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A bit of A Rant

I know much of what I am about to write has been written before and I shall not be the last person to vent their frustration but seriously, what is happening to arts, music, and writing?

Yesterday I saw yet another ‘review’ of music where the ‘reviewer’ had directly copied most of the press release narrative. I understand press releases are intended to get reviewers interested enough to listen to the music and then write about it but to simply copy the press release, even to the point of repeating the same grammatical errors, seems a waste of time.

Today, I was researching for a new review and, as it was an older release, wondered who else had written about the artist. Lo and behold, of the ten articles I checked briefly out – some on well-known sites, six of them were identical and obviously just copied from the press release. They even had the same spelling mistake in the name of the band the artist had played with in the 1980s. A quick google would have meant the writer could at least correctly name the band.

When is copying the press release a review? And when is it acceptable for a writer to take credit for a review they did not write, with no reference to the fact much of the material came from the press release?

Don’t get me wrong, press releases can be really useful, particularly when they put music creation in context, or give insight into a musician’s motivation or background but if a writer is to create articles that are different and unique, they need to do the research. Artist information is out there, accessible on the web and in books and it takes just a few minutes often to get a real understanding of an artist’s earlier releases or the people they played with.

Much of this downturn in quality is because reviewers are not paid. Musicians need reviews for their music to become known and potential buyers to be aware of it but, just as a reviewer needs good information provided by the musician (e.g., a decent EPK or press release), the writer needs to respect the music. Copying and pasting from the press release does not feel like the reviewer even listened to the music.

There are several bloggers and site editors who are enthusiastic about music and care deeply about creating individual, fair-minded reviews but there are many also who publish on their own sites and the importance is on the number of articles they can get on the site rather than the quality of the reviewing.

Readers and musicians deserve better.

Behind this, though there is a deeper reasoning, and it is an area of discussion I have had with many musicians and fellow writers.

It is too easy for people to create a site, publish reviews and make music. There, I said it.

There is nothing wrong with writing on your own platform. There is nothing wrong with producing your own music. But if you want respect and to go professional in either art form, you must be respectful of whom you are playing for if you are a musician and whom you are writing for and about if you are a writer.

The attitude towards arts has changed dramatically in the last few years. People want everything for nothing or very little. Writers work for ‘exposure’ with the ever-dangling carrot of eventual paid work dangling ever more in front of them but never quite getting close enough for them to take a bite.

Editors promise ‘exposure’ trips to concerts for reviews, festival attendances paid for by the publication, but these never come about. The writer becomes disillusioned. They are also reined in because editors need to pay for their sites, so they take adverts from labels whose artists are up for review and writers are shackled because a less than ‘fantastic’, ‘amazing’, or ‘wonderful’ review will not be published in case the label withdraw their advertising from the site.

Many brilliant blogs are run by enthusiastic music fans and reviews on these tend to be few but honest, fair and written as an individual creation. It is reviews on some of the widely read sites that are pandering to the masses and producing poorly copied press release junkets.

This ties in with people wanting free music, free books, and free everything. Download, stream your music or books, and pay nothing – next week download more, and so on. It is mind boggling – yet equally overwhelming are the artists who offer their creations for free or almost free to nothing because they are chasing exposure.

We seem to be caught in a circle of more people able to publish books and release music and write for platforms because the way we access art has also changed and the platforms continue to multiply. A new music blog appears nearly every week, a new book site encourages authors to offer their books at much reduced costs – often at less than it costs to produce the book in the first place – and for what? Vanity? Exposure again?

Behind all of this is arts funding. As this continues to fall the knock-on effects spiral. More people feel they can become a music star or best-selling author. More people offer their work for little money which means they have lower incomes, less money for production and so the quality decreases.

Labels and publishing houses are not immune to this either. Record labels offer material at reduced prices to keep up with the cheap music. Publishing houses reduce their prices to compete with cheap or even free books on offer. Therefore, incomes decrease, they offer less to authors and musicians and the incentive to produce high quality, expertly written books, or well produced music and artwork is taken away. Many authors, even those whose books fly off the shelves and musicians who gig regularly or sell a lot of downloads, have second jobs or careers. The music becomes secondary to earning money to pay the bills and live – the music is second, not first, in the lives of people for whom music should be everything.

The publishers who offer less to authors, the venues who offer less to musicians, the magazines who offer their commissioned writers less pay, they are not charlatans or misers. They genuinely do not have the money to pay well.

So, what next? Poor quality books roughly produced music? it is happening, and it will continue so long as art is treated as a second-tier income and for so long as people expect something for nothing.

Just like good quality clothes, jewellery or cars, good music and writing should merit good pay. We must be prepared to pay for art. Not extortionate or prohibitive amounts, but we should be prepared to pay decent amounts so musicians and writers can continue.

Investment in art is investment in yourself – your cultural growth and experiences.

If arts were better funded, artists would be paid well. There would still be people producing their own music form home, there would still be writers churning out books of poor quality and selling them for virtually nothing, but there would also be musicians who are supported, paid well and whose music and writing is first, not second in their lives – and they would be those who deserve it.

Artists would need to merit good money, so the distinction between good and ‘needs improving’ would be clearer. The wannabees could still sell to friends, and anyone could still make a recording release a book, sell artwork etc but those who merit support would get it.

As it is, the circles of art are ever widening, which is great on the one hand but on the other, it is becoming difficult to navigate to the good stuff for most people. Soon the circle will implode.

Rant over for now.


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