Saturday, September 20, 2008

Music Journalism: Nothing but a Sham?

It’s an undeniable fact that music journalists had made a comfortable for jotting down their musings on something as intangible as music. But are music journalists really necessary for the enjoyment of music?

By: Vanessa Uy

Have you ever been stymied by a difficult task when your high-school English teacher asks (asked for the older folks) you to write a 100-word essay about your favorite musician and all you can ever come up with is “how cool they are”? Describing a really good band using oft used buzzwords as “cool” for all intents and purposes is about as far as it goes for 99% of the population. Yet this buzzword style immediacy is usually what comes to mind to a first-hand witness something so magical and yet so intangible that even a tenured multi million dollar earning music journalists eventually succumbs into. It’s never been easy to describe one’s profound sense of awe when it comes to musical appreciation.

There’s a growing consensus – mainly by musicians – that the whole thing about it is meaningless. Most musicians say that music journalism can never ever mean anything because it’s about writing things that don’t mean anything in the first place. Especially the intangibility of what makes a good melody or the creative process leading up to writing good lyrics. Most musicians strongly claim that 99% of all music journalism articles attempt to demystify something that you like – namely music. Though there might be a kernel of truth behind this “babble”.

To cite an example, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan & Party’s music could pass muster as obscure in comparison to contemporary Western popular music. Yet, many outside of Pakistan are into this kind of music – especially in America. But music articles / reviews about Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s musical performance – including yours truly – pales in comparison in attempting to describe to the joys of hearing this kind of music first hand. So far, every journalistic attempt to describe the sound of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s musical performance of Qawwali or Islamic devotional music – especially attempts to demystify what makes this kind of music a veritable artistic tour de force – only detracts the listener from truly enjoying this kind of music.

Or what about musicians with unusual costumes, tattoo’s and what have you. A well-written description of a certain musician’s stage apparel can really make them famous in no time. Like the band Lunachicks forever inexplicably linked with tattooing. The rock end of the musical spectrum is where musical journalism really shines – for better or for worse. And this is also where the big bucks lie, rock music journalism is a money-driven business.

The sad thing is that this kind of journalism can also be described in the world of hi-fi. Even though hi-fi magazines often warn us about dealers you want to avoid – i.e. ones who make us listen with our eyes by keeping their products behind glass instead of conducting demos to the uninitiated to drum up business. Music – or other music-related topics - can be a difficult topic to write about in an objective manner. But that hasn’t stop anyone from enjoying his or her favorite music or made a fortunate few very rich.