WARNING TO ARTISTS: Music Fans Think for Themselves

Okay, I understand completely. We all love to be praised for the work we do. It is the same for the auto line worker, for the cook and even for the music reviewer.  And it is especially true for musical artists, creative types who pour their hearts into 45 minutes of recorded music, often spending years on a single project that bears their name.  It is very personal, and every piece of praise or critical barb can elicit the same feeling as if it were being made about your child.

Okay, I understand completely. We all love to be praised for the work we do. It is the same for the auto line worker, for the cook and even for the music reviewer.  And it is especially true for musical artists, creative types who pour their hearts into 45 minutes of recorded music, often spending years on a single project that bears their name.  It is very personal, and every piece of praise or critical barb can elicit the same feeling as if it were being made about your child.

We reviewers understand the work - the piece of self - that goes into an artist’s CD and we try to strike the balance of respecting the artist while at the same time realizing that there are thousands of people who use SoulTracks as a first “screen” of new music, helping them wade through the thousands of musical releases (of widely varying quality) each year and providing our own, hopefully well reasoned, reviews.  We listen to 4 or 5 CDs for every one we actually review and we take our role seriously. But hopefully we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

We are, thank God, an opinionated bunch here, and we enjoy being able to express opinions about the music that we love so much. But that doesn’t mean we’re right, and it especially doesn’t mean we’re right for you. Our Music Editor, L. Michael Gipson, and I have somewhat similar tastes, but I lean more toward classic soul sounds and he often prefers edgier projects. And it is not infrequent that one of us will receive a text from the other that says “How could you like that album?” or “How could you NOT like it?” But we both agree that our reviews are simply a starting point for our readers, who show, time and again, that they make up their own minds. That is part of the reason we try to include album clips underneath each review and we also have extensive reader comment sections. Our review may be a literary masterpiece, but it is no more correct than a reader’s shrugged answer that “it had a nice beat and I can dance to it.” And we’ve found that artists we cover, whether we write a glowing review or a tepid one, benefit simply from being part of the discussion.  Our most obvious story in this regard is the talented Atlanta-based singer, Algebra, who received a so-so review of her debut album from our reviewer, and went on to have perhaps the most popular album in SoulTracks history and a Best New Artist win (voted by our readers) at that year’s SoulTracks Readers’ Choice Awards.

This all comes to the forefront this week because of two incidents. One artist respectfully and politely wrote to us and indicated that he did not feel comfortable with the mildly positive review that we ran on his new album because it was not positive enough. He believes that the review will hurt his album and would prefer that it not be seen by readers.  But another artist took a similarly ambivalent review and proudly posted it all over the internet, sharing it indiscriminately with the world.  In my view, the latter artist understands something that the former does not: The latter will be part of a worldwide discussion in which SoulTrackers and others will check out our review and the reader comments below, and will also listen to clips from the album that we’ve included on the page and ultimately post their own comments. And because of the exposure and the “buzz,” I believe that that artist will sell a few hundred (or maybe a few thousand) extra CDs.  However, the former artist, if he gets his way, will get much less of a “bump” because, like the nonbeliever in the Bible, he wants to hide his work under a bushel basket.

Our goal (and the goal of our friends at places like SoulBounce, Soul Interviews, SoulMusic.com, SoulCuts and others) is to lift that bushel basket for those who want it lifted and to respect our readers to make up their minds based on the reviews, comments and album clips that we present, plus whatever other research they do. And we hope that those readers will then be active participants in the soul music environment, supporting the artists who most touch them.  Michael Gipson called our role one of “raising the bar,” and that description is appropriate. But it is also, more simply, a role of shining a light where it arguably deserves shining.  Artists who embrace this spotlight, even if it shows some blemishes, will both improve their craft and certainly benefit commercially from the exposure of their work to thousands of soulheads who would never hear of them otherwise. Those artists who will only accept exposure if it comes through perfecting cheesecloth will miss out on personal growth and on the priceless benefit of being on the tongues (and possibly the iPods) of some of the most passionate music lovers in the world. And that will be their loss.

By Chris Rizik


.

 
SoulTracks Choice Cut - Toni Redd - "Underneath My Skin"
Song of the Month - Stokley - "Level"
CD of the Month - Phil Perry - Breathless
Pre-order now! - Norman Brown - Let It Go

Leave a comment!