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Apr 27, 2010

Search engine optimisation is killing music

Immediacy and the race to be first on the internet is killing quality music criticism and journalism stone dead, writes Everett True.

The internet has been buzzing over the antics of US music critic Chris Weingarten, again.

Last year, he volubly announced at a Twitter conference that the internet was killing music journalism and to prove his point, he launched on a one-man mission to review 1000 albums on Twitter (in 140 characters or less) just to prove it could be done.

This seemed a strange move: like kissing Prince Charles on both cheeks to prove you really don’t like him. For example, his Twitter review of Alicia Keys’ The Elements of Freedom read:

@1000TimesYes Vintage Whitney-style ballads — even though the Beyoncé rip is the best track #6

It describes, sure, but doesn’t give a single insight into the music whatsoever. But perhaps that was Weingarten’s point, to show up the transparency of the internet’s approach to “first-past-the-post” music journalism.

My knee-jerk reaction to watching the newest video of Weingarten was to think of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons — the overweight 40-year-old balding virgin who runs the comic book store in Springfield, an archetypal elitist snob who delights in making heavily sarcastic comments at the eight-year-olds who come frequent his shop.


There’s something about Weingarten’s manner, his indier-than-thou soliloquies (he smugly calls himself “The Last Rock Critic Left Standing”), his horrible, horrible baseball cap and beard:


Listen in, however, past the appalling introduction, and it becomes apparent that Weingarten is giving a great rant about the way websites such as The Hype Machine have caused homogenisation across Web 2.0 environments by aggregating music blogs and reducing personality journalism to a lowest common denominator, utilising the star rating system.

In other words, search engine optimisation is killing music.

“Internet? I give up. You can have rock writing because you’ve officially sucked all the fun out of it. In 2010, writing about music, reading about music, learning about music, is math,” says Weingarten.

Weingarten goes on to argue how immediacy and the race to be first on the internet is killing quality criticism (and journalism) stone dead:

“Let’s talk about firsties! Firsties! The race to be first! The race to be first is currently the most fucked-up, nasty, Ebola virus devouring music writing from the inside. Let’s say I’m at a rock show and something interesting happens, like Jay-Z brings a guest out or Lady Gaga’s fucking face falls off …  I could go to one of my editors and file one of the most evocative, lucid pieces of writing about it, I could have my photographer friend there shooting these gorgeous, artful photos, but the most clicks for that story will go to whoever got it up the fastest. Insight and artistry are no longer an end-goal, they’re afterthoughts.”

Now I think about it, this whole “indie music critic = Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons” sums up the problem with the Australian street press.

All these dullard arseholes who’ve been given an outlet to express opinions that have been copied wholesale from other slightly better-known dullard arseholes that have been copied wholesale from other slightly better-known dullard arseholes, and so on.

There’s no point in such a trans-local world where the only people who listen to you are the ones who live on your block. And you don’t want to be pissing them off.

Everything on the internet is Brisbane. How fucking depressing.

Music criticism in Web 2.0 environments exists within a set of trans-local parameters, and hence is bound by the rules and regulations that exist within such scenes:

1. That you don’t speak out of turn; that you don’t criticise, only praise;

2. that you write about music within an incredibly narrow context;

3. that you carry out your craft alongside a hundred Comic Book Guys that you despise, knowing that all the while someone’s going to be mistaking you for them;

4. that you’re unpaid because everyone rates what you do so little (and rightly so, looking at the folk around you);

5. that if there is any opinion it’s opinion plagiarised from the popular zeitgeist and made a lot less interesting …

Music writer Everett True blogs here at Music That I Like.

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12 thoughts on “Search engine optimisation is killing music

  1. Jody Macgregor

    I like the taste of Cranky Old Man Juice too, but do you ever wonder that perhaps you’ve overdosed on it? Surely at this point it’s bad for your health. I’m beginning to become genuinely concerned.

  2. Chade

    Um. So if it’s just music journalism the internet’s killing, should the title of the link on the main page reflect such?

    C’mon Crikey, you aren’t News Ltd.

  3. Shauna

    This piece is TERRIBLE. It’s full of subbing errors (‘killing kusic’, anyone?) but more than that – it epitomises its own complaint. So the Aus music crit scene is full of critics reiterating other critics’ ideas and points of view, and that’s bad, right? But what exactly is this piece if not a reiteration of Weingarten’s point of view? There is not one original idea here, it’s an exercise in bandwagon-jumping, and it’s so badly written it’s hard to believe you have the nerve to be bragging about groupies on your blog. Pathetic.

  4. lzcd

    Look I’m sorry but it’s really hard to feel sorry here for anyone beyond the ugly realities of a small number of people being put of work.

    Yes, it’s a pity that the quality of some critic’s work wasn’t able to survive the onset of quantity offered by new media sources but that’s life.

    Maybe it’s time to acknowledge the fun that was riding on the gravy train of exclusivity offered by the older media sources, resign yourself to the reality of the true value of that Bachelor of Arts you gained despite your parents advice and move on with your life.

  5. Scoogsy

    Much of what you say is true Everett, but it reminds me of something else.

    Many of us listen to Triple J and have done for years. We’ve bought records or CDs, and tried our taste buds on rand bits of music just to give them a go. Sometimes these bands turn out to be big successes, say 6 months or even 2 years after you heard their first tracks.

    Think Green Day – Time of your life.

    We hate those wanna be “fans” who suddenly fall in love with that one track the major radio stations are pumping, to only move on to the next big song by some other mass produced artist two weeks later – jumping on the band wagon.

    Do we hate Radio for that, or just that certain members of the public only go for quick fixes.

    Let’s be honest now, by the time your over the age of 25 – many of us have moved past hear say and rumour, quick blurts by the tabloids on the latest fad and hopefully stopped listening to the biggest of the crappest commercial radio stations.

    All the media that was once first in Newspapers, Radio and TV has amalgamated on the internet. It’s still the same old same old though.

    People with half a brain don’t believe everything they read and in most cases, know reputable sites with good reviewers/journalists and look there for their news and reviews.

  6. Kevin Tyerman

    There really is something ironic about attacking someone’s “horrible, horrible baseball cap and beard”, in the exact same sentence that you are criticising their snobbiness and smugness….

  7. Johnfromplanetearth

    There is no such thing as a decent music journalist. Twitter conference? I lose all respect for anyone who spends more than a second of their life using twitter, so i’ll be stuffed if i am giving them any credibility as a music journalist.
    Music is the greatest form of social expression you can have and these idiots are speaking at a Twitter conference? Twitter is the exact opposite of social expression where upon losers can communicate at home with complete strangers and never look anyone in the eye again, including their mindless friends. What the Internet has done has successfully killed music period.

  8. gef05

    Hats off to you, Everett! Best extended troll of the day.

    Mind you, I read the f*cking thing twice looking for your thesis, so you owe me five minutes of my time.

  9. acannon

    That’s strange…most of my current favourite bands were recommendations from people I follow on Twitter! What different experiences of the world we all have.

  10. Bootz

    @Scoogsy: you said it all…long live jjj (even if I can’t stand listening to them in the mornings anymore.)