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2012 So Far: Essential Reads

Whilst I obviously kind of enjoy listening to music, I also really enjoy reading about music. I studied my undergraduate degree with a strong focus on music journalism and music law, and I find a well-written analysis of the music industry just as fascinating as a finely crafted song. The music industry is a microcosm of the issues facing the world at large in the digital age, from the ‘ethics of free’, to the adaptability (or otherwise) of the law to suit digital media, to the cultures and forms of identity that have developed around bands, genres, and even websites. There have been some great articles written this year that touch on some of these topics, and here are some of my favourites.

5.4
Richard Beck
n+1

This is probably the most eloquently written and comprehensive study of the Pitchfork phenomenon that I have read. Beck manages to write about such a divisive issue with a level head and puts forward a compelling case as to why Pitchfork may be successful economically and culturally but yet is “worse than useless as a forum for insight and argument”. 

A Night With the World’s Most Hated Bands
Chuck Klosterman
Grantland

The reliably excellent Chuck Klosterman set himself an interesting task for this piece: see two concerts from Nickelback and Creed on the same night, interact with their fans, and try not to kill himself. This results in a surprisingly touching and insightful piece about two bands that pretty much everyone capable of reading an online article has already dismissed as incapable of providing anything of value without a second thought.

El-P On File-Sharing And The Artist-Audience Relationship
Kenny Herzog
Stereogum

I had never heard of American hip hop artist El-P before I read this article, but when a musician comes out on social media and says that it’s basically okay for people to pirate his music, people pay attention. Especially, I’d imagine, his record label. This short interview reveals an obviously intelligent man who has a nuanced and technical understanding of the concept of file-sharing that many bigger actors in the piracy debate could benefit from listening to.

Follow People If You Like Their Music
Mark Richardson
Pitchfork

Occasionally Pitchfork breaks from its self-congratulatory circlejerk to post a good article, and Mark Richardson’s column ‘Resonant Frequency’ has been a shining beacon in that regard. This piece in particular deals with the cultures and connections that bands are building with fans over social media, and whether indeed such a subjective medium as music should be reduced to 140 characters and brief, grammatically incorrect Facebook posts.

Lana Del Rey Effing Tanks On SNL. Is Her Career ‘Effing Over’?
‘Carles’
Hipster Runoff

I’m sure most of you have probably already skipped over this one the moment you saw the name Hipster Runoff, but between having contrived existential crises and writing about Pitchfork scores, Carles is actually capable of writing some pretty thought-provoking pieces. Whilst Hipster Runoff is no longer really ‘rlvnt’, this piece is a really interesting one, looking at the fragility of internet stardom and buzz and how it translates into the real world. In retrospect, perhaps the fact that Lana Del Rey is still going strong despite this shockingly poor performance speaks volumes for the nature of the modern music industry.

Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered
Daivd Lowery
The Trichordist

When a twenty-year-old intern at NPR wrote an online article describing how she, similarly to many other twenty-year-olds, had purchased 15 CDs in her lifetime but yet had a digital library of 11,000 songs, the response was predictably vitriolic and divided. The best response however was this piece, written by David Lowery of rock band Cracker. I don’t agree with his contention, but it is so well-written that it necessitates re-evaluating some of your own views on piracy and cultural exchange. It’s little wonder that many bands have jumped on the bandwagon and linked to this piece over social media, and it’s received over half a millions views. More importantly however it has sparked a debate not of blacks and whites but of shades of grey, and that is a very rare and precious thing when it comes to the issue of piracy.

Red Hot Chili Peppers Leaked As 2013 Big Day Out Headliners
‘Grattan’
FasterLouder

I think this is an interesting article not because it’s well written (it is from FasterLouder after all, hey oh!), but rather because of the questions it raises over music journalism ethics and the symbiotic and sometimes troubling relationships between journalists and promoters. It’s little mystery that the majority of articles on music websites originate from PR, and that music journalists rely on promoters to get entry into gigs and festival as well as interviews with bands. One doesn’t usually bite the hand that feeds you, and in the case of music journalists, does this mean that you would be ill advised to write a negative piece on a festival that you want to get a media pass to, or to write a negative review of an album you’ve been sent by a well-known record label you want to stay on good terms with (or to insult an online publication you may want to work for…)? If the answer is yes, then surely that’s a bit of a problem.

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