Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Why I don't write music reviews anymore

As a teenager, I knew I wanted to be a music producer. I spent the vast majority of my free time messing about with guitars and cheap recording equipment - and I mean cheap, like tape players and microphones held together with electrical tape - and could happily listen to a song on repeat for hours on end in order to figure out exactly how certain noises and fluctuations were made (did I mention I was too poor to own a computer?). I left school with grades I wasn't altogether pleased with but which I deserved, given my total lack of commitment to my education beyond the music and English departments, and set off to university.

I studied music technology for almost a year before I realised I was not cut out to be a sound engineer. When your dreams cease to keep you awake at night with excitement and start to strangle you, it's time to wonder whether you made a mistake. How beautiful the 'production lab' was, with it's huge windows looking out over the sea. How peaceful the recording studios were, with their padded walls and endless bays of lights and switches. I could have happily lived there in the vocal booth. There were vending machines, so I wouldn't have starved.

The sad fact was, I wasn't very good at it. Or at least, I didn't have the same technical background as everyone else. Instead of going to college first and gaining something resembling skills, my high school had encouraged me to hop straight to Uni, at the ridiculous age of seventeen. I was the youngest there, I was one of only two females, and I was an introvert. This was not an issue for the classes I took to with gusto - editing, chopping, quantising, gazing at waveforms for hours at a time; the happiest I've ever been. However, quite frankly, I sucked at recording, my performance skills were terrible, and my head for basic equations is non-existant. You might as well ask a horse where to put that snare mic.

Towards the end of the year, I found a ridiculous excuse and quit. I decided that music was a hobby, and I should stick to what I knew - namely I should string sentences together for a living since I did it all day anyway. I'd like to stress at this point that I love writing, and that this is not a sad story. I began writing gig reviews and epic essays on the motives behind album construction and all the things I had learned during my brief spell at university. I started to realise that music reviews are depressingly formulaic once you've written several hundred. Relate the music to other music the reader may have/should have heard before - use an outlandish simile to inject humour - leave enough scope at the end to say how it could have been improved. No matter how many times I tried to change the way I wrote my reviews, I couldn't make them less technical. I get involved with the textures and the sounds, and I forget that I'm supposed to be saying in 300 words why this local three-piece should win the latest Battle of the Bands competition. It's something I can do, but I don't like doing, and after a few years, I stopped.

Every now and again I consider writing about all the musical discoveries people share with me every week, but then again, surely a tweet suffices? Or perhaps it doesn't? Either way, when people unfollow me for "spamming" them with tweets about DnB mixes and releases, I feel they are missing the point. Find joy where you can, and share it around - I just happen to feel that for my own purposes, actually showing people music is preferable to wrapping up the ideas of it in metaphors and giving it a score out of ten. I in no way mean to disrespect music reviewers by saying this, some are more than excellent. This is just my opinion.

And that's why I don't write music reviews any more.

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