Music journalists need to be journalists

Danny Bishop

“Led Zeppelin IV” is the most unlistenable trash to ever assault my eardrums. The guitar playing is boring, the vocals uninspired and “Stairway to Heaven” is a prime example of contrived corporate rock. I give this overrated garbage 0 stars out of 67.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, “Led Zeppelin IV” is certified platinum — 23 times, making it one of the best-selling albums of all time. According to Metacritic, a site that aggregates reviews from a number of sites and then creates a composite score to provide a variety of perspectives on a work, “Led Zeppelin IV” is a perfect album with a 100 Metascore.

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So if Led Zeppelin is a commercial and critical success, why would I denounce it with such confidence? Furthermore, why should my opinion be trusted?

The answer is simple: I have no idea what I’m talking about, and my opinion should not be trusted.

The operative word in music journalism is journalism, yet that aspect of music reporting is entirely neglected by many outlets. Anyone with a keyboard can label “Led Zeppelin IV” unlistenable, and that opinion can immediately be published, even if the reviewer has no music background.

In the digital age where anyone and everyone is a critic, the lack of journalistic training has led to the degradation of music journalism. Since anyone can write about music, music blogs have become tabloids and lack journalistic integrity.

The Daily Beast writer Ted Gioia wrote that music journalism has degenerated into tabloid-style entertainment reporting.

“Imagine, for a moment, football commentators who refuse to explain formations and plays,” Gioia wrote. “Something comparable is happening in the field of music journalism. One can read through a stack of music magazines and never find any in-depth discussion of music. Technical knowledge of the art form has disappeared from its discourse. In short, music criticism has turned into lifestyle reporting.”

Gioia’s point that music reporting is now “lifestyle reporting” is the key to the decline in quality in music journalism. Today, outlets cater to what sells issues and garners clicks. People care about the most recent Van Halen drama. Eddie’s beef with former members is a headline that gets issues off the racks. Drama sells.

This phenomenon is not unique to music journalism, but it is a beat that is particularly susceptible to decline because anyone can offer their two cents. It takes far more education and background to report on the economy than Nicki Minaj’s butt. Times are a changin’.

Before I start sounding like a grandpa on a rocking chair being disparaging about today’s media and wishing for the old days, I do think there is hope. There are outlets today that produce quality journalistic pieces about music. These outlets are the hope for the beat.

Legitimate music blogs like Noisey produce content that no other music site can hold a candle to. Noisey’s reporting on Atlanta hip-hop is an example of what music journalism should be. In this documentary series, the crew was in Atlanta doing the legwork and getting the story. Journalism is all about legwork, legwork, legwork, and that’s what Noisey did. Producers of the series provided insight into the creative process of the artists, showing rappers’ studios, from posh label studios to independent studios in basements. They also uncovered dirt, sometimes to the artists’ detriment, like in the case of Migos’s arrest as a result of the documentary.

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What is more journalistic than unearthing something that results in the arrest of your subject? Woodward and Bernstein would be proud. I want music journalism that gets the story, not fabricate one for a headline.

“Almost Famous shows an aspiring journalist in the trenches getting the story. William Miller, based on Cameron Crowe’s real experience writing for Rolling Stone, was not scanning Twitter for hot gossip to write about. Miller was doing the legwork and being a journalist, just like Noisey was with their Atlanta series.

Today, more music journalists need to be journalists. I don’t care about Van Halen’s drama. I care about the music.

Collegian Editor-in-Chief Danny Bishop can be reached at letters@collegian.com and on Twitter @DannyDBishop.