PANEL: Do critics matter in a 140-character world

yaic critic panel

This panel on the role of music critics in the age of social media and bloggers included Robert Forster from the Go Betweens (also a critic), Paul Bridgewater from The Line of Best Fit and Arni Matthiasson from Morgunbladid. Moderated by: Shane Richmond (see earlier post), the panel discussed how journalists have long been essential curators to the wider media and general public.

However, this model is being eroded by social media and digital distribution: now everyone has an opinion and the means to broadcast it, while publishing businesses to seek viable revenue models.

“The newspapers as gatekeepers have exploded,” admitted Arni Matthiasson from Morgunbladid, who has been writing about music since 1886. He also mentioned that he writes now about up and coming bands rather than established ones due to the constraints of working in a small community.

Paul Bridgewater said that “…print writers have increasingly been cloistered from  reality. Online you can track what people are worth in terms of their words. It’s become all about polemic, so people can be being paid due to the traffic that’s being generated. That said, the money isn’t there for longer, deeper pieces – but the audience and critics are much closer today than they were, even if there was always a relationship.”

The panel discussed the different roles of niche/online and bigger/traditional media, for example how a review on an indie website like TLOBF might influence sales for an indie band’s record, but not on bigger records like David Bowie or Radiohead. More commercial media outlets like The Guardian, it seems, still holds sway at that level.

Paul Bridgewater explained how reviews today are less about saying whether a record is categorically “good” or “bad” and more about augmenting understanding. “It’s more about being part of this broader complex community, which is brilliant. In the end it’s just like being with your mates having a discussion in the pub – but without alcohol.”

As to the question of whether we still need critics, Robert argued that the cultural critic is just as important as the political journalist – who aren’t being laid off like the former are. The problem of course remains with how to pay critics in the shift to online where there is not so much budget available in many cases. In essence: the landscape is continuing to change and everyone is trying to keep up.