PAYOLA, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the music industry

Dear Unnamed Music Blog– Imagine my excitement when I received your email explaining that you had received my album submission, and enjoyed it enough to write a review.  Now keep in mind this wasn’t a cold call on my end, someone who apparently contributes to your site had previously contacted me saying that they had heard some tunes, liked them, and encouraged me to submit to your site for consideration. As I read on, however, my excitement quickly turned to bewilderment as you laid out your payment scale, ranging from a free mention in a weekly roundup, which doesn’t include any links or relevant information, up to $40 for a professionally written review, with links and everything! And to make sure you don’t dissuade people with the chance of a critical review, you even offer a guaranteed rating of 3.0 or above. Wow, what a deal! 

Despite my initial trepidation, I didn’t immediately dismiss this approach. I understand that listening to and writing about new music takes time and effort, and a little bit of monetary consideration is not unheard of for a site that doesn’t feature ads. (ed. note: the site does feature ads. Double dip!) However, after reading a few of the gloriously hamfisted reviews on your site, and deducing that most of the traffic is generated by bands reading their own write-ups, I was once again overwhelmed with incredulity that you have the audacity to troll for new bands and con them into forking over their hard earned money for a few paragraphs tapped out by someone who seems to have listened to the record in the background while watching Dancing With the Stars. After the final elimination, they tried and failed to come up with something insightful to say, and upon hearing the microwave ding, and the aroma of warm hot pocket wafting through the air, settled for slopping out a few generic descriptors along with some song names, basic information lifted straight from a press release, and bland quotidian comments about instrumentation and lyrical content. And to cap off this in-depth exploration, every album seems to get a rating of approximately 3.6! This doesn’t necessarily mean the review will be positive, but at least the rating number attached gives that impression.

This may seem a little harsh, but try to understand that I write this with love, and out of concern for the artform you are damaging with your approach. While the old bromide that writing about music is akin to dancing about architecture may still ring true, I am nonetheless a big believer in, and consumer of well-written reviews; music, movies, books (and to a lesser extent, artisanal pickle trends and Korean street fashion). And as A.O. Scott recently expounded on so eloquently, the art of criticism is in danger of becoming obsolete, as every lonely soul with an internet connection and a rudimentary understanding of syntax can jot down a few opinions on their favorite subject and call it analysis. As much as I enjoy poking fun at Pitchfork for their sesquipedalian and often pedantic writing style, at least it has style, depth, and displays the author’s love for music, and knowledge of the subject at hand.

So sure, sign me up for the free option. But after you’re done with that, I implore you to stop. Shutter your blog, take your earnings and do something else with your time. You should keep listening to new music, of course, and I would even encourage you to continue writing about music, as you could certainly use the practice, but please stop accepting money for your pedestrian musings.

Best, MD