On Putting Not Quite Music Journalism To Bed

Having announced, back in December, that I was going to stop publishing gig write-ups, I had always had the intention of writing a final piece that explained why. As it happened, a busy period at both work and home meant that I put it off until now, which is probably a good thing as I’ve had a chance to think about my reasons and realised that, if I had written this a few weeks ago, they probably wouldn’t have been the same as they are now.

Unless you have followed my writings through Facebook, you might not even know that I had given up. Yes, I had mentioned it on the “About Me” page of this blog, but how many people read that? And I know that there are some people who follow the blog directly or just pop in now and again to see what I have been writing about, so it’s only fair that I let them know I have given up, rather than just disappearing off the face of the internet.

To recap… I announced my, at the time, impending retirement the day after my birthday. One of my friends (also a contributor to a number of write-ups, having allowed me to use his photographs in them, as well as my partner in the short-lived “Words From The Street” project, which I am still incredibly proud of), as part of wishing me a happy birthday told me to “keep writing, keep rockin’” adding to that a quote from Lester Bangs. Being completely frank, it was probably the wrong thing to say to me at that time. Just the night before, for no specific reason that I can remember, I had been thinking about giving up and, when I mentioned that to said friend, his response was:

It’s your birthday…..you can do what you like today….but as you only ‘think’ you came to a decision last night you can sober up tomorrow and ‘re-think’. Your contributions are valued by (a lot) more people than you realise.

Being the ornery Yorkshireman I am, I think that spurred me on to make the final decision and, as I said, the day after I announced that I was retiring, with the aim of getting to three hundred write-ups before I did, just because that felt like a good number to go out on.

I never did get to three hundred – that would have been an incredibly entertaining gig by John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett that, quite frankly, deserved a write-up. However, that busy period meant that, it would be at least three weeks after the even that I could have got the piece written and I simply wasn’t prepared to wait that long. So I called it a day one short of my target.

So why have I retired? That’s a very good question. And I came up with a number of reasons many of which, as I say, have changed in recent weeks. In some cases they now feel like excuses rather than reasons. One – the feeling that I was starting to be expected to go to certain gigs just because of the fact that I wrote them up – actually feels downright spiteful in the cold light of day. Having thought about it at various times over the last few weeks, I think I’ve come up with a reason and that is because the write-ups (or at least my feelings towards them) were becoming less about the music and more about me.

It took me a long time to accept that people – some that I knew, some (presumably) knew me and others who could probably have passed me in the street without knowing who I was – thought my write-ups were good. I rarely did and, if you were able to look back easily enough, you would see that I rarely tagged bands on the early write-ups, only doing so if I thought the piece was good enough. Later I tagged most bands (unless I didn’t actually like them) but was still rarely impressed by my own articles. There were some I was proud of – the last time I saw Hope & Social, for example – but I was constantly trying, and usually failing, to come up with a different format, while still maintaining the detail that most reviewers (<cough> York Press <cough>) fail to come up with. You will also notice that I constantly refer to the pieces as “write-ups” rather than “reviews” – I never thought myself critical enough, or even knowledgeable enough, to be a reviewer, but I could tell you what happened and which bits I enjoyed.

The problem was that, getting down that level of detail – researching set lists, looking up lyrics to work out what songs had been performed, checking artist histories, not to mention the actual writing – takes time and I was spending more time writing articles than I was at gigs. Each piece took, on average, two to three hours, sometimes more. Let’s say I went to thirty gigs in a year (it’s usually more than that) – that’s about four solid days I would spend writing about them, as well as working full time, having other hobbies and a family. I was also spending more time at gigs wondering how I could say something different about a performance/song/quip than a band member made and making notes, than I was actually listening to the music. It sometimes got to the point where I had a backlog of four or five write-ups to try to find time to complete. It also got to the point where I would finish a write-up, publish it and then sit with my laptop out, constantly refreshing my WordPress statistics page until I saw that somebody had read it (or at least visited the page…)

And that’s another thing. In the quote above, my friend suggested that a lot of people valued my contributions. Well, actually, being honest, a lot of people might have valued some of my contributions but, towards the end, most of my write-ups were being read by no more than a handful of people. Imagine spending three hours writing a piece then seeing that only six people had read it (more accurately, visited the page). Imagine spending your time saying nice things about a band with just a few tens of Facebook likes and then that band not even acknowledging you had done so. I know, things like that shouldn’t have bothered me, but they started to do so. And that’s what I mean by it becoming more about me.

