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Music journalism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For academic and scholarly writing about music, see musicology. For the subdiscipline of
musicology associated with rock and popular music, see popular music studies.
Music journalism (or "music criticism") is media criticism and reporting about
popular music topics, including pop music, rock music and related styles. Journalists began
writing about music in the eighteenth century, providing commentary on what is now thought of
as classical music. In the 2000s, a more prominent branch of music journalism is an aspect
of entertainment journalism, covering popular music and including profiles of singers and bands,
live concert and album reviews.

1Origins in classical music criticism

2Popular music journalism


2.120th century rock criticism

2.2Critical trends of 20002009

2.3Critical trends of the 2010s

3Critical theory and music journalism

4See also


6External links

Origins in classical music criticism[edit]

For more details on classical music journalism, see music criticism.

Hector Berlioz, active as a music journalist in Paris in the 1830s and 1840s.

Music journalism has its roots in classical music criticism, which has traditionally comprised the
study, discussion, evaluation, and interpretation of music and its performance.
Before about the 1840s, reporting on music was either done by musical journals, such
as Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung or the Neue Zeitschrift fr Musik (founded by Robert
Schumann), and in London such journals as The Musical Times (founded in 1844 as The
Musical Times and Singing-class Circular); or else by reporters at general newspapers where
music did not form part of the central objectives of the publication. An influential English 19thcentury music critic, for example, was James William Davison of The Times. The
composerHector Berlioz also wrote reviews and criticisms for the Paris press of the 1830s and
Modern art music journalism is often informed by music theory consideration of the many diverse
elements of a musical piece or performance, including (as regards a musical composition) its
form and style, and as regards performance, standards of technique and expression. These
standards were expressed, for example, in journals such as Neue Zeitschrift fr Musik founded
by Robert Schumann, and are continued today in the columns of serious newspapers and
journals such as The Musical Times.[1]
Several factors including growth of education, the influence of the Romantic movement
generally and in music, popularization (including the 'star-status' of many performers such
as Liszt and Paganini), among others led to an increasing interest in music among nonspecialist journals, and an increase in the number of critics by profession, of varying degrees of
competence and integrity. The 1840s could be considered a turning point, in that music critics
after the 1840s generally were not also practicing musicians.[1] However, counterexamples
include Alfred Brendel, Charles Rosen, Paul Hindemith and Ernst Krenek, modern practitioners
of the classical music tradition who also write (or wrote) on music.
In the early 1980s, a decline in the quantity of classical criticism began occurring "when classicalmusic criticism visibly started to disappear." At that time, magazines such as Time and Vanity
Fair employed classical music critics, but by the early 1990s, classical critics were dropped in
many magazines, in part due to "a decline of interest in classical music, especially among
younger people".[2]

Also of concern in classical music journalism was how American reviewers can write about ethnic
and folk music from cultures other than their own, such as Indian ragas and traditional Japanese
works.[3]:viii,173 In 1990, the World Music Institute interviewed four New York Times music critics who
came up with the following criteria on how to approach ethnic music:
1. A review should relate the music to other kinds of music that
readers know, to help them understand better what the
program was about.
2. "The performers [should] be treated as human beings and
their music [should] be treated as human activity rather than
a mystical or mysterious phenomenon."
3. The review should show an understanding of the music's
cultural backgrounds and intentions.[3]:17374
In 2007, The New York Times wrote that classical music criticism, which it characterized as "a
high-minded endeavor that has been around at least as long as newspapers", had undergone "a
series of hits in recent months" with the elimination, downgrading, or redefinition of critics' jobs at
newspapers in Atlanta, Minneapolis, and elsewhere, citing New York magazine's Peter G. Davis,
"one of the most respected voices of the craft, [who] said he had been forced out after 26
years."[4] Viewing "robust analysis, commentary and reportage as vital to the health of the art
form", the New York Times stated in 2007 that it continued to maintain "a staff of three full-time
classical music critics and three freelancers", noting also that classical music criticism had
become increasingly available on blogs, and that a number of other major newspapers "still have
full-time classical music critics," including (in 2007) The Los Angeles Times, The Washington
Post, The Baltimore Sun, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Boston Globe.[4]

Popular music journalism[edit]

20th century rock criticism[edit]

US music writer Robert Christgau was one of the first rock critics in the 1960s.

