Music industry mores

Any industry you can think of has its politics, quirks, and customs. I’ve been thinking about the quirks of the music industry lately, in reflecting on my work with Metal as Fuck. So this article, ‘Music Industry Mores’, will appear as a bit of a regular column here.

As a publisher and editor, I have a slightly difficult job. On the one hand, I desperately need to give MaF its strategic guidance and build it up continuously. You know, all that small business, let’s-build-traffic-and-advertising, let’s-market-this-beast-and-grow-it-ad-infinitum stuff. On the other hand, I am embedded in the day-to-day grind of release allocating, interview allocation and chasing, editing content, moderating the site, chasing outstanding invoices, booking ads, and all that jazz. I really ought to be posting news (the news on the site is at least three weeks’ old now!!) but I haven’t had time. I can’t wait until my new News Ed is functioning… but that’s another story.

So, if you didn’t know that there was just one person doing all of that, you do now. It’s just me.

Recently though I have had some startling outcomes. The first is that my new writer (my only writer) in Taiwan totally blew me away with his Annihilator interview. It was about as perfect a stretch of copy as any editor could have hoped for. It was the perfect combination of a good interview, good knowledge, good research, and contextualisation. Not to mention that I didn’t have to change one word of it: this piece of work is absolutely outstanding. I am so happy to have Joe Reviled on the team, and I hope that he sticks with me for the long-haul.

The second is that some of the major metal labels in the world are promoting music that ain’t metal. Take Indica, for example. These guys are a slightly rockin’, girl, goth-pop band from Finland. I was badgered about Indica, literally, to put it on the site. (Indica are a Nuclear Blast band, you see.) But my problem is that Indica isn’t metal. I published a review of this release anyway, to prove to the distributor that our audience doesn’t see it as metal. His argument was that the pop media don’t take it, so where does it go?

My initial thought was, ‘in the bin maybe?’. Clearly Australia isn’t the market for it. Either that or it needs to go in the underground goth press. Wherever it goes, stuff that like will never appear in MaF again.

And herein lies the problem in Australian media. It’s far too black-and-white: there is far more out there than just pop and metal. There’s a vast array of zines and underground stuff in this country, ably held aloft by uni mags, street press, underground zines. And that underground community is just fantastic. So perhaps the local music industry bods needs to broaden their view, update their media databases, and start thinking more strategically.

I often hear about which releases apparently are popular, and which releases don’t sell (despite their apparent popularity). My response to that is ‘well, you don’t know the local market from your elbow’. What you can’t do if you’re trying to sell music is rely on hyperbole from various places. You have to be out amongst it, in the stores, talking to the kids at gigs, seeing what moves. You have to have your ear to the ground. If more distributors and labels were active in the community – properly, not as people “above” others – then I would argue that they would sell far more of it, far more accurately. Or they would at the very least be selling what people want to buy.

Market research goes a long way. And it needs to be engaged in and evaluated, constantly.

The third thing recently was when I saw a comment by a person who is not an outstanding writer (especially not by Joe Reviled’s standards). He’s a prolific music journalist, thanks to the publication that he works for. But of course, I’m in the position to argue that that publication has lower standards than mine. It is the type of publications filled with people who troll other sites like mine, for instance. Anyway, this dude happened to comment that using just first names in a review looks amateurish, and that ‘we might want to think about it’.

Fine, I thought about it. And then I thought, Fair enough, but I disagree.

I believe that having a band name and a first name (unless there are multiple band members with the same name) is perfectly legitimate. It doesn’t look amateurish in the slightest; how it does appear is casual. I would much rather my writers use just a first name if they don’t know (and don’t have time to research) full names, than to leave them out altogether. ‘Amateurish’ in music journalism is fanboy journalism.

Which brings me to my fourth incident this week. A positive review of a completely utterly shit band, called Contrive. The positive review baffled me, especially given I’d been training my writer to not see good things absolutely everywhere. Now, don’t get me wrong, fanboys gush, and this wasn’t gush but it was perhaps not impartial.

Contrive are so bad that people walked out of the room very fast when they supported Devin Townsend here; and they were booed in Sydney. Their music is so bad that, if I didn’t know better, I would have sworn it was played by musically ignorant 15-year-old kids at a battle-of-the-bands, with too much arrogance. Yes, Contrive are a high school standard band. Although, given Hackneyed are high school kids, perhaps Contrive are actually primary school standard.

Naturally, the flack from that positive review has been enormous. And for the writer, an enormously personal attack. While part of me goes ‘oh that’s uncool’, another part loves the controversy. The third part of me thinks that if you can’t take this type of flack, then you’re in the wrong industry. Being a critic is hard work, especially if you refuse to write that a release is crap and prefer to see its positive sides – to the detriment of what the audience sees as your honesty.

I did warn my writer that everybody hates Contrive – with reason! So when he asked me to pull the review, I refused. Where is your integrity if you won’t stand by what you’ve written?

So anyway, that’s where I’m at with the ‘official’ end of the music in my life. Stay tuned for more goings on in the coming weeks.

6 thoughts on “Music industry mores

  1. interesting… as i sit here with the current pile of music to review, i have to admit that there is at least one album that leaves me cold and i was wondering “do i bag it?” After all, i’m not a musician, i have no talent, so what do i know? But that said, if i’m not honest, why should people bother to read my reviews? i know my limitations, i’ll admit to them – and if i get it wrong so be it. i like plenty of bands that other people don’t and vice versa.

    and one day i hope to write a review that doesn’t need editing! 😀 but it could be awhile

    1. That’s the key! Be honest, admit what your limitations are, and your readers will trust you.
      I find that, often, even if you bag a release there will be people who will check it out anyway, simply because they’re curious. Think of it this way: you can bag a release, or you can intelligently explain why you thought it was shithouse. The latter is far more erudite than just ripping something apart without explaining the hows, whys, and wherefores. 😉

  2. Yeah I tend to skip reissues.

    I can see your point about reviews having scores, but on the other hand, seeing that an album has an 8.5 or 9/10 can also be the thing that convinces somebody to read it, to see what the fuss is about. Because let’s face it, the higher scoring ones are the ones that should generally be read the most.

    1. True, that. Although, I guess I would also argue that the lower scoring albums are the reviews that need to be read too: if only to get people to understand the hows and whys.

      I’ll be blogging the scoring issue soon. I guess one thing about not having scores is that it makes rating albums at year’s end heeeaps difficult! lol 😛

  3. Hey Mitch! 🙂

    Yes, agreed. That’s one reason why I decided not to list release reviews with scores either. While they’re easy for labels to grab onto as promo, I figure that a review ought to be read as it is, rather than scored. That said, I still toy with the idea.

    Inappropriate albums bother me a *lot*. What also bothers me is getting a stack of reissues to review, when they are not different from the original release.

  4. Good article. I do essentially the same job as you over at Metal Obsession and completely agree with your points about inappropriate promo albums, and the honesty needed in album reviewing. I’ve given quite a few low scores, much to the dismay of many readers (and labels, I’m sure), but that’s what journalism should be; honest opinions.

    There’s nothing I cringe at more than seeing a review made up of rearranged sentences off the release’s press release, with a 7/10 at the end.

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