Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Critics? They're dead.

An eye-catching piece of spurious research reveals that music critics are totally valueless, more or less:

Professional opinion is being ignored by eight out of ten consumers who are favouring online reviews from music stores and social networking sites for the latest reviews of albums and gigs.

E-commerce firm Avail Intelligence conducted this latest Trust Index research which showed 40 per cent of respondents preferred information sources such as the iTunes Music Store and the iLike Facebook application.

The opinion of family and like minded mates came in at the top though with 41% of the vote.

This sort of misses the point, though: theatres don't rely on every potential customer reading the Daily Telegraph's review of a new play, but that doesn't mean that the review doesn't play a role in shaping the public response to the play.

I'd imagine most journalists would be delighted that as much as 20% of the audience explicitly listen to their opinions in the first place, before the effect of word-of-mouth and background buzz plays its part.

So, what we have is a piece that says "hardly anybody buys music on the direct recommendation of a critic", which isn't news - hardly anybody reads music criticism in the first place, judging by the total circulation of the various music magazines and their online figures. And if people's tastes were shaped by reviews, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion would be selling perfume over a counter somewhere in the Americas. Probably Campag Velocet branded toilet water, at that.

And what was the company that brought us these results again? Avail Intelligence, huh? A copmpany whose business is effectively harvesting word-of-mouth and person-to-person recommendations. So, no vested interest there then, at all.

But then, don't take my word for it. I'm a critic.


Anonymous said...

I often think that people don't buy the NME (to use an obvious example) because they just buy what they see on the cover as it lies there, unwanted, in the Tesco magazine aisle. If it's on the cover it MUST be cool, and after all that's more important than whether it's good or not. (Of course, NME wasn't a particularly good example since if you read it, you'd discover that the reviews are often several shades of "it's cool... buy it" anyway)

Anonymous said...

and another thing. Since when was the intention of music criticism to tell you what to buy? Is that how far our attitudes have travelled from proper music criticism to now? As far as I can see the purpose of a good piece of criticism is to give you a point of view to objectively agree with or debate against. To provide the artist (or even other artists) something constructive to build upon or adapt. Maybe just me who sees it that way.

bernard-black said...

as anonymous says criticisms point isn't to tell you what to buy, well not solely anyway. but with the proliferation of music the internet is bringing about, that side of criticism could be doubly important now, because people who don't hunt things down (ie the more mainstream, less obsessive types like myself) will be looking for more guidance, possibly. we all have our markers of value anyway, be it a particular critic or record label, whatever. the internet is undoubtedly increasing the number of bands, but the ways in which they can be found will still be limited simply because you can't check everything. criticism willl do the role as always. drawing attention to, and pushing people discoveries.

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