Why I Never Give A Bad Review

When I was still MC’ing clubs, I did a stint where the DJ discovered this song called #PantsDown and when he played it, the crowds looked at him disapprovingly and left the dance floor. Two weeks later, the song was requested at least 5 times and the crowd loved it! What happened in those two weeks? Was it a different crowd? Nope! Was the song played at a different tempo? Nope! Did Roger Goode play it on the radio? Yup!

Ask me anything about punk or jazz and I’d give you an insightful answer. Ask me something about metal and I’ll struggle harder than our president reading a speech on 8 point font. Fortunately, over at Milled, we have the genius of Etienne Grobler when it comes to metal and his insights into the genre will blow me out of the water. I couldn’t care for metal but many people do so if I were to do a write up on a metal band, it would likely be negative and I’d be isolating a significant audience…for no reason other than my own preferences.

…and that’s what reviews are really about; preference. I prefer melodic harmony to a single melody. I prefer music at 120bpm to that of 50bpm. I prefer a trombone to a trumpet in a ska band. Do you? More importantly, should you? No…at least not because I say so! Who am I to impose my preferences on you? I’m certainly not your dodgy Uncle Rogey.

A big part of the nature of broadcasting is to discover interesting things and present them to your audience telling them that it’s awesome and expecting them to like it. Unfortunately, our generation has tended to outsource their taste to these influencers and this has warped the production side of music.

I know many artists who adapt their music to impress the few middlemen that will get their music out there instead of making the music that they really want to. Sure, in the industry there’s always going to be a bit of that but should we allow that the become the sole soul of the industry?

Talking to our Audience:

Our audience loyalty is great and I know that if I said to you that I like Frank Freeman many of you would check him out (and one day I’ll write up why you should lest I’m made into a hypocrite with this post) but you should demand more of me. Just telling you that I like his music is too easy and fake. Demand my reasons! I assure you, I have them.

Influencers make incredible money by generating interest and traffic in the various things they promote. Therefore, if you like something just because somebody else told you to, you’re not living your preferences, you’re living theirs…and making them rich while you’re at it.

Over at Milled, we cannot succumb to this modus operandi. In fact, we attempt to push against it.

I get no money from writing for Milled and all of us have separate jobs that keep bread on the table. What I do get is comp tickets to shows and festivals and access to the SA music scene. When I’m hanging with Joburger, I get drinks too. But that doesn’t mean that they get good reviews in exchange for tickets. Au contraire. I see at least 4 live acts a week and attend 15 – 20 festivals a year. You only read about a tiny fraction of those because most of them just don’t warrant my time to write up. The PR agents and fest organizers know this about me and it’s a rep I’ve worked hard for but one I know that they respect.

Being contrarian is easy. Everybody is always after the opposing view. I guess that’s why I’m often called upon to give legal expertise on ANN7. Therefore to make a post about why a great band was kak or a kak band was good will automatically generate traffic.

Quite frankly, I don’t have the time nor inclination to base my life on generating traffic. So if an artist didn’t put on an enjoyable performance I’m not going to tell you it was bad because to you, it might not have been. I’m also not going to write about it because I would have little sincerely good to say.

Giving Good Reviews and No Reviews:

“So Richard, why don’t you just write about why you didn’t enjoy the artist?”

Most people reviewing music don’t know the first thing about it. It’s especially annoying when I read interviews with bands and the bland generic questions come up like “who influenced you?”, “where did you meet?” etc. When I interview bands, I put in at least an hour of research into their backgrounds and tailor questions to them directly. Sure it takes more time and I won’t get as much output but surely this is a situation where quality is better than quantity. If for nothing else, it sure is amazing to have great artists I love even tell me that they appreciate the preparatory effort I went through. It helps that our readers seem to appreciate it too.

Yet our ability to influence is heavily disproportionate. A bad review costs the artist far more than a few lost ticket sales at their next gig. The life of an artist is difficult enough without having to worry about pious bloggers looking to make a name for themselves at the expense of artists and their reputations. Seriously, just hang backstage with a couple of upcoming artists and hear them talk smack about certain blogs.

And reputation is vital to the artists’ continued success. A couple of bad reviews could cost an artist their career and we may have lost South Africa’s first Freddy Mercury due to a couple of plonkers sitting behind their PCs not considering that in 6 months something could be awesome with the right commentary around and work in it.

At Milled we stand in solidarity with local artists; even though we know we can rocket to the top with the talent we have if we work the system. But our strategy isn’t clickbait. Our strategy is the long game. Similar to artists who have to struggle for years slowly building on their reputation gig by gig before they make it huge, we aim to impress, interview by interview and review by review. We even try create content that assists artists like the 10 Legal Nuggets All Producers Should Know.

So, who am I to believe that, had you been there, you wouldn’t have enjoyed the show? All I can tell you is why I enjoyed a show…and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t bother writing about it.

This affords the artist the opportunity to ask why we haven’t done a write up and reflect on their performance without the cost of something that risks their career.

A “no review” does all the good of a bad review but with none of the damage (to the artist and industry). A good review exposes the artist to the world and that should be reserved for artists who have something to offer. If I take what they’re offering, I’ll write about it. If somebody else can take what they’re offering, I’ll let them know. If they’ve got nothing to offer, why shut them down? I’ll just hang on until they have something to offer…and that costs a lot less, on all parties, than putting in effort to ensure that they’re never enabled to offer anything ever again.