A TALE OF TWO REVIEWS

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Part of my job as a music journalist involves reviewing albums. Some of the albums that I review are by Irish artists, some are by international artists. Some reviews are positive, some are good, some are middling, some are negative. The range of positive-to-negative album quality is vast, and I certainly don’t discriminate based on where an act or band is from (I don’t buy into the ‘treating Irish artists with kid gloves’ debate, but that’s a blog post for another day).

I occasionally get amusing hate-tweets/emails from disgruntled fans who have a bone to pick with my negative review, but rarely the actual bands themselves. Recently, I happened to review two Irish albums for The Ticket in relatively quick succession. I didn’t like either album for different reasons, and said so in my two-star reviews of both. What inspired this blog post was the reaction from both acts (who I’m not going to name, because it’s irrelevant). 

Act One sent me an email:

“Hi Lauren,
 
Thanks a million for covering the album in The Times. We appreciate it. It’s a pity you weren’t into the album but hopefully you’ll review our future stuff & we might sway you. Either way, it’d be great to see you at the launch gig, it should be a good night all ’round.
 
All the best,

*******”

I was really impressed by this act’s attitude and told them so. I’m definitely open to being won over by whatever they do in the future, and am much more likely to make an effort to see them the next time they play Dublin.

After reading the two-star review of their own album, Act Two sent me a series of tweets, beginning with:

“Your review is a cluttered mess: you spell [song title that I’d admittedly made a slight error with] wrong twice! Get off yer throne and go back to school pet”

My first reaction to this was amusement, then utter bafflement. Why would someone a) publicly take a journalist up on a bad review b) draw attention to the fact that they got a bad review with such a public confrontation and c) continue to tweet me with more patronising comments (‘pet’ cropped up again – never mind the fact that I doubt they would have used the same term for a male journalist, but again, that’s another blog post) and bizarre accusations of a personal vendetta, despite the fact that I had never heard of them or their music before I reviewed their album?

Don’t get me wrong: I know that it must hurt to get a bad review of something that you’ve poured no small amount of blood, sweat and tears into. I completely understand that. On the other hand, it is my job to be honest about something. I wouldn’t pull punches with an international act like Mumford and Sons or Justin Bieber, or even a British or American independent act – so why would I do it with an Irish act? More importantly, if you’re going to be so thin-skinned about a bad review, why on earth are you in the music business – an industry that revolves around people (critics and fans alike) giving their opinion on your creative output?

The same act had been fairly gung-ho in retweeting positive reviews of their album, which got me thinking: do bands and artists suit themselves by only believing the good reviews and ignore the bad ones completely? Would they prefer that their album is ignored by the press, rather than risk it being slated?

I am quite sure that a sizeable degree of success in the music business can be attributed to the same positive attitude that Act One displayed. Bad review? Brush yourself off, chalk it down to experience and plan to win the journalist over the next time, if it matters that much to you. I can’t help but feel that Act Two let themselves down by kicking up a fuss and making themselves look both arrogant and rather foolish in the process. Is there something to be learned here? You would hope so, but I won’t be holding my breath to find out.

Related: via On the Record, 7 Excellent Tips on Dealing with Bad Music Reviews (Even Though They Don’t Matter)

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mike on July 31, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    Hi Lauren,

    It’s not my usual thing to comment on a blog but I just wanted to say that I know the artist in question and, while I wouldn’t defend the terminology used, a nicer person you could not meet. It’s an unfortunate thing about the Internet that it’s so susceptible to letting quickfire, rash reactions to gain traction, where perhaps a letter written by hand to a newspaper might enforce a more circumspect riposte. In short, it allows pettiness to escalate all too quickly. I’d ask that you’d consider that. It made me very sad to see two very lovely people embroiled in a row that they would definitely not engage in, were they to meet in person.

    With regard to references to the music industry, of course as a journalist you ARE in an industry, but as you know most Irish artists aren’t – or at best, they are only partially in it. Most of them make no money from it and do what they do only for love. In a professional environment, you steel yourself against the vagaries of people’s opinion, but when you’re doing it for love, and the thing you love most gets dissected in public it’s… well, the only comparison I can make is that it’s like being told your child is ugly. Also, success in a music-industry sense tends not to be at the forefront of an artist’s mind. What you want more than anything is for your song to make friends at school and to come home with a smile on its face. Can you blame someone for letting the red mist descend?