Music writers only started "treating pop and rock music seriously" in 1964 "after the breakthrough
of the Beatles...".[5]:45 One of the early music magazines in Britain, Melody Maker, complained in
1967 about how "newspapers and magazines are continually hammering [i.e., attacking] pop
music".[5]:116 Melody Maker magazine advocated the new forms of pop music of the late 1960s. "By
1999, the 'quality' press was regularly carrying reviews of popular music gigs and albums", which
had a "key role in keeping pop" in the public eye. As more pop music critics began writing, this

had the effect of "legitimating pop as an art form"; as a result, "newspaper coverage shifted
towards pop as music rather than pop as social phenomenon".[5]:129
In the world of pop music criticism, there has tended to be a quick turnover. The "pop music
industry" expects that any particular rock critic will likely disappear from popular view within five
years; in contrast, the "stars" of rock criticism are more likely to have long careers with "book
contracts, featured columns, and editorial and staff positions at magazines and
newspapers."[6] Critic Robert Christgau was the "originator of the 'consumer guide' approach to
pop music reviews", an approach to writing pop recording reviews that was designed to help
consumers decide whether to buy a new album.[5]:4
In the realm of rock music, as in that of classical music,[7] critics have not always been respected
by their subjects. Frank Zappa declared that, "Most rock journalism is people who can't write,
interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read." In the Guns N' Rosessong "Get in
the Ring", Axl Rose verbally attacked critics who gave the band negative reviews because of
their actions on stage; such critics as Andy Secher, Mick Wall and Bob Guccione, Jr. were
mentioned by name.

Critical trends of 20002009[edit]

In the 2000s, online music bloggers began to supplement, and to some degree displace, music
journalists in print media.[8] In 2006, Martin Edlund of the New York Sun criticized the trend,
arguing that while the "Internet has democratized music criticism, it seems it's also spread its
penchant for uncritical hype."[8]
Carl Wilson described "an upsurge in pro-pop sentiment among critics" during the early 2000s,
writing that a "new generation [of music critics] moved into positions of critical influence" and then
"mounted a wholesale critique against the syndrome of measuring all popular music by the
norms of rock culture."[9]
Slate magazine writer Jody Rosen discussed the 2000s-era trends in pop music criticism in his
article "The Perils of Poptimism." Rosen noted that much of the debate is centered on a
perception that rock critics regard rock as "normative the standard state of popular music to
which everything else is compared."[10] At a 2006 pop critic conference, attendees discussed their
"guilty pop pleasures, reconsidering musicians (Tiny Tim, Dan Fogelberg, Phil Collins) and
genres (blue-eyed soul, Muzak)" which rock critics have long dismissed as lightweight,
commercial music. Rosen stated that "this new critical paradigm" is called "popism" or, more
evocatively (and goofily), "poptimism." The "poptimism" approach states: "Pop (and, especially,
hip-hop) producers are as important as rock auteurs, Beyonc is as worthy of serious
consideration as Bruce Springsteen, and ascribing shame to pop pleasure is itself a shameful
In 2008, Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times argued that pop music critics "have always been
contrarians," because "pop music [criticism] rose up as a challenge to taste hierarchies, and has
remained a pugilistic, exhibitionist business throughout pop's own evolution." [11] Powers claimed
that "[i]nsults, rejections of others' authority, bratty assertions of superior knowledge and even
threats of physical violence are the stuff of which pop criticism is made," while at the same time,
the "best [pop criticism] also offers loving appreciation and profound insights about how music
creates and collides with our everyday realities."[11] She stated that pop criticism developed as a
"slap at the establishment, at publications such as the hippie homestead Rolling Stone and the
rawker outpost Creem," adding that the "1980s generation" of post-punk indie rockers had lately
(in the mid-2000s) "been taken down by younger 'poptimists,' who argue that lovers of
underground rock are elitists for not embracing the more multicultural mainstream." [11] Powers
likened the poptimist critics' debates about bands and styles to a "scrum in rugby," in that
"[e]verybody pushes against everybody else, and we move forward in a huge blob of vehement
opinion and mutual judgment."[11]

