Chris R. Weingarten is a music critic, senior staff writer for Idolator, Revolver, Rolling Stone, Spin and The Village Voice, custodian of Tumblr turned tome Hipster Puppies and the incendiary poster child for the music media’s 2.0 resistant old school. Last year he breathed some serious fire on the internet’s democratization of taste and in a new address as part of the annual #140 Conference, Weingarten proceeds to rip the internet a new one, citing the race for first, Search Engine Optimization, and the advent of blog aggregation as unforeseen pitfalls of modern music journalism.
At first listen it’s easy to dismiss or at least dislike the guy simply because he evokes that shouty rock critic cliche that makes you want to brick yourself. The whiney, holier-than-thou warhorse who fears change, hates everything and trades in nostalgia and jaded musings on the way things were and how they aught to be. But look past the expletive-filled rants, crazy jazz hands and end-is-nigh hyperbole, and Weingarten’s take on the current state of music journalism actually makes a lot of sense. Keywords, Google rankings and the obsession with being first he argues, has killed the shining, carefully researched 3000 word exegesis music critics turned out with consistency a few decades ago. It’s completely true. Aggregation homogenizes taste. True. Blogs give rise to non professionals. Also true. Traffic rules everything around me? Of course it does.
Not too surprisingly Everett True, Australia’s own incendiary, expletive-prone music critic called it “the best fucking rant I’ve heard all year” and like True I agree with most of what Weingarten has to say. His arguments are both insightful and well reasoned but as the guys from Hype Machine rightfully point out, Weingarten’s wrath is slightly misguided. It’s not the medium or media that’s to blame, it’s the behavioral shift in those who consume said media that sparks such change.
If everyone preferred lengthy music reviews that explored a band’s social context, their history, their future and explained in glistening prose their palette, pacing and lyrical subtext – that would be the prevailing form of music journalism. Unfortunately for Weingarten and his cohort however, it’s not. We want short, we want snappy and we want now. You could blame it on internet-induced Attention Deficit Disorder or the diluted music market but I tend to think we as consumers no longer need gatekeepers to explain why a piece of art is good or important or life-changing when we can just download it and form our own opinions. If writing about music is like dancing about architecture why would you ever read someone else’s approximation of how a song sounds or what emotions it evokes, lucid though it may be, when you can just press a button and hear it for yourself?
So good on Weingarten for giving such an impassioned and insightful speech, he’s just failed to acknowledge the single most dire effect the internet will have on critical appraisals of music – not that the quality of writing will erode but that it may soon become obsolete.