    Now of course, your opinion is 100% yours, and I wouldn’t for a second suggest anything else, nor would I suggest for a second that you or any reviewer change their approach to reviewing Irish acts — pull no punches, says I. Equally my advice (not that anyone should listen) to any artist would be to do the dignified thing and roll with such punches, no matter how much they hurt. Or as a friend of mine says, to “stay classy”. But it’s hard sometimes. I would only ask that, in this case, you take my word for it that this particular person IS an absolutely classy guy who has been through some stuff, and who allowed passion to get into the driving seat this one time.

    Mike
    PS I also like the album, but that’s neither here nor there.

    Reply

    • Posted by Lauren on July 31, 2013 at 4:46 pm

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for that comment – really considered and well-argued.

      I’m sure that the artist in question is a nice person – and like I said, I can understand how having your work judged can hurt and it can be hard not to take it personally, even if it’s not meant as such – but there’s no getting away from the fact that they handled this really badly. I have absolutely no problem with someone challenging my opinion on something – in fact, I quite enjoy it – but I probably would have responded better to an email or DM, rather than a very public and patronising tweet. If they are going to go public with criticism of the review in that way, they’re really not doing themselves any favours and they’re leaving themselves open to criticism, in turn.

      I do want to point out, however, that this blog post wasn’t a vindictive exercise in making an example of one musician, which is why I made a point of not naming either act. It simply happened that I got these two very different responses to a bad review, literally within two weeks of each other, and that sparked the idea for a post about how people react differently to criticism.

      It’s happened several times in the past that peeved musicians have reacted to a bad review by saying ‘You don’t know me/you don’t know anything about me’ – which, for me, is exactly the point that they’re missing. I don’t know them and I don’t want to know them; I want to listen to their music and critique that, not their personality.

      Again, cheers for the comment – always open to other perspectives!

      Lauren

      Reply

  2. Posted by Rob on July 31, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    I’ve had similar experiences after giving bad reviews, with Irish and international artists.

    The Irish band contacted me to say that because they’re Irish I should have been kinder.

    The main crux of their argument was that because I was reviewing them for an Irish publication, I was creating a bad impression of them in front of their most important audience – Irish people.

    They weren’t childish, patronizing or aggressive thankfully, but their conclusion was that if I had nothing nice to say then I should say nothing at all, because I was potentially jeopardizing their careers. Baffling.

    My other poor experience was with an American singer songwriter who called me out via MySpace (this was back in 2007) and labeled me a “starf****r” because I’d given his album an unfavorable review, while in the same issue I’d given a moderately well-known band a positive review!

    Reply

  3. Posted by Rob. on July 31, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Yeah I’d have to agree with the overall tone of the blog post. And I do so with first hand experience of receiving a less than favorable review from Lauren in The Times, for our album ‘I Am A Country’ (OrphanCode). Reviews are subjective like most things in the arts, but if you’re willing to put yourself out there you have to be willing to take what people are going to write about you, both good and bad. Good obviously feels much nicer and strokes the ego, while bad stings and makes you question what you’re doing. I suppose the trick is to dust yourself off and just hope they like the next one. In my opinion throwing all the toys out of the pram over a review just comes across like sour grapes. You can’t have everyone like what you do (OK maybe Radiohead can), so concentrate on the people who are at your gigs and who buy your albums. It can be frustrating when there is incorrect information in a review, but if you’re clutching onto that, there isn’t a whole lot of good in the review for you in the first place. Bands and singers are never defined by a single review, so you pick yourself up and get on with the music.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Kleberson on July 31, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    Hi Lauren,

    I was sent the link to this article by a friend and read it with interest. This is the artist to whom you refer above. Please allow me to say first that when I composed the initial tweet, I did attempt to send it via DM but the settings on Twitter wouldn’t allow me (presumably because you weren’t ‘following’ me on it) and unfortunately I didn’t have your email address, so in response to you saying you would’ve responded better to an email or a DM, I wasn’t able to. Perhaps I could have gone through certain channels and obtained your email address to contact you that way but the red mist had descended and being human, we’re all prone to emotional reactions sometimes.

    One thing which the above article does not mention is that I apologised for the patronising tone of part of my comments, and quite quickly too, via a subsequent tweet but unlike the first tweet which was highlighted, the one in which I volunteered an apology was not mentioned.

