Music can't exist in a vacuum, even subjectively, because music is alive as part of a society or culture.
Two commentaries about music and culture, which address whether perception is more important than reality:
what if you just don't like the music
"Music matters to us, and reaches us in places far beyond mere aesthetic experience."
One way of enhancing an understanding of music is to ask the musician directly about compositional intentions.
Two current examples of interview techniques:
the good humor man
writers think words are important
Just a reminder you might think about reading through the archives when you have some time. There's some remarkable writing about writing about music that's already archived.
Two types of old school newspaper writers, who hopefully are scheduled for reincarnation soon and straight back into their previous jobs. One's talking about writing, the other's talking about writing about music:
I wrote things and they appeared in print. Sometimes a paragraph could make a whole week happy, if it was a good paragraph.
how to become a music critic
Today, 28 Jul 12:57:15 AM
provided a short list of four important encouraging remarks on how to approach writing that any writer can try out to capture that moment of truth. Among them: "Don't be afraid to write about one idea, or one impression, or one experience. The one that's yours, or the one you have something to say about."
He also considers the downsides of writing about music in certain contexts, of which there are probably more than he had time to enumerate or even any single person is entirely aware of.
Neumu's Michael Goldberg shared how he cures himself of the music hoarding syndrome
Another true-life confession about how, for one writer, what surrounded the act of writing about music got in his way of enjoying the music and why he quit
Writing about music can be another level of interacting with music and a way of circulating music.
A particularly well-written, well-informed piece though more slanted towards examining the extreme nature of musical celebrity
"He grabbed the branch of history -- along with the legacy of the upper crust -- and bent it down, down low, so the unwashed masses could easily reach its low-hanging fruit." How ever did the writer manage to do just this for his reader, because he did.
Mark July 26 as the beginning of a revolution of sorts. First thing this morning, two sightings never before seen in the world of music blogs, the equivalent of people in metaphoric rubber boats oaring their way towards the cultural shoreline.
Uno. July 26. Tres Producers
dream of opening up the world of music journalism to those who publish blogs. Why ever would they want to do this? Go find out. (posted under "Free Music" and "More Free Music" if you want free music CD's to write about on your very own blog)
Dos. freezing to death in the nuclear bunker
creatively critiques and expands upon a review of the latest Sonic Youth outing, published online in PopMatters
Disclaimer: Entirely unsynchronized events as far as I know, even though the above two writers occasionally contribute to PopMatters.
To read more good writing about music, stop in at these blogspots, too:
(also check out his musings on folk art, 5-16 post on bill traylor)
(check out Sophie B. Hawkins)
This land is your
This blog is about writing about music in the hope that such a place can be helpful to people who want to write about music.
Hopefully, this blog can become a tool of sorts for burgeoning writers.
"Editorial" comments are purposefully minimal because this editor wants you to read the linked article and think about it
. Then you go off and write your own article.
Someday, if there are enough good articles on here, perhaps with a brief explication as to why this piece works or is a good writing sample, then people will understand how that writing works, will strive towards that and so raise the bar on their own writing about music. That way, the whole world benefits (especially if you can find a place to publish).
I was just trying to dream up a place that had good samples of writing about music (what this says, why that works, isn't this a swell descriptive passage, writing about music might have a purpose even beyond selling a record, etc.) where aspiring and ready for primetime writers can stop in for inspirational fill-ups.
I've set this up because reading good writing about music (or anything else) is always very inspiring to me. Therefore, I'll probably benefit the most even if I can't rise to the occasion creatively myself.
Two examples of writing about historic pop music recording sessions:
charlotte robinson on the kinks
While both writers worked to capture the atmosphere of the time, which article did you really prefer reading and why? If you plan to write about music, you might here write out a few notes to yourself why this or that article worked for you as a reader.