This whole thing started out as a bit of a laugh and, I guess, it grew beyond what I expected it to. I was never doing this for fame – when I started out I didn’t even realise you could see how many people had visited your blog – and I certainly wasn’t in it for any any sort of reward. It was always nice to be acknowledged by being invited down to review (their choice of word, not mine) gigs, but I always refused guest list entry from the bands themselves, preferring to support the bands and the venues, even if the few pounds I spent on a ticket wouldn’t make that much of a difference. In the interests of transparency it’s worth pointing out that I did accept a few cheaper ticket prices and the occasional guest list entry from a promoter or two. Since I started writing, the local music scene has changed (and continues to change). Local bands that appreciated the write-ups have become increasingly rare in the venues I frequent, moving more to the pubs and bars (not ideal places to listen to music) if not disappearing altogether, while I seem drawn more towards touring bands that I wasn’t aware of just a few short years ago, along with a few much bigger names that have visited York recently. Of those two categories, the former probably play so many gigs that they have dozens of reviews written about them, while the latter are hardly likely to scour their won Facebook pages to see which amateur has tried to say how good their gig was.

So, I decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Ask yourselves – if you spend hours doing something and very few people were bothered, would you carry on doing it?

Add to that a few situations which I have looked at in a different light and seen that I may just have been in the wrong – having one local musician saying it was insulting for me to say that he had put more effort into one piece of his act than another; being asked, through my daughter, by a fellow audience member to turn off the device I was making notes on because it was distracting them; getting into an argument at a gig because the person next to me talked all the way through the support act (nope, I maintain I’m right about this one…) – and I think it was time to start taking other people’s feelings into account. I could never maintain the level of detail without taking notes. Anybody who writes (and those who don’t) is allowed an opinion even if they, perhaps, express it badly. But if those things and similar are causing upset or distress to others, it’s time to stop.

I’ve said elsewhere that I’m not ruling out a return to writing, maybe on a smaller scale than before, perhaps covering every gig I go to once again, but that won’t be for a while. I still intend to post my end of year reviews at very least Am I missing it? Yes, I think I am, a bit. Am I enjoying gigs more now that I’m not constantly reaching for my phone to jot down a note, a lyric or a thought, now that I’m spending more time listening to the music than I am thinking about it? Yes, definitely.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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4 Responses to On Putting Not Quite Music Journalism To Bed

  1. Mark Cotton says:

    Hi Ian, Never visited your facebook page, always read and enjoyed your reviews via email. I’ll certainly miss your reviews. Thanks very much for all the time you’ve taken to broaden my musical horizons – it has been most appreciated! Were you at Fibbers on Friday for Mostly Autumn, I thought that was an excellent set (Liv’s vocals could have been given a bit more in the mix though!). Cheers mate, MarkC Date: Sun, 22 May 2016 16:40:35 +0000To: mark_cotton@live.co.ukFrom: comment-reply@wordpress.comSubject: [New post] On Putting Not Quite Music Journalism To Bed

    WordPress.com

    Ian posted: “Having announced, back in December, that I was going to stop publishing gig write-ups, I had always had the intention of writing a final piece that explained why. As it happened, a busy period at both work and home meant that I put it off until now, which”

    • Ian says:

      Thanks for both reading and commenting Mark. I’m certainly glad to have had an influence on at least one person. I’ve said before that if one person went to a gig or bought some music based on what I had written, I would consider it a job well done.

      Yes, I was there on Friday – overall, one of the best gigs I’ve seen from the band, even if (as you say) Liv’s vocals weren’t too clear in parts. Bryan’s were much more to the fore and, let’s face it, he’s nowhere near as good a vocalist as Livvie is… 😉

  2. Grae says:

    I still maintain you were breath of fresh air; a music fan who wrote about what beloved rather than a writer who wrote about what he was paid to.

    While I totally understand the frustration about ‘likes’, ‘views’, ‘click throughs’ etc. I don’t believe that is the reason to do it. Nor do I believe it is the reason you ever did.

    You will be missed.

    (Until, that is, you return. As I’m sure you will).

    • Ian says:

      Thanks Grae.

      About the “likes” etc, I think that was the point I was trying to make. I didn’t start out doing it for, but ended up with almost baited breath until I saw that somebody had read my latest post and got disappointed when so few people did. And that was the wrong reason to carry on. Whether blissful ignorance of how few people would have meant that I carried on is something that can only be speculated on.

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