    Another point I made at the time on Twitter was that I have no problem with a bad review – I had previously received only two bad reviews out of several dozen very positive ones but I felt then as now that the points those two reviewers made were valid and their criticism was ultimately justified. I and others felt that your review however was relentlessly-negative and sounded personal although I accept it surely couldn’t have been personally-motivated because we’ve never met. Several people have told me they thought it was a “hatchet job” but ultimately I know that it’s just one opinion, and you’re of course entitled to your opinion. However, surely I am also entitled to mine and my tweet was effectively a (critical) review of your (critical) review. I quickly apologised for having said ‘pet’ twice, I subsequently explained my position calmly and said that I felt I was entitled to point out the misspellings (which could be perceived as evidence you hadn’t spent enough time with the album before lambasting it) especially given that you had been so full-on in your all-out savaging of the album, I felt that I was justified to respond concerning the misspellings. I was surprised and bemused that my criticism (of your criticism) has seemingly become such a hot topic. I’m actually fairly new to Twitter and almost never have disagreements with anyone, anywhere!

    It was a real eye-opener to read the message you received from the other act, even after what must have been a very bad review of something that they presumably also poured their heart and soul into. Part of me really admires their ability to turn-the-other-cheek to such an extent…and then part of me wonders if such a taking-it-lying-down approach is such a good thing? When I think of the bands I most love, I can’t think of any of them (with the possible exception of Joy Division who seemed totally unconcerned with all reviews and reviewers) who would be so mild and meek (especially the notoriously-sensitive and prickly Morrissey! Who you must be a fan of with a blog called The World Won’t Listen). I think a good part of the lifeblood of pop music is the carnival of conflicting opinions, rifts and retorts that it can (or used to) encompass. ‘The Great Debate’ as Johnny Rogan titled a section concerning the Meat Is Murder period in his ‘Visual Documentary’ book. While it was never my intention to initiate an Axl-esque ‘Get In The Ring’-type affair, the spirited discourse which this saga has prompted (and continues to, as is evident from the blog post) could be perceived to be a not-unhealthy stirring of the spicy soup in what has become an arguably over-polite, non-confrontational music scene for want of a better term. Having said that though, other than the targets I compositionally take aim at in the songs, I don’t want to argue with anybody (which you may consider contradictory, but no more than would be the case for any Gemini I would suggest :D) And sadly the continued coverage of this affair runs the risk of detracting from the otherwise overwhelmingly-positive critical reaction to the album. Out of ten reviews so far, eight were very positive, one was quite positive and only yours was negative. But that’s a really good strike-rate in anyone’s book, and I shouldn’t’ve allowed myself to get so riled that I responded, but far from being arrogant I’m well aware that I’m not perfect and sometimes in life we do things which we’d have approached differently at any other time.

    There are certain things that contributed to the emotional reaction I had which if I were to explain would I think allow for a better understanding of it. However I’m not able to discuss them, for I have never been able to reveal them to anyone. Let’s just say that sometimes there’s a story behind a story, and sometimes there’s a story behind that story as well.

    Please allow me to respond to your comment that “The same act had been fairly gung-ho in retweeting positive reviews of their album”. The fact is that I’m an emerging artist on a relatively-small independent label (during a time of unprecedented financial and structural hardship for the music industry in general). I don’t have a PR firm, I don’t have much money and every spare cent that I have I plough into music. I pay my three band members for every gig we do, even unpaid support slots or other ones where I’m not paid a cent. In other words, I have to do a lot of promo myself. If I don’t do it, who is going to? I’d rather not retweet reviews, I’d far rather be in Radiohead’s position and be able to perpetuate mystique with the minimum of effort and not have to engage in much promotional toil at all, but the reality is that I am not in a position where that is possible. Also, I operate in an astronomically over-subscribed field, where supply so hugely outweighs demand, that I have to work so hard for any coverage at all to merely be in with even a chance of not being completely engulfed by the anonymity to which I was hitherto all too well accustomed. Hence the retweeting positive reviews. I may never get positive reviews again (especially after this saga) so my thinking was I might as well seek to draw attention to them. I think it’s unfair to criticise me for seeking to promote my album with the retweets of reviews, but I accept it and move on.

