That was the question at a SXSW panel I was on last week. I wondered about this myself, mostly because I usually didn’t indulge in snarky (mean, snotty) music writing myself (there’s too much good stuff I wanna write about). There is a place for snark but where exactly?
The premise came from Dave Marsh, the panel moderator, saying that there wasn’t enough of it around anymore. I disagreed. Here’s what Austin360 quoted me as saying:
“Music journalists won’t come close and can’t compete with blogs and bulletin boards. And if you don’t think you’re competing with them, you’re delusional. They shape opinion whether you like it or not. Bloggers have much more influence than you think.”
Not exactly what I said though I do insist that you ignore blogs’ influences at your own peril. What I really said was that writers in mags and pubs can’t compete with blogs and online forums in terms of snark because these places usually don’t have editors or moderators and so, anything goes. Of course, that’s a good thing as you have a lot of unconventional voices speaking up but it’s also a bad thing as some of these voices should have shut up in the first place. That’s just the nature of the First Amendment, right?
Another topic that got a little mangled during our discussion was Twitter, aka the hot online forum now, which of course is also experiencing a backlash. I was saying during the panel that print publications are shrinking word counts so much that a medium like Twitter was a good place where you could practice trying to say something significant in a small framework. Somehow that got twisted into me saying that Twitter itself was the future of journalism and would replace longer reviews. That ain’t the way I see it though just as with other forms of writing, I don’t see why Twitter can’t extend our way of communicating about our favorite music.
Zines, like Perfect Sound Forever, also came up in the conversation. Marsh asked why I started mine and what the purpose was. I started PSF ‘cause I was bored and lonely (definitely not anymore) and I wanted to shed some light on good performers from the past and present (and maybe future) who hadn’t gotten enough recognition. In terms of our snark topic, my feeling was that many zines don’t doll out bile (unless it’s towards major publications or what’s seen as fat-cat artists) because their reason to be was to talk about things that the editors didn’t think were getting adequately covered elsewhere. That kind of void usually leaves little room for snark (unless your Maximum Rock’n'Roll).
Going back to Marsh’s basic premise of why there’s less snarky music journalism out there, I had two theories: 1) right now, many writers and editors are too worried about their jobs to be too critical, 2) many other writers are worried about being cut off from promo lists if they get too mean in their reviews (of course, there’s the magic of downloading to overcome such concerns).
I do think there’s room for negative comments and thumb’s down- after all, do we really just wanna read how every album’s great? In fact, there’s room for good negative constructive journalism- the best recent example is Carl Wilson’s 2004 article about Prince Paul’s The Politics of Business album and why it’s failure was significant. And of course, there’s the other end of the spectrum like Pitchfork’s thoughtless take downs of Black Kids and Travis Morrison. But just so you think that there isn’t room for funny snark out there, I do like PF’s slap at Jet. It’s juvenile but it’s also pretty damn hilarious and in its own way, much more creative than paragraphs of prose dumping on the album would have been.