As I’ve probably mentioned several times, I have for over three years been running Grayowl Point, a blog completely focused on the Canadian indie music scene. I started it because I found myself really enjoying some of the lesser-known Canadian acts after listening to CBC Radio 3 and attending local shows.
What i discovered after starting the blog, though, was how much my critical writing improved as I went on and also how it has affected the way I watch and listen to things.
My first few reviews were gushy, and I don’t deny that for a second. Before I actually started asking people for music to review, I was reviewing music from around the house that I had already bought. I reviewed Winter Gloves’ About a Girl, The Ghost is Dancing’s Battles On, and I think even Shout Out Out Out Out’s Reintegration Time. The writing was barely critical- there was no way I could be too harsh to albums that I really, truly liked.
At first my system of rating was an “out of 4” system, and I rarely ever gave a rating of anything below a 3/4. At one point a commenter noted that very fact and I revamped the rating system. It was at that point that I decided something important: I was going to write only about music that I liked. If the music was bad, I simply wouldn’t review it.
I stick by this reasoning. For one thing, criticism is fairly subjective, no matter how hard someone tries to be the opposite. My take on, say, the most current Metric album Synthetica will not be the same as someone else’s. For the record, I’m not a huge fan of it, but many critics I read seem to like it a lot. I don’t want to waste time telling anyone that that absolutely should not listen to music. Maybe one exception I might make is if the music turns out to have really racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. lyrics, but I thankfully haven’t ever had to do that.
Once musicians began submitting their music to me, at first I was terrified to criticize—what if they got offended and told everyone to ignore my blog? I didn’t know what to do. What I learned is that musicians (at least some) are always looking for ways to improve their craft. I recall once reviewing an album by Jesse and the Dandelions, and when I got a subsequent release from the band, the lead singer mentioned that he kept my advice in the original review in mind as he recorded the new music. And his new music sounded pretty good!
I now write slightly less than I did at first, when I’d be writing roughly four reviews a week. It allows me to feel a little more fresh each time I write a review, and on occasion I’ll be inspired and write something in a style I’ve never written before (once I wrote a review of an EP by a band called Snowbeast, in which I wrote about the band as if it were an animal).
The frequency of my critical writing has also turned me into someone who comments far more often on how good or bad something is. I went to two shows two nights in a row, and after a song every once in a while I would say something like “It’s too bad I couldn’t hear the vocals, she has a great voice” or “Only Christian Hansen can slip Madonna into a song.” My friends that I’ve said these things to haven’t told me to shut the hell up, so I assume I must have some merit in the criticisms (good or bad) I share with people.
Naturally my love of criticism has sometimes led to insane rants. I can go on for ages about how much I dislike The Hunger Games, for example, after forcing myself to read the first book in the series to understand what all the hype is about. But these don’t come along as often.
Finally, I feel like the internet has given many people (myself included) the power to criticize and have people read these criticisms, but I don’t believe that everyone is a critic. A critic, I think, needs to have a certain immersion in subject matter, but not necessarily complete mastery of it. So someone who says “This book was really good because I loved the characters” is not a critic, but anyone who can make comments on authorial style is probably a decent.
Am I a critic, based on my own definition? Who knows.