    Something that I never got to point out was where you said in the review that I describe my music as Alt.Pop – I don’t. I don’t describe it as anything. The record company used that classification in the press release, not I. and saying that “it’s difficult to know exactly which genre” I’m aiming for – I’m not aiming for any genre. Music is music. Descriptions are restrictive and I think reductive. What genre were The Beatles aiming for on ‘Revolver’ with it’s fourteen entirely-different styles of song (not to mention it’s four different lead vocalists)? I don’t share the concern of preferring to define something using narrow perimeters or to limit one artist to occupy one genre at the risk of condemnation.

    As for being “so thin-skinned about a bad review” – some people are sensitive, some less so, some not at all. I’m the first to admit I’m “a sensitive git”. But believe it or not I actively encourage (constructive) criticism these days – anything that could make something better is welcome. However there’s a point at which criticism can start becoming destructive – and I can’t allow myself to be shut down again, not after the last time. I was honestly ten times (approx.) more sensitive years ago. In my experience artistic people are generally prone to greater levels of sensitivity. But I have to say I don’t agree with the statement “if you’re going to be so thin-skinned about a bad review, why on earth are you in the music business – an industry that revolves around people (critics and fans alike) giving their opinion on your creative output?”. For me, people giving their opinion on my creative outlet is a by-product of the music business but is irrelevant to music itself. Why would being thick-skinned make me more likely to be in the music business? It might make it easier but it’s not why I make music (and I’d be surprised if it’s why anyone makes music). I don’t do what I do for people giving their opinion on my creative output, and certainly not for the pursuit of fame or money, nor for any reason other than an unquenchable inner compulsion that has gripped and guided me through some immense obstacles which I shan’t go into here…It’s all that I live and it’s all that I love. I go to bed every night and wake up every morning thinking of setlists, tracklists, dream gigs (ones I’ve been to and ones I wish I’d been around to see), lyrics, favourite albums, album covers, guitar sounds, sonic atmospheres, moments of incredible beauty and poignancy in the works of others and the indefinable magical instances where by some joyous constellation of artistic astrology, a song takes flight and causes a surging sensation in me like no other, so much so that I have always outlawed even the possibility of any other potential stimulant playing any part in fabricating the feelings that for me music already provides in a pure and life-affirming way. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t take drugs. I don’t smoke. I don’t go on holidays. The only “high” to which I aspire and which sustains me is that of the sonic source. All I am, all I have, all I live, all I breathe is music, music, music, music (my own and others’). You may deem my efforts “more maddening than moving” but I can live with that as long as I am free to chart my own course, and the many decades of glorious noises to which I am addicted continue to arc their way to my heart.

    I’m honestly very sorry that I came across as arrogant, which is the last thing in the world that I am, as anyone who knows me properly would attest. and if this message comes across like an existential Mr Kipling advert and I receive the journalistic equivalent of a Callum McManaman knee-cruncher, then it really will be time to put The Very Best of Richard Clayderman on. I had assumed you would be an arrogant person too, on the basis of your tone in the review and responses on Twitter. But I found much of your above blog and comments reasonable, and I’m sure I’d like you if we met. For one thing, the title of your blog (The World Won’t Listen) is of course a title by my favourite band of all-time, and I have never met a fan of The Smiths who I didn’t get along well with. I have absolutely no animosity towards you whatsoever, which is unfortunately something that is not apparent from the tone of my now weeks-old first tweet. It just goes to show that communications can give a misleading impression (or a lasting impression which may not be accurate).

    All I can say to conclude is that I wish you well, I don’t harbour any hard feelings, and once again I’m sorry for any offence caused by my initial tweet. and contrary to your rather pessimistic assumption which closed the above post I think I’ve most definitely learned a number of things from this exchange. I’ll try to avoid getting sidetracked and embroiled in such a saga again, but therein lies a lesson of life…As I sing in one of our songs, “Learning’s what living is for”. (Although the very next line is “Reject the robots who’d have you chained to chores” – and I would consider it a chore to try make every song on an album sound the same. That’s Kodaline’s job ;)

    Reply

  5. Was your sarky tweet sent by Christy Moore? I always thought he was a bit of a princess.

    Reply

  6. I’ve had run ins with the artist in question back in 1999 or 2000, was pretentious and insecure then, seems things haven’t changed.

    Reply

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