….Or the fans, or your label, or your friends, or your dog, or your mother…don’t listen to any of us. But most importantly, don’t listen to us keyboard warriors.
So wait, what’s that about? Well, believe it or not, the self-titled album from Colter Wall is what’s fueling this discussion today. I mean my God, yes, Colter is an extraordinary talent, and I myself even love the record, however a lot of the reactions I’ve seen from fans about criticisms I and have others have given to the album have reinforced one truth I’ve thought about the country scene for awhile – criticism is dead. Really, it’s true. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Heck, sometimes even if you talk about a record in a favorable light you’ll still get ridiculed it seems.
Granted that doesn’t just happen with Colter….in fact, there’s at least one person for every artist who will rip you to the bone if you think of them as anything less than God-like status. It even works the other way as evidenced by the Internet troll going around telling the world Alan Jackson killed country music.
I myself have even gotten into discussions not only about Colter Wall’s album, but others such as Jason Eady’s latest with some of my Twitter followers. One comment that came up in one discussion was that hopefully artists continue doing what they’re doing despite what the critics “want them to do”.
Now, before we move on let’s get this out of the way – the guy I quoted is a passionate music fan just as I am, and we’ve had some great conversations. I’m not looking to bash what he said. This isn’t even directed at him at all really, it’s directed to a lot of other people. Really, there’s an element of truth to what he said.
Ultimately when it comes to music criticism, people like me and other country bloggers aren’t viewed as people who love and care about music (at least not by a lot of people). We’re viewed as vindictive trolls who secretly hate music and think we’re better than everyone else. One principle I’ve always stressed here at Country Music Minds is that I am nobody special. I’ve got an opinion just like you, and the only difference is that I take time to write about it here…you know, because I love music. I’m not saying I love it more than you do or that I’ve got years of experience because I can’t say that.
Now, I offer criticisms to every single album I cover, and to this day only one album has received a perfect score on this blog. Why? Because well, yeah, I’m a hardass who believes everything can be improved upon. So what? I don’t know jack shit about music production or how to write a song of the year candidate, but I’m still a fan who takes a deep listen into the music. Even if the grade for whatever I cover turns out to be middling, I still value that album or artist enough to devote time to say something about it / him or her. Even if the criticism is just something minor, if it needs to be said then it needs to be said. I don’t get why people think of criticism these days as bullying or hurtful or something that should be illegal for God’s sake (I exaggerate on that last one but there may come a day when I’m not, and that’s sad). I mean sure, saying that the one dude from Florida Georgia Line has an ugly haircut is an example of hurtful, unnecessary bullying (but damn if it ain’t true). But saying things such as “their writing is formulaic and bad” is a fine criticism in my book. You know what’s sad though? It’s not even the mainstream fans who are the problem in this regard – it’s the independent ones. Yeah, this side of country music ain’t all pretty and perfect, far from it.
If I hear one more time about how all of these artists are “real” I’m seriously going to punch my computer. Just shut up. Really, just shut up. At the end of the day it’s the music that matters, and that’s what I judge. I’m not perfect. I don’t get everything right. I might not get anything right. Heck, sometimes I know there’s criticisms and I choose to ignore them because they’re not my criticisms! But the whole subject of authenticity is really plaguing music criticism in my opinion.
What also gets me (and what I consider to be the heart of this piece) is that people think us high and mighty bloggers are trying to tell the artists what they should or shouldn’t do. Ugh….
Repeat after me: I, LEON NEVER WANT TO TELL ARTISTS WHAT THEY CAN AND CAN’T DO WITH THEIR CAREERS. EVER.
You would think that in this day and age writers could refrain from saying things like “in my opinion” or “I personally think…”, but nope, because most people forget about that part. Instead of the individual opinion being assumed, it’s something that actually needs to be stressed repeatedly. Whenever I dish out criticism, I never intend to try and direct artists towards their next goals in their artistic career. That’s not up to me. That’s up to them. It’s their job to make the music, and it’s my duty (not job) to give my honest feedback. I can’t actually tell them what they “need” to do to succeed.
There’s no better artist to use as an example for this than Marty Stuart. There’s absolutely no doubt that in terms of creativity he’s hard to beat in this day and age. Now, we weren’t around for when his 2014 album, Saturday Night/Sunday Morning came out, but I guarantee you one of my criticisms for that album would NOT have been, “well you know, this is great, but next time around don’t sing about this stuff, make a friggin’ album about the West instead!” I mean, how the hell could I? That album was born out of inspiration for Marty, and I couldn’t have done anything to help guide Marty towards the album he wanted to make. The only thing I can talk about is the aftermath of it all. “Well Marty, I liked this because this…and I didn’t like this because this…”. That’s it. Maybe I can talk about the little things he does every now and then. I don’t know, maybe he’s got a thing for odd turns of phrases, maybe certain instruments are seemingly never mixed loud enough to deliver the full impact. I don’t know. You get the point though.
So yeah, country music bloggers aren’t essential to anything in the grand scheme of things. It’s a music blog after all. I just don’t get how criticism is still viewed as this vile, putrid thing that needs to be stomped into the ground. Anyone who’s writing about music right now obviously loves it, and to think otherwise is ludicrous. In a way, where Anthony Fantano was telling his fans how they shouldn’t copy everything he has to say, I’m talking to artists here. I don’t want to control your careers, and I don’t want y’all to take my criticisms seriously enough to the point where it dictates your career.
I throw criticism out there because I think it’s important to have. There’s good and bad elements to every piece of music out there, even if you’ve got to dig real hard to find either element. I throw it out there just so that there is feedback available. If I was an artist, I’d be flattered to get an overwhelmingly positive review, but I’d also smell some bullshit a brewin’ as well. Criticism is a good thing, and whether artists choose to take it seriously or not with their careers is up to them. But I don’t want or expect artists to listen to what I have to say. If the artist can’t decide for themselves what the hell type of music they’d like to make, then sorry, you’re in the wrong business. If you get offended by the criticism not just from me, but from literally anyone, then sorry, you’re in the wrong business. I didn’t “get” your album? Oh well, sorry.
I’m not doing this for anyone but myself. I’d like to tell you I’m doing this to possibly expose some lesser known artists, but that’s not what this started out as. It started out of my love for music, and that’s all it ever will be. But for God’s sake, critics aren’t monsters who want to destroy everything in their path to ruin an artist or a fan’s otherwise perfect day. So there you go artists – don’t listen to us. Do your own damn thing and prove us haters wrong. Screw it.