How Bad Journalism is Hurting the Music Industry

Classic Rock Magazine’s Dave Ling perfectly epitomises why bad journalism is helping to kill the music industry with a 52-word Albany Down “review”.

There’s rarely a gig we play where someone doesn’t ask us the same thing: why aren’t you more successful? Why are bland and unremarkable acts selling millions of records yet talented musicians and songwriters are struggling to even fill smaller venues? Is Justin Bieber really necessary?

These are questions I’ve given some thought to but never been able to explain. At least until I saw the Classic Rock review of the Giants of Rock gig in Minehead and I realised that the media, and journalism specifically, is a major factor.

Giants of Rock

To be honest, I don’t even care that much. We started that Giants of Rock gig playing to about 200 people and ended our 45-minute set with a crowd of 400. We sold a bunch of CDs to people who had never heard of us before. We played with three great bands who I assume also sold some of their own merchandise. Over the years we’ve had far more positive feedback than negative, so what was it about this review that made me blame journalism?

Well let’s look at what he wrote:

On the way to our evening meal Classic Rock takes a quick peek at Albany Down on the Introducing Stage just as the Scottish minnows play their “most famous song”, You Ain’t Coming Home, as heard on Radio 2. They’re competent enough, but at this point star quality seems in short supply.

Eating More Than Words

So let’s get the first glaring failure in journalism out of the way first: we’re not Scottish. Two seconds on Google would tell you that. Perhaps he got confused by the combination of my accent and the word “Albany” in the band name. I am Scottish; the band is not. There wasn’t very good mobile signal though, so maybe he couldn’t Google it. And of course speaking to us might amount to actual research. Getting to a free dinner is way more important than doing your actual job.

The second part is maybe me overreacting, but I object to the word “minnows”. It’s offensive on several levels, implying that we’re somehow out of our depth here, despite getting a roaring reception at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire to a much larger audience at a much larger venue. And “competent enough” is one of the most patronising things anyone has ever said about us.

But maybe that’s me taking it personally, and maybe it wasn’t intended that way. Every band there was unsigned, playing on a small stage with no ability to claim a platinum record. We’re all technically “minnows” in the grand scheme of things.

You Ain’t Coming Home

Whether you know the song or not, You Ain’t Coming Home is a bluesy ballad. It’s down-tempo and solemn. It’s a song about heartbreak. Where is the space for this intangible “star quality”? Running around the stage getting the crowd to clap would be inappropriate. You inject as much emotion as humanly possible, you hit the right notes and hope that the crowd gets it.

They stopped chatting and they cheered at the end, so I assume they did.

So where was Ling standing that he missed this? I wouldn’t mind so much if he’d said that the song sucked; that the guitar solo was too long or that my spotlight money note moment was too much; that we played out of time. But he said none of this, instead using a term that doesn’t even have a definition.

While we’re on the subject, what was he expecting from an “introducing” stage anyway? The guy has reviewed living legends, so nobody who hit that stage was ever going to match up to the ego-fuelled stadium-filling personalities of the likes of Jagger or Plant.

How This Hurts the Music Industry

Firstly, a 52-word review is useless to everybody. Especially when you spend seven of those talking about food and two of them mentioning the wrong country. Nobody has ever changed the world with three lines in a side column.

But the real problems with this kind of “review” are that it’s discouraging for the artist and it’s not constructive. Telling someone they did something wrong means they can fix it. Telling someone they don’t have the right aura means nothing.

The other fact is he based an entire review – which, although unlikely here, could in theory be a career-defining moment – on a single song. You wouldn’t review a book based on a single chapter in the middle, you can’t review an album based on a single track. Why would anything think it appropriate to review a whole gig on one song?

And then the people in “the biz” have the balls to ask why the music industry is collapsing around them? It’s behaviour like this. Bad journalism, worthless feedback. You tell someone they suck without any real evidence or improvement suggestions, of course they’re going to be discouraged. So congratulations, maybe you just turned away the next Jimmy Page, because he was playing a song that didn’t do it for you.

Perhaps it was just lazy and was an easy thing to write. Maybe the song just didn’t do it for him. Maybe he doesn’t like blues. Maybe he’s in some promoters pocket. Or maybe he just doesn’t know what star quality actually is – he is a Crystal Palace fan, after all.