Why Critics Matter and Other Lessons From NXNE

We’re living in an increasingly singular world; we can see what we want, hear what we want and taste what we want with far easier aplomb than ever.  This is evidenced by the massive festivals popping up in small to medium sized cities across the world, Sarnia’s Bayfest, Halifax Pop Explosion, and so many more have helped redefine the live music experience.

Where the internet has connected us it has also divided us and defined our personalities.  Until the internet became the de facto king of media delivery, critics held jobs and were well respected for their refined and expert opinions.  Now anybody can claim to be an expert and even if they aren’t, they’ll be clever enough to figure out a way to gain enough credence to pass off as one.

The line has been blurred between fan and critic, music magazines have begun the practice of hiring fans to give glowing reviews and softball interviews as opposed to operating with scrutiny.  This keeps the editor less stressed, it keeps the PR firm happy and the musician doesn’t have a bad day answering questions they probably rather wouldn’t.  This has all led to devaluation in the stock of the real critics out there.

A popular euphemism is ‘those that can’t play, review’, it’s one of the worst, close-minded pieces of trash thought imaginable.  Not everybody wants to be a rockstar, not everybody writes about music or food or art or theatre because they want to be those people.  I can only speak for myself but I write about it because it’s fun and good practice.

There is a problem, however, when the bloggers and journalists writing about events like NXNE are apprehensive to give a poor review.  It’s not the job of the reviewer to make sure that the artist has a good show and everything comes off positive, it’s their job to be perceptive and then creatively descriptive.  Everybody wants to make friends and when you drop positive reviews all over the place it does become easier but that doesn’t gain you respect.  You gain respect by being fair and balanced in the way Fox News is generally not.

For these reasons, NXNE is an important platform for bloggers and writers.  Anonymity is important and this festival provides a large measure of it.  Throughout the year when critics are performing their job a number of connections are made at each show and you will always find somebody looking over your shoulder in an attempt to curry favour for that positive review.

NXNE takes pressure away and gives critics the ability to do their job without fear of immediate repercussion.  The music industry has become push driven from the artist level, if you’re not out there promoting yourself, nobody else will do it for you.  Writers are inundated with so many requests for coverage from so many mediocre artists that we have less time to explore and find new artists in the most organic way – by listening to music.

The value of NXNE’s anonymity is such that if you don’t like a band, you don’t have to write about them but it is recommended that you do anyway.  Not only will it assist in developing your skills by pulling you out of a comfort zone, your writing will continue to develop personality and opinions that people in the industry will come to know.  You might lose some people you considered friends but if that’s the case they just figured you as an easy target for a positive review.

The worth of your words is directly tied to the response they generate.  Don’t be afraid to speak critically of artists to them – if they never understand there’s something wrong they’ll never be able to improve.  Don’t be afraid to tell a PR agent that you won’t be giving a positive review, they’re in a developed relationship with the band and if your opinion is respected that message will get through far clearer than a timid response.

The internet is only going to increase our divided nature but it will cause opinions to become more valuable, if yours is good you will win fans.  If it isn’t, you will probably win fans but they’ll be fickle, uninterested and won’t stick around to read other content on your site or subscribe.

Just because we’ve become more singularly opined as a culture doesn’t mean you should be.  Once you foster your own bold and winning opinions the readers and respect will follow.  People and artists aren’t always going to love your opinions but they will understand the value of a good opinion as opposed to blind positivity.  This is one aspect the leaders of NXNE have picked up on, sometimes difficult realizations need to be made.  But once you make it through those trials you’re going to be a winner.

Your writing doesn’t always need a positive spin and you shouldn’t feel obligated to produce one just because that’s what industry people are expecting.  Refuse your greater mind and you’ll forget how to use it while becoming a yes woman/man.  Remember to take assignments that you don’t think you will enjoy because they can often surprise and perplex you.

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