Critical trends of the 2010s[edit]

Music critic and indie pop musician Scott Miller, in his 2010 book Music: What Happened?,
suggested, "Part of the problem is that a lot of vital pop music is made by 22-year-olds who enjoy

shock value, and it's pathetic when their elders are cornered into unalloyed reverence." Miller
suggested that critics could navigate this problem by being prepared "to give young artists credit
for terrific music without being intimidated into a frame of mind where dark subject matter always
gets a passing grade," stating that a critic should be able to call a young artist "a musical genius"
while "in the same breath declaring that his or her lyrics are morally objectionable." [12]:14 Reacting
to the state of pop music criticism, Miller identified a major issue as critics' failure to "credit an
artist with getting a feeling across," specifically pointing out critic Lester Bangs as "a ball of
emotion at all times," who nonetheless "never really related to his favorite artists as people who
develop a skill of conveying feelings. You don't feel that he comfortably acknowledged being
moved as a result of their honest work. Artists in his writing were vaguely ridiculous, fascinating
primitives, embodying an archetype by accident of nature."[12]
Jezebels Tracy Moore, in 2014, similarly suggested that one of the virtues of writing about how
music made one feel, in contrast with linking it to the sounds of other artists, was to avoid
excluding readers who may not have musical knowledge as broad as that of the writer.[13] Miller
believed, however, that analytical readers would appreciate "more music talk in music criticism,"
suggesting that "sensitively modest doses" of musical analysis would provide helpful support for
a conclusion "that great melody writing occurred or it didn't." For example, Miller noted that critics
rarely "identify catchy melodies as specific passages within a song," in the way that working
musicians might discuss "the A-minor in the second measure of the chorus."
Robert Christgau responded to Miller's statements by writing, "The way [Miller] describes the
songs he loves... is tremendously suggestive. If only he or some acolyte could spin a worldview
around those observations, we might really have something to go on."[14]
Stevie Chick, a writer who teaches music journalism at City University London, said, "I think more
than any other journalism, music journalism has got a really powerful creative writing quotient to
it."[15] Tris McCall of the Newark Star-Ledger discussed his approach to music criticism in a 2010
interview, stating, "Most of us [critics] begin writing about music because we love it so much. We
can't wait to tell our friends and neighbors about what were hearing." [16] According to McCall,
even over the course of a long professional career, the enthusiastic impulse to share "never
fades."[16] Consistent with Miller's recommendations, McCall expressed his interest in "examining
why people respond to what they respond to. I hazard guesses. Sometimes I'm wrong, but I hope
I'm always provocative."[16]

Critical theory and music journalism[edit]

For more details on this topic, see rockism.
Applying critical theory (e.g., critical gender studies and critical race theory) to music journalism,
some academic writers suggest that mutual disrespect between critics and artists is one of many
negative effects of rockism. In 2004, critic Kelefa Sanneh defined "rockism" as "idolizing the
authentic old legend (or underground hero) while mocking the latest pop star..." [17]:57 Music
journalism "infected" with rockism has become, according to Princeton professor Daphne Brooks,
a challenge "for those of us concerned with historical memory and popular music
Simon Frith noted that pop and rock music "are closely associated with gender; that is, with
conventions of male and female behaviour."[18] According to Holly Kruse, both popular music
articles and academic articles about pop music are usually written from "masculine subject
positions."[5]:134 Kembrew McLeod analyzed terms used by critics to differentiate between pop
music and rock, finding a gendered dichotomy in descriptions of "'serious,' 'raw,' and 'sincere'
rock music as distinguished from 'trivial', 'fluffy,' and 'formulaic' pop music." [19] McLeod found that
a likely cause of this dichotomy was the lack of women writing in music journalism: "By 1999, the
number of female editors or senior writers atRolling Stone hovered around a whopping 15%,
[while] at Spin and Raygun, [it was] roughly 20%."[20] Criticism associated with gender was
graphically discussed in a 2014Jezebel article about the struggles of women in music journalism,
written by music critic Tracy Moore, previously an editor at the Nashville Scene.[13] Moore
described how another female music blogger, an "admitted outsider" who threatened no
stereotypes, was greeted with enthusiasm by men, in contrast with Moore's own experiences as