What if the readers want to hear about the music (culture), what rules should the writer follow?
writing from the heart might be one
What if the reader doesn't want to hear about music (culture) they aren't familiar with?
obstacles to music criticism
Everyone is weighing in on music criticism, which can be a very good thing.
without memory, there is no history
For all the music critics writing about the role of music critics, you'd think there is actually a lot more music criticism published in the world than there currently really is.
the role of the critic
respect the topic
And finally, the coming war between the generations as fought by proxy:
we don't need no troublesome thinking
My favorite summing up today:
"We now have cultural machines so powerful that one singer can reach
everybody in the world, and make all the other singers feel inferior
because they're not like him. Once that gets started, he gets backed by so much
cash and so much power that he becomes a monstrous invader from outer space,
crushing the life out of all the other human possibilities. My life has
been devoted to opposing that tendency." (Alan Lomax, in an interview with
The New York Times)
My current favorite article on how the record business is really just the book business in a different format:
check out the CD theory
And my favorite letter to the editor:
why you should think about just saying no
De Curtis came up with an impressive statement that received wide coverage at the time, but should be remembered now as well:
pick a smart audience
He also maintains "The most skillful writing about popular music is able to do this, to balance a full array of concerns, the intentions of the artists, the aesthetic worth of their efforts, and their meaning in the surrounding culture with grace, intelligence and insight." By all means, give it a try.
Just to stay inspired, and remind yourself why you're doing this, read a classic essay now and again:
Dave Ford calmly reflects on music mixed with shopping. In writing about music, the music is usually the starting point. I think it's okay to talk about things other than the music sometimes.
the music of your generation will eventually sell cotton towels; ask for a refund for your ruined emotional landscape
Barry Lopez was writing about his personal history with a river in a scary abundance of water
when he suddenly surfaced:
"I have also come to assume that one of a writer's obligations to society is to make this equality clear. As I see it, in a democracy such as ours the writer is called on especially to expose the notion of entitlement, which posits that some of us should receive more, solely on the basis of skin color, education, gender, ethnicity, supposed gifts or accumulated wealth. Such a writer, growing up like me, white in a white man's valley, must look back at the social and economic customs, the real estate covenants, the prejudicial legislation and ethical oblivion that made it so.
The peculiar task of many American writers today -- though, again, only as I see it -- is to address what lies beyond racism, class structure and violence in American life by first recognizing these failings as real, and then by helping with the invention of what will work in such circumstances to ensure each life endures less cruelty, that each life is less painful."
If writers could also concentrate on elements of fine strong writing like Lopez's, then historic investigative reporting might have more impact:
just one more sad world music rip-off
This is a remarkable sample of "atmosphere" in a casual intersection in the distant past.
it's like teddy's orange peels now.
Speaking of all shook down, Gina Arnold explains how consumer (listener) fatigue might have fostered the world music boom:
croquet, croquet, what a wonderful game to play. that's as cynical as I can be today.
There’s a certain amount of self-delusion when artists justify peddling their music to corporate bidders, being prompted to say such things by their neo-conservative handlers and public relations masters as “I want my art to reach the greatest number of people.”
You know they think of music as just an institutionalized shopping experience. Because what my radio receives is just as abysmally the same as anyone else’s in the US, this sister is hoping to swing out soon.
In the meantime, I’m going in for the enforced mall music just like everyone else. After all, what other choice do I have if I happen to be low on some necessities. In fact, I today strolled from shoppe to shoppe in my precious village to have a listen to some of the finest commercial tones. I listen to the mildly percolatin’ jazz bubbling up at the Starbuck’s marveling that this is somebody’s idea of “peppy” and they have the cd on display in case I want to buy those disposable tones as a memento of my time spent staring at the same prints on display in every other Starbuck’s.
Then at the pseudo-Pottery Barn, I could if the music were any good break into a subdued samba in the aisle while pawing through the pastel linens in the napkin baskets. There’s a cd on display there, too, in case I want to recapture that sensation of tropical blandness I felt when I found those perfect plastic napkin rings.
For a little titillation, I can hit the big mall and paw through the badly-sewn lace on the mauve rack at a Victoria’s Secret kind of place while listening to their idea of sensual muzak. The cd of timid bumps and grinds is available in case I snatch a teddy from the rack and want to recall what passes for excitement.
The same is happening everywhere. At the boutique, amidst the acres of batik fabrics, hemp handbags and African earrings, there’s world shopping music on cd that has been playing and is displayed for sale close by the register. In other more tropical resorts, I’ve seen cd’s being given away with each pair of $80 sunglasses sold at the yuppie kiosk.
