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What’s Next for Music Criticism? - Boston Review

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses the recent changes and challenges facing music journalism, particularly the fate of the influential music website Pitchfork. It explores the potential for a worker-owned and cooperatively operated music publication as an alternative to the current corporate-driven model.

🙋 Q&A

[01] The Fate of Pitchfork

1. What happened to Pitchfork, the influential music website?

  • Pitchfork, owned by Condé Nast, faced significant layoffs and was announced to be "folded" into the men's magazine GQ, indicating a shift in the publication's editorial essence.
  • This moment represents a new low for music journalism as a whole, as Pitchfork was seen as a valuable asset for Condé Nast, raising questions about the reasons behind its downfall.

2. What are the potential opportunities arising from Pitchfork's downfall?

  • The article suggests that Pitchfork's former staff is well-positioned to create a worker-owned and cooperatively operated music publication, drawing inspiration from the success of Defector Media, a worker-owned publication formed by former Deadspin staffers.
  • Cooperative ownership is seen as a fair and resilient model that could empower music critics to wield power against the streaming platforms and major labels that have devalued the industry.

[02] Rethinking Music Criticism

1. What are the key issues with the current state of music criticism?

  • The article highlights the challenges of capturing music in words, the pressure to publish reviews around album release dates, and the tendency for Pitchfork's reviews to become formulaic and less insightful in an effort to drive traffic.
  • The article also discusses the impact of the "poptimism" approach, which treated Top 40 hits as middlebrow art, as a survival mechanism for Pitchfork to attract advertising revenue.

2. How could music criticism be reimagined?

  • The article suggests treating album reviews more like long-form book reviews, allowing critics more time to sit with and analyze albums.
  • It proposes commissioning reviews of multiple albums, in-depth artist profiles and Q&As, and abandoning numerical ratings entirely.
  • The goal is to create conditions that foster patient, thoughtful criticism and a diversity of perspectives, rather than the current model that prioritizes speed and hype over depth and analysis.

[03] The Broader Challenges Facing Music Professionals

1. What are the systemic issues affecting both music creators and critics?

  • The article discusses the debasement of the music and music criticism professions, with both musicians and critics facing top-down pressure to be formulaic and optimize for metrics rather than originality and experimentation.
  • It highlights the role of media conglomerates like Penske, which owns Rolling Stone, in diminishing professional opportunities and compensation for both music creators and critics.

2. What is the potential solution proposed in the article?

  • The article suggests that a worker-owned and cooperatively operated music publication could build solidarity between music workers and prioritize depth and analysis over hype and momentary engagement, creating the conditions for lasting, quality criticism and music.
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