a self-described "insider" who was nevertheless expected to "prove" or "earn" her way into a
male-dominated journalism scene.[13]
In her 2008 article "The Write to Rock: Racial Mythologies, Feminist Theory, and the Pleasures of
Rock Music Criticism," Brooks wrote that in order to restructure music criticism, one must "focus
on multiple counternarratives" to break away from racial and gender biases as embodied in
"contemporary cultural fetishizations of white male performative virtuosity and latent black male
innovations."[17]:55 Brooks focused on "the ways that rock music criticism has shaped and
continues to shape our understandings of racialized music encounters, and what are the
alternative stories that we might tell."[17]:5556 Brooks pointed to Robert Christgau's statement that,
after the Beatles' arrival in America, "rock criticism embraced a dream or metaphor of perpetual
revolution. Worthwhile bands were supposed to change peoples lives, preferably for the better. If
they failed to do so, that meant they didn't matter."[21] Unsurprisingly, according to Brooks, "the
history of women who've been sustaining a tradition of writing about rock since the 60's" has
been "largely hidden" in American culture."[22]
Brooks theorized that perceptions of female artists of color might be different if there were more
women of color writing about them, and praised Ellen Willis as a significant feminist critic of
rock's classic era.[17]:5859 Willis, who was a columnist for the New Yorker from 1968 to 1975,
believed society could be enlightened by the "ecstatic experience" of visions expressed through
music's rhythm and noise and that such joy would lead people to different ways of sharing.
Brooks wrote that "the confluence of cultural studies, rock studies, and third wave feminist
critical studies makes it possible now more than ever to continue to critique and reinterrogate the
form and content of popular music histories."[17]:58 In Brooks' view, "By bravely breaking open
dense equations of gender, class, power, and subcultural music scenes," music journalists,
activists and critics such as Ellen Willis have been "able to brilliantly, like no one before [them],
challenge the intellectual and political activism and agency" of the entire music industry.[17]:58

See also[edit]

List of writers on popular music

Women in music#Music critics




^ Jump up to:a b c Buji, Bojan (n.d.), Criticism of Music in The

Oxford Companion to Music, Oxford Music Online.


Jump up^ Sandow, Greg, Yes, Classical-Music Criticism Is in

Decline but the Last Thing the Industry Should Do Is Blame the
Press, Wall Street Journal. Available online
Accessed on March 9, 2010.


^ Jump up to:a b Schick, Robert D. (1996). Classical Music

Criticism: With a Chapter on Reviewing Ethnic Music. New York:
Garland. pp. 166176.


^ Jump up to:a b Wakin, Daniel J., Newspapers Trimming Classical

Critics, New York Times, June 9, 2007.


^ Jump up to:a b c d e Jones, Steve, ed. (2002). Pop Music and the
Press. Temple University
Press.ASIN B00EKYXY0K. ISBN 9781566399661.


Jump up^ Fenster, Mark (2002). "Consumers' Guides: The

Political Economy of the Music Press and the Democracy of
Critical Discourse". In Jones, Steve. Pop Music and the Press.
Temple University Press.
p. 85. ASIN B00EKYXY0K. ISBN 9781566399661.


Jump up^ Slonimsky, Nicolas. Lexicon of Musical

Invective. ISBN 978-0-393-32009-1. (citing many examples of
insults in both directions)


^ Jump up to:a b Edlund, Martin. "Not All They Were Blogged Up To

Be". The New York Sun. June 6, 2006. Available online
at: http://www.nysun.com/arts/not-all-they-were-blogged-up-tobe/33913/


Jump up^ Ewing, Tom. "The Decade in Pop". Pitchfork articles.