I wonder how low these artists will go.
I know I am inventing the wheel here. Combining merchandising with merchandising, I came up with the idea of real “tinkle music.” This can be a multi-level ad attack. My idea is musical splash mats in men’s urinals. A variation of the squeeze for play sound device, soothing instrumentals from a celeste could resound at the long sink in the men’s room during a relief stop. Don’t worry, these devices can be implanted in the deoderant splash bars, too, so there is no men’s room anywhere in the nation that wouldn’t be available to these artists.
Women’s rooms, too. For both “men and women” the cd display could be placed strategically on a bamboo easel on the stainless steel shelf right under the mirror. The attendant who provides the handtowel or brushes the stray hair off the shoulders of the suit could then put to use some of that free time they waste standing around waiting to be summoned for service to politely collect a twenty for the disc.
How long, then, before the cd is included with a four-pack of toilet paper, a cheap enticement that costs the manufacturer scarcely a penny to better prompt the consumer selection for that brand of tidy-wipes?
I wonder who’s going to be the first to do this. If I had made the mistake of leasing my music in any of the above referenced ways, I would be groveling and asking for forgiveness.
Keep track of who you are when you write about music. Everything you write betrays something of who you are. Pierre Bourdieu: "Nothing more clearly affirms one's 'class,' infallibly classifies, than tastes in music."
And try to be an acute reader and avoid being contaminated by bad attitudes. "Among people ... who fancy themselves intellectuals ... snobbery runs more rampant than bacteria through the kitchen of a Tijuana slow-food restaurant." (Excerpted from a book review in the L.A.Times
by John Simon, Joseph Epstein's Snobbery: The American Version
Music sometimes crosses the boundaries beyond the composer's original intent. There are reminders everywhere that music has social consequences, and we should be aware of those elements when they emerge and care enough to discuss them:
sometimes I agree: "no more music!"
When you run into writing about music that moves you, by all means save it, but add your own note to remind yourself why this is a good piece of writing.
adorno says "Every musical phenomenon points to something
beyond itself by reminding us of something"
An excellent description of how subjective music criticism can help explain larger phenomenon:
autobiography in music criticism
Musicians and writers are selective in exactly the same way that other artists are selective,
but we still hear the notes that aren't played as David Mamet reminds us
The music critic is a wide-ranging adventurer, sharing colorful snapshots with the folks back at home:
remember to stay focused
Without a writer to remind us of how some others look at music, people might stall or stray from the path forever. An article written about those long gone often prompts reflection on current creative dilemmas:
Hitmaker Randy "I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It)" Newman on creative bubbles
The music talks to the writer who then communicates internally with himself about the music in order to talk with the readers about the music. Sometimes, it's all just lost in the translation. If we're lucky, or if we all can share a basic frame of reference, communication takes hold. Some of the best reviews are those which (as Rockcritics publisher Scott Woods recently said) at least give the reader a single idea to carry away with them or makes them want to hear (buy) the music.
The best music critics are often to be found writing about classical music, which is threatened with marketplace extinction in America. Here are two thoughtful articles about a recent classical release.
this made me want to hear the record
adam baer told me why I have four versions of the Goldberg Variations and why I might select one over the other on any given day
I have a personal theory that it's a healthy practice to listen to many different kinds of music; but here's a little of what I mean by taking an idea away and putting it to use elsewhere, where it can be communicated and understood enough to be communicated to someone else:
a trip to a European operahouse
Try to take advice from people who might know what they're talking about when it comes to both music and writing:
Greg Sandow (Julliard) outlines how to write a review
To be inspired to write about music, you must be inspired about music. Why music? Down through the ages, people have engaged to form the question, "Music: What's It For?" As a musician himself, Fred Shade has sought historic advice. Feel free to concentrate for now on the Man and Music and skip the metaphysical for the time being or altogether.
Fred Shade Philosophy: Man, Music, and Masonry
Flaskaland is devoted to finding and disseminating good writing about music in the hope there will be more of both in the future.
In periods of drought, the reader will be innundated by my own blogs on the matters.