useful appraisal there than on any number of hip new music blogs; it’s because those are places which understand that sincerity is more dependable than hype, and that quality trumps novelty. That’s why those places have managed to stick around, while hundreds physical record stores around the country are going under. Because they provide a service — in whatever form — that people still find truly valuable.

So that’s, I think, something important to keep in mind when viewing or participating in the current spectrum of digitally-enhanced music-listening / -sharing / -promoting. The tools will keep changing, the way the industry is structured will shift dramatically, and if we’re lucky maybe even the mainstream music industry might collapse entirely. But people will still want insight and well-worded enthusiasm and support for things which are unusual or difficult or unpopular, and that’s why the people who take the time to do things like that (whether through twitter or through handwritten postcards) will still be doing something worthwhile when the next paradigm shift comes along 5 years from now and nobody gives a shit about Twitter itself anymore.

Tags: rants & rambles

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Larso // Jun 18, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    I think this video is really excellent. I agree with the overwhelming majority of what he’s saying, but I get tired of the “white people who play guitars suck” argument, because, like, a lot of white people who play guitars write really excellent songs and present them in affecting and moving ways. I don’t think Fleet Foxes suck. I can see why people who try to injest that much music might think they do, though.

    I totally agree with you about the service that stores provide in terms of helpful opinion. I think it helps that those people have the end goal of selling you music, rather than attracting attention through their opinions. The bias towards upselling the quality of something that a store inevitably is going to have is not as detrimental to opinion as the myriad biases (trends towards dismissiveness, sensationalism, posturing, etc…) that most bloggers and amateur critics have.

    Also, FWIW, I think Earwax is terrible at providing that service. They have no material around the store to help you find things that you want, and the people behind the counter are often judgmental assholes, especially when you want to buy something that this supposed hivemind has endorsed. I tried to purchase the new Phoenix record (which is good, but seriously frontloaded, and sort of disappoints you by the end) and they looked at me like I was the biggest douche in the universe. The store down the street, Sound Fix, is much better at helping you out and not being dicks about it.

  • 2 Vijith Assar » eMusic gets it // Aug 29, 2009 at 3:00 am

    […] Chris Weingarten, the go-to guy for Rolling Stone and the Village Voice who started reviewing records on Twitter after deciding that this industry was going to hell in a handbasket […]