August 27, 2009. Available online
at: http://pitchfork.com/features/articles/7703-the-decade-in-pop/2/

10. ^ Jump up to:a b Rosen, Jody. "The Perils of

Poptimism". Slate magazine. May 9, 2006. Available online
at: http://www.slate.com/id/2141418/
11. ^ Jump up to:a b c d Powers, Ann. "Bratty by nature". The LA Times.
July 27, 2008. Available online
12. ^ Jump up to:a b Miller, Scott (2010). Music: What Happened?. 125
Records. ASIN B004E3Y0XC.ISBN 9780615381961.
13. ^ Jump up to:a b c Moore, Tracy (March 20, 2014). "Oh, the
Unbelievable Shit You Get Writing About Music as a
Woman". Jezebel.
14. Jump up^ Christgau, Robert in Miller, Scott (2010). Music: What
Happened? (blurb). 125 Records. Back
cover. ISBN 9780615381961.
15. Jump up^ Reid, Alastair (March 22, 2013). "How To: Get Into
Music Journalism".Journalism.co.uk. Mousetrap Media Ltd.
16. ^ Jump up to:a b c Whiten, Jon (May 18, 2010). "Jersey Citys Tris
McCall Joins the Star-Ledger".Jersey City
Independent. Archived from the original on 2010-06-22.
17. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g Brooks, Daphne A. (2008). The Write to
Rock: Racial Mythologies, Feminist Theory and the Pleasures of
Rock Music Criticism. Women and Music: A Journal of Gender
and Culture 12. pp. 5462. doi:10.1353/wam.0.0002.
18. Jump up^ Frith, Simon, "Pop Music" in S. Frith, W. Stray and J.
Street, The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock (Cambridge
University Press, 2001), p. 226.

19. Jump up^ McLeod, Kembrew (2002). "Between Rock and a Hard
Place: Gender and Rock Criticism". In Jones, Steve. Pop Music
and the Press. Temple University Press.
p. 96.ASIN B00EKYXY0K. ISBN 9781566399661.
20. Jump up^ McLeod (2002) at 94, quoted in Leonard, Marion
(2007). "Meaning Making in the Press".Gender in the Music
Industry: Rock, Discourse, and Girl Power. Aldershot, Hampshire,
England: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 67. ISBN 9780754638629.
21. Jump up^ Christgau, Robert (2003). "A History of Rock Criticism".
In Szanto, Andras; Levy, Daniel S.; Tyndall, Andrew. National Arts
Journalism Program: Reporting the Arts II: News Coverage of Arts
and Culture in America. New York: NAJP at Columbia University.
p. 142.Quoted in Brooks, Daphne A. (2008). The Write to Rock:
Racial Mythologies, Feminist Theory and the Pleasures of Rock
Music Criticism. Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and
Culture 12. p. 56. (ellipses and internal quotes omitted)
22. Jump up^ McDonnell, Evelyn; Powers, Ann, eds. (1999). Rock
She Wrote: Women Write about Rock, Pop, and Rap. New York:
Cooper Square Press. p. 6. Quoted in Brooks, Daphne A.
(2008). The Write to Rock: Racial Mythologies, Feminist Theory
and the Pleasures of Rock Music Criticism. Women and Music: A
Journal of Gender and Culture 12. p. 58. (ellipses and internal
quotes omitted)
23. Jump up^ Powers, Ann. "Spy in the House of Love", available

External links[edit]

This section's use of external links may not follow Wikipedia's policies or
guidelines. Please improve this article by removing excessive or inappropriate external links,
and converting useful links where appropriate into footnote references.(February 2014)

International Federation of Music Journalists - an international

group of media professionals who treat any aspect of music on
any media. Publishes the "Directory of Music Journalists" and
confers "Music Journalist Award".

Our critics' advice - In this article Alex Petridis gives advice to

young, aspiring, would-be music journalists.

Don't look back - The Guardian, 27 June 2009. In this

article John Harris writes about music journalism with reference
to the well-known journalists Nick Kent and Lester Bangs.

Is Music Journalism Dead? - Drowned in Sound, 21 July 2009.

Popular music website Drowned in Sound dedicated a week to
the subject of the past, present and future of music journalism.
Included are articles by Everett True and Stuart Braithwaite.

Who cares what critics say? - Jay Nordlinger



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